Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news and commentary, and a focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the publishing world.

July 3, 2015

Author Solutions Lawsuit Update: Class Certification Denied

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In April 2013, the law firm of Giskan Solotaroff Anderston & Stewart filed a lawsuit against Author Solutions Inc. and its parent company, Penguin, alleging fraud, unjust enrichment, and violation of various statutes and consumer protection acts. Penguin was later dismissed from the suit.

In February 2015, having completed discovery, Giskan Solotaroff filed for class certification with a lengthy Memorandum of Law that unpacked a lot of information about ASI's business model and internal operations.

That certification has now been denied, in a decision handed down by Judge Denise Cote on July 1.
From what I can tell on an initial reading, the decision seems to boil down to the fact that in one of the subclasses they were seeking to certify, plaintiffs weren't able to meet certification requirements; and in the other, weren't able to demonstrate a clear pattern of deception on the part of AS that could apply to everyone in the proposed class.

Judge Cote's decision can be read in full here

I'm guessing that Giskan Solotaroff will appeal. In the meantime, their second lawsuit against AS is ongoing, and has been consolidated with another lawsuit brought by two individual plaintiffs, Everette et al. v. Author Solutions LLC.

June 24, 2015

Almond Press Short Story Competition: Writing for "Exposure"

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In my last blog post, I discussed how to recognize and avoid profitmaking writing awards--fake awards that exist not to honor writers, but to enrich sponsors. If you're looking to win writing awards and enter writing competitions, though, the profiteering fakers aren't the only risk you face.

For instance...the short story competitions run by Scotland's Almond Press.* Almond's output is tiny--founded in 2012, it has published just three anthologies of stories collected from its annual competitions--but it boasts some impressive sponsors, including Booktrust UK and the University of Stirling, as well as a nice website and attractively-designed book covers. Its contests have no entry fees, and there's a 100 GBP prize for the winner, who is also promised "Exposure and publicity via our online presence".

Its Terms and Conditions, however, stink.

Simply by submitting a story to the competition, writers grant "the following licences free of charge and irrevocably":
  • The right to translate an excerpt from the work submitted (no more than 15% of its total length)
  • The non-exclusive right to reproduce and publish the work submitted on the websites and platforms controlled or authorized by Almond Press, both in the original language and in translation
  • The non-exclusive right to reproduce and publish the work submitted in trade paperback format, both in the original language and in translation
  • The non-exclusive right to record by means of any existing or not-yet-invented technology, to distribute and broadcast readings of excerpts from the work in the original language or in translation, on Almond Press networks and websites/platforms controlled or authorized by Almond Press
For the winner, these licenses become exclusive for a year and non-exclusive thereafter. In addition, winners must grant Almond the right "to edit, abridge or excerpt the work for the purposes of publication or broadcast. The author will be consulted if significant edits are necessary." (My bolding. "Significant" is a pretty flexible standard.)

What this boils down to is a publisher that is obtaining nearly all of the material for its anthologies for free. The only possibility of compensation is the one-time fee paid to the single winner--and even that is not guaranteed, since "If a prize cannot be awarded as described in these rules Almond Press reserves the right to substitute one or more prizes or prize components with another of approximately equivalent value."

Almond does say that all anthology proceeds go toward running its competitions--presumably to fund the prize and possibly to pay honorariums to the judges (who aren't identified--according to the Terms and Conditions, this is "to ensure the judging process remains blind", even though a blind judging process usually involves keeping entries anonymous, not judges).

Even if Almond isn't reaping a secret profit from free stories, though, this is yet another example of the increasingly prevalent writing culture that urges authors to work for exposure, rather than for fair monetary compensation. Sometimes, exposure may be indeed be worth it--if Tor were to run a similar competition (not that it would), it might be worth entering. But where exposure is the main or only compensation for publication, you really need to parse its meaning. Does publication in an anthology from an obscure small press with Amazon sales rankings in the hundred thousands constitute "exposure?" If so, is it an equitable tradeoff for being paid for the exploitation of your intellectual property?

The writing world needs its own Taylor Swift. Until she comes along, think twice before buying into the promise of "exposure." (And be sure to read--and fully understand the implications of--the fine print of any writing competition you may be tempted to enter.)

* Thanks to the reader of this blog who contacted me about Almond Press.

June 9, 2015

Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may have guessed that I'm not a big fan of writing contests and awards.

Partly this is because so many are a waste of time, with minimal prizes, negligible prestige, and zero cachet on your writing resume. Why not spend your energy on something that can get you closer to building a readership--submitting for publication, or publishing on your own?

There's also the risk of bad things in the entry guidelines--for instance, the Emerging Writer Awards, where simply submitting constituted a grant of publishing rights. Writers who don't read the fine print carefully enough may find themselves trapped by such provisions.

And then there are the contests/awards with a hidden agenda: making money for the sponsor. Such awards aren't really about honoring writers at all.

There's a complex of red flags that identifies profiteering contest and awards programs.

- Solicitation. To maximize entries, profiteering awards and contests solicit entries. An out-of-the-blue email urging you to enter a contest or awards program should always be treated with caution.

- High entry fees. Profiteers charge $50, $60, $75, or even more. There may be "early bird specials" and multiple-entry discounts to tempt authors with the illusion of a bargain.

- Dozens or scores of entry categories. To maximize income, profiteers create as many entry categories as possible, and encourage multiple entries.

- Anonymous judging. Profiteers promise expert judging by people with standing in the publishing field, but don't reveal who those experts are. In fact, the judging may be done by the profiteer's staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat.

- Non-prize prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, profiteers offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, database and website listings, features on satellite websites or in self-owned publications. Some offer little more than the supposed honor of winning the award.

- Opportunities to spend more money. Profiteers' profits don't just come from entry fees. They also hawk stickers, certificates, critiques, and more.

Profiteers may deviate from this template to some degree: some do provide money prizes, for instance, and not all solicit. But if more than four of these red flags are present in a contest or awards program--especially if there's a big entry fee--you should think very carefully about entering.

What about prestige? Profiteer awards and contests don't typically command a lot of name recognition, but if you win or place, you'll be able to tag your book as an "award-winning book" and yourself as an "award-winning author." How much readers care about such designations, though, is an open question. With all the fake review scandals, as well as readers' increasing disillusion with authorial self-promotion, I think book buyers have become more cynical in general about what authors say about themselves.

