A few weeks ago, I began hearing from writers who'd been solicited, out of the blue, by a company called LitFire Publishing. In some cases by phone, in others by email, a LitFire "consultant" claimed to have received or seen information about the writers' books (or even to have read them), and wanted to offer a wonderful marketing opportunity--for, of course, a four-figure fee.
Here's how LitFire describes itself and its services:
Founded in 2008, LitFire allows authors to skip the hassles of traditional publishing. The company started out as a publisher of digital books. With hundreds of published titles and more than 50 publishing partners, we have learned how to succeed and soar in the eBook market. In 2014, LitFire expanded its horizon by offering self-publishing. Today, we offer all the services you would expect from a traditional publishing house – from editorial to design to promotion. Our goal is to help independent authors and self-publishers bring their book production and marketing goals to fruition.In other words, LitFire is one of those outfits that offers publishing packages, but makes much of its profit from hawking adjunct services such as marketing.
Cold-call solicitations, hard-sell sales tactics (writers report receiving repeated phone calls and emails), expensive publishing packages with silly names, absurdly overpriced "marketing" services: are you detecting more than a whiff of Author Solutions, the much-criticized self-publishing service conglomerate that owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford, among others?
In fact, at least three of LitFire's "consultants"--Portia Peterson, Tori Mesh, and Mark Advent--are or were employees of Author Solutions imprints. And LitFire's publishing agreement bears many similarities to an older AuthorHouse agreement (from 2012; the most recent agreement, which is much more complicated, was revised in 2014). Compare, for instance, AuthorHouse's Clause 18, Termination by Service Provider, to the last paragraph of LitFire's Clause 14, Refunds and Work Termination.
But there are reasons other than possible Author Solutions connections to be wary of this company.
- False or conflicting claims. Of the "hundreds of published titles" and "more than 50 publishing partners" claimed in LitFire's description of itself, there is no trace.
Eight books appear on Litfire's website, only one of which seems actually to have been published by LitFire. That one shows up on Amazon, along with just two others. A few more surface with a websearch (interestingly, these also show up--with different ISBNs--as having been published by Author Solutions imprints). All in all, that's seven titles. Total.
LitFire also appears to be confused about how long it's been in business. Its website claims a 2008 founding date, but its URL was only registered in June of this year. On the other hand, according to one of its email communications, it's been around for 8 years, which would push its founding date back to 2006.
- Illiterate written materials. Most of LitFire's website, while it won't win any prizes for business communication, doesn't read too badly. But the LitFire correspondence I've seen...yikes. For example, this email from "Senior Publishing and Marketing Consultant" Tori Mesh:
The most charitable thing I can say is that it reads as if it were written by someone for whom English is not a first language. Tori's resume includes a current or former stint at AuthorHouse UK; we do know that a big portion of Author Solutions business is outsourced to the Philippines, and that Philippine staff use American or British-sounding aliases, presumably to make it seem as if they actually work at AS headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana, but actually resulting in some very odd-sounding names. (See, for instance, this recent Author Solutions marketing pitch.)
Also check out this blog post on, er, craft, from Jill Bennett, LitFire's Book Marketing Specialist. Here's a sample:
When can one’s writing writhen out a reader’s metaphysical standpoint?I did not make that up.
How about this: Somebody wrote a book saying that the laws the world is following today: spiritual, political, logical are but a rehash of the Primo genial world that the Primo genial human beings have cleaved to and everything everyone believed in that world turned out to be flawed and destructive, thereby the First Apocalypse. He doesn’t claim himself a Messiah or a prophet or whatnot but proves his evidences authentic, like the codex of that first world, every inch of it intact.
- Plagiarism. A solicitation email from "Senior Marketing and Publishing Consultant" Mark Advent (formerly of Trafford) is a peculiar mix of the kinds of ESL mistakes found in Tori Mesh's email and relatively fluent passages. There's a reason for this: Mark has borrowed the good bits from others, without bothering with attribution.
The red-boxed passage is from an article by marketing expert Penny C. Sansevieri (see the last paragraph). The blue-boxed passage has been filched from speaker and consultant Al Lautenslager.
So what is LitFire? Despite the many Author Solutions connections and similarities, I don't suspect that LitFire actually has anything to do with Author Solutions itself. AS is a big company, and it has no need to be coy about what it does. If LitFire were a new AS imprint, we'd know it. I think it's far more likely that LitFire is an Author Solutions clone, created by former or current AS workers in hopes of siphoning off a share of their employer's business.
Either way, one thing is clear. If you hear from LitFire, just say no.