I discovered yesterday that Author Solutions was sponsoring the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival – something at odds with the breathless verbiage on the event’s site:
A new kind of book fair… the largest, most innovative, and most inclusive… [we will] create the nation’s leading book festival.
This post is from 20 March 2015. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links, but it’s important to preserve these older posts on author exploitation and the comments remain open.
The event doesn’t take place until June, so I thought it was a good time to try and stage an intervention.
After I sent that tweet I felt a little bad.
Maybe the organizers didn’t know the full history of Author Solutions. Maybe they weren’t aware of the specific scam that Author Solutions runs at events like this. Deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt, I emailed the Executive Director of the festival, Cherilyn Parsons.
According to her bio, Cherilyn Parsons has “visited book festivals around the world to bring best practices to the Bay Area Book Festival.” Great, I thought. Surely those “best practices” don’t involve accepting sponsorship from a known scammer. Right?
I sent Parsons an email giving her the full background. I explained how Author Solutions was universally reviled in the writing community, why every major writers’ organization and watchdog group warned authors against using the company, and that Author Solutions was facing a class action for deceptive practices.
I also detailed the way Author Solutions uses its presence at events like this to ensnare new customers and milk existing ones – a common ploy being to sell off one-hour book signing slots for prices up to $4,000 (or up to $10,000 via Archway).
And it was a complete waste of my time.
In their response, The Bay Area Book Festival explained the “logic” behind accepting Author Solutions as a sponsor. The reasons presented were threefold:
1. Everyone else has their nose in the trough
Cherilyn Parsons admitted that whether to accept Author Solutions’ money was a “thorny question” but she decided to take the lead of several other festivals:
…such as the Miami Book Fair International, the LA Times Festival of Books and the Tucson Festival of Books. All have been very generous in sharing their expertise. All of them accept Author Solutions as an exhibitor.
How curious that Parsons would only seek guidance from these three festivals – which are very much in the minority when it comes to accepting dirty money from Author Solutions. You would think that someone who was a top director at the Center for Investigative Reporting for five years would be a little more thorough when researching the matter.
The scam Author Solutions runs at these events is breathtaking. To take one example from the above, I calculated that Author Solutions pulls in almost a million dollars from selling (worthless) LA Times Festival of Books marketing packages to its authors, every year. From that one event. The organizers of the LA Times Festival of Books are aware of this practice, and they don’t care.
Probably not the best people to be taking advice from.
Oh, and I should probably point out that Author Solutions exhibits at these events, but isn’t actually a sponsor. The Bay Area Book Festival has gone one step further. I guess that’s the kind of ambition you need to show when you want to “create the nation’s leading book festival.”
2. We didn’t want to make Penguin Random House mad
This was a real doozy.
Cherilyn Parsons’ exact words:
Author Solutions is part of Penguin Random House, which has been very supportive of the Bay Area Book Festival in sending authors, [and this] led to my decision to accept Author Solutions at the Bay Area Book Festival.
I’m sure those Penguin Random House authors will be delighted to hear that.
If I was Judy Blume, Matthieu Ricard, Karen Joy Fowler, Anthony Marra, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mac Barnett, Jennifer Holm, Geoff Dyer, or Jane Hirshfield, I would be asking the festival organizers, and my publisher, some very hard questions right now.
I certainly wouldn’t be okay with the festival organizers using my presence as a justification for partnering with known scammers.
But, hey, maybe it’s okay, because:
3. Bay Area consumers are too sophisticated to fall for a scam
Yeah, they actually said that.
In case you think I’m misquoting, here’s Cherilyn Parsons, verbatim:
There will be other self-publishing and hybrid publishing services represented at the festival too. Bay Area consumers are sophisticated, so this is a case of “buyer beware.”
I love the logic here. Because these Bay Area consumers are “sophisticated” it’s okay to invite known scammers who are facing a class action suit for swindling tens of thousands of writers (presumably un-sophisticated ones).
If you do happen to attend this event, which I very much don’t recommend, you should remember that the Bay Area Book Festival has absolutely no standards when it comes to accepting exhibitors and sponsors, and zero vetting has taken place of either.
It makes me wonder if the same logic applies to the food vendors at the festival. “Yes, this guy is known for selling hot dogs which are well past their sell-by date and contain rancid horsemeat, but it’s okay because Bay Area consumers are sophisticated.”
Eh, no it’s not okay.
This tweet said it best:
Let’s be very clear about something.
The decision of the Bay Area Book Festival to accept Author Solutions sponsorship will lead to more newbie authors being scammed.
This sponsorship is something that Author Solutions is already touting on their website (pictured right) – another false veneer of legitimacy for the worst operator in the business.
The Bay Area Book Festival knows this, and still decided to take the money. Which means we can look forward to lots more crappy Author Solutions marketing packages being pushed on unsuspecting rookies… like this.
I wonder what cut the Bay Area Book Festival gets?
And I wonder how the organizers justify the selling of these packages to all the unsophisticated, non-Bay Area rubes which Author Solutions will be targeting.
How you can help
We need to get the word out about this shady partnership. We need to let the organizers know that writers won’t stand for this crap. If you want to help, here’s what you can do:
- Make your voice heard on social media. The festival’s Facebook Page is here, and you can retweet the above tweets, or compose your own.
- Email the organizers to let them know what you think. Cherilyn Parsons, the Executive Director, can be reached here: Cherilyn [at] BayBookFest.org.
- Share this post with every writer you can.
And if you know any of the authors on the festival’s Literary Council, maybe get in touch with them to see if they can talk some sense into the organizers.