Websites that critique publishing companies are a great service…provided they’re done in a responsible and ethical way.
When we started WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings, it was an open forum where anybody could post anything. We quickly realized that wasn’t going to work because people were signing up under pseudonyms, and posting false complaints about companies. Trolls emerged in droves. Someone’s ex-spouse, or an unethical competitor, or a terminated employee…or anybody at all could post anything they wanted. While we weren’t legally liable for the posts, it was just plain wrong to allow companies to be damaged by anonymous posters in this way. We stopped allowing the free-for-all, and instead forced people using the forum to prove their identity. Unfortunately, that wasn’t 100% full-proof, either. So, we moved WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings to a full-fledged report/investigation process only. WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings is a free service we offer to writers and others who believe they have been wronged by someone in our industry. Here’s how it works:
1. A writer who has a complaint about a company submits that complaint to me.
2. I launch an investigation, which includes sending the full complaint to the accused publisher/editor or service provider (the “company”).
3. The company is provided with the name of the accuser, of course. (Otherwise, how can they check their records and provide an accurate defense?) We don’t publish the name of the accuser in our final report (unless they specifically ask us to) but the Company knows who they are all along.
4. When the investigation is complete, we publish the complaint and the company’s rebuttal. That way, readers get the whole story, from both sides, and are able to make an informed decision about working with (or not working with) that company.
The exceptions are spammers (we immediately post warnings about spammers targeting writers when they spam us) and companies with unfair contract terms (since their contracts are readily available online and state their obvious demands).
There are many sites online that post garbage about anyone and everyone, that accept “anonymous” complaints and post them at will, that won’t share the names of the accusers with the accused when they do know the names, that don’t/won’t investigate the complaints at all, and that apparently don’t care who they harm in the process. Some even issue vague warnings to the victims of false posts, daring them to sue. Of course, this type of behavior is, in my opinion, deeply unethical…but only a very, very expensive lawsuit can stop them.
Fiction author Piers Anthony has been a thorn in my side for years. He runs an “Internet Publishing” page that he presents as an “accurate” source, but, in my opinion, it contains numerous inaccuracies, submitted by “anonymous sources.” Lots of writers have visited his page, not suspecting that the information they are reading might, just might, be incorrect, or even downright malicious. That’s right. By his own admission, Piers Anthony has posted anonymous complaints to his website without fact-checking and without asking publishers for any information at all. He doesn’t even alert publishers to the complaints he has posted, which allows any lies to do damage until the publisher learns of them from someone else. This is what he admits near the top of his page:
“I do not check with publishers before running positive or negative feedback on them; this survey is of the nature of a review, and anonymity of sources is maintained.”
Even if the publisher is able to easily prove which posts contain incorrect information, Piers Anthony may not remove or immediately update the complaint. He may simply add more to the story (after waiting sometimes weeks after receiving the publisher’s rebuttal), further down in the thread. So, readers who only read part of his post, and who stop at the complaint, won’t learn all the facts. In some cases, it appears, he forgoes publishing factual rebuttal comments in favor of his own attitude-laden opinions. On his page, he admits, “But when, on rare occasion, the publisher turns out to have the right of it, I will grudgingly amend my entry next update.”
Grudgingly? According to dictionary.com, grudgingly is “displaying or reflecting reluctance or unwillingness: grudging acceptance of the victory of an opponent.”
If he’s posted a false statement that is harming someone’s reputation, shouldn’t he want to fix that statement willingly, immediately, and with a professional and sincere apology? Are publishers his opponents???
If Piers Anthony cared about the damage being done to publishers, don’t you think he’d have stopped this practice long ago? I first complained years ago. Based on his own comments on his website, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s asked him to remove/correct his postings over the years.
Maybe it would just be too much trouble for Piers Anthony to fully investigate complaints, giving his readers true “clarity, accuracy and relevance.” These “anonymous” complaints can contain any number of lies…yet Piers Anthony simply slaps them up on his website. It’s not his business that’s being harmed so…who cares, I guess?
In my opinion, using his website to shop for a publisher is like using the National Enquirer to cure an illness. If you publish false accusations without any research, you’re bound to publish fiction as fact. Therefore, you’re publishing a gossip rag.
