Another Scam that Preys on the Self-Published

I’ve been getting this come-on in my emailbox for days now:

Why join Some of the best movies have been based on
books – Cold Mountain, The Godfather, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil, Prince of Tides, Forrest Gump, L.A. Confidential.

Your book could be next! Wouldn’t you like to have your book or screenplay made
into a movie? publishes 2 catalogs per year which are
distributed to over 2500 film producers, directors, studios, and film agents
nationwide.  Get your full-page color ad in our catalog containing book
summary, book review, book photo, book ordering information, author bio, author
contact information, and representation information.

Email us today at to get your listing in our Catalog.

It’s a fascinating bit of bullshit.  They list a bunch of books that have been turned into movies, the subtle implication being that this catalog had something to do with it.

It didn’t.

None of those books became movies because of this catalog. In fact, the folks at bookstofilm don’t list a single book that has sold to TV or film because of the catalog.

Gee, I wonder why…. could it be, because there aren’t any? Studio & Production Company execs find out about books the old-fashioned way…they read bestseller lists, they read reviews, they talk to agents, they read book industry trade publications, they attend the BEA, they talk to publishers, and they walk into bookstores.

If you visit the bookstofilm website, they make a big deal out of saying they are based in Wilmington, NC…

…fondly known as "Hollywood
East" and home of Screen Gems Studios. Screen Gems is the largest full service
motion picture facility in the United States east of California.  Wilmington has
been the heart of the North Carolina film industry for over two decades. A few
local projects have been Domestic Disturbance, Year of the Dragon, The
Hudsucker Proxy, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles, Billy Bathgate, Day of the Jackal, One Tree Hill, Matlock
and Dawson’s Creek .

They say that as if mere proximity to the Screen Gems soundstages, or just breathing that Wilmington air, gives them legitimacy and insider access to Hollywood.  They list no other qualifications or credits…what a shock.

Only a fool would read this material and think that they are paying for anything besides an ad in a piece of junkmail that’s going to end up in garbage cans throughout L.A…. assuming the catalog is actually sent out to anybody besides the suckers who take out ads.

Pity the poor, self-published author who falls for this transparent scam.

Rose at reports that bookstofilm  is being run by John Weaver, the same guy behind,  a program that purports to get "book store orders" from brick-and-mortar store for self-published authors (I talked about here a few weeks ago).  Do you see a trend here? I bet it’s only a matter of weeks before Weaver launches a service to get self-published authors publicity in 100s of publications and thousand  of TV and Radio broadcasts.

Still More on Publish America

On Ed Gorman’s wonderful blog, novelist Richard Wheeler mentioned that he had dusted off an old, unpublished novel entitled BIG APPLE, and that it was being published by Publish America.

This intrigued me. Why? Because Wheeler is a very successful author, with dozens of well-respected, Spur-Award-winning westerns from major publishers to his credit. And he’s got several new hardcovers coming from St. Martin’s/Forge as well as another series of paperbacks from Pinnacle Books. 

He certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a typical Publish America customer/author. So, given the recent controversy surrounding the company, I asked him about his experiences with the  company. Here is what he said:

I was attracted to PublishAmerica because there is no initial fee and they even offer a one-dollar advance, thus providing some semblance of a trade publisher.

It was a grave mistake. They make their profit not by marketing the books but by gouging the authors. The shallow 20 percent discount, plus inflated shipping charges (around $5 per book), meant that I paid more than the list price of the novel unless I ordered very large quantities. Ditto retailers. A twenty percent discount for retailers, plus inflated shipping meant that no bookseller would stock the book. (That is why you find on-line retailers adding a surcharge.)

They are not in business to sell books to the public; they sell printing services and books to the amateur authors who come to them, and can make their entire profit from the author, without selling a copy to the public. The disincentives are deliberate. They don’t want to bother with booksellers and make it hard for a bookseller to order from them. They also don’t really care whether an author can earn anything from his books. Because of inflated shipping costs I could have ordered my books cheaper from a retailer than from PublishAmerica.

