A Ballsy Scam

I stumbled on this post from Writer Beware very late…but wow, what a ballsy and inept scam. A fake PR firm, the Albee Agency, advertised itself with fake endorsements from non-existent novelists and even a few real authors…and actually thought they could get away with it. Victoria Strauss caught'em. 

Now, these are all authors I'd never heard of before. Maybe their books never got published, or went out of print, or something. Maybe my Google-fu was just not up to par. But wait–here's an author I do know: Chuck Wendig (if you're not familiar with his blog, you should get to know it). Wow, Chuck really had a great experience with Albee, didn't he?

However, I have a suspicious mind. So I dropped Chuck a line, asking if he'd indeed hired The Albee Agency to do PR for him. His response:

WTF? Who is the Albee Agency? They have a testimonial from me on their main page that I never made. thealbeeagency.com (@victoriastrauss)

[…]So….fake testimonials. Nonexistent authors; authors quoted without permission. There are no gray areas here: The Albee Agency is engaging in fraudulent behavior. This just emphasizes–as if y'all didn't already know–that writers need to watch out for scams.

The bigger point, though, is that even without the fake testimonials, there is plenty to beware of here. If Albee were absolutely, scrupulously honest about the authors it has worked with, it would still be offering services of dubious value for too much money, with no assurance of professional expertise.

And that, my friends, is a much bigger danger these days than an outright, bona-fide scam.

The Mail I Get

Today it's not my mail, but some that my friend author Joel Goldman received from a self-published author of erotic novels. She offered to swap reviews with him. He decided to play dumb, though he had a pretty good idea where this was going. He asked her:

Are we talking about reading each other’s books before we review them or just posting reviews of them?

And she replied:

Whatever suits you.

I checked out your work and it looks fine and properly formatted. If you want me to read and review it i’ll do it with five stars.

Similarly if you want me to post or reword your review I’ll do that too. What I’m after is a five star review on Amazon with as little work and as quickly as possible. I’m not asking you to read [title of book], I guess you have better things to do.

My first chapter is up there (on line), so you can judge the writing, I can post you a review to submit or reword or a synopsis to save you time.

Joel politely declined. This exchange would be funny if this sort of "review swapping" wasn't so common, especially among newbie authors. Just check out forums like Kindleboards and you'll see for yourself. 

What's really sad isn't how they are devaluing reviews, or how low their literary standards are ("it looks fine and is properly formatted") but that they don't see what's wrong with what they are doing, or how badly leaving rave reviews for books they haven't read (and are probably shit) reflects on their reputations, both as authors and as reviewers.

They simply don't care.

All that matters to them is garnering praise, even if its entirely fake and undeserved. They are so desperate for acclaim, success and respect that they have forgotten all those things have to be earned…and how good it feels when it is. 

And that's a feeling you'll never get from reviews by people who've never actually read your book…or, in the case of John Locke, from people you pay to buy your book and rave about it.

You're not just fooling customers, you're fooling yourself, and that might be the most hurtful swindle of all.


Imprints for Success

0383 Lee Goldberg ecover King City_14 (1)For a while now, the editors at New York publishing companies have been warning authors who are thinking of jumping ship to one of Amazon Publishing's imprints that not only won't their books be in brick-and-mortar stores, but they also won't make nearly as much money. 

"You'll disappear," they say. "Your career will be over. Nobody will be able to find your books anymore."

While it's true that you won't see many Amazon-imprint books at your local Barnes & Noble or at airport bookstores….so what? Ebooks are outselling prints books today. And while your ego may take a hit not seeing your book on a store shelf, your wallet won't. Unless you're an A-lister like Lee Child, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, or Michael Connelly, etc., you will sell a lot more books and make a lot more money with Amazon than with a "legacy" publisher.

I know many authors, formerly with NY publishers, who are now with one of Amazon's imprints…and earning more than they ever did before. I'm one of them. KING CITY has already made me more money in the last 90 days than my last two MONK novels combined.