Profiteer awards and contests, which overwhelmingly target and ensnare small press and self-published authors, are a cynical play on authors' hunger for recognition and exposure in an increasingly crowded marketplace. In my opinion, they are never a worthwhile use of writers' money.


Some examples of awards/contest profiteers:

JM Northern Media runs more than 20 literary "festivals" and conventions. JM Northern is a ferocious spammer; if you're a writer, you've probably been solicited for one or another of its festivals.

Unlike many other profiteers, JM Northern offers actual money prizes. But it can afford to. According to this article, its Hollywood Book Festival received 2,740 entries in 2012. At $75 per entry, that's a gross of $205,500. Let's assume that the other 20 festivals, most of which have a lower fee of $50, also get a lower number of entries--say, 1,500 (I'm lowballing to demonstrate how insanely lucrative this scheme is). Altogether, that's over $1.5 million just in entry fees. A year. When you add in revenue from the critiques and merchandise (likely provided by JM Northern's own Modern Media Publicity), it wouldn't surprise me to learn that JM Northern's annual festival gross is well over $2 million.

- i310 Media Group sponsors the USA Best Book Awards, the International Book Awards, and the Bookvana Awards. Entry fees are $69-79, and each program has scores of categories (more than 100 for the International Book Awards), fancifully-described prizes that boil down to website features and press releases, and the "opportunity" to purchase award stickers and certificates.

The Jenkins Group, a costly self-publishing services provider, runs at least five awards programs: Moonbeam Awards, Axiom Awards, eLit Awards, Living Now Awards, and the IPPY Awards. Entry fees range from $60 to $95, and there's the usual raft of entry categories and non-prize prizes. Even among profiteers, however, Jenkins is unusual in the amount of extra merchandise it hawks to winners. Check out the options for Moonbeam Award winners--no fewer than 29 items, ranging in price from $7.50 (for a Moonbeam Certificate) to $130 (for a Moonbeam Gold Medal--not even a real medal, just an image).

- WILDsound, another prolific spammer, runs continuous monthly contests and "festival events" for screenplays, books, poetry, short stories, and more. Fees range from $20 ("$15 OFF regular submission") for a first scene to $170 for a full novel, but average around $45. Judging is done by the usual cadre of unnamed "Professional Writers and Writing Consultants"; prizes are readings by--it's claimed--professional actors. You can sample these poor-quality videos here.

- Other profiteers include Readers Favorite ($89 to $109, depending on when you register; over 70 categories; plenty of adjunct merchandise and services for sale); the Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards ($90, over 50 categories, stickers and certificates for sale); Literary Classics (relatively inexpensive at $45, but the usual unnamed judges and hawking of adjunct merchandise); and the Global Ebook Awards ($79, over 100 categories, with winners"eligible to purchase Global Ebook Award certificates attesting to their honor").

April 23, 2015

Finding Authors: The Importance of Establishing an Online Licensing System for Copyrighted Works

Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware

The U. S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently held a public meeting on “Facilitating the Development of the Online Licensing Environment for Copyrighted Works.” The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the National Writers Union, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors submitted a paper for consideration listing what, in our estimation, are the points that any online licensing system must recognize if it is to be effective.

“Discoverability” is a key component of any such system, which requires not only that works must have unambiguous identifiers, but that the identifiers point unambiguously to the authors of the works rather than to publishers. Any such system must also recognize that the author is the best, and in many cases only, source of information about the ownership of rights. More and more books are self-published; publishing companies aren’t involved at all, and any system that relies on them will be incomplete. A publisher-centric system will also assign rights incorrectly, especially considering that publishers have begun to claim ebook rights for works even though the contracts for those works do not mention them.

SFWA has been interested in developing a way to find authors for a long time. The failed Google Books Settlement and subsequent developments call into question what an orphan work is. If a defining characteristic is that the author can’t be found, clearly, then, a system that facilitates finding authors is necessary before works can definitively be declared orphans.

SFWA has made recommendations concerning orphan works to the Copyright Office several times now, focusing on the creation of a national Author Information Directory (AID), a database that would function as the source of unambiguous identifiers for authors as well as provide contact information for negotiations about licensing rights. SFWA feels that creating this database should be left to government rather than for-profit entities, and that a database that allows direct updates from the authors themselves would be well within the Copyright Office's capabilities.

As nice as it would be to let Google and Amazon worry about providing discoverability for works and then the authors of those works, it’s clearly not part of their business plans. Amazon in particular has shown no enthusiasm for adopting the ISBN as a standard, and its proprietary identifier is unlikely to be used by other book distributors. Tellingly, there were no Amazon representatives at the USPTO meeting.

Right now, the primary international database of author identifiers is the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI), about which Writer Beware has blogged before, and the primary book identifier is the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). There is also the Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which theoretically could be used as an identifier for short stories, blog posts, and other text not covered by ISBNs.

While these databases are theoretically expandable to be the comprehensive system of databases that would “facilitate the development of an online licensing environment,” none of them incorporate author contact information to the degree necessary to unambiguously identify specific rightsholders; and each has problems that discourage authors, especially self-published authors, from participating. Most obvious is cost. ISBNs, for example, are quite expensive when purchased in the quantity needed by many self-published authors. And while many traditionally published authors have been automatically included in the ISNI database, those who have not--including almost all solely self-published authors--are required to pay a fee. It is obvious to us that any system that requires authors to pay a fee for an unnecessary service will fail. At the very least, we feel that authors’ groups such as SFWA, ASJA, and NWU can act to facilitate author participation and greatly reduce or entirely eliminate those fees.

Our groups will continue to represent authors at meetings of this kind, where it often seems thta authors’ and other creators’ concerns are treated as an afterthought.



Submission of American Society of Journalists and Authors, National Writers Union, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to USPTO’s public meeting,“Facilitating the Development of the Online Licensing Environment for Copyrighted Works,” April 1, 2015.

All rights ultimately derive from the author of a work.

