A Victory Against Vanity Press Scammers

Writers Beware reports the very good news that vanity press scammer Airleaf Publishing, aka Bookman Marketing, was shut down on Dec. 19th, thanks to the aggressive efforts of a group of 275 defrauded authors. Their fight isn’t over — the authors are seeking criminal prosecution against Airleaf founder Carl Lau. 

But what about Airleaf execs/defenders Brien Jones and Krystal Hatfield? How culpable were they in the alleged fraud?

I don’t know what happened to Hatfield but Jones, who worked at Bookman for four years,  is still out there, only now he’s operating as Jones Harvest Publishing.

For the outrageous sum of $1750, he will produce your book in POD format…and maybe even feature you among his "Author Celebrity Associates." The first thing you’ll notice about the those Author Celebrity Associates is that 99% of them are elderly, which makes me wonder if Jones is trolling old folks homes for suckers these days instead of the iUniverse book catalog.

He’s also making the same pitch that  he did at Airleaf:

Not only do we publish every kind of book, more
importantly we sell those new books to bookstores. In addition, we
promote our authors books by contacting newspapers, radio and
television stations.
Most exciting of all, we pitch our client’s books in Hollywood, CA to
producers and directors.

At Airleaf, those claims turned out to be false. The closest Airleaf got to Hollywood was reportedly a trip to the Universal Studios Tour. 

Jones’ idea of "pitching" his clients to Hollywood is to attend The Great American Pitchfest with some of his suckers.  It’s not like Jones is opening any doors with his stellar Bookman reputation… Pitchfest is open to the public. Anyone can attend and pitch their ideas without having to pay Jones a penny.

If Jones keeps following the Airleaf/Bookman playbook, I”m sure we will be hearing more about him very soon.

(FYI: Jones is also doing business as authorcelebrity.com  , starredreview.com, greatconceptbooks.com, bookwheat.com      and authorprofile.com.)

UPDATE:  Poor, misunderstood Airleaf scammer Carl Lau blames his woes on Bonnie Kaye, who is the founder of Airleafvictims.com, and his former exec Brien Jones in a newspaper article published earlier this month.

Run Away Screaming from Hilliard & Harris

I got this email today:

I am thinking about submitting my mystery/romance/thriller to Hilliard & Harris. What can you tell me about them?

In my opinion, Hilliard & Harris are essentially a Print-On-Demand vanity press that gets you to pay on the backend rather than upfront (if you don’t include what you pay to buy copies of your own books). Here’s how they do it:  they load their contract with an enormous number of egregious charges against royalties so that in the highly unlikely event that your book does make money, you won’t see much of it.

For example, they deduct from your sales the cost of returns, cost of printing, cost of shipping, sales transaction costs, cost of insurance, commissions, discounts, cost of promotion, collection costs, taxes, as well as "other reasonable costs,"  just in case they left anything out, like maybe their electric bill and the pizzas they had for lunch.

None of their listed costs, with the exception of returns, are "reasonable" charges against royalties. But since they are primarily a POD publisher, the cost of returns is a moot point anyway. No reputable, legitimate publisher charges authors for printing, shipping, insurance, collections, promotion, commissions, taxes and "sales transaction costs" (whatever the hell those are)…but vanity presses do.

That’s only one example of the many objectionable terms in their loathsome contract, which an author would have to be insane to sign. Run away screaming.

Going After Airleaf

Over seventy authors who were screwed out of thousands of dollars by the Airleaf Publishing scam are banding together in the hopes of exposing "a company founded on fraud" and putting the owners in jail. The effort is spearheaded by Bonnie Kaye, a relationship counselor who paid Airleaf $1800 to publish her book on "straight/gay" marraiges.

My book came out the same week that former Governor James McGreevey’s book “The Confession” was released. I launched my own media campaign, and I was interviewed Paula Zahn on CNN and the national FOX news. Sales were booming. Airleaf kept telling me that I was their most successful author.

I was feeling so good about Airleaf at that point of time that I volunteered to talk to prospective authors who were on the fence. I now live with the guilt of convincing them to follow me down the road of doom.

But Airleaf didn’t cough up her royalties and she’s since learned of authors who have lost as much as $20,000 on the scam.

Author Frederick Martin-Del-Campo – Chronicles Of War And A Wanderer. Airleaf royally diddled me: I invested over $10,000.00 to have my one book turned into a best seller, and another taken to Hollywood and turned into a movie. They utterly made a fool of me, let alone the countless other authors they defrauded. The Airleaf agents gave me a runaround of answers when I tried to inquire about my investments and publication of books. Now, no one has deigned to reply. They have totally screwed me!"

