Until May 19, 2017 I had never heard of LitFire Publishing–probably since I am no longer on the market for a pay-to-publish company after starting my own imprint Soaring Eagle Books. I don’t need a publisher anymore.
LitFire Publishing (www.litfirepublishing.com — I’m not giving them any SEO juice) called me on that date, which was a Friday and my sister’s graduation. This call was a cold call out of the blue. I didn’t answer right away and let it go to voicemail. When I looked at the app that also provides caller ID, it was a local number in Dunwoody (I live in GA), a town in the Atlanta area which also read “Jerry Jones Book Agent”, but the caller known as “Markus Flores” didn’t sound like a Latino man who may have been working in the Atlanta Area (I know that I have spoken with some before), but someone from the Philippines. I know that accent from my harrowing experience with Xlibris which will forever be burned in my mind, even after 8 years now. My how time has flown!
From his message he has “great news” that some “book scouts” have read and recommended my books to them and only refer “few authors” to them and I should call him back.
Okay, this is a new one on me. I am smelling scam, but I know it’s worth checking into and researching to any extent since I have a blog for new authors to protect them from predators like this. They could be trying to sell dreams, and I am going to look into their tactics and angles and anything I can dig up from research and hands-on experience. I want to see what kind of curveballs or knuckleballs they could be pitching to ensnare a new or naive author. So, I feel the need to investigate this. So I do. So I call “Markus” back. I’ll explain why I am using quotation marks in a moment.
Trying To Sell A Golden Ticket
This character “Markus” is really happy I call back. He is so excited he is like a squirrel on cocaine. As he is going on his spiel about the “book scouts” and they have read (which I doubt) and recommended not one but two of my books to them: The Newbie Author’s Survival Guide (which I am working on updates for) and Neiko’s Five Land Adventure, but I had to ask which book(s). I asked what they said, but he gave an elusive, canned answer (which means they weren’t read or he didn’t know–neither are good). I have another two on the market at the present, but it’s funny they weren’t mentioned and there is the second of the Neiko Adventure Saga out: Escape from Ancient Egypt. The Neiko Books and my short story have been published under my imprint now, and the two Neiko books have new (and better!) covers, and I had been doing some other new things in all things marketing, so could this be how they found me? I was skeptical. He didn’t really provide how and where these “scouts” look for their info or what it was they found so “great” about the books. Case in point, this scam is made to look like an agent or a talent scout (I would think all creative industries have these) is making a referral to a publisher or a marketing firm of sorts. But if he is going to ask for money, then his has to be a scam. This isn’t what any dream of mine ever looked like. But, I take one for all new authors out there who may not have been made privy to this new publishing/marketing scam tactic. Should I be wrong (which was highly unlikely) then I could tell the truth in either case. It is market and blog research. Fun! Time to experiment. I know that it is well within my consumer rights to cancel out and get my money back should I see what all I need to see before the service fulfills; that’s how it was done even with the likes of any Author Solutions company. They don’t make it easy to cancel or get your money back though. I was ready for it in case.
One thing that also crossed my mind: How in the name of Sam Hill did they get my information? I had moved since dealing with Xlibris, and the consultant had to ask what my author website domain was, so he didn’t get it from my WHOIS (unless someone else did).
When we get on the subject of Neiko’s Five Land Adventure, things take a different turn. He starts spouting off things that I have heard before at Xlibris (he doesn’t know that) as well as real readers and business professionals (which he doesn’t know either), and that I should book an exhibit at the Frankfurt Book Fair which only has a certain number of spots (clear marketing tactics: fear of missing out and the scarcity illusion) and they would “work for me” to pitch to trade publishers and movie producers, etc. Of course they are first come, first served, and I must hurry! He is really trying stroke my ego and making very tall claims and wild promises, but I was brimming with cynical skepticism and rolling my eyes the whole time, but not letting on so he could reveal as much information as possible by letting him talk. If I was in the mood for tall tales I would read Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, or Johnny Appleseed or something or even start writing one. So far, this is looking identical to my experience with the marketing department with Xlibris, but this guy wasn’t quite the douchecanoe that “Miguel Guzman” was.