1. The author is the best source of bibliographic metadata about his or her works.

2. The author is the best, and in many cases only, source of rights-related metadata about his or her works. In many cases, publishers do not know what rights have been assigned where or may be interpreting their contracted rights too broadly, especially concerning electronic rights.

3. Any database of identifiers and/or rights must allow the input of the authors or it will be inadequate and contain many errors and omissions.

4. An identifiers/rights database that charges authors a fee for inclusion is counterproductive, and will not include the majority of self-published works.

5. Because an ISBN identifies an edition, not a work, the status or availability of the ISBN says nothing about the status of the work in other editions. Many works are out of print in the original paper editions with ISBNs, but available in non-ISBN self-published digital editions. A consistent system for identifying works, not editions, is needed.

6. A growing percentage of e-book licensing transactions (often erroneously referred to as "sales") and e-book "best-sellers" (ditto) are not only self-published but also self-distributed. Only the authors can report information about these licenses.

7. In the U.S., the current systems for creating identifiers for works and authors (ISBN and ISNI) charge fees. In the case of ISBN, the fee can be quite substantial. As a result, many new books, especially self-published e-books, are not included.

8. In many other countries, the cost of creating ISBNs and ISNIs is borne by the government, and that should also be the case in the U.S. In Canada, by comparison, ISBNs are free for Canadian citizens.

9. The cost of creating an Internet-based database that allows authors to register their works and provide metadata would be relatively small. The result would be a considerable improvement over the current system. Such a database would help in the search for the authors of potentially orphaned works, among its many other benefits.

10. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has proposed the structure for an Author Information Directory (AID) as part of its Orphan Works White Paper that could serve as a template for such a database. (The white paper can be viewed here; the AID is discussed starting on page 4.) Rights-related data fields could easily be added to the AID.

10. Writers’ groups can not only act as intermediaries with such a system for their members, but already maintain lists of contact information for their members, and in some cases, contact information for the estates of authors in their genre. Groups such as SFWA, National Writers Union, and American Society of Journalists and Authors stand ready to assist in any effort to formalized the identifier/rights databases proposed here. A large number of creator organizations can be contacted via the Authors Coalition of America.

April 16, 2015

Warning: Raider Publishing International

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In 2012, I posted a warning about Raider Publishing International. Founded by former (and disgruntled) PublishAmerica author Adam Salviani, and presenting itself as an independent publisher, Raider is basically a self-publishing service in the Author Solutions mold, with some added (and highly dubious) bells and whistles.

Raider began to become a problem in 2012, with mounting author complaints. Here's what I wrote at the time:
Over the past few months, I've begun receiving a steady trickle of complaints about Raider, where before I only received questions. I'm not the only one; as a result of the negative feedback he's gotten from Raider authors, Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine has revised his once-positive review of Raider to "not recommended." Other complaints can be found online--at Ripoff Report, for instance, and Scam Informer (I always take websites like this with a grain of salt, but in this case the complaints are quite consistent, and the problems reported reflect the reports I've been getting).

Author complaints received by Writer beware include publication delays of up to 18 months (according to Raider's FAQ, books are published six to eight months after contract signing, unless you pay for a fast-track option; several of the authors I've heard from are still waiting for publication and fear their money is lost); quality issues (poor editing, poor design, finished books full of errors); trouble getting royalty statements and/or payments; communications problems (being shuffled from email address to email address within the company, or not being able to get any response at all; several authors say that as soon as they sent in their fees, communication ceased); and broken promises (repeatedly missed publication dates, author copies never received, promised marketing services not provided, substantial delays despite payment of the fast-track fee).
Since then, negative information has continued to accumulate. If you take a look at the comments on my 2012 post, you'll see many examples, leading right up to this year; another 55 complaints appear at Scambook, and there are more at Absolute Write. There's a Facebook page devoted to warnings about Raider. Raider now has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. At least one petition has been filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. In 2014, the BBC Radio 4 program You & Yours did an expose of Salviani and Raider, featuring an interview with Salviani himself in which he denied the allegations of defrauded authors.

In 2014, Writer Beware added Raider and related operations to our Thumbs Down Publishers List.

In true deadbeat fashion, Salviani has made several attempts to escape his reputation, as well as to resolve his own financial issues. He established several new publishers with different names: Purehaven Press and Perimedes Publishing (both defunct), and purportedly UK-based Green Shore Publishing, about which I posted a warning last year. (GSP is still active, but as a result of an investigation by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, Salviani was forced to remove numerous fake testimonials from its website.) In September 2014, Salviani declared personal bankruptcy.

He also put Raider on publishing hiatus toward the end of 2013. However, possibly as a result of resolving his bankruptcy case, he appears to be ramping it up again. Last December, Raider pumped out 12 titles in quick succession, and has published one title so far in 2015.

Given this renewed activity, it seems a good idea to post a second warning. Writers, beware of Raider Publishing International.

April 13, 2015

Amazon Takes On Fake Review Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The actual impact of four- and five-star reviews on Amazon and other retailers' websites is a matter of ongoing debate, but their perceived importance is not.

Which explains why, if those reviews aren't accumulating on their own, there's a quick fix--as long as you're willing to hold your nose and open your wallet. Throw a virtual rock these days, and you'll probably hit a service that, for as little as five dollars, will create a glowing review of your product and post it online--even if the reviewer has never used or even looked at your product.

Authors are as vulnerable to the lure of the quick publicity fix as anyone else (perhaps even more so, given the crowded book marketplace and the struggle for discoverability). One of the most infamous examples of book boosting by dubious means is self-publishing superstar John Locke, who, as one of his publicity strategies, bought hundreds of book reviews from a service called And Locke wasn't the only one. According to the New York Times, GettingBookReviews sold over 4,500 reviews in its relatively short career.

For retailers, fake reviews are a nuisance, not just because they violate Terms of Use but because they degrade the value of real reviews. Partly as a result of fake review scandals, consumers are far less trustful of reviews than they were a few years ago (there's even a website called Fakespot that purports to analyze Amazon reviews for veracity). Amazon has periodically tightened its review guidelines and purged reviews its algorithms identify as fake--sometimes deleting real reviews in the process

Now Amazon is taking more direct action. Last week, it filed suit against three websites it accuses of selling fake reviews. According to The Seattle Times,
The suit, filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, accuses Jay Gentile of California and websites that operate as and, among others, of trademark infringement, false advertising and violations of the Anticyber­squatting Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
Additional websites named are and As of this writing, only and are still online.

