Self-Publishing Books: Another Way To Get Scammed, As Students Discovered

June 20, 2010
By

For 16 middle schoolers in Haltom City, Texas, the expected publication of their debut book in May 2010 was certain to be one of the biggest thrills of their lives.

These sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders planned for their novel, Locker Letters, to be unveiled at a signing party in late May at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the local mall.

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

The book was to be the debut project of the Birdville school district’s new Rising Authors program. Teachers, parents, students and school staffers invested more than $2,000 to print it and buy promotional materials and first editions. But something went terribly wrong.

They paid Four Star Publishing in Anderson, Indiana. George Grant promised that the books would be delivered in time. But they never arrived.

Weeks later, they still aren’t here.

Here’s a letter the company sent the teacher:

From: author_services@fourstarpublishing.com [author_services@fourstarpublishing.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:13 AM
To: Hedgecock, Carolyn
Subject: Book Release

You’ve successfully completed your part of the Publishing process.

Here’s what happens now:

Your book information will be sent to Bowker’s Books In Print. Once they approve it, we’ll upload your title to our distribution network. If there are any problems at this stage, you’ll get an e-mail from us within 2-3 weeks. Otherwise, it should be smooth sailing.

Then, you wait, as patiently as possible. In about 8 weeks, you can go to http://www.bookfinder4u.com, search on the ISBN assigned to your book, and see if you’re in the system yet.

So for now, sit back and bask in the glow of your approved book.

Congratulations, you’re now a published author.

Your five free copies will be shipped to you in a few days; you’ll get an e-mail from us when your books are shipped.

Thank you,

The Staff at Four Star Publishing

www.fourstarpublishing.com

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

A police detective in Anderson told me that he fears that the students may be crime victims.

Carolyn Hedgecock, a North Oaks Middle School English teacher who spearheaded the project, told me the experience has been a horror for her. Hurting children is the worst, she said.

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

The school's logo

Throughout the weeks-long ordeal, Grant promised that everything was fine. “Congratulations,” said one company e-mail to the school. “You’re now a published author.”

Grant said he bought an international standard book number for the book, but Hedgecock said she learned that he never properly registered it.

Grant insisted in e-mails that he printed the book and shipped copies to the school, so Hedgecock asked him for the postal tracking number. He changed the number several times, she said.

Police Detective Mitchell Carroll told me that he made two visits to the company’s office, at a mobile home park.

He knocked on the door of what he described as a “ramshackle trailer” and found Grant, who said he knew nothing about a shipping problem.

“He said he was going to check his records,” Carroll said. “But he doesn’t look like a guy in that business.”

“The scope of the investigation is getting larger,” he said. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Indianapolis intends to speak with Grant, too.”

My e-mails and phone calls to the company were never returned.

Its website is no longer up, but I found an archived version that made this promise: “We strive to publish the highest quality book available, and we go the extra mile to give our authors the best opportunity to succeed and gain recognition as a published author.”

Hedgecock said she spent $1,300 of her own money to publish the book. School officials spent $770. Parents ordered more copies through Four Star.

Fortunately, most of the money was paid through Pay Pal. Oftentimes, it can refund money to buyers when wrongdoing is found.

Last week, Grant or someone else using the e-mail address gwgrant@fourstarpublishing.com told Hedgecock that she could not use the ISBN or the planned book cover because they were property of Four Star.

“We will sue you and the school for copyright and ISBN infringement,” the e-mail said. “You have 10 days to comply.”

Hedgecock sent me a copy of the e-mail with a note: “This is unbelievable!”

Carroll wrote to Hedgecock that such Internet cases are difficult for municipal police departments to investigate: “Historically, law enforcement has hedged to take on these cases as they pose monumental problems. First, the sheer number of cases is mind-boggling. Secondly, there are jurisdictional problems. Would you, your students and their families be willing to travel here to Anderson for depositions, and later for a criminal trial? All costs would be incumbent on you.