What is it with these vanity presses pushing these trade shows? I know that my dreams and goals coming true at one of these trade shows is nil or nonexistent. I have better odds of being mauled by a polar bear in the Sahara Desert than I do of scoring a movie deal at one of these shows. But he was also pitching about doing a radio interview that would be distributed (there is no mention of promotion, BTW, and for those who don’t know there is a BIG difference) on iTunes and another platform; I do want to point out that just because something is distributed to a platform doesn’t mean it will be heard. How many other radio hosts upload their show episodes to these platforms that have real active listeners and actively promote and share each episode consistently? Meh. A press release (which could be poorly written), QC Cards, a shelf talker, an ad in Wayfairer [sic] Magazine (it’s not to be confused with this Wayfarer Magazine which is a real literary magazine that I found out about during the research or Google it yourself). Wayfairer Magazine doesn’t even come up in the search results! Plug them in and see for yourself. I’ll wait.
Then we somehow get on the subject about AuthorHouse. My first run into publishing wasn’t with AH, but with its sister company Xlibris. I told him that I had an intense dislike of those companies. He was quick to say that quite a few of their “clients” were former Author Solutions (the parent company of AuthorHouse, Xlibris, and a slew of others). One of the books they were discussing with me (the Survival Guide) had never been published by an ASI company. I did mention that I’m working on updates, and he hoped I would let them publish it. Nope. I have my own imprint. Then he spoke of an author who had been previously published by AuthorHouse who had so much “success” with them. So basically he’s scapegoating Authorhouse when their company is doing business like AuthorHouse? Go figure. I had to try not to laugh.
This “great opportunity” is going to cost a four figure amount. It’s also a “deal” (about what half of what Xlibris would charge). Of course, if you want to pay installments, they will bleed you for an additional $25 “installment fee” after putting down a 30% down payment. This is EXACTLY the way any ASI company does it. And, they have multiple “departments” and talk to several different people as you are taken through the process. Everything is done over the phone or email, but they definitely want you on the phone. Also, this is the way any ASI does business. The good ol’ classic boiler room and hard-selling tactics we have all come to despise.
Okay after my first go around I am going to do my internet research (which a newbie should ALWAYS do BEFORE doing business with a company, but since this was my experiment I am doing for others and not me, this was a note-comparison if you will). I found that there was some information about LitFire, albeit sparse, which I will list for you to see for yourself. I also recommend you read the comments to these articles since there are some real gems there, and there was where I found the intel on the “Wayfairer Magazine” vs Wayfarer Magazine. The earliest articles/complaints about LitFire begin around 2014, but they claim to have been in business since 2008. Maybe they used to be ethical? Or are they lying?
I would like to bring this article posted on Medium to everyone’s attention. Efforts have been made to discredit Victoria Strauss and other reports and complaints about LitFire by LitFire. I looked at this guy’s profile and read a couple of this articles. They provide decent basic info you can find on a lot of writer blogs, the only publisher he sings praises to is LitFire–conveniently. Looks to me like a LitFire employee insisting that it is an ethical company. If it were an ethical company, would that be necessary? Maybe they missed the memo that actions speak louder than words. If people like what you do, then they will tell you and recommend you. I’ve had AS employees come to my blog and try to discredit me. I didn’t bother flaming with them so I deleted their comments.
Collectively, what was new to me was not-so-new. The “book scouts”, cold calling, and the whole nine yards. Verbatim. However, I do have some additional information that may prove helpful in nailing this coffin shut some more. I will discuss what I believe could be going on with the “book scouts” in the next section.
A couple commentators on some of these sites had mentioned that they found out the true identities of some of the people at LitFire, so they are using fake aliases.This is what every AS boiler room does. I’ve written an article about that in greater detail in the past, so I won’t go over that ad nauseum. That’s why I used quotation marks since chances are it’s a fake identity.
The local number that called (404 267-0877 – but at one time the area code was 770 within a week), you can call back (but you may want to block it). If it comes up as “Jerry Jones Book Agent” on your caller ID, it’s not an agent. It’s possibly spoofed. If you call it and the toll free number on the website, you get the same greeting. Possibly forwarded? Curiouser and curiouser! They could change their number…
I also emailed Mark Levine since he has written about things like this before and he told me that their domain is registered as private. That’s highly unusual for a business, unless it has something to hide…
Since Dunwoody is quite a hike from where I live, there was a savvy person who commented on one of the articles who drove by there and found things a bit odd. Victoria mentioned that it is located in a strip mall. We have nothing against strip malls or any business run there, but then we have to remember not one person that supposedly works there is from the US, so who is in the building? Every single person I talked to was from the Philippines. So it’s a lot like the Bloomington setup by every AS company out there. Also to note, LitFire doesn’t have a picture of the location at the mall like any other known business that I know of does that has an establishment outside of a home. Be proud of its physical establishment, you know? All catfishing scams ever known either provide a fake address or an address that is real but isn’t where the “establishment” is actually located.