From the full complaint, which can be seen here:
A very small minority of sellers an d manufacturers attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews. Defendants’ businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews....

Defendants are misleading Amazon’s customers and tarnishing Amazon’s brand for their own profit and the profit of a handful of dishonest sellers and manufacturers. Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping Defendants and disrupting the marketplace in which they participate.
Amazon is asking that defendants be ordered to hand over their profits, pay damages and attorneys' fees, and cease using Amazon's trademarks and services. It's also asking that they be required to "Provide information sufficient to identify each Amazon review created in exchange for payment, and the accounts and persons who paid for and created such reviews." Not good news, if you ever used one of these services.

I'll be following this case as it unfolds. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see whether it has a chilling effect on the business of selling fake reviews.

(Of course, you don't have to pay someone else to create fake reviews for you. If you're enterprising, unscrupulous, and willing to invest a lot of time in self-aggrandizement, you can do it all on your own.)

April 9, 2015

The Strange and Twisted Tale of Peter Senese, Serial Con Man

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On March 31, 2014, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the New York field office of the FBI announced charges against Peter Thomas Senese, founder and director of the I CARE Foundation, which billed itself as a group combating the crime of parental child abduction. From the press release:

Since at least 2013, SENESE allegedly defrauded parents whose children were victims of international abduction by falsely representing that he, working with the worldwide resources of I CARE, could rescue their children and return to them to the United States in exchange for money for his purported rescue operation expenses.

Senese allegedly conned over $50,000 from one parent of a lost child, and is charged with one count of wire fraud (the criminal complaint can be seen here). He was arrested and arraigned March 31. He's currently free on bail.

Okay--but what, you may be wondering, is Peter Senese doing on Writer Beware? Well, before he started preying on desperate parents, he ran an elaborate literary scam.

I first heard of Senese in 2007, when I began to get questions about a project called Bookbeat--a supposedly  in-development TV show featuring books and authors. Despite a cheesy-looking website full of ungrammatical text, Bookbeat purported to be affiliated with major players in the entertainment industry. No staff were named on the website, but a fairly easy-to-trace trail led to Senese, who claimed to head the impressively-titled Orion Entertainment Group, and to have authored a bestselling blockbuster novel called Cloning Christ.

All of this, of course, was much less than it appeared. Orion Entertainment was not (as its plagiarized logo suggested) in any way connected with defunct production company Orion Pictures, but was Senese's own venture. The execrably-written Cloning Christ was also a self-venture, though the name Senese gave his publishing company--Orion Publishing & Media, so close to the name of the real, UK-based Orion Publishing--certainly seemed designed to suggest otherwise.

I blogged about Bookbeat...and immediately began hearing from people who'd had encounters with Senese. Individuals told me that they'd auditioned in 2005 and 2006 for Bookbeat jobs that never happened (names dropped included Laurence Fishburn, who supposedly would serve as host), were hired to provide services for Bookbeat (for instance, a line of sportswear with Bookbeat logos) and were never compensated, were promised Bookbeat prizes and publishing contracts that never materialized, and were paid for Bookbeat-related services with checks that bounced. Here's a typical story, one of the few that still remains online (Senese was skilled at getting negative info about himself removed from the Internet).

It was becoming clear to me that Senese was more than just the creator of a literary scam: he was a prolific and habitual con artist--and a pretty effective one, too, at least in the initial stages. Nearly everyone I communicated with told me how charismatic, warm, and convincing they found him at first. It was only after they'd been involved with him for a while that the illusion began to thin, eroded by those never-arriving payments and bounced checks, along with missed appointments, mysterious postponements, and claims that were just too grandiose to believe or not quite consistent enough to ring true. When things got hot, Senese would do a bunk. One of his often-used excuses was his son, Tyler, whom he claimed had been abducted by his ex-wife and taken overseas (in reality, Senese and his wife shared custody of Tyler, and though she did take him to New Zealand at one point, it was with court permission). Tyler would suddenly need rescue, or there would be new information, and Senese would have to rush off to deal with it.

As I've mentioned, Senese was good at getting negative information about himself redacted. He got wind of my post soon after I put it online, and went to court to obtain an order for its removal (a scan of the order can be seen here). The order was contingent on personal service, which he wasn't able to accomplish (he attempted service via my publisher, which sensibly refused to accept). Nevertheless, Blogger yanked the post without an attempt to investigate, and I wasn't able to get them to reinstate it. Luckily, I was able to preserve a copy of the post, along with the 96 comments it accumulated, many from Senese's victims (and some--anonymously--from Senese). You can see it here.