“Lastly, our prosecutor (as most) rarely agrees to take on these cases. Internet retail has grown so quickly that law enforcement has been unable to keep pace. Accordingly, those transactions are guided by caveat emptor.”

However, because children are involved, the detective added in his note, “My chief concern is getting your money back.”

Jerry D. Simmons, a self-publishing expert in Arizona who writes the Tips for Writers from the Publishing Insider newsletter, said in an interview that such situations happen all the time to new authors who want to self-publish through small companies.

Publishers get novice authors to pay several hundred dollars to start the process, he said. Later, authors learn of costs that were not previously disclosed.

“Once they get you for thousands of dollars, you can’t leave them,” Simmons said. “You’ve already invested that money.”

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

Jerry D. Simmons

Barnes & Noble held the book signing party anyway. Hedgecock distributed compact discs of Locker Letters to the 50 or so people who attended.

Store officials gave all the students gift certificates as a consolation and promised to hold another book signing if the book arrives, Georgette Radford, store community relations manager, told me.

Hedgecock says there will be a book. She is now working with North Texans to produce it again. She hopes it will be ready when school resumes in August.

# # #

Writer Dave Lieber created his own publishing company in 2003 and shows other authors how to produce their own books. After many requests, he created a how-to self publishing manual that many authors have used to create their own publishing companies and live their writer’s dream. You can learn more about the manual here.

Dave Lieber's self-publishing guide shows authors how to do it yourselves, save money, make money and avoid getting scammed.

Dave Lieber's self-publishing guide shows authors how to do it yourselves, save money, make money and avoid getting scammed.

# # #

Self Publishing Tips

* Reputable publishing companies have a website that lists detailed information about company officials, their background and publishing experience.

*  Check Amazon.com and other book-selling websites to see if books claimed to be published by a company are actually for sale.

* Check to make sure contact information for a company is real before making a purchase.

* Check references with other authors who used the company.

Source: Jerry D. Simmons. Learn more at his wonderful website at www.writersreaders.com and sign up for his Tips for Writers here.

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber shows you how to protect yourself on WatchdogNation.com

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  5. Dave Lieber on June 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    The teacher in this story, Carolyn Hedgecock, read comments on the star-telegram.com website that were critical of her background work before hiring this company. Her comments are important, and I was unable to give the details of this in the full story because of space. But I am copying her note to me so you can see more details … dave

    From: Hedgecock, Carolyn
    Sent: Monday, June 21, 2010 12:13 AM
    To: Dave Lieber
    Subject: RE: my sunday column

    I looked at the comments from the column and tried to log in but for some reason I couldn’t. It seems most people think I’m pretty incompetent. We decided to go with Four Star Pubishing because we received some books by a teen author named Taylor Joseph. I spent numerous hours corresponding with Taylor who is also published by Four Star Publishing. She has published 3 books with a 4th one coming out soon. She has traveled to 16 different states and sold I believe like 30,000 copies of her books. Since she is only 16 and had so much success I wanted to go with her publisher and asked her if she would recommend Four Star Publishing. She directed me to her blog and gave me publishing tips and showed me all her success stories. I assumed the publisher I was dealing with was her publisher because they told me they were and all her books cite Four Star Publishing as her publisher. It wasn’t until the day before our book signing that I found out her Four Star Publishing Co. was not the same one as ours. I would have never gone with them if I knew ahead of time they were two entirely different companies.
    I choose Four Star Publishing because her books were top quality and almost every time I spoke to Four Star Publishing in Indiana, I’d ask about Taylor and how she was doing; George knew all about her and always answered my questions. He shared with me her “trade” secrets for success. Over 1000 hours were invested in trying to get the kids published and I couldn’t have invested any more time, energy, or caring. Trust me, no one feels as bad about it as I do., and no one has lost more than me. I put up my money, and time outside of school hours because I believed so much in the book and the project. I sitll believe in it and I will not stop until we have a finished book.
    Carolyn

    • John Simone on June 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm

      Carolyn,

      You might want to look at CreateSpace, which is an Amazon.com owned company. There is no fee to upload your book, and they print books on demand, so there is no expense for printing. Books are only printed when they are ordered by a customer. Our publishing company is using print-on-demand now for all of our books.