He goes on to say that iUniverse is "the gold standard in the POD field."

Through the Authors Guild back-in-print program I have put nine reverted titles back into print at iUniverse, and have seven more in process. They have done an excellent job with these. But always remember that all these POD publishers regard the author himself as their primary source of income.

At least iUniverse, unlike Publish America, is upfront about it.

It should be noted that the Authors Guild Back-In-Print program is free to authors of previously published, out-of-print, work (and are members of the Guild). Otherwise, iUniverse charges a stiff fee to publish original manuscripts, which is, presumably, what would have happened if Wheeler went to them with BIG APPLE, a book he wrote in the 80s but wasn’t able to sell.

Publish America doesn’t charge that stiff fee, they just get it out of you in other ways…

More on Publish America

I got this email today:

Hello Lee,
I am a writer wondering if I should go with Publish America. Take a look at
my website and let me know what you think.

I don’t know why  he wanted me to look at his website, or what difference it would make.  Anyway, here’s how I responded to his query:

Don’t. It’s a scam. If you are that eager to have your book in print, and have
failed to find a home with a real publisher, go to iUniverse. At least they are
honest about who they are and what they do (self-publishing)… their books look
professional (very slick and well bound)…and they pay royalties on a regular
basis (assuming you’ve earned some).

My experiences with iUniverse have been through the Authors Guild’s Back In Print program and the Mystery Writers of America. In both cases, iUniverse offered to reprint previously published, out-of-print  titles free-of-charge to the author.  I used those services to reprint my UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS book, which previously had only been available in a very expensive hardcover edition… and MY GUN HAS BULLETS, which never sold to paperback. In both cases, I was very pleased with my experience and I’ve been getting royalties from iUniverse on a regular, quarterly basis.  It’s not big money… but it’s money I wouldn’t have seen otherwise if I hadn’t taken advantage of the program. The Authors Guild still offers the Back In Print program, but I believe the Mystery Writers of America program has ended.

Publish America

The book industry trade publication Publishers Weekly is outing Publish America as the scam we all know that it is… it seemed only the desperate, aspiring authors who "sold" their books to the publisher couldn’t see it.

Until now. 

A group of authors wronged by the vanity press have mounted a grassroots campaign to garner media scrutiny of Publish America’s business practices.

Led by Dee Power and Rebecca Easton, the authors’ group is mounting a campaign to alert the media about PA. A release with more than 100 e-mail addresses of aggrieved authors was recently sent to the press, and, after a story ran in PW NewsLine last week, PW heard from more troubled authors. The enterprise, said authors, is in many ways worse than a vanity publisher, because of how the house positions itself. "If they would just say, buy your books up front and pay X amount and we’ll give you X, Y and Z, then that would be one thing," said author Kate St. Amour, who wrote a spiritual thriller called Bare Bones. "But they don’t tell you those things when you sign up with them."

The authors said the goal is as much public awareness as restitution. "We hope to spare other people, perhaps thousands, the frustration and problems we’ve had with this deceptive company," Power said in her letter.

The authors allege that Publish America doesn’t edit the books they publish, they don’t pay royalties, and they make little or no effort to get their books into actual bookstores.  The article says that Publish America doesn’t charge for printing the books, but they do require authors to provide a list of friends and family, which the company then hits on hard to buy books.

I don’t remember Penguin/Putnam asking me for my Christmas card list…

Publish America’s Executive Director Miranda Prather told PW that all the claims against the company are unfounded and maintained the fiction that they are a "traditional publisher." 

As for marketing to the author, Prather said, there’s "no pressure on our authors to buy their books. That would make us a vanity press." She declined to identify the company’s CEO and, unlike a traditional house, said that the company does not edit for content, only for grammar and spelling.

Uh-huh. Most "traditional publishers" aren’t shy about identifying their CEO…nor do they take out half-page ads in the New York Times courting authors to sign with them and make their dreams come true. But hey, what do I know?

