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. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

August 16, 2017

Solicitation (and Plagiarism) Alert: Legaia Books / Paperclips Magazine

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When the late, unlamented Tate Publishing & Enterprises went belly-up a few months ago, I started hearing from Tate authors who were being contacted by self-publishing companies and other for-profit enterprises looking to recruit new customers. Some of these were straightforward, reasonably reputable (if overpriced) businesses. Others...not so much.

Very active trying to snag Tate authors was Legaia Books.


Here's how Legaia describes itself (bolding and errors courtesy of the original):
Legaia is a book publishing company created to aid writers in seeing their works in prints. Whether you’re a beginner or a published author, and whatever is the genre of your work (memoirs, fiction, non-fiction, children’s book, or even poetry collection), it is always our pleasure to be working with you. Legaia has no reservations to anything in particular other than those that contradict what is in the terms and services. With the application of new technology and information, we are able to accommodate our clients and are maintaining this accessibility for a better relationship.
The whole website is written like this, which should be a gigantic clue that things aren't kosher. If that's not enough, consider the eye-poppingly expensive publishing packages (which don't offer anything that's not available elsewhere for much less money), the hugely overpriced "online media publicity campaign" (based largely on cheap-for-the-provider services that can be sold at an enormous markup), and the nebulously-described "Online Retail Visibility Booster", which costs $6,499 and wants you to believe that's a fair price for something called a Booster Tool that supposedly gets you more reviews on Amazon.

You can also buy advertising in Paperclips Magazine, which among other "opportunities" encourages authors to pay $1,999 for a book review or $4,999 for a "Paperclips Author Article." According to the Legaia website, Paperclips is "a social online magazine that showcases books and author experiences in the publishing industry"; according to email solicitations like the one above, it has "over 2 million subscribers worldwide" (a bit hard to believe, given the mix of terrible writing, puff pieces, and ads that make up most of its content).

What both website and solicitations fail to mention: Legaia and Paperclips are one and the same, a fact Legaia admits on its LinkedIn page. This is the kind of profitable closed loop that allows an author-exploiting enterprise to hit up its victims multiple times.

As for Paperclips Magazine, it's...interesting. Not just for the amount of money that must have been generated by all the author articles and ads. Not just for the insanely awful writing by the "Editorial Team" (screenshot at left).

No. For the plagiarism and the intellectual property theft.

The Paperclips website includes numerous short articles with the byline Chloe Smith. Much of this content actually belongs to other authors. For instance, a piece called 7 Active Reading for Students: here it is at Paperclips, under Chloe's name. Here's the original, attributed to the real author: Grace Fleming. How about 10 Keys to Writing a Brilliant Speech? Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original, by Bill Cole. Ditto These Are the 8 Fundamental Principles of Great Writing. Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original (with a different title), by Glenn Leibowitz.

I could go on. There are lots more examples. And that's just the Paperclips website. The magazine also includes stolen content. At least Why Print Books are Better than eBooks, and Ways to Improve eReaders bears the name of its true author, Greg Krehbiel...but Greg has confirmed to me that Paperclips published it without his permission. (It originally appeared here.) (I also reached out to two other authors included in the same issue, but as of this writing I haven't heard back.)

Any bets on whether Paperclips got permission to use images of Dr. Seuss characters on the cover of its latest issue? Or asked George R.R. Martin if it was okay to re-publish his August 2016 blog post--complete with original artwork from the illustrated anniversary edition of Game of Thrones?


A bunch of other things don't add up.  Legaia/Paperclips has a North Carolina address, but it's a virtual office. Legaia's LinkedIn page claims the company was founded in 2008, but its domain wasn't registered until late 2015. Similarly, Paperclips' LinkedIn page says it started up in 2012, but its domain wasn't created until November 2016 (I also couldn't find any issues of the magazine earlier than December 2016). I've been able to locate only two actual human staff members (neither website includes staff names, and the two names I've seen on Legaia's author solicitations, Emily Bryans and Serena Miles, appear to be wholly imaginary); both are based in the Philippines, and one formerly worked for Author Solutions.