It is also noted that LitFire’s blog and written materials have been shown to plagiarize marketing advice from known experts like Penny C. Sansevieri and others without credit. Would an ethical company do that? No! Penny obviously has better things to do than slap them with a copyright infringement suit. I’ve worked with Penny’s company on Booklover’s Heaven when we were taking free submissions, and I have read some of her blogs and such, so yeah. She’s a great resource. I provided the screen shot and a direct quote from the article to explain which is which.
The red-boxed passage is from an article by marketing expert Penny C. Sansevieri (see the last paragraph). The blue-boxed passage has been filched from speaker and consultant Al Lautenslager.
It has been discussed that all of their materials are poorly written, so they were going to spam a poorly written press release to the media. That’ll make any author look great. *headdesk* That’s what Author Solutions does, but they have connections with big trade publishers, so they have an idea about how that part of the industry works, not the pure indie route that I have decided to take from here on out. It’s also probable that this company was started by Author Solutions rejects that were even too extreme for them, and so they would naturally have an idea about how traditional media and the legacy industry works to pull the wool over the eyes of new authors. The way this company was formed was more like how yeasts bud than how bacteria reproduce via binary fission. In either case, the genome of the daughter cell(s) are identical to the parent cell.
Their website is really nice and clean, but very short on detail. They don’t really include prices on most of their services except for publishing (I wonder why?). From the commentators on the above articles, a lot of the same problems that plague AS happen here, too.
The “testimonials” have also been brought into question, and it has been thought probable that these people aren’t real. Their sales metadata on retailers show that the sales “success” isn’t so hot. They may have been padding their “success”. Oy. Would an ethical company do that? Even starting out? No.
Cancellation: As Easy As Pulling Teeth from a Bull Nile Crocodile
I never intended on following all this until the bitter end to see just what a ripoff it could possibly be. As soon as the “Fullfillment Officer” called, which was about an hour later from setup, I decided to abandon ship. I’ve seen all I need to see for my experiment. Everything that happens is going into this post. Let the hot potato toss begin!
Just like any AS company, they will delay it as long as possible and pass you around. You just don’t know who is supposed to process the cancellation and issue a refund. I wasn’t able to have my request honored on the same day. I was forced to wait over the weekend, so I “didn’t make a mistake”. Seriously? The only mistake I foresee would be going through with this crap. At least this company is closed on weekends. And within that hour there conveniently was another “recommendation” for Neiko’s Five Land Adventure that magically appeared when I wanted to cancel. Riiiiight–come one now! Come Monday, my consultant calls, hopeful that I’ve overthought everything and I would “come to my senses”, and there was yet another “recommendation” from another scout when he came in that morning. Uh-huh, sure there was. I say I want to cancel still, and he says that he will get it by his supervisor (the evil supervisor again? Really?) and it should be processed by Friday. No refund. No communication. I’m not surprised. I gave until 2 pm on that Friday in question, and I call. “Markus” is not there. I call the billing department, a good place to start, right? They transfer me to evil supervisor “Tom Davis”, who says I have to talk to my consultant which I have done already. Why? He says I have to talk to you? Classic run-around, delaying tactic. I have an eiditic memory so I am taking mental and actual notes. OMG.
Now this conversation with “Tom Davis” was like deja vu. I could have sworn that this piece of work was the same person who bore the alias Miguel Guzman. The same condescending attitude that he’s smart, and authors are dumb. Asking “why” for every little thing and then shooting every rational reason for cancelling down. He even tried to give me a motivational speech about “negative talk” when I was clearly being realistic. There is a clear break between faith and fantasy. I may write fantasy for teens, but I don’t do business in a fantasy world, and that’s what I said. He had some brass balls to also say that I am giving up “the opportunity of a lifetime” and my “ticket to fame”. I’m a fantasy writer and couldn’t make this crap up. Even more things are possible in teen fantasy, mind you! No, this is a ticket to Brokeville. Also he said this without actually saying it, “To hell with trying to build your platform and connecting with readers and cultivating strong sales, this is your ticket to the future!” I could get better results spending the same on targeted advertising or publishing my next book instead for the cost.