      I would be happy to take the finished manuscript for your book and typeset it at no charge so that it can be sold on CreateSpace/Amazon. These kids deserve to see their work in print!

      John Simone
      Three Pyramids Publishing

  6. nivedita ayogi on June 27, 2010 at 6:09 am

    Dear Dave,
    Thanks for posting this scam on your website. I am also a victim of four star publishing scam. Check this archived version of their website and you will find my name with the book title. He sent me a digital copy of the edited manuscript along with the cover sample and told me to sit back and relax; he and his team would be doing all the work of promoting and selling the book . After that he stopped taking calls or replying to my emails. Later on the website came down and the emails started bouncing back. That’s when i started looking for some more clues and came across your article. Just like the Texas school children, he bragged about Taylor Joseph’s books as if he published them and I fell prey to his bragging. I am curious to know how the genuine Four star publishing company allows him to take the same name. Shouldn’t they be suing him for such a fraud.
    Now i am in a dilemma. He has given me an ISBN number. I do not even know if it has been properly registered. Will I be able to use the same ISBN number without his name or will it be illegal to do so. I certainly would hate to give any credit to such a scam artist. When he sent me an edited version of my book, he had hardly done his job of proofreading. I had to work hard to find spelling mistakes and other modifications. I could not believe that I was paying him 250 bucks for doing such a lousy job. Do you have any suggestions on how I should publish my book and what to do with the ISBN number.

  7. Dave Lieber on June 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

    nivedita ayogi, I am glad to read your post. The detective in Indiana is looking for other victims and I will send him your information. Perhaps he can help you get your money back. In the meantime, my suggestion to you would be to NOT use any ISBN number from this “company.” You can purchase a string of ISBN numbers from bowker.com. Or if you wish to buy just one, you can visit publishing expert Jerry D. Simmons who sells them one at a time to authors such as you. Here is Jerry’s website. If you have any other questions, write to me at watchdog@star-telegram.com ~ Dave

    • jim g on October 21, 2010 at 8:52 am

      March 3, 2010, signed a deal with George Grant and this compnay called Four Star Publishing, they received my money but I received nothing for it. The Indiana Attorney Generals Office in reply to my complaint stated to me “we wrote him but he never replied – so we are closing your complaint.” Apparently the Attorney Generals Office actually does no real work. At any rate, if the detective wants to contact me that is fine, I can provide proof, I certainly do nto expect my money back but would enjoy seeing this clown in prison garb where he belongs for commiting theft/fraud, using deceptive and untrue advertising, feel certian he has bilked many and paid no price for it yet and this type of reprobate will strike again.

  8. E.A. Bucchianeri on September 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    That is a horrific story, imagine cheating children! What depths will people sink to?

    I’ve had a horrible experience with publishing, here is my story:

    To my utter misfortune, I became acquainted and started to use the services offered by 1stBooks publishers now known as Authorhouse, (owned by Author Solutions) and published my first two books in 2003. At the time, I detected no problem with their services and accepted that being my work was academic, would not sell many copies. I decided to publish my third book with them, a large 2 volume edition in 2008, and due to the reviews and publicity received, and the professors that contacted me personally, I became fully aware of the university libraries and public libraries who processed my work into their establishments, or were interested in my work.