UPDATE: More on "A Writer’s Life" about PublishAmerica:

Sell Books! Get Rich

I got this unsolicited email today:

Get Bookstore Orders for your Books!! Would you like to get your book on the shelves in bookstores nationally? Visit  today!!

Writer’s Universe meets monthly with book buyers as well as representatives from major libraries across the country — We will get you book orders! Book Store and Library Package — $500 for six week campaign. This is a limited time offer. We will get you book orders! specializes in book orders from book stores as well as public libraries. Put our specialization to work to today.

I’m assuming I received this pitch because several of my "out-of-print" books were republished by iUniverse through the Authors Guild’s "back-in-print" program…because someone published by a major publisher wouldn’t have to hire freelance book reps. Or are they publicists? I went to their website to get more info. But their site is suspiciously threadbare when it comes to actual details about the services they provide and what a small-press or self-published author can realistically expect to gain for their $500.

Has anybody ever had an experience with them? Are they legit… or just another scam that takes advantage of the self-published?

Scammer of the Month Reponds

A while back, I criticized as a scam for offering to review books for a fee. Heather Froeschl, associate editor of the service, has responded and thinks I was way out-of-line (I wonder if she’s also a member of the Colonial Fan Force, "the power brokers of the new Babylon"?)

Every writer providing a review deserves to be paid for the service. This does not mean paying for a rave, it means paying for the reviewer’s time and written word.

Sure, a reviewer should be paid. By her editor, not by the person whose work she is reviewing.

My goal is to give authors what they ask for…a review of their work. Sometimes I have to give bad news, sometimes I do give a rave, but in the end, authors respect what I have said about their book. Can you buy MY respect? Nope. But you can get a review from us within 14 business days. And that’s no scam.

Heather argues that the reviewers, despite being paid by the author or publisher for their comments, can maintain their objectivity and journalistic integrity. Paying for a review, she says, doesn’t guarantee a rave or that the reviewer will tread gently.

Okay, for the sake of argument, I’ll take her word for that.

How could anybody respect a book review that’s paid for by the author or publisher? How could anybody trust a critic who takes cash from the subjects of her reviews?

Of course the assumption is that a review that’s bought and paid for will be positive. If a  book gets a negative review from her,  I’d have to figure the author’s check bounced…or he wouldn’t kick in the extra $50 for a rave.

She doesn’t seem to get why anyone would question the validity of a review that’s paid for… or a critic who is in the pocket of the author or publisher. Heather also doesn’t seem to get the ethical problems, either…or how the practice creates a glaring conflict of interest.

Would you respect a movie review from a critic hired by the studio? Would you trust Consumer Reports on their review of a car, appliance, or other product if they were paid for the review by the manufacturers? Would you respect a restaurant review from a critic who was paid by the chef?

Apparently, Heather would.

Scam of the Month 2

Edwin Bush reports on DorothyL that even the critics at a respected publication like Kirkus can be bought…

He plucked this incredible offer from the Kirkus website:

Looking for Exposure? Need Credibility? Want to get Discovered?Market your book or e-publication to the publishing world’s decision makers!  Since our inception in 1933, premium subscribers have turned to Kirkus to market books, purchase paperback and foreign rights, and option and buy film rights-all based on the trusted and independent voice of our reviews.

"Now, for the first time in 71 years, Kirkus is offering a new review service-an opportunity for rights and acquisition agents to pick up your self-published, e-published and Print-On-Demand book.

Welcome to Kirkus Discoveries, from the publication that, for seven decades, has lent its brand’s credibility, integrity, and pedigree to nearly 5,000 books a year. Kirkus is now offering the same service to self-published, e-published and POD authors. Any publisher seeking greater exposure for a
title can gain awareness through our network of influential readers and buyers.

What you get:
The prestige of a Kirkus review [Lee’s Note: Prestige they will soon be losing once word gets around that their "prestige" can be bought], which will appear on, in your marketing materials and everywhere else you’d like to reprint it.

An audience of rights agents, booksellers, publishers, book distributors and Hollywood producers.