He also insinuated that by just paying that amount it was “guaranteed” success and I could “buy” my way to my dreams. Yeah right. I know better. Don’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining. I am not the usual client they deal with, and he can’t snow me in with that. He really tried to ride me to the ground, but I did not give in. He basically insinuated that I was an idiot for wanting to cancel, and that I was wasting their time. Hold on a second…what about my time? They are wasting mine by telling me fibs and giving me the run around. They called me didn’t they? I was marketing my books and minding my own business when they came calling, right? Furthermore he also said they were taking a “risk” on me and my book by contacting me. Hold it! There is little or no risk to them, and I am the one taking all of the risk here–financially and otherwise. He had a lot of gall to say something like that to me. I almost wanted to cuss him out, but I held my peace. I’m going to be writing about this anyway.
I also might add that he said that this “deal of a lifetime” may not come around next time. How can that be so? Unless WWIII happens and Frankfurt burns to the ground or it is swallowed by the sea, the Frankfurt Book Fair will come again next year. It’s a yearly event. What, they wouldn’t offer it to me again? Not that I really care. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they never contact me again. I’ll wait for a real break where someone will want to give me money for a change, and in the meantime, I will keep writing, building my platform, and reaching readers and making connections with other authors and professionals. I’ve even met folks in other industries along the way!
This is the same spiel and tirade that “Miguel” tried to get me to stomach for that stupid email marketing campaign back at Xlibris 8 years ago. After my articles about that all AS companies have hung up the email marketing scams and now seem to be peddling trade shows and book fairs. Should this be Miguel, he has moved on, and if it is him, he is the Book Fair/Trade Show Nazi. Even after this infuriating conversation, cancellation is not honored, but he did say it was “approved”. He hoped to sweat me some more by forcing me to “think about it and wait” and refusing to process the cancellation that day. I really don’t have to “think about it” any more and I’ve waited long enough for my wishes to cancel to be met. This kind of crap could sway or make a novice author give up. You can’t be nice to these people. They are predators, plain and simple. It’s like trying to reason with a hungry grizzly bear to not eat you.
A few days later after I haven’t signed or returned anything they sent me, my “Fulfillment Officer” calls and sends an email asking if I had gotten in touch with my consultant. I email back and say that I am cancelling, and that I have gotten in touch with him and his supervisor, and it had been approved. I get another call from another individual who FINALLY processes the friggin cancellation. It took 2 weeks to get a cancellation and almost 3 to get my darn refund. It’s amazing how quickly you can sign up and they take your money, but how long and difficult it is to cancel out and get a refund. Ethical businesses don’t do business this way; unethical ones do.
This was quite infuriating to go through even with my experience level with such things and even though this was an experiment, so I cannot fathom how horrible it would be for a new or unsuspecting author. It was even worse than my experiences with Xlibris, which were pretty bad. These people tried to fight it til the bitter end in trying to get any money out of me by offering “discounts”, “deals”, or “promotions” and trying all to “reason” with me. All are overpriced and worthless and will not help me connect with readers or sell books. Probably the same with anyone. These people will tell you anything to get your money. Don’t believe for a minute the tall, wild claims they make are in any way true.
The Book Scouts – My 2 Cents
Before getting to my own thoughts, here is a nice little blurb from an article from SFWA:
A referral from a literary agency or freelance editor. Reputable literary agents and freelance editors don’t work with fee-based publishers. Period. Those who do are either receiving a kickback from the publisher, own the publisher themselves (possibly under another name), or are incompetent. Whatever the reason, it’s bad news for you.
Of course, after the first few seconds talking with “Markus”, I was thinking, “Why would a talent scout or an agent refer me to a vanity press? If this book (Neiko’s Five Land Adventure, not the Survival Guide since they “referred” two of my books to these people) is really movie-worthy, then why not just refer the book to the film producer or a screenwriter? I don’t need a vanity press when I have published under my own imprint. I won’t even work with a trade publisher for things I could learn or do myself. I want to connect with readers directly. I am not going out of my way to get the attention of trade publishers. If I do fine, or if I don’t fine. I don’t really care. It’s not high on my dreams-to-be-reached-before-I-die list.
As an aside, a friend of mine also mentioned, “Why should you pay for your book to be displayed in Frankfurt, Germany to film people, when Hollywood is setting up shop right here in Atlanta and filming all across Georgia?” I even stumbled across an ad that a producer was looking for properties to film in the AREA THAT I LIVE IN. I didn’t respond to that ad, but still cool right? What kind of sense does that make going to make doing the LitFire thing (as if I was going to anyway)? If these people really were in Dunwoody, wouldn’t they know that? For people working in Cebu City in the Philippines, they would be clueless. Of course, it goes without saying that I have more sense than to drive up to a set and pitch my book at some producer. I get what my friend is getting at. If a producer is looking for a local GA writer, and if I have what they are looking for, then they will find me as long as I am putting myself and my work out there, right? That’s how a lot of the others have happened and not paying four figures at a book fair or a trade show via a vanity publisher. I cannot think of one teen or YA book or series that was an overnight success after being featured in a trade show or a book fair. Not one. If there are any, then they take a back seat to the “freak accidents”.
