Aliceshortcake and the Green Shore Conundrum
Recently the Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check board has played host to an investigation into a dodgy-seeming “publisher” that popped up on the internet offering a portfolio of (expensive) services to authors in the UK and Irish markets.
Over a couple of weeks, the intrepid aliceshortcake (who started the thread with a very amusing dissection of their website and contract offerings) and other forum members looked into every aspect of the company, using any and all online resources to figure out who was behind Green Shore Publishing and whether or not they were an outfit that writers needed to be warned about.
In brief, Adam Salviani (formerly of Raider Publishing International, Purehaven and Perimedes) was discovered to be the owner, Green Shore Publishing was added to the Thumbs Down list of the SFWA, and featured in an article on Writer Beware, written by Victoria Strauss.
So far, one author has commented on the Writer Beware article to say that reading it prevented her from giving Green Shore Publishing any money. Job well done, then. Here’s hoping she’s the first of many.
What fascinated me most about the whole investigation (I’m going to be very unapologetic about my nerdiness here) was that Green Shore Publishing’s entire internet presence was built on a house of cards comprising article farms, bought “likes”, cheaply outsourced “testimonials” and access to an army of spambots on Twitter. Rather than rehash what has been written about so well elsewhere, I’m going to use Green Shore Publishing (GSP) as an object lesson in how NOT to use social media.
Authors and social media
There have been scandals aplenty about authors using sock puppet accounts to inflate their review scores on Amazon, or disgruntled readers giving lowball reviews on Amazon/Goodreads without even having read the book in question, or favourable reviews/likes/retweets being purchased in bulk. It’s evident that there are companies/individuals out there offering/using questionable methods to inflate or deflate the seeming popularity of authors or books on the internet.
These companies exist in part because of the many online voices urging authors to use social media to “build their brand” and the very real necessity for self-published authors of establishing said brand and using it to drive sales since they have no marketing or publicity department behind them.
Sure, you can get advice on all aspects of self-publishing from fellow authors on Absolute Write, or the KBoards (and similar forums), but for many it can all seem overwhelming. There’s conflicting advice everywhere, and for those who are not au fait with blogging/Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook Fan Pages, handing it all over to someone else becomes an attractive proposition. It’s an emerging market and one that is fraught with its own unique perils.
Enter Green Shore Publishing
GSP (as Raider before it did) “offers” authors who sign with them a variety of packages, some of which promise promotional work on behalf of the book.
The £600 package will get you UK & Ireland Based Promotions plus an Extensive Press Release Campaign.
Spend £1000 and you’ll also get: Online Reviews, Book Trailer Creation, Youtube Advertising Campaign, One Guaranteed Media Interview, Dedicated Website Creation and Publication.
For £1500 it’s all of the above plus: Audio Book Creation and Advertising Campaign (Guaranteed to Reach One Million Potential Readers).
(I Like How They Keep Using Caps, It Makes Everything Seem So Much More Truthy and Important.)
Spoiler alert, you will most likely get none of these things, but if you did they would probably be produced and distributed by the very same people GSP uses to promote itself.
That’s great, right? RIGHT?
How does GSP promote itself?
Handry wrote an article singing the praises of GSP.
You can find the article here (I’m showing the full URL for reasons that will later become clear):
If you are sensitive to bad copy, terrible grammar and hilarious misinterpretations of the phrase “new standard in book publishing” you might not want to click that link. If that warning came too late, I do apologize.
Handry makes several promises on her bio, a couple of which really piqued my interest because they alerted me to what GSP might be up to. As ever, you can click on the pics to embiggen.
Over the next few days, more of these articles popped up. Again, I’m leaving their full URLs visible:
Look at that last URL. Look at it. Remember it.
If you go to any of these sites, it’ll be quickly apparent that they’re just collections of articles. Badly written articles pimping iffy products. They’re article directories, and they exist (using content from article farms/content mills) to provide backlinks to sites like GSP in order to boost their ranking in a Google search.
Web and article directories were all the rage in the early days of SEO, it was a cheap and easy way to push your site up the ranks in Google. If GSP had enough sites using the keywords “publisher”, “publishing” (etc.) and linking to their homepage, it would push GSP up in the results if someone idly searched for “publisher”. Or rather, it would have if this was three years ago. Google improved their algorithm (the Panda and Penguin releases) over time to stop precisely this kind of trick from allowing companies to artificially manipulate their ranking in search results.
Because of this, all of those articles are completely pointless in terms of improving GSPs standing in Google’s search results. So the only other use they could have would be in promoting the company. If you managed to read through those articles, you would note that they are all badly-written (to varying degrees) and would not be considered positive promotional material by any right-thinking company.
Strike one against GSP.
Strike two is that if these are the sites and the quality of content that GSP uses to promote itself, then what does that mean for authors who pony up £600 plus in order to avail of promotional material provided by the company? Nothing good.
But that’s the internet, what about social media?
Green Shore Publishing joined Facebook on July 16th this year. No-one paid them very much attention at first, but all of a sudden their page acquired over three THOUSAND likes.