    However, I noticed the first major discrepancy in their promises was that if I turned my manuscript in within a certain time frame, I would receive fourteen free copies of my work when it was printed.
    I e-mailed my text, and mailed my contract via snail-mail two weeks before the deadline, I know the contract arrived on time—I live in Europe, and mail does not take longer than 4 to 8 days to arrive in the US, however, there is no way to prove this, and they could not honour the free copy agreement as they allegedly hadn’t received the contracts on time. They never mentioned the agreement included receiving the contracts, just the manuscript. I received just my usual free review copy of each volume. I decided to let the matter go.

    Then, they have a very careless attitude with other aspects of their services. For example, their Press Wire program that sends your Press Release electronically to 14,000 media outlets. Where did I find my academic books being promoted? In the financial sections of several media outlets, and not to my target audience found in the academic, history, biography, or even literature, areas.
    (I also discovered my university level academic book on classical music categorised as a “children’s book”.)

    However, the major problems developed with royalty accounting. I began keeping a record of the copies available of my new two-volume work at Amazon US, UK, Canada, and their Marketplace vendors. (This is practically the only way you can discern how many books may be selling in the public domain.) Considering this is Print On Demand, when a number of available copies drops, you can expect it to be a sale since stores have no reason to keep raising and dropping the numbers unless they make a sale and then re-list the book. (For the record, I withdrew all my publications from Authorhouse June 14th 2010.)

    Authorhouse’s numbers were way below the daily tallies I kept from the Amazon numbers, they only reported between 10% and maybe up to 20% of the sales on any given quarter. September 7th for example, I received the worst report yet: they reported only 1 copy of Volume One sold in the second quarter (April 1 to June 14th, the time I withdrew my publications from them), and only 3 copies for Volume 2. According to my numbers from the Amazon rankings and marketplace sellers in the US, Canada and UK: 28 copies of Volume 1 sold, and 27 of Volume 2. Therefore they have reported only 4% of the sales, and they obviously are pocketing the rest. And this does not include other sales that may have been made through other sellers like Barnes and Noble, etc.

    However, there is no way to be compensated for these discrepancies, Authorhouse demands you provide receipts of all sales as proof of your claim—how on earth do you track such receipts? Authorhouse knows it’s an impossibility. Of course, Nielsen Book Scan offers sales report services, but you cannot use them to reclaim royalties, or display or disclose your sales report to any third party as Nielsen deems such action a breach of trademark confidentiality and would possibly incur a lawsuit.

    The simplest answer would be to cancel all contracts with Authourhouse as they assure the authors retain full rights to their work, but this is not as easy as they make it out to be. To date, they continue to reassure me my books are no longer in print, but as I have discovered September 7, they are still listed with UK wholesale distributors as available within 5 days as Print on Demand, so they are technically still available by Authorhouse illegally.

    1st Books / Authorhouse in my estimation is the most disreputable company allowed to carry on a business offering a sham service to the public, robbing authors of the fruits of their labours. Surely they are required to have a business license to operate as all other businesses? How can any state issue a license and continue to allow such a rogue business like this to continue? They are operating on such a large scale, and if they are doing this to every author, then one must consider the possibility they are committing grand larceny on a massive scale. They claim to have thousands of authors with their company.

    Authors Beware: if you are considering publishing your book using Print On Demand, stay well away from this company. Even if they paid all the royalties, they do little or nothing to help promote your work, but expect you to pay additional hundreds and even thousands for various promotion packages that provide little if no results. For those of you poor authors who now hold a contract with Authorhouse publishing your work, my sympathies go out to all of you.

    I also advise people to do their homework before deciding to publish with Author Solution’s other companies: DellArte, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, West Bow, and Xlibris. (One bad apple spoils the bunch in my opinion. Visit “Preditors and Editors” at http://pred-ed.com/peba.htm for recommendations.)

  9. Dave Lieber on October 21, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Jim, I’m sorry to hear that you were a victim of this operation I wrote about. You mention that the detective can contact you. It doesn’t work like that. I suggest you contact the detective. His name and his police department are in the story. If he is conducting an investigation, he will be happy to hear from you.





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