Though my post was gone, a call for contact I'd put out on a thread about Senese on the Done Deal Pro message boards remained. As a result, over the years that followed I received a steady trickle of contacts and questions from people who'd encountered Senese. Here's the gist of what I heard and learned:
  • In 1997 in Suffolk County, NY, Senese was sentenced to five years' probation on one count of felony grand larceny for posing as a health care venture capitalist. (I spoke with the arresting officer.)
  • In California in 1998, Senese was sentenced to 9 months in jail and 3 years' probation on one count of burglary with intent to commit grand larceny, for writing bad checks. (I've confirmed this via news articles like the one reproduced here.)
  • In 2003, following the release of Cloning Christ, Senese contacted Christian booksellers across the country to set up signings. He told the booksellers that his novel was about to be made into a major motion picture starring Viggo Mortensen and John Malkovich, and promised that the stars would attend the signings. Senese then failed to show up for the signings, leaving booksellers stuck with large quantities of unsalable, unreturnable books. This scheme was the focus of an article in a 2004 issue of Christian Retailing magazine; though I've been unable to obtain a copy, I've corresponded with one of the booksellers Senese conned.
  • Around 2008, I started hearing from people who'd met Senese in his guise as a child advocate, or through his I CARE Foundation (I CARE's website is gone, but here's a cached version) and had become suspicious enough to do a websearch on him. On the other hand, Senese was convincing enough to attract the support of reputable professionals, and in 2010 got legit public attention as a child advocate when he appeared as a witness in support of a Florida Senate bill to combat parental child abduction. That appearance also attracted some less welcome attention--namely, a long article in the Tampa Bay Times that detailed his checkered history. Like my blog post, the article gathered scores of comments, many from disillusioned parents.
  • I've also heard from: a national literacy organization to which Senese gave an elaborate presentation about Bookbeat; a woman to whom he offered a job on a project supposedly connected with the Vatican Archives; a producer he met at a party in LA and tried to involve in an unnamed film project; a writer whom he solicited to write a comedy script for him; a group of friends whom he wined and dined and then stuck with the $700 bill; a costume designer he solicited to work for his Orion Entertainment production company; an actress who contacted him as a result of a casting call, but got suspicious when she met him; an Italian production services company he was in talks to hire for a movie of Cloning Christ; an Italian filmmaker who was approached by a friend on Senese's behalf for the same (nonexistent) project; a man to whom Senese promised a production assistant position if the man would move to LA (names dropped included Johnny Depp); people from whom he solicited donations for a movie of another of his books, Chasing the Cyclone; staff at hotels where he claimed to be planning to conduct events, and more. All these individuals and organizations smelled a rat, went looking for information online, and found my call for contact.
It may seem amazing that Senese could get away with his shenanigans for so long. But those who prey on others' deepest vulnerabilities often go unmolested by the law for considerable periods of time, in part because their victims are so reluctant to speak out or to give up the last shred of hope. Also, a number of the people who contacted me seemed to be afraid of Senese. He did sue one parent who spoke out publicly about his doubts (the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction).

The other thing that's fascinating about this case is that for Senese, it seems to have only partly been about the money. Yes, he's charged with obtaining funds under false pretenses. Yes, many of the people who contacted me spent serious cash on things like travel and materials as a result of Senese's enticements and promises.Yes, he bounced checks and failed to pay for services.

But only a handful of the dozens of individuals I spoke or corresponded with said that they were directly asked for money. What many of them remembered most was Senese's relish for the roles he chose--the big producer, the bestselling author, the hero child advocate--and the sincere conviction with which he played them. Did he actually believe in these identities, at least while he was inhabiting them? There's no way to know. But several of his victims told me they were certain some degree of mental illness was involved.

I've seen some strange things in my years with Writer Beware, but the spiraling tale of Peter Senese, serial con man, is definitely one of the strangest. I'm almost going to miss those every-now-and-then emails that bring me news of his latest bizarre doings.

Senese's content has started disappearing from the web, but you can still see cached versions of his several websites. His Amazon author page is still there, as is his Twitter feed, at least for now; you can sample his self-aggrandizing tweets, which he was making right up to the day of his arrest.

April 1, 2015

Naughty-No-No! E-reading App Keeps Young Minds Pristine

Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware

If you follow publishing news, you're probably aware of the recent controversy over Clean Reader, a reading app that scrubs ebooks clean of curse words and profanity.

Now, in a step toward the future of interactive digital media, bold start-up Inkadinkadu has partnered with a number of major ebook distributors to produce and distribute a new reading app, called Naughty-No-No!.

Starting where censorship app Clean Reader leaves off, Naughty-No-No! allows readers to make any ebook capable of being read and enjoyed by pre-schoolers down to the age of three. “If they can read, they can read with Naughty-No-No!,” said Inkadinkadu head honcho Jimmy Duranceville, “and, if they can’t read yet, the app will read the book to them in a voice modeled after the legendary stage and screen actress Shirley Temple Black during her famous child actor years."

Not only does it substitute baby-language for those words that parents have rightfully banned from their children’s vocabulary, Naughty-No-No! simulates the simplified grammar that young children use before they’ve fully developed their language skills. References to bodily parts and functions in the text are altered to those words that every child learns to say first, such as pee-pee, poo-poo, hoo-hoo, fooey, and the rest. Any of the other words that children shouldn’t see or hear are replaced with “no-no!” When heard in the precocious voice of Shirley Temple, these passages are simply irresistible to a child of any age. Religion-based curse words are transformed into the inoffensive gol-darnit, krikey, gosh, h-e-double-hockey-sticks, and crimeny.

Inkadinkadu anticipates that if their product can be distributed widely, an entire generation of young readers will grow up to be untainted by corruption. Internet and real-world versions of the app are in the works, so stay tuned.

The app will be available as soon as authors stop whining about having their precious writing ruined.

March 31, 2015

Bookbzz -- Buzzed Off?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, I started hearing from writers who'd entered a contest sponsored by an outfit called Bookbzz, which describes itself thus: was designed as a simple but powerful book marketing engine to enable authors and publishers to better market their books.

By gathering together basic information and enabling social sharing we are able to provide authors with a free marketing suite, reviews and tell-a-friend engine to promote their books.
While listing a book is free, Bookbzz pushes its Premium Membership option, which costs $7.50 per month (for one book) and offers the "opportunity" for writers to pay much more for additional promotional services.

The contest, Prize Writer Competition 2015, solicited entries in ten categories (children's books, fantasy novels, etc.) and promised cash prizes to the top three finishers in each category, who were to be chosen by public vote. (Contest description and guidelines no longer seem to be present on the Bookbzz website, but you can still see happy posts from finalists.)

On March 5, Bookbzz announced the winners...and promptly vanished. Authors assumed it was a technical glitch. But as time went on and the website did not reappear, and emails and social media posts disappeared into the ether with no response from either Bookbzz owner Conrad Murray or his partner, Paige Doyle, writers got anxious--and then angry. Author Helen Hollick blogged about her experience:
The whole thing, the Bookbzz website, the offer to advertise books and running the competition it transpires, was very possibly all a scam. Or maybe the people running it, Conrad Murray and Paige Doyle didn’t make the money they had hoped for from eager punters and got fed up with it? Maybe the website is down because of computer problems – it’s possible, but many disgruntled authors who have been eagerly waiting to hear about our prize money since the beginning of March have not had emails responded to. No answers on Twitter or Facebook. No response from connections via Mr Murray’s other publishing ventures of Swan’s Nest Publishing Canada and Bookmarq. His contact e-mail on Linkedin bounces back as unknown.
Frustrated writers have begun filing Paypal disputes in order to get their entry fees back. Possibly in response to this, the Bookbzz website popped back into existence this week. But it (along with Bookbzz's social media) hasn't been updated since March 5...apart from this sad addition to Conrad Murray's prizewinners announcement:
A few of you will be aware that a long-time relationship with someone I have lived with for 27 years has come to an end and I am taking some time to adjust to an empty, silent house with no laughter. It may take me some time to get back to being fully functional.