But I am not alone. Today Amazon Publishing exec Jeff Belle sent a letter to agents telling them what we Amazon authors already knew…that the imprints are a huge success. He also punctured the big lie, which I have heard repeated many times, that Barry Eisler made a costly mistake walking away from a $500,000, two-book St. Martin's contract in favor of working with Amazon. Belle said, in part:

We are especially focused on increasing the audience for our authors. The Detachment, by Barry Eisler, published last September by Thomas & Mercer, has sold over three times the copies of any of Barry’s previous New York Times bestselling books. New York Times bestselling author Connie Brockway joined Montlake Romance as our launch author, and The Other Guy’s Bride has also gone on to sell more than three times the copies of her other recent titles. These authors, along with Amazon Publishing, are helping to redefine what it means to be a bestseller. We’re extremely proud of the results so far.

We are as determined as ever to make sure that Amazon Publishing authors reach a huge audience. In particular, we will continue to heavily market and promote them to our 180 million customers around the world, through online and offline advertising, our websites, through email, and on millions of Kindle and non-Kindle devices. Based in large part on our long experience as a bookseller, we are confident that this expansive marketing and promotional support will continue to yield strong sales results for our authors.

It's not just the sales that are attractive to authors… it's the talented, friendly and enthusiastic editors, who give authors an enormous say in how their books are packaged and marketed…it's the astonishing effectiveness of their promotional campaigns…and its the far more generous royalties, paid swiftly, and accompanied by clear, easy to understand royalty reports. Amazon Publishing treats authors like partners. And they publish great books.

Is it any wonder Amazon Publishing and their authors are doing so well?

Playing Santa Claus

I had the pleasure of calling writer Barry Napier to let him know that he’d won the “You Can Write a DEAD MAN Novel” contest. Today, he writes on the Kindle Daily Post about the call and his reaction to the news. Here’s an excerpt:

I was stopped at a red light on a Thursday afternoon at a busy intersection with my family. As a mini-meltdown from my son in the back seat rose to a thundering level, my phone rings.


 “Hi,” comes an unfamiliar voice on the other end. “This is Lee Goldberg and I’m calling to let you know that you’ve won the Write a Dead Man contest!”

I paused for a minute. My son kept screaming. With the look of shock on my face, I think my wife must have thought there was bad news on the other end.

“Oh, hi,” I said rather stupidly.

For the next thirty seconds, Lee went through some details, most of which I only caught fragments of.  Feeling like an idiot, I could hardly speak when he was done. The light turned green. A good thing, too; it’s likely the only thing that unfroze me from the amazing news that I had yet to digest.

We’re looking forward to working with him on his DEAD MAN tale, which will be published in early 2013.

It’s the Story, Stupid

TOP SUSPENSE BLOG HEADER 3Seems to me that authors are losing track of what really matters… not the formatting, covers, tweeting, pinning and promotion…it's the story, stupid. I blog about it today at Top Suspense. Here's an excerpt:

I’ve listened to new writers at conferences or while lurking on writers’ boards and the newbie writers seem obsessed with everything except what matters most: the writing.

I believe it’s that misguided obsession that s leading to the ethical scandals we’ve been seeing lately… like John Locke who hired people to buy his books and write fake reviews (to artificially boost his rankings and acclaim) to establish himself… and Stephen Leather and RJ Ellory who both used “sock-puppets” on Amazon and social media to generate false buzz and fake reviews to boost their popularity and attack their "rivals."

What authors need to remind themselves is that all of that formatting, pricing, tweeting, social networking, etc. is meaningless if you don’t know how to tell a good story, create compelling characters, develop a strong voice, set a scene, establish a sense of place, or manage point-of-view.

I rarely hear writers anymore talking about the pluses and minuses of out-lining, the importance of an active protagonist, the different kinds of conflict, or the elements of structure. The craft of writing has taken a backseat to the business of publishing.


