Short answer: yes. Let me tell you why…
I was sitting in a group of people at the afterschool club I run, waiting for students to arrive and enjoying the conversation when my phone rang. The background noise indicated I was getting contacted from Delaware. The guy on the other end started trying to tell me how great my book was and was perfect for their book buyers and was apparently doing so well in its market that they were interested in working with me.
Dude called the wrong author. It became pretty apparent in a few short seconds that I knew more about his company than he did, and the people at my table were listening to me tear into a cold caller who thought I’d be an easy mark.
“Is your book selling well or…” he asked, and I interrupted him, “You just told me it was doing amazingly well and that’s why you called me.” But the nuance of his segue was not lost on me. He was trying to turn a corner to sell me something, implying that any dip in sales could be turned into a spike if I got into their catalogue.
“Let me stop you there, chief. If you’re about to ask me for money to put my book inside a catalogue or publication that you and I both know isn’t a viable place where actual readers shop for books, that’s going to be a hard pass from me.” If you look at their website, that’s exactly what he was about to pitch (the NY Rights Fair/Book Expo has a prominent place on their website.)
He tried to get out of our phone call and shut it down, but I made him stay on the line, mainly because I had questions for him. “I’m just curious how you got my personal cell phone number in the first place? You tried at first to make this seem like we’d connected online at some point, but we haven’t.” (There was the implication that I’d missed an email from them, and we verified that he did in fact have my personal email address, and the implication was that I may have been interested in an online zoom call or group seminar about working with them. I searched all my spam boxes. This was an engagement ploy.) I told him, “When you send me that follow up email from this phone call, I’m going to insist you tell me how you got it. Since this was a cold call and because I’m asking, I’m pretty sure you are legally obligated to provide that information… I’m not calling you out on the carpet,” I was, and those at the table were laughing, “but knowing that would be very useful so I can close down any loopholes in my SEO or something. I take privacy pretty serious and try to limit the sources of contact my readers and potential stalkers might reach out to me from.”
“Well, we are premium partners with Amazon and Google so we likely got it from our partnership with them.”
“I’m going to tell you that’s crap,” I burst his bubble. “Amazon doesn’t give out that information and I’m pretty sure google doesn’t either. I don’t think this ‘partnership’ is as big a deal as you’re trying to tell me it is.” I know how he got it. And I told him. The CANSPAM act and a few other laws meant to protect internet users against predators who wish to remain anonymous forces people who register domains to an actual address with real and verifiable addresses and phone numbers. Your email providers such as mailerlite and mailchimp will do the same. This is just another case of legislators exposing honest people to predators since law-abiders will, you know, follow the rules… those wanting to violate the spirit of that law will simply exploit them. Like harvesting data from the whois database or using datascrapers to collect phone numbers and other data.
Here’s the summary: they saw that one of my books had a lot of reviews and had been out for a while. They were contacting me specifically about Wolf of the Tesseract. If a book is more than two years old and has more than 50 but less than 200 reviews, it probably had a good run in its past, and an author may want to revive its glory days, making him or her a target for people selling author services and making pie-in-the-sky promises. I see these kinds of companies pop up all the time and are part of the “sharks in the swimming pool” club that I talk about when I give author seminars. Beware predators who prey upon your delusions of grandeur. Don’t let some shark devour your dream.
So here’s what a little research shows you about Stratton Press (I made sure the cold caller spelled it for me so I had it correct… a lot of scammers pop up, get shut down after their rep catches up with them, and then restart under the same or similar names with slightly altered spellings.)
- They are not accredited by the BBB and there are a number of complaints lodged against them.
- Their pattern is that they cold call authors and appear to be targeting those books who are just a little past their prime, likely for reasons I already mentioned.
- The word Press in their title is misleading. They are an author services company who is representing themself as a traditional publisher; this is a surefire way to identify a scammer (working with them is a little like going on a date with someone who has obviously lied about who they are at the outset.)
- The fact that their Facebook’s web presence is managed by someone in the Philippines is suspicious. It’s not uncommon for American companies to do lots of business overseas, but inverse is rarely true.
- Their website is geared towards authors. Publishing companies that, you know, publish books are geared towards readers. The biggest indicator of a vanity press is when the website targets the writer instead of the reader—it indicates where the dollars are flowing and who the real customers of the business are.
Number five really is the most telling, but so are the complaints registered on their BBB page which talk about unhappy customers being refused refunds on publishing packages (any service that includes publishing packages is a scam publisher, BTW, and if you read my blog regularly, you know I band that drum often.) There is also evidence on a chain of reports that when the BBB stepped in, the company tried to absolve it with an end run around on a credit card reimbursement that wouldn’t seem to go through; I had a shady company try this once in the past… it’s a tactic meant to get someone to drop a dispute thinking that they’d gotten satisfaction (basically, your dispute gets caught in queue while they get to argue their side with the CC company and retain the funds. Some companies, especially overseas ones, will rack up a bunch of these under a shell corp and then torpedo it and start a new one, similar to credit card transfers/hopping by consumers… except their taking customers money with them rather than carrying debt out of it.) You can read some of the tales here.
Stratton has been around a couple years now and they have left a string of tears and broken promises according to people who have experiences with them (most of whom are much older and are in the prime age bracket to be targeted by “Nigerian princes.” Those people often have kids and grandkids on Reddit. Those folks report that the “Delaware” company has been hopping around the country in order to avoid the angry mobs catching up with them these last few years (I can find addresses in New York, Wyoming, Delaware, and the common tie is always their connection back to the Philippines.) One redditor says he even had an employee admit they were based in the Philippines and that they all use fake names (alluding that they may be using a VOIP system to spoof local to USA numbers and the company might not even be in America… and we’re back to the idea of trust and honesty in a publisher being necessary, and making me see the irony in how many “Christian books” the company pushes out.
Further, Victoria Strauss over at Writer Beware identifies Stratton as one of several clones who follow a specific playbook. It must be effective, because there are so many. Of course, that commonality is also why I was able to so readily identify them as bogus.
I am still waiting several days after their contact for an actual follow up email from Stratton, but I’m sure I’ve been marked internally as someone to avoid. I can live with that. At least the scammers are from US soil, judging by their command of the language and the fact that the call center does seem to be in Delaware. I guess running a scam from native soil props up the economy and keeps our dollars local right? …unless those dollars all wind up in the Philippines.