Her many quotes from her fellow Airleaf suckers is doubly infuriating:  you’re pissed at the Airleaf conmen for preying on the desperation and ignorance of these wanna-be authors…but, at the same time,  these people were so stupid and painfully gullible that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for them.

BookWise is BookStupid

Edgar Award-winning author Burl Barer, who also happens to be my Uncle, sent me this note about his encounter with a book biz get-rich-quick huckster:

I received the following email on MYSPACE…no doubt well intentioned, but it irked me. Here  it is.

"While reading your wonderful profile I could not help but notice that you have authored some books. If getting your  words out to a larger audience is something that has some interest to you…"
I continued reading this informative missive, and then the following paragraph hit me between the eyes:
"This is a great opportunity for you as a self-published author to have your book listed and distributed along with some of the greatest books ever written!"
Since when am I self-published? The next paragraph reinforced my "irk factor":
"BookWise is very supportive of the self-published author, and one of the perks of being a member is the Author’s Workshop coming up for all members this Oct 18,and 19th, 2007. And the 20th the first company convention-FREE TO ALL it’s members"
Well, that pushed me over the edge.  I wrote back:
"I am NOT Self-Published, subsidy published, or any other variation on vanity publishing. I am PAID to write by real publishers — I do not pay printers to print up my books and then have the nerve to call myself a published author.  In my opinion, calling yourself an author when you are self-published is like calling yourself a doctor because you purchased a stethoscope."
Okay, that may have been a bit harsh.
I heard back right away informing me that  Bookwise also features real authors published by real publishers. Good for them. I wrote back and wished them the best of luck on their charity endeavors. But why do people assume that we all self-publish? 
When I was recently introduced somewhere, and it was mentioned that I’ve written a dozen books, the first question was "Have any  of your books been published?"
"Yes. That’s why they are called books, not unpublished manuscripts. I also have unpublished manuscripts that are not yet books, or may never become books. And before you ask, I did not pay for the publication of my manuscripts – the publisher paid me."

Burl Barer…self flagellating, self-promoting, self-serving but NOT self-published

I’d never heard of Bookwise, so I visited their site and listened to their come-on. They bill themselves as "the most intelligent home-based business in the world." Basically, it’s a book club that makes their money from the books you buy and the other people you convince to join the club.

It works like this: you pay a $40 enrollment fee and $35-a-month to buy their books at a 40%discount. Most of the books are from name-brand authors from name-brand publishers, but I gather from the email my Uncle got that they will soon be opening their doors to the self-published, probably for a price.

You make your millions by either selling the books you buy directly to your friends and neighbors out of the trunk of your car…or by making a commission off the other suckers, er, people you convince to join the book club and become salesmen themselves.

But they also want you to feel like you are saving the world, one book and one commission at a time. One dollar of every book they sell and 10% of their corporate earnings will go to literary programs for children. Makes you all tear-eyed, doesn’t it?

So you aren’t just paying Bookwise $460 for the opportunity to buy their books…you are, as they proclaim, helping to "stop the dumbing down of America."

But that strikes me as a self-defeating goal for Bookwise…if we stop the dumbing down of America, who will be stupid enough to sign up for this scheme?

Lori Prokop’s Spiritual Action Plan

As you will recall, Lori Prokop charged that her Book Millionaire reality TV show scheme was ruined by the publishing industry, which was so envious of her idea that they secretly paid guys like me to question her legitimacy as a publisher (she has none), her credentials in television (she has none), her network broadcast agreements (non-existent), and the value of the "prizes" she was offering contestants (worthless).

The Book Millionaire show quietly became an online competition instead…and then it died of inertia and a profound lack of interest of popular interest without fulfilling any of its promises to contestants.

Now, in an update on her site this week, Lori Prokop says Book Millionaire isn’t dead after all.

Book Millionaire continues to move forward, not at the pace we originally intended, but with the same excitement, focus and passion for helping others. Personally, I needed some time to regroup and understand actions of others, of which I felt deep hurt and sadness.

She still maintains that the show — which promised contestants "bestseller and celebrity status" through publication with her vanity press — was undermined by a vast conspiracy.

I have observed some disparaging comments about the Book Millionaire show and me. It has come to our attention — through communications from others — this may be in connection with a group of bloggers who are allegedly blogging false, inaccurate information against about 100+ companies and projects in the publishing industry.

[…]Could it be true that someone is paying for this group of bloggers to blog hate messages about more than 100 companies and projects in the publishing industry that compete with this company? Could this be how the bloggers are paying their bills and feeding their families?

