• The Publishing Post

Publishing News - Issue 40

International Literary Fraudster May Finally Be Foiled


By Naomi Churn


A literary mystery, five years in the making, may finally have been solved. On 5 January, the FBI arrested a man on suspicion of fraud at JFK airport in New York.


The man in question is Filippo Bernardini, a twenty-nine-year-old Italian, who works as a rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster in the UK. He is charged with aggravated identity theft and wire fraud, and is suspected of registering more than 160 fake internet domains from 2016 onwards in order to orchestrate a scam to steal unpublished manuscripts. A statement released by the FBI suggested he had “impersonated, defrauded and attempted to defraud hundreds of individuals.”


Over the course of five years, writers, agents, scouts and Booker Prize judges were targeted in a highly sophisticated phishing scam that involved using slightly altered email addresses, industry knowledge and technical language to trick unsuspecting publishing professionals into sending out copies of unpublished works. The scam pursued some big industry names. In an interview with The Bookseller in 2019, author Margaret Atwood said there had been “concerted efforts to steal the manuscript” of The Testaments prior to publication, a book that went on to become a joint winner of the Booker Prize that same year.


Simon & Schuster have suspended Bernardini pending legal investigation. They released a statement on the matter saying, “The safekeeping of our authors’ intellectual property is of utmost importance to Simon & Schuster, and for all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and bringing charges against the alleged perpetrator.” The publishing company are not named in any legal proceedings and there is no suggestion they are at fault in any way. Bernardini himself has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He entered his plea a mere one day after his arrest at JFK and is currently out on bail awaiting further proceedings.


One of the key mysteries at the centre of the scam is motive, as no money has ever been demanded once the manuscripts were fraudulently obtained, and the works never appeared in pirated formats online. Prior to Bernardini’s arrest, some speculated that the perpetrator was a literary scout looking to make film and television deals involving big-name works ahead of their competition. Daniel Sandström, a Swedish publisher frequently targeted by the scammer, thinks the con may instead have been a kind of power play, with the offender getting satisfaction from pulling the wool over the eyes of senior publishing figures. What the perpetrator’s true motives were, and whether they will be revealed over the course of Bernardini’s upcoming trial, remains to be seen.


Harlequin Launches New Subscription Service


By Malachi Martin


Harlequin Enterprises’ new subscription service, Harlequin Plus, has finally launched in the United States. Serving as a multimedia service, Harlequin Plus provides subscribers with four entertainment options. Housing an e-book library, organised bundles of new book releases, romance films and casual games which are all targeted to their audience of romance readers.

Users are able to select a bundle of e-books, which are curated and updated monthly by romance experts, and can be accessed immediately or they can acquire physical copies instead which are freely shipped and delivered to their home address. These bundles will contain up to six books which will include titles from all nine of Harlequin’s imprints, featuring works from bestselling authors such as Susan Mallery, Sherryl Woods, Diana Palmer, Kimberly Belle and many more. Additionally, subscribers will be granted early access to titles not yet available in stores. Alongside these titles, Harlequin Plus will also be updating both their film and game selections every month, working in collaboration with other organisations in order to license the content in their film and gaming collection.


"We're excited to offer a variety of Harlequin content and complementary entertainment all in one place," said Brent Lewis, the romance publisher’s Executive Vice President and Publisher in a press release following the launch of the subscription service. Lewis continued, stating Harlequin Plus is “one of the first multimedia subscription-based services to come out of book publishing.”


In addition to Lewis’ comments, Senior Director of Digital Capabilities, Eleanor Elliott had this to say:


“Harlequin is proud to continue our reputation as a digital innovator in publishing. The release of Harlequin Plus is a major milestone for us, our authors and our entertainment partners, and I’m proud to work with the team to bring joyful entertainment to romance fans.”


A division of HarperCollins, Harlequin Enterprises is a publisher that specialises in the publication of romance novels and women’s fiction. Founded in 1949 by Jack Palmer and Doug Weid in Winnipeg, Canada, the romance publisher has gone on to become one of the world’s largest publishing houses based within romantic fiction.


Harlequin Plus is available on the iOS and Android app stores, as well as the U.S. based Harlequin Plus website. Fans of the romance publisher can begin their subscription with a seven-day free trial before having to pay $14.99 monthly or $149.99 yearly. No information regarding the possibility of the subscription service branching outside of the United States has been revealed yet.


