There are many services that take advantage of writers by overcharging, giving misleading information, or not providing the services claimed. Unfortunately, many of these services exist in a gray area, where you can do little to get your money back, except avoid them in the first place. I’d like to offer my experience as a cautionary tale, though I won’t name the company for legal reasons. After my experience, I discovered a long catalog of complaints against this company and its owner, which used a number of company names and aliases as it morphed in the course of offering different services to writers, getting complaints, and morphing again. I apparently encountered this company in its latest form.
In hindsight, I might have done more advanced checking, since the company was offering a bargain basement cost of a lifetime membership for a limited time, though I took this as an initial offering because the company was new. Then, it offered all kinds of lists for contacting reviewers, librarians, bookstores, and hundreds of thousands of readers for various social media platforms at a very low cost and free to lifetime members. But the lists were only of emails without the names of the contacts, and I never thought to ask about the source of these lists or how current they were. In retrospect, I should have done so, since after I did some initial mailings to some emails on some of the lists, I had about a 20% return, which is fairly high, and a few people I emailed wrote back to say they had retired from the business or to remove them, since they did not work in the field.
So you have to be careful in buying lists. They can be great to use when you have a current curated list, which I did in obtaining names with emails of publishers, agents, and film producers and their interests from industry sources, and then did test emails to check this information. I did this when I was running a company for 14 years called Publishers, Agents, and Films, which I sold a year ago, and it’s now called The Nudgeline. If you do have a good list, you can send targeted emails using a personalizing software to send emails by name to industry contacts with good results. I sold dozens of my own books as well as books for clients when I was heading up this service. But when you get lists of emails without names, especially if you are emailing to consumers rather than industry contacts who regularly get submissions and promotional emails, your email can be regarded as spam. Worse, if you are using a special SMTP service as I did to send out your emails, your account could be shut down if you get a high rate of returns or spam complaints.
In any event, given my concerns about using these lists with my own email accounts, I jumped at the opportunity when the company offered to sell some software for sending out emails and offered to provide the SMTP credentials to use this software. Plus the company was selling still another social media list not available for free to its long-time members. Though I didn’t need the software, the opportunity to use these other credentials to send out large mailings seemed an ideal way to send out mailings to the large lists I bought from the company.
But that’s when everything went south, after I made my payments through PayPal. First, I didn’t get the social media list I paid for. Then, after I got a link to download the software, which came from another company, so presumably this company was getting paid as an affiliate, the credentials the company provided didn’t work, after I did a requested email test with the software. After I sent multiple emails about the problem, the company finally provided another set of credentials, but again, they didn’t work, though the company claimed, possibly falsely, that the credentials worked for them, or maybe they could only work with that company’s computer’s IP address. After that, I tried my own credentials which I used with my own mailing software, and they worked.
When I emailed the company to tell them this, the owner said he would check on the problem and provide credentials that worked, but he didn’t respond to my repeated emails that I hadn’t received these credentials or the list I paid for. When I said I would take the matter to PayPal, he ignored that, too, perhaps thinking this was an idle threat.
But finally, I did file a complaint in PayPal’s Resolution Center, explaining that I had tried unsuccessfully to resolve this problem with the owner. Then, about two weeks later, after Pay Pal contacted him, the owner did respond. Thus, if you pay by Pay Pal, a complaint to them can get some result, since an account holder can lose their account if they get multiple complaints. At first, I thought this complaint would resolve everything, since the owner did finally send me the list I ordered, and he offered to provide me with a $17 refund, provide the credentials, and I could keep my lifetime membership which was now, he claimed, worth 10 times as much as the initial price.
However, after he apologized for his lack of response and I agreed to his offer, he did not follow through on that. Aside from giving me a $15 refund, not the $17 offered, he did not provide credentials I could use. He merely advised me about using Google or Yahoo’s servers, though these are limited to sending only about 200 emails a day — hardly sufficient for a mailing to many thousands of emails on a list. I also soon discovered that the owner was offering his lifetime membership at a 90% discount — essentially the same as I originally paid. Then, when I wrote repeatedly to get the credentials, explaining that this was what was valuable to me, not the software, he again ignored my emails.
After that, there was little I could do. Though I tried to contact PayPal to report that the company owner hadn’t fulfilled his part of the bargain, my case was marked as closed, and I could find no way to reopen it. When I tried to call to speak to an agent, I gave up after waiting on the phone for about 15 minutes. So in effect, once you close a case, that’s that. And it was only after that experience that I discovered the long list of complaints against this company and its owner under many different names and services to writers.
So, in summary, my advice to writers in purchasing a service is this:
– Check out the company if it’s an unfamiliar or new company. You can put its name into Google, and you can discover if there are any past complaints for the company or its owner under their current and any previous names.
– If the prices for any data or lists the company is offering seem unusually low, try to find out the source of this information and how current it is. It may be you are getting out of date or not very accurate data.
– If you find the company is unresponsive after repeated requests, indicate that you plan to contact PayPal or your merchant account provider, and do so. That is likely to get the company to respond.
– If the company makes an offer, agree to close your complaint after they fulfill the terms of their offer; do not close your complaint before then, since you are likely to have no recourse after that. And if they don’t agree, just leave your complaint open, and you likely to at least get your refund. But if the company and its owner have proved unreliable in the past, don’t trust their promise to do anything else.
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GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., J.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, specializing in business, professional and personal development, and social trends. She has published over 150 books — 50 with major publishers. She has worked with dozens of clients on memoirs, self-help, and business books, and film scripts. Her websites are at www.ginigrahamscott.com and www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com. She is a Huffington Post columnist at www.huffingtonpost.com/gini-graham-scott. She is the founder of Changemakers Publishing, which has published over 100 print, e-books, and audiobooks. Her latest books include The Science of Living Longer, from ABC-Clio and Self-Publishing Your Book in Multiple Formats from Changemakers Publishing.
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