After the Book Millionaire debacle, she says she was angry and depressed…a helpless victim of a publishing industry conspiracy, the uncontrolled rudeness and cruelty of bloggers, and rampant sexism against women.

But now she is taking a new approach.

Lori Prokop — the woman who offered the dream of authorship to chiropractors, cheap leases on brand new cars for the masses, bestseller celebrity status for the unpublished, maximized search engine rankings for everyone, and self-enlightenment for humanity — is initiating her Spiritual Action Plan. Prepare yourselves.

It took some time for me to make my choice that instead of attacking or retaliating for what I perceived as false, misguided actions of others, I decided to find a spiritual understanding and develop a spiritual action plan. It’s my desire that this experience helps me spiritually grow as an individual and leader.

[…]As a result of this spiritual growth, I have learned that anything perceived as an attack from another is an expression of his or her needs.

So I would like to have my attention on that need. What could their needs be?

[…]I have gone to their blogs and contacted them to ask for open dialogues to gain an understanding of their perceptions and provide accurate information. They have responded with additional attacks and threats, rather than peaceful, life-enhancing dialogues.

I haven’t heard from Lori yet, but I am looking forward to it…and the spiritual enlightenment I know it will bring (and, perhaps, a cheap lease on a new BMW).I will be glad to tell her what motivates me to blog about Book Millionaire: a desire to expose unscrupulous and dishonest people who prey on the desperation and gullibility of aspiring authors for financial gain.

Even though I do not personally know these people, I can imagine these are beautiful human beings who are misguided in trying to have their needs met, doing so in tragic ways.

I can understand that they are making these choices for the same reason all human beings do everything: to meet needs in the best way they know how at the moment.

I believe Love is the answer to this.

I love you, too, Lori Prokop. I love how you never quit coming up with schemes to make money off the Internet, how you keep re-inventing yourself in new and exciting ways, and how you offer me the chance to do the same thing for only $16-a -day.

You are a wonderful person and a beautiful human being, Lori Prokop, but you already know that.

UPDATE 9-19-07: Victoria Strauss, a tireless crusader against publishing scams, blogs today about Lori Prokop, humanitarian, philosopher,  publisher, web master, motivational speaker, and champion for chiropractors everywhere.

Lori’s Mission from God

Lori1 Lori Prokop has offered humanity so many things. She’s shown people how to get cheap car leases,  to achieve "bestseller celebrity status," to live in the upper energy levels of life with her "Life Guidance System," to awaken their "million dollar intuition," to "Podcast for fun and profit," to "awaken your child’s genius," and she’s even helped chiropractors to become authors (and what greater calling is there than that?).

It’s hard to top those amazing achievements (are you listening, Nobel Prize Committee?)…but Lori Prokop has.

Now, with The Keyboard Culture Blog Community, she is on a mission from God to improve your search engine rankings.

In 1996, Lori and her husband sold their business. After it sold, Lori woke up with no “purpose.” She asked for a repetitive dream to reveal her purpose. In between the sleep and wake states, Lori began hearing and seeing “You are the publicist for Love and Light and Forgiveness and Gratitude.” Even though, at the time, the dream did not make much sense to Lori, she remembered it. In 2003, Lori Prokop received intuitive messages guiding her to learn and master search engine optimization, programming, Google algorithms, pay-per-click web site promotion and sophisticated web site linking strategies.

Apparently, despite her intuitive and total mastery of search engine optimization, she hasn’t been able to get rid of all the posts about her hucksterism from a simple Google search of her name.

It will only cost you $500-a-month to join her Keyboard Culture community, have her host your blog, and benefit from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to glean spiritual enlightenment from her profound guidance and wisdom in one-on-one counseling sessions.

Who knows, she might even throw in a cheap car lease, too.

But the real news here is the story behind the demise of Book Millionaire. Now the truth can finally be revealed. Lori Prokop was the victim of a vast conspiracy.

Lori Prokop launched a reality show that rocked the publishing world with excitement. She didn’t realize it at the time, but she was first to market with a powerhouse of an idea and some of her competitors were furious she had the jump. Instead of approaching Lori to see how they could be included, they launched a paid online hate campaign to tank her and the project — if they couldn’t have it, they didn’t want anyone to. Lori discovered this was not the first time this group hired and paid online attackers to use false claims and hate attacks to take out competitors.

I had no idea I was a paid agent of the New York Publishing Cabal. That certainly explains why I’ve written so much about Lori Prokop and my tirades against the vanity press industry, doesn’t it?

I have been outed.

The only question I have is…when do I get the money for all of my hard work?