My first experience with Piers Anthony, who I’d never heard of (I don’t read his type of fiction for obvious reasons), originated when he posted incorrect accusations about me that had nothing at all to do with our services. The lies, which he claims came from an “anonymous source”, said our main business was to publish *my* books on self-publishing. Even back then, none of my books (I’d written six by that time) appeared on our homepage – and we were selling more than 900 books at that time. Piers Anthony didn’t check our homepage before posting that. He also posted a comment from his “anonymous source” that said authors must follow a formula for promotion. That was another lie from his “source” and he didn’t ask us or check our website before publishing that, either. When I contacted him, he didn’t immediately check our website to confirm my statements. He, instead, contacted his lying source for “confirmation.”
I told him his “anonymous source’s” lies were hurting our business, and threatened to contact our attorney if he didn’t remove them. Instead of removing the lies, he posted a note saying we’d threatened to turn the matter over to our attorney. I did indeed contact our attorney, who told me it would cost a minimum of $10K to sue someone out of state – and that would just be the pre-trial expenses. It would be much more if it went to trial. He helped us realize Piers Anthony just wasn’t worth it.
To this day, the original lies remain on his site. He did eventually post this: “Nevertheless, I am trying to be fair in this survey, and have to say that my spot check did not indicate preferential treatment given to Angela’s efforts.” However, instead of apologizing for not fact-checking the source’s statements, he instead threw in some attitude, ending his diatribe on a negative note about us, even though he himself had finally confirmed the source supplied him with incorrect information. Why?
And, now there’s more.
His latest update includes lies from an “anonymous source” that claim I’ve never been published by a traditional publisher (I have, by St. Martin’s Press – easily proven with a few minutes on Google or Amazon – or a simple email to me), that we “plant” false book reviews on Amazon (I don’t review books and we’ve certainly never posted a false book review anywhere at all), and that we “misuse stock photos for promotion” (we don’t). That accusation was bizarre because he previously posted a complaint that criticized me for refusing to publish an author’s book because the author couldn’t prove he owned the rights to a cover photo that he insisted on using. So, the recent stock photo accusations didn’t even make any sense.
On Piers Anthony’s page, he says, “Updates directly from publishers are welcome, and so are comments about those publishers from those who use them.” It was obvious to me that these recent lies about me were submitted by somebody who did not publish a book with us. They were just too bizarre and not ones that would be submitted by an author, but ones that would be submitted by someone who wanted to harm our reputation. Did Piers Anthony recognize that and stop the presses? No. Does he force his “anonymous sources” to prove they’ve actually used the publisher’s services? It sure doesn’t look like it. He just slapped his “anonymous source’s” lies up on his website, without researching the “facts” and without contacting us for any information at all.
I was so dumbfounded when I found this latest list of “anonymous” lies posted on his website, I kept thinking, “What did I ever do to this man???”
However, after reading things he’d posted about other publishers, our competitors, I realized I shouldn’t have taken it so personally. From a detailed read of his “publisher page”, it appears we’re not the only ones he’s posted “anonymous” false accusations about. Piers Anthony claims he was blacklisted by a publisher in the past. Here’s a comment from his site:
“February 2009 update: I heard from the Author Services Director, defending the publisher, requesting that I remove the disparaging and unconfirmed report. He wanted the identity of my source. No go; I was blacklisted for 6 years when I objected to the way a print publisher cheated me, so I don’t give publishers such information.”
He also appears, to me anyway, to be sexist, calling me the “wife the company’s president” (I started this business long before I started dating Richard) and a “proprietress.”
None of this made any sense to me. Why was he attacking some publishers in this way? Why put himself at risk of a lawsuit by so recklessly publishing “anonymous” garbage in this manner? I just couldn’t make 2 + 2 = 4 with this person so I did some digging, with the help of two writers, who are also excellent researchers, into Piers Anthony’s background…and, maybe it’s relevant, maybe it’s not – you decide… but this is what they discovered.
Several years ago, Piers Anthony became part owner of Xlibris, which competes directly with many of the publishers that are criticized on his website. That’s right. He was on the board of directors at Xlibris.com. This disclaimer does not appear at the top of his “Internet Publishing” page. In fact, to see any mention of it at all, you have to go waaaaay down on his publisher page to the Xlibris listing (2/3rds of the way down on a page that lists hundreds of companies).
When I confronted Piers Anthony about his ownership in Xlibris, and how this – combined with his lack of fact-checking so-called complaints submitted to him about competing publishers – might appear to bias his opinion, he replied:
“You’re not much for doing your homework, are you? Check my HiPiers column for FeBlueberry 2009 (sic), wherein I discuss the whole history of Xlibris and my investment in it. Your questions imply that I have tried to hide my involvement, when I have been open about it throughout.”
