Monday, February 4, 2013

The Curious Case of Kailin Gow.

If you’re a book blogger, the chances are at some point throughout your work you have come across Kailin Gow. According to Goodreads, Gow has written 114 distinctive works since 2010, all of which were published by The Edge Books, part of Sparklesoup LLC, which was founded by Gow in 2001. Gow’s prolific output conveniently keeps up with every major and non-major trend in YA, from paranormal to dystopian to New Adult contemporary romance.

Indeed, these books have synopses that bring about a massive dose of déjà vu in me. For instance, “Bitter Frost”, a fairy based paranormal romance which the blurb claims was read by Malia Obama (Google does not present any evidence of this except for a link which I cannot access but seems to show a Gow press released next to a completely unconnected Malia Obama story), bears a striking resemblance to the Wicked Lovely and Iron Fey series respectively.

Her vampire series “Pulse” follows a very similar route to The Vampire Diaries (more the TV show than the books).

The “Desire” series, as reviewed by Kirkus, the author brags (something you pay about $500 for, although the author claims to have not published the review for “branding decisions”), has a vague synopsis but shares many similarities with that of Matched and Delirium. For the record, if you don’t like your paid for Kirkus review, you can choose to keep it private.

Her steampunk series starts with a book entitled “Supernatural Devices” and practically screams Cassandra Clare fan-fiction (insert your own joke here).

The synopsis of “Loving Summer” is practically identical to that of Jenny Han’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty”, while “Saving You Saving Me” has already been accused by several reviewers of being a YA rip-off of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, right down to the contract. Incidentally, the author claims that the latter book inspired something called the “Saving You Saving Me Project”, run by the novel’s protagonist, Sam Sullivan (so I’m guessing Gow runs this site herself). The terms & conditions section of this blog notes that “The site is for entertainment purposes only” and that by posting there you are giving the site owner permission to allow your comments to be modified and used in any way the site owner sees fit. So watch out there.

Right about now some of you may be wondering what the big deal is. After all, we’ve discussed the inherently derivative nature of trends and fads before. When something becomes hugely popular and profitable, it’s only natural for others to want to jump on that bandwagon and get a share of the slurry. However, there’s something about the way Gow does all this that’s undeniably fishy. Her website and many book synopses make great claims about winning awards, receiving huge acclaim from noted sites such as Kirkus and even some TV appearances. Yet she’s hardly E.L. James or Stephenie Meyer in the name recognition department. So why am I wasting my time with this? Because Gow claims to have now sold over a million books. Of course, I can’t verify this but neither can I take her for her word because I’m struggling to find one thing she’s said that’s in any way honest.

In the age of self-publishing and e-books, authors can now take on all the tasks and responsibilities previously reserved for a whole team of publishing industry workers. From marketing to editing to making the covers, the author can do it all. Trying to get your name out there amidst the increasingly crowded market of others trying to do the same thing can be tough at the best of times. Luckily, Gow has found another way.
If you don’t have a brand, you can buy one.

For this segment of my piece, I have Rhiannon of Goodreads to thank. I stumbled across her fantastic investigative reporting on the Gow issue and think it deserves a far wider audience. I cannot take credit for most of what follows. For the original source, check here

I would also like to make it explicitly clear that throughout the course of writing this piece I made no contact with Gow. I tweeted about my research and bemusement several times but never added Gow’s Twitter name into those conversations. I say this because I discovered today that Gow had blocked me, and then tweeted this:

First of all, if you announce a project or development deal on your blog, technically that’s a public announcement. However, if you are the only source of that major announcement, despite the supposed involvement of other companies, then there will be suspicions. I have taken the utmost care in putting this piece together, checking my sources and facts multiple times, and making sure the details are presented in a fair and detailed manner. If Ms Gow wishes to refute anything written here then she is free to do so as long as she presents her evidence.