Big-breastsI was searching the Internet, trying to learn more about Lee E. Wells, the author of the novel DAY OF THE OUTLAW, the basis for the great western movie of the same name that I watched yesterday, when I came across this hilarious review for his novel PAGEANT. Here's an excerpt:

While the plot travels like a rickety go-cart on the highway of disaster, all the characters are grabbing woman-flesh like it's going out of style. Neither protagonist can make it out of a room without plunging their eyes down the "swell of breasts", "the dark beginning of the valley between breasts" (!?), "full, white, tip-tilted breasts", "the outer curves of breasts", "the untanned swell of the upper curve of her breasts" and  "the swelling curve of upper breasts", "gold-bordered curves", "full-rounded breasts", "water-plastered breasts" and a score of relatively-tactful "full-figures". (For the record, these phrases are all in the first three chapters.)

 Why do his descriptions of breasts all sound like directions to my house? Follow the outer curve until the highway swells up the fully-rounded, untamed, tip-tilted hill, then plunges into the valley.

Outing Outskirts Press

The “Hollywood” package marketed by the vanity press Outskirts Press to naive, aspiring writers is such a blatantly outrageous and predatory rip-off that I am posting Victoria Strauss’ excellent Writer Beware blog post about the shameful scheme in full to make sure the word gets out to anyone foolish enough to be considering it (or the equally worthless one offered by Author Solutions) . 

Self-publishing service Outskirts Press–home of some of the sillier “book marketing” services–is taking advantage of one of writers’ most fevered pipe dreams with its new Book Your Trip to Hollywood service. Of course, the press release doesn’t put it that way: 

These services solve a real problem for many authors who dream of making it big in Hollywood. In fact, just getting Hollywood’s attention is nearly impossible, but with the Book Your Trip to Hollywood suite of services from Outskirts Press, authors receive turn-key, full-service assistance with the push of a button. And with each option, authors receive the feedback and/or participation of a real Hollywood producer and production company; the final results are added to a Hollywood database that is perused by industry professionals for new projects; and exclusive efforts to option the author’s book are immediately set into motion. The author doesn’t have to lift a finger.

Except to pull out his or her credit card.

The first of the “suite of services,” the Hollywood Book-to-Movie Treatment, costs a cool $3,299. For that, you get a 7-10 page “creative adaptation” of your book written by a screenwriter. Which screenwriter? What are his/her credits? Sorry, that info is not available.

You also get an evaluation and a 3-year optioning effort from a Hollywood production company. Which company? What films has it produced? What further compensation might be due if it does manage to get someone to option your treatment? Oh dear–Outskirts isn’t telling you that, either. (The disclaimer that authors have to sign in order to buy the service mentions a “partner production company” with the initials “VM”; that’s too little information even for Writer Beware’s sleuthing superpowers.) 

The second service, the Complete Hollywood Screenplay, has a sticker price of $1,999. Hmmm, you might be thinking; why does an entire screenplay cost less than a 7-10 page treatment? Because the $1,999 is only a downpayment, you big silly! It puts you in touch with a screenwriter (once again, no info on identities or credits) to “discuss additional details”; if you want to proceed, you’ll owe an extra $9,940. (What happens if you don’t want to proceed? Can you get your downpayment back? No word on that from Outskirts.)

Since buying the treatment service is a pre-requisite to buying the screenplay service, the total bill for your Hollywood pipe dream comes to $15,239. Outskirts can even claim that this is a bargain: the very similar services offered by Author Solutions will set you back over $18,000. 

It hurts my heart, and my brain, to think that authors might actually shell out this kind of money for services that would likely net them zero results even if performed by skilled professionals at reasonable prices. Selling a book to Hollywood is one of the most fervent writerly ambitions; it’s also one of the most unattainable. And as much as you may roll your eyes and think, “Surely no one would fall for a scheme like this,” the fact is that people do–or the schemes wouldn’t exist.


Lee here again…
Remember, Outskirts Press is not a publisher. They are a printer. They aren’t making dreams come true…they are taking advantage of the gullibility and desperation of aspiring writers. And they have ZERO credibility and influence with the studios and networks in Hollywood. Give your $15,000 to the first homeless person you see instead… not only would it be a better use of your money, you would also have exactly the same chance of making a movie sale as you would giving it to Outskirts.