For the last month Paige has had to cope with pretty much everything on his own which is difficult enough at the best of times, let alone when we are trying to wrap up a competition. We will be writing to all Prize Winners and placed books within 2-3 days and adding flashes to your book pages plus sending you your winners’ publicity pack and prizes.
Authors, who are shedding no tears, also aren't holding their breath.

Who is Conrad Murray? His social media profiles sound ever so impressive--though on a closer look they're kind of vague, and if you decide to dig into them, you'll have a hard time tracking down the companies where he says he's worked. There's also some confusing interpenetration: for instance, a book Murray claims to have been hired to market through his "marketing and production services" company,, actually appears to be a book he published through his publishing company, Swan's Nest Canada (which does not appear to have published anything else).

I wrote last year about's Finding a Publisher service, one of those worthless middleman services that--for a fee, of course--claims to market writers to literary agents. Other Bookmarq services are similarly dubious--a Rights Reversion Management scheme that offers no examples, editing and cover design services that provide no staff credentials. I can find no trace of any books ever published by Bookmarq (other than the one mentioned above), although it claims to provide self-publishing services. Bookmarq and Murray also ran afoul of the folks on Kboards when Murray (via his supposed partner Paige Doyle, whom many writers do not believe is a real person) tried to shill Bookmarq's services (for the short version, see David Gaughran's evisceration of Murray's claims). 

All of which makes the happenings at Bookbzz somewhat less surprising--though no less distressing.

Will Murray make good on his promise to contact prizewinners and release the prizes? No word as yet. Either way, I would love to hear from winners--either in the comments here or via email to Writer Beware.

I attempted to reach out to Conrad Murray for comment, via social media and the contact form on the Bookbzz website. As of this writing, I haven't received a response.

UPDATE, 4/4/15: Murray has posted a rambling statement on the Bookbzz site, claiming that he has "lost control of Bookbzz content", that "the business accounts were systematically emptied," and that "In the absence of any money from the business accounts [prizes] will have to be paid from my own resources," a task he "hopes to have completed" by the end of April. A screenshot is below, in case the statement disappears.

Bookbzz winners, please keep me posted, whether you do--or do not--receive your prizes.

March 26, 2015

Second Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Author Solutions Inc.

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In April 2013, the law firm of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart filed a class action lawsuit against Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI). The case survived various motions to dismiss, and this past February completed discovery and filed for class certification.

Now the same law firm has filed a second class action against ASI.

Dated March 23, 2015, the complaint was filed in District Court in the Southern District of Indiana (ASI's headquarters are in Bloomington, Indiana) on behalf of two new plaintiffs, Patricia Wheeler and Helen Heightsman Gordon. It alleges fraud, unjust enrichment, and violation of various statutes and consumer protection acts, including the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act and the Indiana Senior Consumer Sales Act (Wheeler is over 60 years of age).

ASI's parent company, Penguin Group (which was bounced from the first class action early on) is not named as a defendant.

The complaint, which can be seen in full here, focuses largely on ASI's sales tactics and marketing services.
5. In truth, Author Solutions operates more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the Authors themselves. In other words, unlike a traditional publisher, Author Solutions makes money from its Authors, not for them. It does so by selling books back to its Authors, not to a general readership, and by selling its Authors expensive publishing, editing, and marketing services (“Services”) that are effectively worthless.

6. Author Solutions aggressively sells publishing and marketing services (“Services”) to its Authors through a large sales force of telemarketers, largely based in the Philippines, who introduce themselves as the Author’s personal "Publishing Consultant” or “Marketing Consultant.” This has the deceptive effect of leading Authors to believe that the “consultant” has a background in publishing or marketing and has the requisite skills to guide the Author through the publishing process. In fact, these “consultants” are simply commissioned sales people with aggressive quotas who are not required to have any publishing or marketing experience. Author Solutions never discloses this fact to Authors.

7. Similarly, the Company employs scores of “Book Consultants,” a sales team whose goal it is to sell hundreds of the Authors’ own books back to the Author. However, Author Solutions does not employ any sales force to sell an Author’s books to the general public - referred to as the retail channel – because, unlike with traditional publishers, an Author’s retail success is largely irrelevant to Author Solutions.
Both plaintiffs in this new lawsuit spent small fortunes with ASI: Ms Wheeler dropped nearly $25,000, and Ms. Gordon handed over more than $10,000. Details of their experiences are included in the complaint; even if, like me, you've seen a lot of ASI complaints, it makes for pretty awful reading.

If you've published with an ASI imprint and would like to share your experience, there's a form on Giskan Solotaroff's website where you can do so.

EDITED TO ADD: In a three-part series at The Independent Publishing Magazine, Mick Rooney has dug deep into the depositions from the first class action: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. There are some fascinating revelations about ASI's practices and policies, especially in regard to the "partner imprints" it has established with major publishers.

For a wrapup, see David Gaughan's post: Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story.

March 23, 2015

Rights Grab: Omni Reboot (Updated)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Do you remember Omni Magazine? Created in the 1970s by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, it published some of the most iconic names in science fiction, along with in-depth articles on science and the paranormal. It ceased publication in 1998.

In 2013, Omni's archives were purchased by Jeremy Frommer of media company Jerrick Ventures. In addition to putting all past issues of Omni online, Frommer resurrected Omni as an online-only publication called Omni Reboot.

Omni Reboot, which describes itself as "the intersection of science, technology, art, culture, design, and metaphysics," has published features and fiction, and is open for submissions. Its website offers no details about rights or payment. However, a writer who recently received a publication offer sent me a copy of the Jerrick Ventures contract (Jerrick Ventures owns several other webzines in addition to Omni Reboot)--and it includes a major rights grab.

Here's the relevant language (my bolding):
WHEREAS, by this Agreement, Author desires to assign to Company exclusive ownership of all the rights in the Approved Entries, including the copyright herein....