If you’ve never heard of online branding agencies, they’re businesses that “work[s] with entrepreneurs and professionals to create a personal brand for you as the credible "Expert" in your field.” Essentially, if you pay them enough money, they can buy you credibility in any shape, way or form. This is mostly done with media performances, primarily with shows owned by the same branding agency. In this instance, Gow appeared on “The Michael E. Gerber Show”, which is produced by Dicks & Nanton, the above linked celebrity branding agency. This show claims to have been broadcast on CBS, yet I can find no such evidence that it ever was. There are segments of this show on YouTube but none come with any indication that they were in any way affiliated with a major network. The Google results for “Michael E Gerber Show CBS” simply reveal lots of press releases telling me that the show was broadcast on CBS. Strangely, there are just as many press releases claiming that this show was broadcast on NBC, ABC and Fox. Once again, I can find no such evidence beyond those press releases that this show even exists. Gow does seem to have appeared on CBS Los Angeles, where she talked about “empowering women”.

Those press releases are also incredibly odd. As well as TV appearances, it seems that branding agencies can get you some press attention, if the press chooses to bite. Google “'Kailin Gow' Dicks & Nanton” and you will receive 1760 results, a large portion of which are press releases from the previously mentioned branding agency. This Google result also revealed Gow’s attendance at a convention called “21st Century Book Marketing” which was held in 2011. Gow appeared on a panel with three other authors called “Case Studies Panel: Secrets from Creative, Successful First Time Authors”. This convention was run by Arielle Ford, who has business dealings with Dicks & Nanton. Ford and Nanton brag about how being a client of their agency will give you “priceless” status as an “As seen on TV” professional. (For the record, I’ve been on TV as well. I was 11 and on a British children’s game show called 50/50. They did a close-up of my face and everything. Can I use the “As Seen on TV” label on my C.V?) Of course, one of the exhibitors at this convention was Dicks & Nanton! Gow also shares a platform with Dicks & Nanton on Fast Company’s website. Guess which celebrity branding agency announced this through a press release?

Another very big claim Gow makes is that she is an award winning author. The Google search “Kailin Gow award winner” brings 18300 results, mainly from fellow bloggers using her author bio in their reviews of her work. It’s an attention grabbing moniker, one that can prove to be very profitable. Gow’s Goodreads profile proudly declares her to be a multiple winner of the International Book Awards, which she proudly shares with Nelson Mandela & Rick Warren. Great company, yes? Unfortunately for Gow, a quick Google reveals that the International Book Awards is another brand exercise, this time from JPX Media. All you do is enter and you’re immediately declared to be a finalist. Salon did a piece on this trend here (thanks again to Rhiannon for her detective work). Gow also claims award winning status from the Green Book Festival, part of JM Northern Media LLC, something which has been exposed as another JPX Media style scam by several bloggers. Miss Snark a woman much more eloquent than myself, called it a “crock of shit”.

Not only that, Gow claims that her work is being made into movies and MMOs. There are absolutely no Google results for a movie of any of her work beyond her own claims on her blog. While SEE Global Entertainment is a real MMO company, there is nothing out there beyond Gow’s own words to indicate that one of her books is being made into a game. Gow's name and work does not appear on their website or their news section where they announce new games. I have directly contacted SEE Global Entertainment to ask them to verify Gow’s statement and await their reply.

“The Stoker Sisters” has an IMDb page, but there is absolutely no credible information listed beyond the book’s cover used as the poster, a storyline added by Gow’s own Sparklesoup Productions, and Gow listed as director, with Lisa Miosi given a co-director credit. When I checked to verify Gow’s claim that this short movie had screened at the LA Shorts Film Festival in 2010, it turns out that it did. It’s listed as a one minute long commercial. She screened her book trailer at a film festival. Commercials aren’t supposed to have their own IMDb page. The eligibility page explicitly states “we do not list commercials”. Gow’s site lists this project as having its production moved to 2012. Her website’s cover for all this is this glorious statement: “We reserve the rights to not publish information about the production of these books to screen due to the many changes associated with film/tv/game production.”

I wish I could say that was the worst stuff done by this woman. It gets even more shameless. Gow calls herself a “mentor of young women, and the founder of the social group for teen and young adult girls called Shy Girls Social Club at where girls can develop positive friendships and skills in the creative field.  Members of Shy Girls Social Club can get a chance to win prizes, scholarships, and internships.” That website, by the looks of it, has been deserted for a while now. There’s certainly nothing about scholarships or internships for young women. Faking credibility for yourself is bad enough, but positioning yourself as a mentor for vulnerable women while taking their money is pathetically low.

