I’ve written in the past about the many unsolicited sales calls, emails, and texts that I’ve received since putting my first book out. There are several posts and pages throughout my website that detail these interactions. But today was something different. Instead of me researching a group that contacted me, another author came to me about someone who had contacted them. This other author was one that I have spoken with about similar contacts in the past and they wanted to know if I had heard of this group or had any dealings with them.
The group in question was The Maple Staple in Toronto.
I won’t go into what services or offerings were made to this other author but given the history of the many negative experiences others like us have experienced with similar groups, this author was understandably concerned about the legitimacy of what was being proposed. This author was familiar with the type of research I do on companies and my research into various publishing processes so they wanted my opinion and insight.
As soon as this author mentioned the name Maple Staple, I started to dig in.
They have a website but it looks to be barely a year old at this point. But companies start and close every day so websites come and go. You can’t fault someone for being new though. The thing that smelled “off” to me on the website was it was full of the same generic type content that so many other websites that I’ve looked at had filling their pages. Not that the pages have the same pictures, text, or layout but just that they offer similar services with similar vague language. And to top it off, the website did not describe the services being offered to this author.
The website didn’t sit well with me upon review but that could be chalked up to just an overly critical eye. It was suspect but not damning.
When the author and I reviewed what was being offered to them via email, it seemed odd. What was on offer were services that were not typically services paid up front but services offered on a commission basis, i.e. the provider only gets paid after their services result in the author obtaining a set goal and that payment is typically a percentage of the author’s financial gain from the provider’s efforts. It seemed the offer was contrary to our understanding of the typical business arrangement for such services.
Together, we explored other aspects of this group. They did indicate that this group was affiliated with another group that I have heard of and been contacted by, Bookside Press. Upon review, I found in my notes that Maple Staple was affiliated with Bookside Press in September 2022, roughly a month after Maple Staple’s website went live and days after their Facebook profile went live. At the time, I only researched the Bookside Press group since that was who sent me the offer but this time I looked into Maple Staple since that’s the group who contact the other author.
The thing that stood out to me most as a red flag was when we looked at the group’s Facebook page. The Maple Staple created a new Facebook profile in early September 2022. There seemed to be a number of posts and activity with the page but it was the page’s reviews that caught my attention.
In looking into several groups that have contacted me, I’ve noticed that many of the ones that are looked most unfavorably all had one thing in common. A lot of them tracked back to the Philippines. Web domains registered by people or companies located there or other things track back to that region as reported by people posting about their negative experiences. Now I’m not saying any company located in the Philippines or websites registered to individuals or companies there is bad, only that there seems to be a common thread many of these undesirable contacts share that point to there.
And when we looked at the 29 reviews posted on their Facebook page, every user profile associated with each of the reviews belonged to someone in the Philippines. How is it that a bookstore in Toronto, Canada has only 29 reviews and all of those reviews belong to people who all live in the Philippines? Are they fake reviews associated to fake profiles? Is this group’s store just located in a place that’s very popular with travelers from that area? Is the store in a neighborhood that people from other geographic locations refuse to visit?
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The web domain registration was marked as private so there was no way to see where the domain registrar was from, which isn’t uncommon, but when coupled with the oddity of the only reviews for the Facebook page belonging to people who live nowhere near the bookstore the page represents but in an area often associated with questionable groups, I can’t help but be skeptical of this group.
But this is the first time I’ve seen a group with so many reviews track back to people in one geographic region, especially one so far from the store’s location. To be honest, it feels like to me that these reviews are probably fake to inflate the page’s rating. Is the group associated with anyone from the Philippines, I can’t say. It could be that they simply used someone’s marketing service to generate these reviews but it does make someone like me wonder if this group is to be trusted.