His involvement story appeared in a newsletter he writes for his fans, not on his page featuring critiques of publishers. He does briefly mention his involvement, but in the Xlibris entry in the directory. But, since all the publishers are listed alphabetically on his site, you’d only know this if you paged down…to the 339th listing (Xlibris). At the top of his page, he mentions his self-publisher, Xlibris, but doesn’t mention there that he was also on the board of directors at that company. Back in his June, 2006 newsletter, he said he was co-owner of Xlibris, along with Random House…but, again, that was in his regular newsletter and writers venturing to his publisher page today aren’t likely to stumble upon a three-year-old newsletter.
In his email to me, he said:
“But, specifically: yes, I was for several years on the Xlibris board of directors, but I posted negative as well as positive comments about it, as I do for all the publishers I list. On occasion I intervened to correct a foulup that the regular process didn’t, as I went straight to the top. I am now simplifying my posted histories because new ownership makes them less relevant. My ongoing survey is intended to assist writers in finding potential markets, electronic or self publishing. They may be in competition with each other, but my listing is an inclusive service. What part of this don’t you understand?”
In another email he said, “I am not lying about you or anyone. I am reporting what I am privately told, and running corrections when I get them. I do the same for all publishers; there is no bias against you.”
The fact is, he is not “running corrections WHEN” he gets them (emphasis mine). He told me I’d have to wait until next month for him to run a correction – three months after the “anonymous” lies were posted and one month after I complained. Another fact is that he never “intervened” when I was the focus of lies from his “anonymous sources”. Evidence from comments Piers Anthony himself makes on his page indicate he didn’t contact other publishers, either. So, in my opinion, there seems to be two groups – Xlibris, in which he admits “I intervened to correct a foulup…” and the rest of us. My opinion is that, despite his statement, he does not treat all publishers the same. He only admitted intervening when the complaints were against Xlibris – of which he was “co-owner.”
In an email, Piers Anthony accused me of “freely attributing false motives” to him. I’m not accusing him of anything. I’m just pointing out the facts. Piers Anthony was on the Board of Directors at Xlibris, he has not published a disclaimer about this relationship at the top of his publisher critique page, and his statements to me indicate he intervened in complaints against Xlibris…but he didn’t intervene with us or some other publishers before posting “anonymous” complaints on his website about them.
Please know that Piers Anthony steadfastly maintains that he treats all publishers the same.
But wait…there’s more!
Author Solutions (owner of AuthorHouse and iUniverse) recently bought Xlibris. After that happened, Piers Anthony removed the negative posts he’d previously published about AuthorHouse and iUniverse, too. No, I’m not kidding! He explains his actions on his website: “I am simplifying the entry, as past history is surely irrelevant as the new order works out.”
As I pointed out to Piers in an email, “AuthorHouse and iUniverse are still owned by the same company…the same company that now owns Xlibris, of which you were on the board of directors.”
Now, so you don’t think I’m just spewing sour grapes, here are some comments Piers Anthony has posted about other publishers:
“My printout cut off the right end of each line, so I don’t have the whole story.”
Yet…he posted the accusations anyway.
“April 2009 update: I was asked to consider this issue more carefully, as my prior discussion was inadequate. I don’t feel this is the place for a comprehensive discussion…”
He wrote that after previously writing 720 words about the publisher. Why can’t he be as “comprehensive” when the publisher is asking him to consider the issue more carefully?
DORRANCE PUBLISHING – www.dorrancepublishing.com
“April 2009 update: Got a blank screen.”
Some reading this may think he’s implying the company is out of business. It’s very much alive and I didn’t get a blank screen at all.
DREAMS COME TRUE PRESS
“April 2009 update: The site was so slow loading that I gave up after several minutes of nothing plus a blowout of my browser, twice. It was more like a nightmare than a dream”
The site popped right up for me.
“April 2009 update: They say that since 2001 they have published over 1,000 authors and 500 ebooks. That’s half an ebook per author, on average. “
It’s May 2009 right now and the site says “Over 600 Authors Have Published Over 1200 Ebooks…” Piers Anthony should have known that was a typo on the publisher’s website and, in my opinion, should have sent them a quick email instead of posting that snarky remark.