Readers don’t like being conned. In this day and age, with so much choice and so little time, there’s a nigh on unlimited world of books out there for us, and it can be hard to find something credible amidst the sea of self-published authors and never-ending trends. Calling yourself an international bestselling and award winning author will undoubtedly grab a reader’s interest, and by and large, we will trust the author on that front. We’ll put down our money and hope for the best. Even if we don’t like the book, it doesn’t mean we’ll feel like we’ve been scammed. Here, I feel conned, and I haven’t even bought one of her books. It should be noted that none of what Gow does is illegal. It’s just business, and I highly doubt she’s the only author to have used this model. Capitalism sucks, unfortunately. However, that doesn’t mean that this entire mess is okay, particularly for a businesswoman (let’s not call her an author) who markets herself to teenage girls. Not only is she dressing up her credentials for profit, she’s doing so with work that is at best heavily inspired by several other YA authors, and at worst, completely ripping them off. My advice would be to avoid Gow’s business like the plague and read the original works she’s ripping off. 

UPDATE #1: My good friend Catherine sent me this new piece on Kailin Gow's website, which she offers supposed proof that Malia Obama is a fan of Bitter Frost, as she claims in the above Goodreads page.  Immediately you can see that this "evidence" is weak at best. For one, the piece on the Christian Science Monitor mentions the book is in Sasha's hands, not Malia's. No author name is given for the book, and indeed, Gow herself has never written a book called Frost. She has a series called Frost but no specific book with that title. I also have Catherine to thank for providing this Salon link which notes the actual author of the book Frost, which President Obama purchased for his daughters. The book was written by Marianna Baer, not Kailin Gow. I suggest that Ms Gow stop lying now, lest she dig a hole so deep she can't possibly get out of it. 

UPDATE #2: Gow's assistant sent out a conveniently timed Tweet regarding the seemingly non-existent MMO adaptation of her work on 4th February. Apparently the President of SEE Global Entertainment will be making the announcement "soon". This is very interesting given her tweet only a day earlier which rather passive aggressively declared that Just bc you can't find something on google or it hasn't been publicly announced doesn't mean it doesn't exist. #ResponsibleJournalism So she suddenly got confirmation in only one day that this announcement would be taking place? I find this very odd since, as I mentioned earlier, Gow herself had already made a public announcement on her blog about the game's development. My suspicion was only confirmed when I saw this tweet from Gow, retweeted to EDGEBooksNews (an account that hasn't been updated since), dated 27th September 2011:

"Finally got the go ahead to announce: Kailin Gow's FROST Series & PULSE Series have been chosen to become MMO Games for"

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there is absolutely nothing on SEE Global's website about this announcement. No gaming websites have news on it. Indeed, the only confirmation available about this comes from Gow herself. Yet she said in 2011 that the game was going ahead, and she herself had been given the go ahead to talk about it, linking to the website herself. Other projects have been announced by SEE Global since Gow's Tweet, and still nothing on Frost or Pulse or anything else related to her. I am still waiting on a reply from SEE Global myself on this issue so stay tuned.

Also, See Global has a CEO, not a President.

UPDATE #3: You may notice that a couple of the above Twitter links no longer work. Gow's tweets on "responsible journalism" and the claim that the President of the game company would be making an announcement soon have both disappeared. The moral of the story here is screencap as you go. I didn't, but luckily the internet never forgets. While Google Cache wouldn't work in this instance, it turns out that IMDb stores tweets, and the deleted ones remain on this page. Notice the tweets dated 3rd February at 11:39 PST (screencap here just in case) and 4th February at 9:58 PST (screencap here). All of Gow's claims about the company adapting her work into an MMO still exist on her website, but the tweets that came out before this post received its second update no longer exist. I still haven't received a response from SEE Global but in this instance it feels as though Gow's actions speak louder than words.

