I came in very close to the ground floor on this story. On the morning of 08 November 2006 I got a piece of spam:
Author Identity Publishing
Hi Short Story Author,
Would you like to get your short story published?
Would you be interested in selling one of your stories to us?
We are a small, but very reputable publisher looking to buy short stories for a compilation coming out this holiday season. This could be your chance to jump start your writing career.
If you are interested in submitting a story or just finding out additional information, please click on the following link www.authoridentity.com
Wishing you success in your writing career.
Much hilarity was had noting that Author Identity said:
We require you supply us with five (5) local newspapers we will send a press release to. We also require you to find 25 people who are willing to purchase your book on its release. Most of our authors have reached out to friends and family, however, we never tell you who must buy your book. You must however, demonstrate you have the ability to sell 25 copies prior to the books release. Once this book is published, the marketing will continue to be a concentrated effort. We recommend you approach at least two local bookstores and present the book for them to sell. Again, if you are not willing or unable to do so WE ARE NOT THE PUBLISHER FOR YOU!
Fair enough, they aren’t the publisher for me.
That’s a vanity press, right the way down the line: Authors are required to buy or sell books, it’s open-and-shut. Vanity. But it only got better:
Question: Do I need an agent?
Answer: Not if you decide to submit your work here. We select our authors without being represented by agents, no matter how hard they sometimes try. There is not much an agent can do for most new authors, other than try to locate a publisher. If you have already signed up with an agent, tell them to contact us with your work, and we will gladly study their proposal. But it will be no different than when you contact us yourself.
No matter how hard the agents try? To sell a short story to a start up vanity press anthology? Which agents would those be?
Sharp-eyed AW regular Triceratops soon noted that there was an amazing similarity between that question-and-answer on the AIP site and a similar question on the PublishAmerica website:
Question: Do I need an agent?
Answer: Not if you decide to submit your work here. We select our authors without being preached to by agents, no matter how hard they sometimes try. There is not much an agent can do for most new authors, other than try to locate a publisher. If you have already signed up with an agent, tell them to contact us with your work, and we will gladly study their proposal. But it will be no different than when you contact us yourself.
Almost uncanny, isn’t it? (This rather invites the question of exactly which agents try to sell their clients’ work to PublishAmerica, but leave that aside for now. Do keep PublishAmerica in mind as they’ll play a small part in the story to come.)
The morning continued. It wasn’t yet noon when another AW regular noted that Author Identity had been mentioned by one other person: a certain Kevin A. Fabiano. The first time he mentioned it had been on the first of November, 2006:
Furthermore, if you have written a short story and would like it published I know Author Identity is seeking submissions from new authors. You can reach them at www.authoridentity.com . I hope this is a help.
Off on Kevin’s own website, on the very same day that the spam arrived, he posted this helpful note:
Wednesday, 8th November, 2006
Short Story News
I want to introduce you to Author Identity Publishing. They are publishing one of my short stories and they may be able to help you get published.
Thank You for your interest in joining Author Identity’s compilation. Author Identity is a traditional publisher in business to provide readers with greater choices. They specialize in short story compilations. Currently, they are in need of additional stories to fill a few of their existing projects.
Please do not send them your submission at this time. Instead, if you are interested in being considered for publication, please follow the procedures listed below.
If you would like to be considered for a future project, please copy the information below. Answer the questions and return it to them via email. If they accept your story they will be paying you for your work. They are not a vanity press, instead, a small press who pays its authors.
A bit more hilarity followed, but not much. Author Identity looked gormless, but not much worse than that. Mr. Fabiano was a PublishAmerica author, and so many PublishAmerica authors go on to start their own gormless publishing houses that it’s become a cliche.
Imagine my surprise to discover that I had e-mail from Mr. Fabiano himself the next day:
Dear Mr. Mcdonald,
I am sure this is an oversight on your part, however it needs your immediate attention. I have been advised you may have infringed on my copyrighted material. It appears you have copied sections of my website then altered the content to create a blog which you use to promote your products. In addition the added statements to this post create a false statement and attack my character. If you had taken the time to read the entire website and not only the section you copied, you would have uncovered the Best Selling Program belongs to Peggy McColl and Randy Gilbert not me. Please correct this issue immediately and reply to me firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-764-1126 as to your actions.
Kevin A. Fabiano
I passed the letter on to my lawyer, and otherwise ignored it. But this did make me curious about Author Identity, so I decided to look at them a little more closely. Author Identity Publishing claimed, on their website, to be a division of West Publishing. West Publishing is part of Thomson. They publish Westlaw, among other things. (Interestingly enough, Mr. Fabiano claims to be a lawyer.) Nowhere on West’s websites, or on Thomson’s websites, was there any mention of a division called Author Identity Publishing. So I went to Thomson’s live help chat room and asked the nice young lady there if they had a new division. Nope! No one at Thomson had ever heard of Author Identity. Was there, perhaps, another West Publishing that might have such a division? Not that they’d ever heard of.
