Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing: Avoiding Book Publishing Frauds

With so many successful self-published books in the Adirondack region, it was disturbing to hear the recent news so close to home that police in Hinesburg, Vermont (south of Burlington), discovered what they have termed a Ponzi-style publishing scheme. The case first came to light in June 2011 when it was reported that Peter Campbell-Copp, former president of the Manchester Historical Society, had allegedly defrauded individuals and businesses to the tune of $170,000.

According to media reports, Campbell-Copp contracted to handle the editing, printing, and marketing of clients’ books as a publisher. Apparently, some of the printing was done by at least two firms, and Campbell-Copp was known to have served at least fifteen authors. Except that the allegations are he served them nothing but bitterness.

According to police, taking the biggest hit of all was Print Tech, a Burlington company for more than three decades. Around January 2010, they began producing print jobs for Campbell-Copp, receiving several scheduled payments. The work continued, but the payments stopped, and the work eventually stopped as well, by which time the company was owed about $100,000.

Peter Campbell-Copp was arrested on seven counts covering four charges. As time went on and the investigation grew, the numbers changed. In late September 2012, two new felony charges brought the total to fourteen. He was cited for not honoring contracts, ignoring the queries of his injured customers, and offering virtually no information for those who did manage to contact him.

By early December, the number of alleged victims had grown, to as many as three dozen. Some were apparently cruelly victimized more than once by Campbell-Copp who is alleged to have repaid some of their losses with checks that bounced. Besides crimes that included at least a dozen felonies, he also faces a dozen charges of issuing bad checks. We still don’t have a full financial accounting of the costs, but estimates reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to reports, some of the books Campbell-Copp agreed to produce were actually printed, including fifteen titles being offered for sale on his website, a fact that was apparently unknown to at least some of their authors.

The case was moved from Hinesburg to Bennington, and may soon go to trial. As reported on January 3 by WCAX-TV in Burlington, his victims were mainly “elderly aspiring authors,” and that Ponzi components were evident: “Police say Campbell-Copp used a boilerplate contract, collecting seed money from one victim to partially cover the publishing costs of his next victim, even advertising their incomplete work on his website as success stories. The Bennington County prosecutor says Campbell-Copp has eight pending cases against him with countless victims across the state. He pled not guilty to 16 counts of felony false pretense and five other misdemeanors.”

Dozens of self-published books in all genres have been produced in the Adirondacks, and if you’re considering it, be sure you know what you’re getting for your money. Partial payments at different stages are normal, but don’t provide full payment until you’ve received the books you ordered. That way, you retain leverage to the end and can’t be stiffed.

Be sure your self-publisher is up front about services, particularly marketing, distribution, and selling. If you plan to handle those things on your own, be aware that they are usually the most difficult parts of the process, where even a good book can fail. Any promises made by your publisher in those areas should be backed up in advance with credentials and a clear plan.

Photo: A victim’s book, advertised for sale on Peter Campbell-Copp’s website.

Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 40 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 16 books and more than 100 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, has been a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. They have published 65 titles and are now offering web design.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publisher’s Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.


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3 Responses

  1. Bill Ott says:

    The oldest post I could find on Peter Campbell-Copp was June 2011, 18 months ago. (http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110607/NEWS02/110606026/Hinesburg-police-uncover-alleged-publishing-fraud) I was surprised to find his web site still up and running. I also wonder if Campell-Copp intended to defraud his clients, or just had a bad business model, or maybe an addiction. I just cannot imagine that a president of an historical society would do this on purpose. As a parting shot, the real Ponzi scheme would be if he pays his legal expenses with further forthcoming fraudulent funds.
    Bill Ott
    Lakewood, Ohio

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    • Lawrence P. Gooley Lawrence P. Gooley says:

      Bill,

      Yes, as you said, it’s surprising to see his website active. I have to wonder if maybe he wasn’t aware of how difficult it can be to market and sell books rather than just publish them, and that just having a website and making the book available doesn’t mean people will come rushing to buy.

      The victims probably didn’t know the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing, for that would have warned them that something was wrong. In traditional publishing, the publisher generally assumes all costs, and thus all the financial risks, and the author sees only a small profit per sale. In self-publishing, the author generally assumes the financial risks, paying the publisher to produce a product, and then the author markets and sells the books, reaping a larger return per copy.

      That’s the first thing that struck me about the story: the publisher allegedly contracted to promote and sell the books, but also received payment for producing the books. If that’s the case, he assumed no financial risk at all. It’s hard to believe that didn’t occur to any of his dozens of clients, but again, we don’t know all the facts yet.

      To protect themselves if a situation like that arose, they should have paid him to produce the books, and they should have made the final payment when he delivered the books to them. They then should have doled the books out to him as needed in order to fulfill sales. If he had 100 books on hand to sell, he wouldn’t receive more until those were sold. If he didn’t sell any books, he wouldn’t receive any money … at least not from me if I was his client.

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  2. Bill Ott says:

    Lawrence,
    What a nice reply. This has brought to mind a story about, (or really by) Henry David Thoreau. He published only two books during his lifetime:
    A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (James Munroe and Company, 1849) and Walden, or, A Life in the Woods (Ticknor and Fields, 1854)

    It took me much longer to research Thoreau than Campell-Copp, but it was worth finding and here it is, a quote from Thoreau’s journal which I found in the Reader’s Almanac. (http://blog.loa.org/2010/08/henry-david-thoreau-august-9-1854.html)

    Unfortunately, A Week sold only two hundred copies during the first years after publication. In a Journal entry of October 28, 1853 (PDF) Thoreau describes receiving from the publisher “in a wagon” 706 copies of its printing of 1,000.

    They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin. I now have a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself. Nevertheless, in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever.

    Anybody who wants to self-publish should read this.

    Bill Ott
    Lakewood, Ohio

    By the way, Walden sustained me for four rainy days in the early 80’s when I was watching loons on Cranberry.

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