Between these things, the English-as-a-second-language writing, the overpriced and exploitive "services", the plagiarism, and just the general sleazy feel of it all, I'm strongly reminded of LitFire Publishing, which has a very similar business model and M.O, and was established by Author Solutions call center alumni in the Philippines as a sort of low-rent Xlibris-AuthorHouse-iUniverse-Trafford clone. Are LitFire and Legaia the same operation? Probably not. But it wouldn't surprise me if Legaia has the same provenance.

"Emily Bryans" is currently soliciting authors for something called Paperclips Magazine's Author Circle, which is supposedly arriving this October and will feature "celebrity authors and multi-awarded literary contributors" (wonder how many of them know they're included?) No word on how much it will cost to join up, but I bet it's a bundle.

Writer beware.

August 9, 2017

Lawsuits, Liens, and Lost URLs: The Latest on America Star Books / PublishAmerica

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
America Star Books seems to have gone out of business. (See below for a full writeup.)

But ASB has not terminated any of its contracts, or returned authors' rights. Hundreds of ASB books are still on sale.

This is unfair and wrong. If ASB is dead, authors' rights should be released, and payments for services that weren't delivered should be refunded. A defunct company should not hold its authors' rights or money hostage.

Writer Beware urges ASB authors to contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General's Office and file a complaint. When notorious vanity publisher Tate Publishing & Enterprises closed down last spring without returning rights or refunding payments, hundreds of author complaints to the Oklahoma Attorney General spurred an investigation that resulted in the indictment of Tate's owners on multiple felony charges.

You can file your complaint online or by regular mail. Here's the link with instructions: http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/CPD/Complaint.aspx

If you have any questions, or if you have any information or insight into ASB's closing, please contact Writer Beware.

This post has been updated.

It's been a while since I wrote about America Star Books, née PublishAmerica, one of the most prolific author mills in America (also the subject of scores of author complaints, and the recipient of an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau). So what's been going on?

In May 2015, ASB/PA co-founder Larry Clopper filed suit against PA/ASB, co-founder Willem Meiners, and several others, alleging breach of contract, among other causes, and demanding dissolution of the company and appointment of a receiver. After over a year of legal maneuvering--which included the appointment of an appraiser, a counterclaim by Meiners/PA/ASB, and the issuance of subpoenas by Clopper to various PA/ASB banks and creditors--the parties agreed in July 2016 to stipulate to dismissal with prejudice.


I don't yet know what was in the settlement--I've put in a public records request, and will report back when I get the documents--but over the duration of the lawsuit and afterward, things have changed at PA/ASB.

Sometime after September 2015, ASB's About Us page--which previously had touted its founding "by book publishers with a long history of publishing experience"--began to reference the "new" America Star Books: "Run by its employees, from the bottom up....The company has a management, but there's not much top-down going on at America Star Books." (Here's what the page looks like today.)

At some point after September 2016, all mention of the translation program with which PA/ASB launched its 2014 name change was removed (here's what the website used to say about that, courtesy of the invaluable Internet Archive; here's what it says now). And in November 2016, PA/ASB put a hold on submissions "throughout [sic] the end of 2016."

That hold appears to have become permanent. Here's how the submission page looks today:


And here's what was briefly posted at a now non-working ASB web address:
America Star Books no longer accepts new authors. ASB Promotions will morph into Paperback Services in the near future....Paperback Services works side by side on location with Paperback Radio, America's only live 24/7 station about books and writers.

Paperback Radio and Paperback Services are both owned by PA/ASB co-founder Willem Meiners (Paperback Services has a web address that goes nowhere at the moment).
In the kind of feedback loop that's common with vanity publishers, items from Meiners' Paperback Radio (ads"experts lists"), along with a variety of "promotional" and other services from Meiners' Paperback Services, were offered for sale to PA/ASB authors in the Meiners-owned PA/ASB webstore.