Children's Book Subscription Service Woke Babies Launches Award


By Louise Taillandier


The children's book subscription company Woke Babies has entered into a five-way partnership with The National Literacy Trust, BookTrust, World Book Day, as well as the youth charity Milk Honey Bees, self-described as a "female led, expressive space that aims to allow young women to feel empowered and heal from their experiences." This collaboration will see the launch of multiple awards, aiming to promote and celebrate Black authors and illustrators.


Woke Babies is a monthly subscription box delivering books to children aged zero to eleven-years-old for £20 a month. Three different boxes are available: "Mini Kings and Queens" for newborns and toddlers, "Jnr. Kings and Queens" aimed at those from four years old to early readers, and finally "Tween Kings and Queens" aimed at children aged between eight and eleven-years old. The company website reveals that in 2017, "children's books that had a Black protagonist were 1% of the books being published in the UK." Woke Babies seeks to promote Black authors and illustrators and increase representation for Black children in literature.


The prizes will include an Author of the Year, Illustrator of the Year and Picture Book of the Year. In addition to these three prizes, a Special Recognition Award, sponsored by the children's publisher DK, will be given to a self-published author. They will receive a cash prize to fund their upcoming book.


The ceremony will be hosted on the Instagram live platform by the charity Milk Honey Bees. Its judging panel this year consists of author Trish Cooke, Children's Book Researcher at Woke Babies Natasha Vignon, Children's Publisher at DK Francesca Young, Art Director at HarperCollins Elorine Grant, Early Years Programme Manager from the National Literacy Trust Kirsty Cunnington, Education Manager at World Book Day Kate Sayer, Founder of Dope Black Dads Marvyn Harrison, Publisher at Alanna-Max and HarperCollins Ken Wilson-Max, Director of the Black Nursery Manager Liz Pemberton, Director of Storymix Jasmine Richards, Literary Agent at Mulcahy Sweeney Sallyanne Sweeney, and Coordinator at BookTrust Rykesha Hudson.


The conditions for entry into this competition are a "positive and uplifting theme" that avoids allusions to racism and historical issues such as slavery or the Apartheid, a suitability for children from the age of three to six, authored or illustrated by a Black artist, and featuring a Black protagonist. The deadline to enter is 11 February. The shortlist will be revealed by 21 February, and the final awards will be announced on 5 May.


University Presses Launch EvenUP Equality Initiative


By Megan Whitlock


Photo by the EvenUP website

A range of major university presses across the United Kingdom and Ireland have united under the new EvenUP initiative, launched in January this year. The initiative is another positive contribution to movements across publishing and academia campaigning for increased equality and diversity, and commits to “equity, diversity, inclusivity and belonging in our workplaces, in who we work with and in what we publish.”


At the time of writing, signatories of the initiative include Bristol, Cambridge, Cork, Edinburgh, Goldsmiths, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, Wales, Westminster, Dublin and London University presses, as well as the UK offices of American Ivy League institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton.


The goals of the initiative are to share best practises for equality, diversity and inclusion; commit to collecting data that assesses progress and marks areas for improvement; create and share training programmes and events (including guest speakers and webinars;) promote diversity and transparency in recruitment and career progression (including paid internships and listing salaries in job advertisements;) raise awareness of career opportunities within under-represented groups at presses; and have a designated lead for equality, diversity and inclusion in each organisation (with these leads to meet regularly.)


EvenUP is just one response to the many calls for academic publishing to improve workplace diversity. In 2017–18, the AUPresses’ (Association of University Presses) Diversity and Inclusion Report found that 72% of respondents believed there was an under-representation of people of colour at their press.


Peter Berkley, Executive Director of the Association of University Presses, is quoted in the Liverpool University Press blog discussing the creation of EvenUP, stating that: “Increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion in scholarly publishing is of paramount importance because it is essential to the continued increase and advancement of knowledge. AUPresses members’ worldwide stand ready to support and learn from this dedicated group of publishers as we all proceed in this much-needed work.”


Similarly, Natalie Williams of the University of Wales Press explained how, “EvenUP is an important step for us, as academic publishers, to collectively and publicly commit to making tangible changes towards equity for those who are currently marginalised or unheard. By identifying, taking action and sharing where we can do better, we hope to welcome unhampered new contributors across all parts of the ecosystem, which will truly enrich the publishing sector.”


To find out more and see the full list of signatories, please see the EvenUP website.



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