Section 3. Assignment. Author does hereby irrevocably assign to Company and its successors all right, title, and interest throughout the world, in and to the Approved Entries, including without limitation, any copyrights and other proprietary rights in and to the Approved Entries in any media now known or hereinafter developed, and in and to all income, royalties, damages, claims and payments now or hereafter due or payable with respect thereto, and in and to all causes of action, either in law or in equity for past, present, or future infringement of such rights.
The contract defines Approved Entries as entries chosen for publication. So if you publish with Omni Reboot (or other Jerrick Ventures webzines), you must surrender copyright--and this is not a temporary arrangement, as is sometimes the case with copyright transfers. The contract includes no provision for authors to request that their copyrights be returned.

What about money? Some writers might be willing to consider trading copyright ownership for a fat paycheck. The contract doesn't mention rates; all it says is:
Section 2. Payment. Company shall negotiate payment with author on a per assignment basis.
However, the acceptance email received by the writer who shared the contract with me did not mention money at all. Apparently, the writer was expected to sign the contract--thereby giving up copyright--without even knowing what Omni Reboot would pay.

Last December I wrote about The Toast, whose contract included a similar copyright grab. In response to the outpouring of criticism that resulted, The Toast agreed to change its contract to ask for First North American Rights only. Might Omni Reboot do the same--and perhaps, also, be more transparent about payment? Here's hoping.

UPDATE 3/23/15: Someone tweeted a link to this post to Omni Reboot. Here's its response:

Sean Sullivan, Omni Reboot's content manager also contacted me directly, with a similar statement.

However, the contract I saw did not read like a work-for-hire contract. The US Copyright Office  defines work-for-hire as "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment" or "a work specially ordered or commissioned." The writer submitted through Omni's submission page--so the work was not commissioned--and the contract not only makes no mention of work-for-hire, it is very specific about designating the writer an independent contractor, rather than an employee:
Section 7. Relationship. Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be construed as creating a joint venture, partnership, agency, or employment relationship between Author and Company....Author shall at all times be an independent contractor (and not an employee or agent of the Company)
I've requested that Mr. Sullivan clarify if I'm misreading any of this, and also, if this was the wrong contract, that he share the correct one with me. I'll update this post when I hear back.

UPDATE 3/30/14: As of today, Sean Sullivan has not responded to my request, nor shared the "correct" contract. In the meantime, I've heard from another writer who was offered the "incorrect" contract--which shows, if nothing else, that this is not an isolated incident.

March 10, 2015

Manuscript Pitch Websites: Do Literary Agents Use Them?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, a writer contacted me to ask about,"a website that blends the worlds of literary agents and writers under one roof."

For Writers:
You’ll have the ability to have your pitch/pitches read by hundreds of literary agents. With the click of a button an agent can request your manuscript and instantly an email will be sent to you as well as a notice to your homepage....

For Agents:

As an agent you’ll have the ability to search through pitches by specific genres. With the click of a button a request of materials will be sent to any pitch you like, this request letter will be completely customized by you as a field in your personal profile.
The question the writer wanted to ask me was whether WriterPitch's Terms and Conditions posed a problem, specifically the User Content clause:
You grant to a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, adapt, publish, translate and distribute your user content in any existing or future media. You also grant to the right to sub-license these rights, and the right to bring an action for infringement of these rights.
I told her that this language was not ideal--it'd be preferable if the license were limited to operation of the service--but that it's also very common. You'll find similar language on just about any website that accepts user content. It's not intended to enable the site to rip off users' intellectual property, but to allow the site to operate online.

Such language is a concern, and if you're going to participate in a website whose Terms include it, you need to understand it and its implications. With WriterPitch, however, there's a much more pressing question.

Will agents use it?

Manuscript pitch websites, a.k.a. manuscript display sites or electronic slushpiles, often present themselves as new! Revolutionary! Disruptive! Truth is, they've been around for as long as I've been doing Writer Beware (more than 15 years now--gulp).

First appearing in the late 1990s, they were billed as writers' Great New Hope for getting around the antiquated system of gatekeepers. Problem was, agents didn't take to them. By the turn of the century, most were defunct. The earliest and biggest, Authorlink, survives only as a publishing service.

Over the years, many iterations of the same idea have surfaced. I've written about some of them here (Agent Inbox, AuthorForSale, Publishers Desk, Agent Artery). Other examples (and looking through my list, I had trouble finding ones that were still alive): The Author Hub, First 3 Chapters, TV Writers Vault, Inkubate.

All these sites are selling a dream: of access, of a shortcut, of a magic ticket that will somehow transform the world of publishing from a buyer's market, where agents pick and choose, into a sellers' market, where agents come to you.

But this was a fantasy in 1998, and it's a fantasy now. I have never seen a pitch site that is able to show evidence that reputable agents regularly use it. Agent Inbox, for instance, which boasts a large roster of agents and has been around since 2009, cites just one success story. Others cite none at all.

Unconvinced? I reached out on Twitter to ask agents whether they would use a website like WriterPitch.

The response was unanimous: No. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post for screenshots of agents' tweets). Some feel it's extra work they don't have time for--they're already awash in queries, why go looking for more? Others have no interest in a website full of pitches unvetted for quality. Still others point out that just as writers are looking for agents who get them, agents are looking for writers who want them. They prefer writers who target them specifically, rather than tossing a pitch out into the world for anyone passing by.

Another concern: even if pitch websites (or pitch events--#pitmad or #tenqueries, for instance) draw reputable agents, they may also draw inexperienced or questionable ones. There are some excellent names on WriterPitch's tiny list of member agents, but there are also some with iffy track records, or from fledgeling agencies that haven't yet made any sales. An agent contact you receive as a result of a pitch site listing may not be the kind of contact you're really looking for.

WriterPitch founder Samatha Fountaina says that WriterPitch aims to become more than just an author-agent matching service. "It's all about helping each other," she told me in email, "and giving writers a place to concentrate their web presence with a personal writers profile, their pitches, and blog posts about writing. Writers can even see how many page views their blog posts or pitches have received. This site is brand new and is evolving and that's in part because of the amazing writers that are part of WriterPitch. We hope to grow into something that writers look to."