That's not all. More signs of change/trouble at PA/ASB:

- According to Amazon, ASB was issuing books pretty regularly through the beginning of 2017, albeit at a reduced rate from previous years (around 10-15 per month). Since mid-May, it has issued just two titles.

- ASB currently has three open liens against it from the Maryland Dept. of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, totaling $50,754.


- As of this writing, some ASB URLs are disabled: www.americastarbooks.net no longer works, nor does www.store.americastarbooks.pub, which used to host the PA/ASB bookstore and promotional "services" store (here are some examples of those services, courtesy of the Internet Archive). ASB's Facebook page also appears to be defunct (unless they've blocked me, which is possible). The PublishAmerica URL, which used to re-direct to America Star Books, now directs again to the old PA website (which hasn't been updated since 2013, but still has an open submissions portal).

- There's a bookstore link on the ASB website, but it doesn't work. PA/ASB books are still for sale at online retailers, but the PA/ASB bookstore doesn't appear to be online anywhere at any web address.

Is this really the end of America Star Books / PublishAmerica? Hard to say. There are rumors of bankruptcy, but I've searched on PACER and I've found no sign of any bankruptcy filings.

Questions remain. If ASB does disappear, what will happen to the books and authors currently under contract? If ASB Promotions, or Paperback Services, or whatever it winds up calling itself, survives as a separate entity, will spammer-in-chief Jackie Velnoskey continue her prolific program of email solicitations and comment spam?

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 8/14/17: ASB's one remaining web address now returns an account suspended message.
As far as I know, ASB/PA hasn't sent out any notifications or communications as to what's going on.

Authors, if you get any kind of notice or email from ASB, would you please contact me? Thanks.

UPDATE 8/19/17: I'm getting emails from authors wondering what to do. What happens with their books that are under contract? If ASB is really dead, can they take their books and publish elsewhere?

Right now, in my opinion, that wouldn't be wise.

All signs point to ASB being gone. Its website has vanished. Phones aren't being answered. Emails are bouncing. Putting those things together with the signs of trouble that I've discussed above, if I had to guess, I'd guess that ASB is history.

But...there's been no official announcement of a closure. I just checked again and there's still no sign of any bankruptcy filings, either under the business names or the owners' names. And ASB/PA books are still for sale new at online booksellers. I think there's at least the possibility that ASB might find a way to sell or otherwise transfer its huge catalog to some other entity (which many of the ASB/PA contracts I've seen allow it to do without asking authors' permission). Another possibility: ASB/PA books might somehow be folded in with Willem Meiners' Paperback enterprises.

Bottom line: we don't actually know what is going on, or what will happen. Until we do, it would be risky to take books that are under contract with either ASB or PA and try to re-publish them. The issue isn't just the possibility that ASB/PA or its successor might come after you, but that any new publisher or self-publishing service will require you to have full power to grant publishing rights. If you're currently under exclusive contract to a different publisher, and it's not clear that publisher is out of business, you don't have that power.

I'm also hearing from ASB authors who've paid for services they haven't received. My advice would be to immediately file a dispute with your credit card company or with PayPal (depending on how you paid). I've heard from a number of Tate Publishing authors who got money back this way. Feel free to use this post as justification.

Keep watching this blog for updates.

UPDATE 9/11/17: I noticed this a couple of weeks ago, but didn't post an update because I wasn't sure if it was a glitch. It's been long enough now that I'm guessing it's not.

Willem Meiners's Paperback Radio appears to have gone the way of  America Star Books. Its URL yields a "Site is currently offline" message. Its Twitter feed hasn't been updated since July 16. Its Facebook page is no longer available.

What's going on? No idea. There's still no sign of any bankruptcy filings, or any word from anyone at ASB. Publishers do a lot of bad things, but one of the worst is to do a bunk and leave authors in limbo.

If anyone has information or insight into the ASB/Meiners situation, will you please contact me? Your identity will be kept confidential. Thank you.