The Best of Lori Prokop

I love Lori Prokop. My favorite online huckster never quits. She has re-invented herself yet again and is offering you the benefit of her enlightenment…and another chance to get rich!

But before I share her amazing new self and her astonishing new business venture with you later today, I thought we should celebrate all the great things Lori Prokop has done for humanity before. So now, after the jump, I offer a look back at The Best of Lori Prokop.

(Note: she has since gone back and removed many of the links I reference in the posts…and who can blame her?)

Read more

Getting Tough

This morning the board of Mystery Writers of America, on which I serve, approved tough new guidelines for approving publishers (and, by extension, accepting books published by them for Edgar consideration and their authors for active membership). These rigorous new standards are the result of a lot of hard work by the membership committee, on which I also serve. I will be posting a link to these new standards soon, but I can say that they will result in an immediate end to the "case by case list of approved publishers." A publisher either meets our standards for professionalism… or they don’t. It’s that simple.

These changes were long overdue and I believe will do our industry and our membership a service by alerting authors to thinly disguised vanity presses, companies with a history of unprofessional conduct and/or serious conflicts-of-interest…and denying those companies the legitimacy of our implied endorsement. As any reader of this blog knows, this is a subject that I am passionate about.

But I want to stress that these new standards will in no way change the current membership status of any writers who became members as a result of being published by a company that falls off the list.

Go After The Scammers

I received this email from Phillip R. Dolan, who got the rights to his manuscript and his money back from PublishAmerica. Rather than paraphrase his email, I am reposting it in its entirety:

Some scam publishers can be stopped. Publish
America’s contract has an arbitration clause to prevent authors from suing them.
To me, it seems to be a mistake because lawsuits are expensive and time
consuming. Arbitration under their contract requires that the American
Arbitration Association rules be followed. Those rules are user friendly and
inexpensive, especially when the prevailing party is reimbursed for all fees and
expenses. Even attorney fees if one uses an attorney. Anyone with a high school
education can handle an arbitration if they are so inclined.

Anyway, I filed for arbitration against PA and won. It took
eight months and I did it without an attorney. My contract was rescinded (not
just terminated) to the date it was signed and I received damages and expenses.
I thought this would be but the first of many arbitrations and that PA might be
driven out of business. It cost them quite a bit.

To help other authors complete arbitrations I posted how I
had done it, including my mistakes, at Arbitration And How To Do It (PublishAmerica, Publish


I had a forensic accountant examine PA’s sales records and
posted that info. I had an intellectual property attorney analyze the whole
thing and I posted excerpts of that. Together it is a blueprint of how to know
when PA breaches the contract and how to make them pay for it and get author’s
rights returned.

In about six months there have been 4,691 views just of the
accountant’s report so I know a lot of people have looked at the arbitration
material. But not one author, other than me, has filed
for arbitration. Two other anti-scam sites even offered to pay all the costs
attendant to arbitration. Not one PA author took them up on it.

I think that any author who feels they were scammed by
PublishAmerica and refuses to take any action other than complaining is right
where they should be.

Phillip R. Dolan

The Airleaf Morons

Today, I picked up a letter sent to me in care of Mysteries To Die For, a bookstore in Thousand Oaks, California. The letter was from Airleaf Publishing, the vanity press company formerly known as Bookman Marketing, and they were offering to "sell MY GUN HAS BULLETS to a national audience!"  for the low, low price of $3000.

I wrote about these parasites back in November… when this same "opportunity" to flush your money down a toilet cost a whopping $7000. Since then, it appears that they’ve become a shade less greedy but monumentally more stupid.

The incompetence represented by this letter is so extreme, I almost don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with them sending this pitch to a successful, published author who has castigated them publicly for their business practices before.

And where do these idiots send their letter? They send it to me in care of a bookstore that’s already selling my books.

The folks at Airleaf Publishing are obviously trolling the catalogs at  iUniverse and other competing vanity presses,
figuring if the aspiring authors could be suckered once, they could be
suckered again.

But the dimwit who is doing the trolling apparently
doesn’t know when he’s picking books that are part of either Mystery Writers of America Presents or Authors
Guild’s Back-in-Print programs (both of which reprint
previously published books through iUniverse as a free service for their members).

The dimwit doesn’t realize that when he picks books from the MWA Presents or Back-In-Print authors,  he’s
dealing with experienced professionals who haven’t paid to be published and who know
better than to be suckered by an insanely pricey vanity press come-on.

The Airleaf Publishing corporate policy must be to hire people who are "mentally challenged" or born with only a brain stem…and to hope whoever gets their letters are just as stupid and have high credit lines on their Visa cards.