More Raves for McGRAVE

0553 Lee Goldberg McGrave_2 (2)

I am so flattered by the great reviews McGRAVE has been getting. Here are a few more Bruce Grossman at Bookgasm says, in part:

It’s e-books like MCGRAVE that are great for tablet reading. Lee Goldberg’s novella is just 70 pages of awesomeness. Think of it as some sort of lost ’80s action film — or both a love letter to and parody of the genre, hitting every beat you would see in those bygone films… the story is literally just one giant action piece from page one, with no let-up, so you don’t stop reading until it’s done. 

The Blue Site said, in part:

Holy crap, this book is insanely fun. I’m not the world’s fastest reader, and with a lot of books, I get easily distracted and take forever to finish. But, I could not put this one down. Sure, I started reading it at 12:30AM, knowing I had to be up at 6AM for classes, but what the heck. I can hate my life tomorrow for the fun I’m having right now.

McGrave isn’t high art. It’s not the type of book you’d see listed in Stuffy Victorian Novels Monthly, and thank God for that. It’s fun for the sake of fun. It’s high impact, high adrenaline, and high class all the way.

And Tyson Adams at Right What You Know said:

McGrave is a straight up actioner, pure fun, and revels in what some would call cheesy cliches. Instead these cliches are actually part of the humour Lee has used to make this story fun. 

I hope this book does well enough to justify me doing more McGrave adventures…because I had a blast writing it.

Scammer Still Scamming

Pity poor Brien Jones, the veteran vanity press sleazo behind Jones Harvest…who preyed on old people, taking their money on the false promise of "publishing" their books, getting them into bookstores and into the hands of Hollywood producers. Scores of people, most of them elderly, lost thousands of dollars to this unrepetent scammer…and now he wants you to feel sorry for him…and write another check. In a letter to his suckers, republished on the Jones Harvest Fraud Victims blog, he writes, in part:

I tried to sell [BOOK TITLE] and the rest every way possible—more ways than you ever heard about. As with 99% of our titles I failed. It’s hard. And if you ever try selling somebody else’s book (or even your own) to bookstores you’ll find it’s also unpleasant.

By 2010 I spent half my day listening to bookstores hang up on me and the other half listening to authors that paid $950 to publish (usually less than we spent on the print run) complain about lack of sales. I have to admit I don’t feel very bad about giving up on some of those clients.

I do feel bad about you. You were one of the few that even acknowledged our website was free of vanity publishing information or that we had a bookstore. Most of our clients never noticed. I kept on trying anyway. 

Astonishing, isn't it? One moment he's talking about taking $950 from authors to "publish" their books and ignore their calls…and the next he's taking pride in the fact that he never disclosed on his site that he was running a thinly-disguised, nickel-and-dime vanity press that primarily preyed on the elderly.  And by his own admission, he failed to sell books 99% of the time… a fact I'm sure he never mentioned when he was sweet-talking some grandma out of a thousand bucks.   

Jones then has the audicity to recommend to everyone that he bilked that they go to Accurance and write another check for $850 to actually get their books "published" this time  (What do you bet he gets a commission on each of those "sales"?)

Bill Earle, a huckster for Accurance, then sent a letter to the Jones Harvest suckers, breaking the news that, despite all the money they gave to Brien Jones, their books were worthless and unsaleable. In other words, they threw their money away. Here's an excerpt:

Right now, we are concentrating everything on the Jones authors who were published with Jones. Those ISBNs are dead now so those books are no longer for sale. Even if sales were poor in the past for whatever reason, you don't have a chance at even one now. 

Our Jones Publishing Package, is fast, high quality, as affordable as is possible, and most importantly – complete. Right now, the book you had published with Jones is no longer valid. The ISBN from Jones for your book is a dead account. We are honored to be able to offer you the fastest way back to the market for just $849. 

It's so nice that Bill is "honored" to offer the Jones Harvest suckers a chance to throw their money away again. 

