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.