UPDATE 9/14/17: I've learned that this past June, some (though apparently not all) PA/ASB authors received an email from Willem Meiners announcing ASB's closure and transformation into Paperback Services. Here it is:
From: willem@americastarbooks.pub
To: [redacted]
Sent: Tuesday, June 6, 2017, 3:08:46 PM EDT
Subject: A letter from the CEO: name change coming

Dear [redacted],

At America Star Books we have reached a new milestone. As of later this week all of our book marketing and promotion efforts will be continued under a different name: Paperback Services. Our book promotion staff, Jackie Velnoskey, Kerrin Wuchter, Sarah Balukoff, and Sarah Freitas, will work using that new Paperback Services name. Nothing else changes there.

Not to worry — if your book is a hardcover, it will also be represented by Paperback Services. The name relates to that other entity that you have heard so often about: Paperback Radio.

I founded Paperback Services recently. I founded Paperback Radio a year ago. The station has been in the air nonstop since then. My motive was simple: there are many publishing companies today that will publish an author's book, either for free or for a fee. But there is no other radio station where everyone can hear about those books, let alone listen to what the author has to say about it. Paperback Radio is the nation's only 24/7 station about books and writers.

America Star Books no longer accepts new authors and publishes no more new titles. Nor do we attend any new trade shows under that name. Last week's Book Expo America was ASB's last event. Paperback Services, however, now takes over your book promotion with gusto, and will be at all the big events: Book Expo, Frankfurt Book Fair, Miami Book Fair, London Book Fair, Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the ALA library conventions, and more. Oftentimes Paperback Services will be there side by side with Paperback Radio.

Reporting live from the venues that until now only came to you through photos on Facebook is going to add a totally new dimension to the trade shows where your book is being promoted. Wherever you are in the world you'll be able to hear, live, what's going on in the towns where you spent your precious book promotion money. You will now be able to hear strangers talk about your book as they discover it.

Later this week you will start receiving emails from the book promotion staff that you know, Jackie, Kerrin, Sarah, and Sarah, that end with @paperbackservices.com. Same people, same array of marketing opportunities, new email addresses. There will also be a support@paperbackservices.com address, for all your questions.

Not only am I the founder of Paperback Radio and Paperback Services, but I also founded America Star Books and its predecessor, way back in the late 1990s. My mission then was to enable as many writers as possible to have their book published at no cost: I published almost 70,000 books, for free. I showed other publishers how to do it, and today many are doing a fine job. Now the time has come to make a difference in book promotion, so that your book can actually be discoveredamong all the others. With Paperback Services and Paperback Radio we are going to make this happen for you.

Thank you!

America Star Books,
Paperback Services,
Paperback Radio,

--Willem Meiners, founder and CEO
UPDATE 9/29/17: Thanks to an anonymous tipster, I've learned that Willem and Alice Meiners have put their house up for sale. According to Zillow, it was listed on September 5 (an interesting date, since Paperback Radio vanished at around the same time). A sale is already pending. (How do I know this is their house? Numerous online sources confirm their address.)

Think about how abruptly ASB, Paperback Radio, and Paperback Services vanished from the web. Then consider the sale of the Meiners's home, and the fact that all of this occurred within the same two- or three-week time period in mid-August to early September. It's curious, no? Especially in light of the optimistic tone of Meiners's June 6 announcement email. It's looking more and more to me as some sudden personal or financial or legal crisis is behind what's happened.

I've also heard from a couple of PA/ASB authors that the print versions of their books are suddenly showing as "currently unavailable" on Amazon. I did a quick check of recently-pubbed PA/ASB print books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the majority of them are now listed as "currently unavailable" or "temporarily out of stock". It seems pretty clear that ASB is no longer interacting with its printer.

Kindle editions are not affected. Those are still on sale.

UPDATE 9/30/17: More bad news for PA/ASB.

Bookmasters' 2015 lawsuit against PA/ASB, which was settled in early 2016 when both parties stipulated to dismissal, has just been re-opened "for failure to comply with stipulation of settlement." A motion was filed by Bookmasters on August 16, and the case was re-opened on September 19. Screenshot below (you can see for yourself on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website).


 
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