I have no sympathy at all for anyone who, after already being screwed over by Brien Jones, would now take his advice and write another fat check to yet another vanity press. 

The "deal" that Accurance offers is a rip-off…just like everything Brien Jones has ever been associated with. A non-Jones author could get exactly the same services from Accurance for $500 (I wonder where that extra $250 is going?). But wait, it gets even worse. As Bonnie Kaye, founderof the Jones Harvest Fraud Victims Blog notes:

And guess what—if you take this route, you don’t even have a publisher. Accurance isn’t a publisher—it’s a set-up company that brokers you out to companies like Lulu, where you are your own publisher.

In other words, you could just go to Lulu yourself and cut Accurance out entirely. And you know what it would cost you to get your book published?


Now that's a deal.

The fact is, in today's new world, you'd have to be a brain-dead to pay anyone $900 to publish your book, whether it's Accurance, Tate, DogEar, Author House or anybody else.


Because you can publish for FREE digitally (on Amazon, B&Nand in print (with CreateSpace, Lulu, etc). Amazon, Lulu and CreateSpace take their money as a very small cut of your royalties. They make money when YOU make money. You don't have to pay a dime up front, to say nothing of $850.

You can even avoid the minimal cost of having your work formatted for ebooks by using Smashwords, which will also distribute your book to scores of online retailers. You can even make a cover yourself using your own artwork and a basic photo editing program.

It's time for aspiring authors to wake up and stop being carrion for vultures like Brien Jones. 

UPDATE: 1-3-2012: Adding insult to injury, the notorious sleazo Brien Jones is now sending letters to the authors that he swindled, offering them the "opportunity," if they hurry and act right now, to buy all of the existing, unsold copies of their books back from him for $5.99 each…oh, and be sure to make the checks out to him personally, not his pseudo publishing company (hmm, do you think he could be trying to evade creditors like, for instance, the same authors he's trying to screw now?). 

You Are a Billion Dollar Multi-National Publishing Conglomerate

Unlike in paper, where an author needs a distribution partner to cost-effectively reach a mass market of readers, in digital a lone author has exactly the same ability to distribute as any New York-based, billion-dollar multinational conglomerate.

In that single, succinct paragraph, my buddy Barry Eisler makes it clear why publishers are becoming increasingly irrelevant for authors…and why guys like me are turning down book contracts, even on successful series, from big six publishers in favor of self-publishing and/or publishing through one of the Amazon imprints

That paragraph is an excerpt from Barry's terrific guest post at Writer Unboxed — an essay that should be required reading for authors, editors, publishers, and aspiring writers. Here some more of his sharp observations about the digital landscape.

In digital distribution, legacy publishers offer zero value. An author can distribute one-hundred-percent as effectively alone as she can with a legacy publisher. In other words, in digital distribution, an author has no use for New York. For more, see this guest post I did at J.A. Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (a blog you should absolutely be reading regularly).

Note that I’m only talking about distribution and I’m only talking about digital. I didn’t say that New York publishers have no value to offer in paper, in, editing, or in other areas. To me this is obvious, but I’ve learned to include this sort of disclaimer to make it marginally more difficult for dodgers, denialists, and dudgeon demons to avoid actual thought in favor of straw man arguments and other mischaracterizations of what I’ve actually said.

Third, and flowing from the first two: in a digital world, the primary value a publisher can offer an author is direct-to-consumer marketing. This is why Amazon is so strongly positioned to succeed in digital publishing: its book business is built on its ability to reach tens or even hundreds of millions of readers directly by email. Amazon marketing is both exceptionally focused (book buyers) and exceptionally broad (tens or even hundreds of millions of customers). Entities that can offer authors compelling direct-to-consumer marketing value will be in a good position to take a cut of the profits. One recent example is the L.A. Times. Think of entities that fit the bill, and you’ll be able to predict tomorrow’s publishers.

Interestingly, there’s one particular group of companies that lacks any meaningful direct-to-consumer marketing ability. That group is New York publishing. Draw your own conclusions.

But he's got more to say than just that…go read his post. You won't be sorry.