The opportunity to be included in Kirkus Discoveries-a monthly newsletter highlighting the best submissions-which will go to subscribers looking for the rights to undiscovered books, whether for print or film.

Here’s how it works:
You commission a review from us. [Lee’s Note: Bold-facing is mine, to underscore their utter lack of ethics] The Kirkus Discoveries team will provide a report on it to publishers, agents and producers, who can then pursue a rights relationship with you.

The Kirkus brand has long been trusted by the publishing industry as an indispensable tool to promote and build awareness of deserving books. Now it’s your turn: Let Kirkus help ensure your books are Discoveries.

What they don’t say is what their price schedule is for a rave review, a good review, or gentle appraisal. I can’t wait to hear what Publisher’s Weekly is charging authors and publishers for a review these days…

Scam of the Month

Tom Schantz , well known in book circles for running the RUe Morgue bookshop in Boulder for many years, unearthed this scam from

Get your book listed on!

Here at
we often find ourselves digging out of an avalanche of newbooks. After much consideration, we have decided to offer two new [paid] services to help you get your book listed and/or reviewed on quickly and easily.

Our New Author Listing will allow you to post a description of your book in our New Author database. Your listing will include the title, author name, isbn number, category, publisher, web address, and a description of your book. It will automatically link to so that visitors to the site can purchase your book. While the listing is not a review and therefore can not be used in your promotional materials, it is still a great opportunity for publicity. Your book will be searchable by author or title in our advanced search section. Each New Author Listing costs $20, which can be paid with MasterCard or Visa on our secure server, or with a check via snail mail.

Our Express Review Service guarantees that your book is placed at the top of the reviewers’ pile. At a cost of $125 per book, this service guarantees that one of our professional reviewers will read and review your book within 15 business days of receiving it. The review will be posted on as well as and will be eligible to become a Book of the Month.

Once the review is completed, you are free to use any part of it in your promotional materials as long as is credited.

Paying for a review… now there’s a good idea. I wonder if they will even let you write it yourself…or do they charge extra for that?

Obviously, there’s no limit how far some people will go to take advantage of authors desperate for publication and recognition. I wonder how many iUniverse/Publish America authors, who’ve already paid plenty to get their unpublished books published, will shell out for this scam?

How NOT to Sell Your Book to Television

I got this unsolicited email today:

I have published a book and am interested in selling the television rights. I will send you a copy upon request, but you can go to and see a synopsis and excerpts from sample chapters. The book is titled "Six Days of the Pigs" and I wrote it under the pen name R.J. Carrie-Reddington. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to publish it under a pen name, but if you are interested, I can explain my reasons for doing so. Thanks for your attention. If you are interested in representing me, please advise.

How’s that for salesmanship? After reading that compelling pitch, is it any wonder this book was self-published? Ordinarily, I would have deleted the message and moved on… but I’m writing under an insane deadline, so any opportunity for procrastination is, of course, welcome. And I haven’t posted anything on my blog in a while. So I checked out the site. Here’s how R.J. Carrie-Reddington describes his novel:

A story about the people of Eastern North Carolina, awash with hogs, and the men, women and children caught in a mixture of loving and fighting between the love of good living and the love of money. The story is about how powerful politicians and bureaucrats are pitted against citizens who want to live a life of quality. It tells about six days of fast-moving events which are the culmination of simmering happenings of romance, illicit sex and violence that leads to murder. The six days end with a horrific tale of fire and mass destruction, and teaches a lesson. The plot was set in a real time of events. The story depicts the interaction between power and money seekers and those average folks who kept functioning routinely each day…

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where "the plot was set in a real time of events." So I gave the first chapter a peek…and didn’t get past the powerful first line:

Midway between dawn and sunrise the Tuesday morning air, heavy with nature’s fog, reeked with the acrid odor of pig feces as the skinny white man stood at the edge of the front porch, listening to Addie cry.

Now I know why he approached me. I’m a skinny white man and I wrote for "The Highwayman." If anyone can make television that reeks of the acrid odor of pig feces, it’s me!