Time will tell. In the meantime, unlike some other pitch sites, WriterPitch appears to be free. So there's probably no harm in using it. But if you do, don't pin all your hopes of finding an agent on it--and definitely don't stop querying the old-fashioned way.

EDITED 3/12/15 TO ADD: Writers take note: WriterPitch's Terms currently don't include any provisions for terminating your account and removing your material. Samantha has informed me that these will be added soon.

March 6, 2015

Update: Lawsuit Against Author Solutions Inc.

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Reported in Publishers Lunch last week (but apparently nowhere else): the lawsuit against Author Solutions launched in 2013 has completed the discovery stage, and has filed for class certification. 
A February 26 filing in New York's Southern District Court by Kelvin James, Jodi Foster, and Mary Simmons (added to the suit after Terry Hardy dropped out in the fall of 2013) asks Judge Denise Cote for certification of the class, covering 170,000 or more authors "who, during the period 2007 through the present, purchased a publishing package or service from Author Solutions."

The plaintiffs say their lawsuit is "a case about a publishing company that makes money from authors, not for them." They allege again that ASI "operates more like a telemarketing company, not a publisher, that employs a large, commissioned sales force to sell books and services to its target audience: the Authors themselves, not the general public." The filing quotes an Author Solutions executive saying in a deposition that the company "has no idea whether the services help authors sell books," which the plaintiffs call "struthious" and a pretense.

The plaintiffs believe the "evidence common to all class members will prove that Author Solutions deceptively sold Publishing Packages and other Services by making false, untrue, or misleading statements, and by concealing critical information from the Plaintiffs and Class" -- namely that its "consultants" are in fact telemarketers who do not need to have experience in publishing matters; that it lies about being "invested in Authors' success"; that its "Rising Star" program with Barnes & Noble is a fiction; that the company "does not know whether Authors succeed in the retail channel and makes no effort to find out"; and that services "are not reasonably designed to help Authors sell books or to accomplish their stated goal and are effectively worthless."
Memorandum of Law in support of plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

Excerpts from the depositions of plaintiffs and Author Solutions staff. A lengthy document that unpacks a lot of information about ASI's business model and internal operations, and makes for fascinating reading. For instance, if you wondered what the appeal of an ASI-run self-publishing division was for a traditional publishing house, here's how it worked for Thomas Nelson's WestBow Press (from the deposition of Don Seitz):

So the "partner" publisher earns a "royalty", a.k.a. a percentage of the fees authors pay (and ASI's salespeople earn a commission on sales, so they're highly motivated to sell as many services as possible). It would also appear that services like marketing are priced higher for partner publishers, to account for the "cost differential" of the royalty:

Author and ASI critic David Gaughran also offers some analysis, in his recent blog post about Barnes & Noble's partnership with ASI.

Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart, the firm that's conducting the lawsuit, has an update on the case on its website with a form that ASI authors can fill out.

March 2, 2015

Author Solutions Inc. Losing Market Share As Production Numbers Fall

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On February 9, while doing research on something else, I noticed that Harlequin's Author Solutions, Inc.-run self-publishing imprint, Dellarte Press, had closed its doors. Dellarte's website is now a placeholder, with a "we're sorry" message.

Some of you may remember the outcry that greeted Dellarte (originally named Harlequin Horizons) when ASI and Harlequin rolled it out in November 2009. (By contrast, the earlier launch of WestBow Press for Thomas Nelson caused barely a ripple). Writers flipped out. A slew of pro writers' groups either issued statements condemning the move or de-listing Harlequin. Ultimately, the bad press forced Harlequin to change the service's name and also to distance itself from Dellarte. Of the several self-pub divisions run by ASI for traditional publishers, Dellarte was the only one that didn't prominently tout the connection with its parent publisher.

Why such an abrupt, unannounced closure for Dellarte? Harlequin hasn't talked, and neither has ASI. But maybe it was because Dellarte did almost no business.

Mick Rooney, writing about the closure in The Independent Publishing Magazine, discovered that over the past 5 years, Dellarte published just 16 titles. This is a shockingly small number, and understandably, some people were skeptical, including Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader*. However, it's been confirmed for me by an independent source (and also by the report I discuss below).

The question that immediately occurred to me: is Dellarte an exception? Or are other ASI imprints also doing tiny business?

The answer is "not really." A report by Bowker, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2008-2013, includes a special section on total print and ebook ISBN output at ASI**, which indicates that production at most ASI imprints is in the four-figure range. However, only Xlibris and AuthorHouse crack five figures. And the statistics show something even more interesting: production at ASI is in decline.

There's an up-and-down pattern for individual imprints, but overall, ASI production increased steadily between 2008 and 2011, when output hit a high of 52,648. (Though compare that to CreateSpace's 2011 ISBN output of 58,862.)

In 2012, things started to slip. Numbers rose at Trafford, WestBow, and Palibrio, but fell at other imprints (Xlibris and AuthorHouse by around 3,000 ISBNs each); as a result, overall output declined to 49,885. (For the same period, CreateSpace output more than doubled, to 131,460.)

The slide accelerated in 2013. With the exception of Balboa Press and Partridge India (which Bowker only started tracking that year), every single ASI imprint lost ground. Total output fell to 44,574, a decrease of 5,311. Meanwhile, CreateSpace continued its meteoric rise, leaping to 186,926.

We'll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran's The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model--print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling--is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.***


* Nate suggested that the number was so small because Dellarte titles have been folded in among other ASI imprints. But ASI has always been very careful to preserve the division between its own operations and the imprints it runs for others, and does everything possible to distance itself (for some of the imprints, you have to look at the Privacy Policy to know that ASI is involved). It has also kept Abbot Press running and separate, even after Writer's Digest bowed out. So I think it's unlikely that it made Dellarte titles disappear.

** Archway Press is not included because Bowker did not start tracking it until 2014. Many thanks to David Gaughran for sharing this report with me.

*** Other companies featured on this blog that lost ground in 2013: PublishAmerica, Dorrance, and, surprisingly, Smashwords (though overall, Smashwords' output is second only to CreateSpace's; the decline could also reflect fewer authors choosing to use ISBNs).
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