Of course, the whole ploy is built around every author’s dream about getting that phone call out of the blue that a big publisher or a movie producer is interested in their book. Come on, we’ve all had it in some form or another! Of course, it still exists, but do rest assured if it is really an opportunity of a lifetime, they will want to give YOU money for the rights, not the other way around. Of course, there could be instances where someone could be hired, but you would be asking for solid recommendations and doing the legwork, right? You would be doing your homework before hiring them, I’d hope.
Before stumbling on the little treasure at SFWA, I had come to the conclusion on my own that either these are LitFire employees who are tasked for locating these authors, or they are the dishonest agents or editors (like there wasn’t enough of that before stumbling on this whole mess) who are getting paid by LitFire. Either way they are incompetent. I don’t know what they are looking for when they choose an author to contact or how they get their information; other authors are wondering the same thing despite numbers/addresses being changed or moving, they still find them. Even though one of the books they were scoping out was previously published by an ASI company, the other was not. I can possibly rule out ex ASI authors, or they may be A pool. The Neiko books have been out a while as a whole, but I republished them with new covers and some editorial tweaks under my own imprint last year, and it was those they were looking at. Of course, I would think they would be ever-hopeful for snagging a silver tuna, and should their services be of any help at all to that author, then they will ride on that author’s coattails for their own success. That’s more or less what they were letting on they were hoping for, and at the very least, they are taking authors’ money. They were also hoping for a referral from me in my updated Survival Guide or the former. Well, I write the truth. They obviously don’t know who I am. Good or bad, I was going to tell it how it happened. This is how it happened.
Not only are they exploiting every author’s fleeting dream, they are exploiting authors on what they don’t know about how publishing decisions are made. Most authors also don’t know how the film industry works since it is a whole different medium and industry altogether and a different set of rules. It’s basically like crossing over. I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about all that, but there are people who do or know more than I do. For now though, building a platform and a readership is the place to start. Should a book become a movie, you want an audience for it to go to, right? Or cooler yet, a readership to give that kind of news to? Heck yeah! That’s where I am with that. Sorry, LitFire, you just don’t cut the mustard.
My recommendation to fellow authors? Stay away from this publisher. Don’t even hire them for marketing. There are other people I would be happy to refer authors to. Don’t listen to the banter of their sales people. They don’t give a rat’s butt about your book or your success. They tried to shovel that manure my way. I knew they were lying through their teeth. All they care about is getting your money, and if you succeed, then they will get the credit and not you. Either way, the author gets the shaft.
I Just Got Sucked In by This Company. Now What?
First off, don’t beat yourself up over it. The bait and ploy they have worked up is pretty slick, and they know how to manipulate emotions. That’s their job. Now if you ignored the warning signs and allowed the service to be fulfilled it may be too late to get your money back. I would still file complaints at the BBB, the FTC, Pissed Customer, Yelp, or any other customer service review site. Have a blog? Write about it! The more people who know the better.
Do whatever you can to get your refund and cancel the service before fulfillment. After that, all bets are off. You can still call your credit card company and see if you can file a chargeback or a dispute as long as it is 120 days after the transaction. Most service fulfullments are cleverly booked more than 120 days in advance, so be aware! Consumer protection has come a long way in recent years. If you live outside the US, look up your consumer protection laws in your home country, if there are any.
If you have caught it before fulfillment, you have every right to cancel. They won’t make it easy! Don’t give in to their tactics and don’t believe anything they tell you. Stick to your guns. Your hard earned money is on the line here. They will ask why why you are cancelling, probably. You don’t have to explain anything! It’s none of their business! They’re not your financial adviser!
If you have paid in installments, call your credit card company and kill the card they have on file and get a new one. File a dispute or a chargeback if you aren’t making any headway. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! You will need it in your report. Be thorough with dates and who the person’s “name” and department/title you talked to.
You may want to make a note to never do transactions over the phone again. Always research a company before doing business with them. If they won’t send info or do transactions through any kind of secure platform like PayPal, you may want to get away. PayPal makes it easy to file a dispute against a merchant and possibly why they don’t use them. Something to think about!
Questions? Comments? Stories? Leave them below!