I note that Author Identity Publishing no longer claims to be a division of West Publishing.
Well, that was pretty much where things stood. Victoria Strauss, indefatigable member of Writer Beware, blogged about Author Identity on 20 November:
I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about Author Identity Publishing, a publisher of short story compilations that has been emailing writers with invitations to submit. To avoid the appearance of a spam campaign, the solicitations are personalized with the writer’s name and the title of the story; in true junk mail style, however, they urge writers to act right away: “Please realize if you are interested in having your story published for the December 2006 compilation, this will put us under a severe time constraint, so please submit your short story within the next week.”
The ownership of AIP remained in doubt. Nowhere on AIP’s web site was a publisher, or an editor, named.
One more thing. The company’s solicitations instruct would-be contributors to provide this statement along with their story: “I, ________, agree to Author Identity’s Policies.” No doubt many people will suppose that they are binding themselves only to the terms that appear on the company’s Policies page—but what about other terms? There’s nothing on the website about what rights you will be giving up, or whether you’ll have a say in editing. Are you agreeing in advance to whatever the company decides?
One week later, someone calling him/herself “Victoria Strass” posted this on Kevin’s Guestbook:
Tuesday, 28th November, 2006
Thanks for inviting me to your site. I love the clean design with the red and grey. I also purchased your book recently from amazon and am half way through it. Every time I think I know what is going to happen, I find out I’m wrong. I can’t wait to get to the end. Good luck with Poison and I will bookmark you to check to see when it is released. Thanks again Kevin.
If you look at the source-code for that page, you’ll discover that “Kevin A. Fabiano is a best selling author of The Palace of Wisdom: A Rock and Roll Fable. He is a lawyer and professor who owns a publishing company in New York City, NY.”
Hmmmm… I wonder what the name of the publishing company is? Perhaps a clue is to be found on Kevin’s Amazon.com profile page:
Even at this point, Author Identity isn’t unique. Another vanity press, ho-hum. The way in which Author Identity managed to get well-known authors into its anthology became known: Authors like Mark Twain, Bram Stoker, and Louisa May Alcott filled out the roster. The anthology, The Shortcut: 20 Stories To Get You From Here To There, came out on 28 December 2006.
Mr. Fabiano was no stranger to the worthless practice of manipulating Amazon sales ranks. On Friday, 12 January, 2007 he posted on the PublishAmerica Message Board:
I’m not sure any publisher will hire a publicist for new authors, however, one is a great idea. I hired one on my own and my book reached best seller status on Amazon.com. It has rally fallen off, but for that short period of time it felt great, not to mention I can now call myself a Best Selling author forever.
On 19 January, in the comment thread that followed Victoria’s 20 November blog post, we had this classy entry:
At 1/19/2007 3:05 PM, Anonymous said…
YOU DUMB CUNT…..INCASE YOU DIDN’T SEE. AIP JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK THAT HIT #89 ON AMAZON FOR THE CATEGORY THEY ARE WORKING WITH IN.
The following day, 20 January, Kevin posted this note on the PublishAmerica Message Board:
My Book Made it to #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller List
HI PA Family,
I just wanted to inform you my second book, The Shortcut made it to #2 on Amazon.com’s Best Seller List yesterday. Here is the link if you would like to see. http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/10303/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/002-3051880-8671203
This is should be hope for those who feel we cannot sell our books.
#2 — not among all books at Amazon, but among Short Story Anthologies in English at Amazon, a position that is a bit easier to reach. And it didn’t stay there long. It had been #89 among anthologies if Anonymous was right the day before, and by the following day (as Kevin posted at PublishAmerica) it was down to #53. So fleeting is fame.
This is where folly turns to fraud. This is where the mainstream media got interested in what otherwise would have only troubled the councils of the small and silly.
Out on the west coast, a bookstore called the Seattle Mystery Bookshop took a phone order from someone who wanted a copy of The Shortcut: 20 Stories To Get You From Here To There.
This began a couple of weeks ago. We often get special orders for books that we don’t stock or haven’t heard about. It is a way we hear about new books from small presses, so we’re open to them but we try to be careful. We don’t want to get stuck with books we don’t want. So we get a credit card from the customer when they place the order.
So this guy calls up on a Friday afternoon, asks if we have this short story anthology he’s read about, The Shortcut. I hadn’t heard about it but looked it up at a wholesaler and said we could get it. He said fine, gave me his name, phone number and credit card info. I put the book into the system and went back to other things.