UPDATE #4: The updates come thick and fast! Gow's post in which she "confirmed" the claim that Malia Obama read her book (all debunked above) now comes with a disclaimer that half backtracks, half insists the original claim is right and features no apology. I'll post the whole thing here:

"*This announcement is strictly based on you fans, especially Faye announcing it on her page, about it and telling me about it, and then this article. After careful scrutiny about this article, and since Bitter Frost is widely distributed in paperback at the time, we believe this to be the book they were referring to.  If not, this is an honest mistake, and I always always take the side of my fans and supporters, especially when Faye and the others were so happy in telling me about this!" (Source).

Essentially, she's saying "It might not be my book, but it might be my book, and it's not my fault for lying." Of course, this doesn't help her case at all. In fact, it just makes the whole thing worse. Remember, this is a claim that Gow has repeatedly made and is frequently used throughout her author bios, blog tours and the like. The quote from the Goodreads summary of Bitter Frost says "President Obama's daughter Malia has stated that she is reading the FROST series." Note the use of the word "stated". Gow is claiming that Malia Obama has come out in the open and proclaimed herself to be a fan of Gow's work.

She also claims a senior US Senator and her daughter are fans. At the time of the book's release, there were 14 female members of the Senate. Nine of those Senators have daughters or step-daughters. Three of those Senators are Junior Senators, the rest are Senior. The make-up of the 112th United States Congress can be found here. By this deduction, the six Senior US Senators with daughters that could be claimed by Gow to have read her books are Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Claire McCaskill (MI), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Mary Landrieu (LA), Patty Murray (WA), and Dianne Feinstein (CA). Gow's claim, of course, is false. If you are going to claim that a prominent political figure has publicly proclaimed that they are a fan of your work, that information must have been made public to the press in some form, and absolutely nothing comes up on Google in relation to any of those names and Gow except for her own claims.

Now the cover-up begins. There have been big changes made to Gow's Goodreads profile. The parts about her multiple awards and the MMO adaptation have been removed, but you can see the original version here in this screencap. Her website still has the game listed (screencap here), and it's still on the Bitter Frost summary. Gow's story changes almost every day. I know she's following my tweets on this issue despite blocking me (and every person I talk to about it or who RTs my piece) so I urge her to do one of two things - either admit all the lies and apologise or just stop trying to make this worse.

UPDATE #5: Well, that was quick. Literally the moment I updated this piece, I found this new update on Gow's blog, which is a straight up attack against myself and blogger turned agent Pam van Hylckama. It includes such classic moments as "a defamation and assassination of character pr campaign against me name... by a rival author's agency", claiming that Pam and her "anti-indie blogger friends" organised a hate-campaign against her in order to promote a rival author's work, and that we are threatened by her success so much that we had to launch a hate campaign. If Gow wishes to respond to my piece properly, she is free to do so, but she has yet to present a single piece of evidence that she is in the right here.

So let's get this out of the way. I have been friendly with Pam for a while but have only been Twitter friends with her for less than 24 hours. We don't communicate much and I seem to have lost my invite to these anti-indie blogger hate fest meetings. Gow was the one who accused Pam of being racist for not reading her work. None of what I have written in this investigation is "hate filled lies". A new line added in bold red claims that Pam represents a rival author (Julie Kagawa), which is flat-out untrue. Kagawa's agent is Laurie McLean. Pam played no part in my investigation, and for Gow to claim that she is leading a slanderous claim against her is a flat-out lie, for which she should apologise.

Every source has been cited, screencaps have been provided where necessary. I have never been paid or bribed for a good review from any publisher or author. I am a supporter of indie-authors and this new direction the industry is taking. I don't hate indie authors. I hate scam artists. I am not the one who claimed an MMO was being made of my work, then began to delete tweets and parts of my profiles when the evidence showed that to be a lie. I'm not the one who claimed the President of USA's daughter stated she was a fan of my work, then blamed other people when that was proven to be a lie. I'm not the one who claimed to have won multiple awards that turned out to be vanity awards people paid for, then removed that detail from my profile when people caught on about it. All of that was done by Kailin Gow. If Ms Gow wishes to continue pushing herself as a victim in this situation who does nothing but work hard to protect indie authors and young adults, she is free to do so. I will let the evidence speak for itself.