Elm Hill Books: Another HarperCollins Vanity Press Bewares

HarperCollins now has another Christian vanity press subsidiary with five-figure publishing packages, but this time the Big 5 publisher is also pimping out its sales reps and distribution network to sell the idea to novice authors. Elm Hill Books was launched last year and is the brainchild of Pete Nikolai – the longtime Director of Publishing Services at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. And both have form when it comes to exploiting writers.

In 2009, Pete Nikolai was working for HarperCollins subsidiary Thomas Nelson when, together with its CEO and Chairman Michael Hyatt, he partnered with Author Solutions to create WestBow Press. WestBow is a white-label Christian-flavored vanity publisher, pretty much the same any other Author Solution vanity imprint, just with a few crucifixes dotted around the place.

While Michael Hyatt subsequently reinvented himself as some kind of greasy life coach, Pete Nikolai ran WestBow as its Publisher, overseeing the sale of sub-standard publishing packages and countless, worthless marketing packages costings thousands of dollars. These marketing packages were sold using high-pressure sales tactics to unsuspecting newbies who had no business purchasing them, and little chance of recouping their investment. Read More…

New Year, Old Problem: Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time Amazon Bewares

Kristi Belcamino is really being messed around by Amazon. Yesterday morning, she was rank-stripped for the third time, and it appears to be happening every time she puts a book free – even before she hits the promo sites or moves up the charts. Back in September, Kristi was one of the unfortunate (and innocent) authors who were unfairly rank-stripped by Amazon for several weeks. She had a BookBub promotion which catapulted her up to #3 in the Free charts on September 18, was then rank-stripped, and didn’t have the sanction lifted until October 22 – over one month later. Along with all the other authors I wrote about in October’s post Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives, Kristi received the standard Read More…

Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives Amazon Bewares

Phoenix Sullivan is well-known in the indie community – I’ve known her myself since 2009 or 2010 and consider her a close friend. Aside from being exceptionally generous with her time and knowledge, tirelessly sharing her insights on marketing and algorithms, Phoenix is also well known as a vocal campaigner against scammers and cheaters – particularly on the current big issues of book stuffing and clickfarming. And now she is being targeted. Phoenix made a box set free for a few days at the very start of October, advertising on Freebooksy, KND/BookGorilla, and Digital Book Today – all legitimate sites – and there was no other promotion involved with this title. No BookBub CPM ads, no Facebook campaign, no tweets, Read More…

Scammers Break The Kindle Store Bewares

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts. The Kindle Store is officially broken. This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action. Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples. I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon"s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with Read More…

The One Where An Author Steals Text From My Book To Sell Pirated Software Bewares

In today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer. Sound fun? Strap yourselves in! A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This? Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded. It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, Read More…

FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business Bewares

Penguin Random House announced the sale of Author Solutions on Tuesday, leading to headlines stating it has exited the self-publishing business and various commentators congratulating it for cleaning house. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true. Four Penguin Random House-owned vanity presses will remain in operation – Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa, and MeGustaEscribir – and will be run as Partner Imprints. You can read more about how Partner Imprints work here, but the short version is that Author Solutions will operate these four vanity presses on behalf of Penguin Random House, and PRH’s job will be to provide leads (aka newbie writers), lend its name and brand to the effort, and then sit back and collect its commissions. This Read More…

Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story Bewares

Author Solutions has forged partnerships with a long list of famous names in publishing – from Simon & Schuster and Hay House to Barnes & Noble and Reader’s Digest. Recent disclosures in various lawsuits, along with information sent to me by a Penguin Random House source, detail for the very first time exactly how these partnerships work and the damage they are causing. Since a second suit was filed at the end of March, Author Solutions is now facing two class actions, with the new complaint alleging unjust enrichment and exploitation of seniors on top of the usual claims of fraud and deceptive practices. It also has a wonderfully precise summary of Author Solutions’ operations: Author Solutions operates more like Read More…

Bay Area Book Festival Defends Author Solutions Sponsorship Bewares

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. The event doesn’t take place until June, so I thought it was a good time to try and stage an intervention. Shame on @BayBookFest for accepting sponsorship from known scammers like Author Solutions. What the hell were you thinking? #Baybookfest — David Gaughran (@DavidGaughran) March 19, 2015 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 Read More…

How Jessica Mitford Exposed A $48m Scam From America’s Literary Establishment Bewares Writing

Jessica Mitford took on the American funeral industry, the California Department of Corrections, and the Ku Klux Klan, but it was her 1970 exposé of The Famous Writers School which led to Time calling her “The Queen of the Muckrakers.” And if a courageous editor hadn’t reversed his decision to kill her story, it might never have happened. Mitford had been aware of The Famous Writers School’s existence for some time. Anyone who was a frequent reader of newspapers, books or magazines would have seen its ever-present advertisements, inviting aspiring writers to cut out and apply for the free aptitude test. While Mitford was suspicious, she didn’t have anything concrete until her lawyer husband took on a new client. Bob Read More…

Penguin Random House Merger Helps Author Solutions Exploit Writers Bewares

Penguin and Random House officially merged on July 1 creating the largest trade publisher in the world. This merger has given fresh impetus to one of their subsidiaries to scam unsuspecting writers – Author Solutions, the largest vanity press in the world. One of my blog readers, who will remain nameless, has forwarded me emails from an AuthorHouse sales rep touting that company as the “self-publishing wing” of Penguin Random House (AuthorHouse is one of the many brands of Author Solutions, a tangled web which is deconstructed here). When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in July 2012 for $116m, I warned that the Penguin brand would lend legitimacy to Author Solutions – who were already the market leader in author exploitation. Read More…

Penguin's Solution for Authors: One Racket To Rule Them All Bewares

Regular readers of this blog will know all about Penguin’s purchase last July of the universally reviled Author Solutions – a company infamous for overcharging writers, doing a terrible job of publishing their books, and forcing ineffective and expensive marketing services upon those authors when their books (inevitably) fail to sell. My posts on the topic have been leaning heavily on the tireless work of Emily Suess – a writer and blogger who has been documenting this racket for some years now. At the time of the purchase, many in the publishing community expressed a hope that Penguin would clean up Author Solutions, or at least tone down some of their scammier tactics. I was more than a little skeptical, Read More…

Simon & Schuster Joins Forces With Author Solutions To Rip Off Writers Bewares

Simon & Schuster has launched a self-publishing operation, Archway Publishing, contracting one of the most disreputable players in the business to run the show: Author Solutions. We’ll get to that distasteful link-up in a second, but first let’s have a look at what Simon & Schuster are offering prospective customers (i.e. writers). Fiction packages start at $1,999 and go up to $14,999. If you have written a business book, prices are saucier again: $2,999 to $24,999. While the upper end of the pricing spectrum is obviously shocking, some of you might think that $1,999 isn’t too bad if you are getting a proper edit and a decent cover. Not so fast. That price tag doesn’t include any real editing, just Read More…

Simon & Schuster Joins Forces With Author Solutions To Rip Off Writers Bewares

Simon & Schuster has launched a self-publishing operation, Archway Publishing, contracting one of the most disreputable players in the business to run the show: Author Solutions. We’ll get to that distasteful link-up in a second, but first let’s have a look at what Simon & Schuster are offering prospective customers (i.e. writers). Fiction packages start at $1,999 and go up to $14,999. If you have written a business book, prices are saucier again: $2,999 to $24,999. While the upper end of the pricing spectrum is obviously shocking, some of you might think that $1,999 isn’t too bad if you are getting a proper edit and a decent cover. Not so fast. That price tag doesn’t include any real editing, just Read More…