When the book arrived, we called the number - it had been disconnected! We tried the charge card to at least get the money out of the order and it came back with the message ‘bad account number’. So it appeared we would be stuck with the books (I’d gotten one for stock, too.) The best thing I could think of to do was to post a warning on the listserve for the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association and try to keep anyone else from falling for this scam.
The mystery caller had given his name as Michael Evers.
The owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop started investigating, and discovered that another bookstore owner, in Indiana, had gotten stung by Mike Evers, ordering The Shortcut with a phony credit card and a fake local phone number. Then someone in Colorado had the same story. Another bookstore in Canada…. Mike Evers had been a busy boy.
Publishers Weekly picked up the story on 29 March. The Talkback section brought out more stories from other bookstore owners. From Maine. From Vermont. From Minnesota. From Massachusetts. More from Canada.
Victoria has blogged about Author Identity again.
Meanwhile, one of the booksellers, ticked off enough to do some sleuthing, made an interesting discovery. “Michael Evers” is the protagonist of a novel by one of the anthology’s contributors, Kevin A. Fabiano (The Palace of Wisdom: A Rock and Roll Fable, published by PublishAmerica). Coincidence? Not likely. In a truly breathtaking combination of sleazy “marketing” tactics (which may have come straight off the PA message boards—I’ve seen the fake book order ploy advocated there a time or two) and just plain dumbness (hint to scammers: if you’re going to use an alias, pick a name that can’t be linked to your real one), Kevin Fabiano has apparently been trying to achieve the fevered dream of every vanity-published author: to get his book onto bookstore shelves.
This doesn’t prove that Kevin made those fake orders, it’s possible this is a Joe Job designed to destroy Kevin’s name and reputation, but maybe someone ought to look into it.
How many of those fake orders have there been? No telling. But look at this. I called Ingram’s automated stock-check number and punched in The Shortcut’s ISBN. That book sold zero copies last year. This year, however, according to Ingram, it’s sold 1,119 copies to date. That includes this week’s unadjusted demand of 163 and last week’s adjusted demand of 212.
One hundred to two hundred copies a week. Of an overpriced, non-returnable vanity POD volume. In a non-holiday period. If just half of those are fraudulent … well, I’m not a lawyer. Maybe Mr. Fabiano could tell me at what dollar amount Theft By Deception clicks over into being a felony. Maybe he can tell me if using the telephone to make fake credit card orders, interstate and international, is a federal rap.
If I ran a bookstore, or if I had a friend who ran a bookstore, I’d get the word out, and I’d check my records to see if a phone order for The Shortcut had come in with a phony credit card number. And if so, I’d call the cops, and the nice folks at the FBI.
The game is going into extra innings, with another Publishers Weekly story, Non-returnable Book Scam Widens
Emails to Author Identity Press (the only way to contact the press) were not returned in time for this update. PW also tried to contact but got no response from Kevin A. Fabiano. Fabiano is one of the living authors in the short story collection. He is also the author of a POD novel that features a main character named Michael Evers.
Public relations managers for both Barnes and Noble and Borders said they hadn’t heard any complaints from stores. But a helpful bookseller at one B&N location in Manhattan was able to look the ISBN up and find out that seven nearby B&N stores had the self-published title in their inventory. The title was flagged on the bookseller’s screen as “Do not order.” It was not found in inventory at three random Borders locations.
Publishers Weekly, 03APR07: Ingram Offers Refund on Scam Title
Ingram spokesman Keel Hunt said Ingram made the decision to refund their money, “In the interest of supporting our customers.” According to Ingram’s Automated Stock Status System, Ingram has sold 1,163 copies of the short story anthology. BookScan’s reported sales were 150 copies.
Victoria has blogged again
One thing that emerges from the PW article is that, as I speculated in my previous post, Fabiano does indeed have an ownership interest in AIP. According to PW, he’s one of three partners (two of them unnamed) who each paid $250 to establish AIP and set up The Shortcut through Lightning Source. :
One of the links that Victoria gives takes us to an interesting place, were we find a gentleman quoting a letter from Fabiano that says, in part:
Just so you know, I do not own Author Identity, (they have published my story, The Rising Star: The beginning in a anthology The Shortcut: 20 Stories To Get You From Here To There ISBN 978-1-4243-2797-3 and I knew they were looking for other stories.)… I hope you are willing to accept my apology and will in the future refrain from accusing me of being dishonest until you have your facts straight.
Since we now know that Fabiano does, in fact, own part (if not all) of Author Identity Publishing, that statement seems a bit on the misleading side. He isn’t just an author who happily found a market and is trying to share the news: He was trying to drum up business for his own company.
More experienced writers instantly pegged it as a vanity press.