Oddly enough, for all these likes, there wasn’t a lot of activity on their page.
Eventually, there were posts from some “happy authors”, screen-capped for posterity below:
Weirder still, all of the “authors” who posted about how happy they are did so within a 45 minute period. And their own profiles are often more concerned with lingerie sales than the books they are supposed to be so excited about publishing. And they all have kind of strange names.
Checking out those “happy author” Facebook profiles led to Twitter, where GSP also landed on July 16th. Their most recent tweet links to the dodgiest of their dodgy puff-piece URLs with accompanying text adding a new nuance to the phrase “publish or perish”:
While all of GSP’s “happy authors” from Facebook can be found on Twitter, none of them seem to be following their publisher, which is odd. And all of them have over a thousand followers each. Impressive! Wait, impressive? Let’s look at what they’re tweeting about.
Maxwell Matthew retweets Mollie Alice constantly.
Mollie Alice would appear to be a multi-lingual individual with a wide variety of interests but no interest whatever in tweeting anything that is not a link to someone selling something.
Let’s drop the pretense. Mawxell and Mollie (and all the other authors praising GSP on Facebook) are spambots. Obvious spambots. And they each come with 1k+ spambot friends, which makes it even easier to see how GSP’s Facebook could garner 3k+ likes so quickly.
GSPs total likes are falling as Facebook identifies and closes the accounts of spambots. The most recent posts on their Facebook page are from people asking for ISBNs or book titles – in other words asking GSP to provide proof that they have ever published ANYTHING.
Strike three – the only people who like you are spambots.
But on their site there are video testimonials from their authors!
Indeed, if you go to the GSP reviews page you will find three video testimonals from Jack, Clive and Richard talking about how great GSP is. Oddly, none of them takes the opportunity to give their full name or the title of the wonderful book GSP has published for them. Poor Clive has been badly green-screened into a study and seems to have trouble remembering his publishers name for a moment.
Thanks to Jurgen Wolff and his article, we now know that Jack, Clive and Richard were hired through Fiverr.com. Fiverr is full of people promising likes, youtube views, testimonial videos and suchlike things for very low prices. Jack is Fiverr user chaduk, Clive is Fiverr user yoogle and Richard is Fiverr user sebski22. Their testimonials therefore, were bought and are completely fake. Their prices are all around the $5 mark. GSP shelled out an extra tenner to avail of yoogle’s ropey green-screen.
Strike four – faked testimonials used to sell services that now appear more dubious by the second.
Three strikes and you’re out. Four and you’re out with a black eye.
Every single aspect of Green Shore Publishing’s presence on the internet has been faked and/or bought using such transparent methods that a small group of interested people on the internet could track it all down and debunk it in a matter of weeks.
A perfect case-study in how not to use the internet and social media to promote your (dodgy) company.
Needless to say, if approached by GSP you should run far away at great speed.
Since I took the screencap yesterday, the “People talking about this” number for Green Shore Publishing on Facebook has rocketed from a mere four people to over three thousand.
For the curious, none of the “people” talking about this are people claiming to be happy authors on GSP’s page. I checked because I wanted to see what the people “talking about” GSP were saying, since they, unlike other companies, do not seem to have an area on their page displaying what people are saying about them on Facebook. I guess they are not too keen on moderating posts from people who (a) are real and (b) may be asking difficult questions about them.
As for what those 3k
people spambots are saying when “talking about” Green Shore Publishing, we have no way of knowing. Green Shore Publishing really is fond of the number 3000 though, that’s for sure.
There was one possible dangling thread in all of this. A post by someone using the handle “conorp” on the Absolute Write Green Shore Publishing thread, in which he claimed to be a very satisfied customer of Green Shore Publishing. If conorp was to be believed (given the timeline of the thread start date and his post claiming to have read the thread as part of his research) Green Shore Publishing offered a very speedy and efficient service. We asked questions and waited for conorp to come back to answer them. Most of us didn’t really believe that he was a real live Green Shore Publishing published writer, but anything’s possible on the internet.
Fortunately, Absolute Write forum-poster Helix had a flash of fiverr-related inspiration and went looking for conorp there. Guess what? Meet conorp, who will gladly leave a positive review anywhere on the internet for you.
His only condition is that account creation on the site requested must be free, as it is on Absolute Write.
At first, I did wonder about him using the same handle. But then I realized he’d have to, in order to prove it was him that posted and collect his fiver(r).
So, “happy author” conorp also turned out to be bought and paid for, cheaply.
Links to all of my sources plus bonus Adam Salviani and RPI material:
- Writer Beware article on GSP
- Writer Beware article on Raider Publishing International (RPI)
- SFWA Thumbs Down List
- The Absolute Write GSP thread
- The Absolute Write RPI thread
- Mick Rooney at the Independent Publishing Magazine on GSP
- Mick Rooney again, on RPI
- Jurgen Wolff’s discovery of the fiverr testimonials
- An interview with Adam Salviani on Blogtalk Radio
- More on GSP and Salviani from TeleRead