EBOOKS ON THE NET
“April 2009 update: The link becomes www.writewordsinc.com/. I did not find submission information.”
There’s a big, fat link on the left-hand column of the homepage – and every page on the website – that says “SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.”
He says they’re a vanity press….but then says they’re not a few lines further down (instead of correcting his original statement, which can confuse readers).
“I do have a negative report of bad editing, which seems to me more like a series of bad breaks than publisher malfeasance.”
If he has the whole story, and he feels it’s not the publisher’s fault, why did he post this at all?
1ST WORLD LIBRARY
“Unfortunately I have a very bad report on them, and it is said that the man in charge is vindictive toward any who try to blow the whistle.”
Did Piers Anthony once again not take the time to contact the publisher for their side of the story? How can such a vague and anonymous accusation be trusted? Simple. It can’t.
“December 2008 update: an author got a request for his manuscript, sent it, and never heard from them again. Beware.”
This could have simply gotten lost in the mail…yet he’s telling authors to “beware” of this publisher? Did he contact them to ask before publishing this potentially damaging warning?
“December 2008 update: a report that they can nickle and dime you to death on additional services, and they have a peculiar schedule for paying royalties.”
Exactly what does “peculiar” mean, and did he ask the publisher for information, or at least research their contract so he could offer additional details?
“a disgruntled author says their philosophy seems to be ‘We’d rather have a million authors sell only a hundred books each rather than have a hundred authors sell a million each.'”
While I’m not fan of Lulu, putting this type of damaging statement into quotes, to make it appear Lulu actually said that, is, in my opinion, irresponsible and damaging.
“He also said ‘If your site’s intention truly is an objective one and not a clandestine promotional tactic…’ which suggest the way he thinks. Obviously he did not endear himself to me.”
Did Outskirts know Piers Anthony was on the board of directors at Xlibris when they sent him that note? And, is Piers Anthony issuing a warning to publishers – endear yourself to him or suffer his wrath?
Piers Anthony published an accusation that this firm practices sex discrimination, yet offers no facts or details whatsoever.
RED ROSE PUBLISHING
“December 2008 update: there was a problem, but it has been resolved.”
Then why mention it?
“April 2009 update: But another report of retaliation with enough detail to be persuasive. I omit the detail for that reason.”
For what reason would he omit the persuasive details? Why should readers believe such vague and unconfirmed statements at all?
“A response from Angela James, executive editor: ‘I am shocked and more than a little dismayed by this report… Certainly I … would never damage my company’s reputation with authors by ridiculing anyone.’ Okay, I run the reports I receive, playing no favorites. I find Angela’s denial credible, and suspect that the February report was a distortion.”
It appears Piers may have once again published an accusation without first asking the publisher for her side of the story. When the publisher learned of the false accusation, Piers didn’t bother to remove it from his site. He just posted an update. And, since the publisher didn’t learn of the false accusation for two months, her reputation may have been damaged by the report for two entire months.
“The gentle tone of Angela’s response is a sharp contrast to some of the blasts I have received from other publishers.”
How do you think Piers Anthony would respond if people were publishing anonymous lies about him online?
The samples above are just a tiny portion of the numerous posts that appear on Piers Anthony’s website. Remember, writers, if somebody posts drivel without checking the facts, in my opinion, you shouldn’t trust them.
After I complained to Piers Anthony about the “anonymous source’s” lies (that had already been on his website for three months!), his response was, in part:
“I will post your refutation in my June 2009 update.” He also added: “You will have to be satisfied with that.”
That is unacceptable yet he wouldn’t budge. In fact, he got so upset about the emails I continued to send to him about the lies and about his association with Xlibris that he said, “I prefer not to take legal action to swat a fly, but I don’t rule it out.” He also said he’s going to write about me in his next newsletter. He wrote, “I did warn you. Now I will discuss this matter in my June 2009 column. You grought (sic) it on yourself.”
One of the researchers, Scott Rose, who was deeply disturbed by what he learned when googling Piers Anthony, sent the following, which sums up this situation:
“I only had a vague awareness of Piers Anthony before, but now, I am totally disgusted by him. It’s one thing that he says he wants to offer a ‘service’ to writers, informing them about publishing options. But, it’s quite another thing that he bullies you when you initiate business-like communications with him, trying to get him to take defamatory, untrue things about you off his website.”
If you’d like to comment on this article, send an email to: angela -at- writersweekly.com