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Thread: [Ghostwriting] The Penn Group

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    [Ghostwriting] The Penn Group

    I was not satisfied with my rough draft for a nonfiction book, so I hired Penn, which claims to use bestselling writers who have produced ghostwritten books for at least ten major NYC houses, if they would re-write my mansucript and punch it up. I paid $22,000 and found out late in the project that the ghostwriter I was given was getting 20% of the fee while Penn was taking 80%. The result was no better than my original manuscript. The ghostwriter I was assigned was a bestseller only in the sense that she had written a book that made the top ten books listed in a small town newspaper. I learned too late that the definition of "best selling" is apparently relative. I have asked repeatedly to be put in touch with the owner of Penn, but after six months and a song and dance routine, I get no response at all from the ghostwriting company. Agents have told me that the manuscript has nothing to recommend it. My lawyer tells me that the contract is pretty "tight" but that the Penn Group might still be liable for providing misleading information and/or deceptive advertising (as if I have money left for legal fees). I got bamboozled. Next time I'll join a writers' group at a community college. Has anyone else had trouble with this company or am I the only sucker?

  2. #2
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    $22K!

    That's more than you'd expect to make on the book if it sold.

  3. #3
    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    My word.

    I'm so sorry. That's just disgraceful.

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    Mostly Harmless SuperModerator CaoPaux's Avatar
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    Adding link: http://www.pegr.com/

    You're not the only one, wordz. We had a thread on Penn a while back that was lost to a board glurp.
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    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Penn has sued two of its writers.

    - Victoria

  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin schoonerbabe's Avatar
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    Victoria, I was researching Penn a while back because my friend and colleague works in government and had a compelling whistleblowing story to tell about the run-up to the Iraq War. Your article confirms what we found. Evan Bailyn is (or was) listed as the owner of the company on Penn's website. I Googled him and found all the info mentioned in the link you provided on Penn being sued--Bailyn's views on sex, love, the Peter Pan Syndrome, his puppy, and cartoon dolls. Big red flag on very bizarre stuff. The sites that provided this info also said that Bailyn had some background in college essays. No mention of other writing credits. He also owns three other internet companies based on the same business plan, one of which is Penn Group Portrait Artists at www.pennportraitartist.com/ Same claims: "We are a world class yadda yadda."

    Interesting that the writer being sued (the one in the article provided by your link) is the one who ghostwrote Rosie O'Donnell's auto-biography. If one calls Penn, as my friend did, that's the only title they ever mention to back up their "bestseller" claims. (The book was a failure and was selling last year for about two bucks.) My friend was put on a conference call--we were on speaker--with other writers so she could choose from their "stellar line-up" of authors. A Penn rep was always on the phone, jumping in a bit too often to muffle the negotiations or sidetrack questions my friend had. A little more research showed that these writers were just ghosts or freelancers from around the country who occasionally did Penn's work for a very small percentage of the fee, which bears out what "wordz" said above (more on that in a sec).

    Here's Penn's modus operandi, from what I can tell. They charge up to $250,000, promising primo writers the more one is willing to pay. (We were actually told that on the telephone, which seemed weird in the extreme.) I guess that means the average customer doesn't warrant their "best." They don't screen clients for marketability of ideas--they take anybody. (I called back with a ludicrous idea that had no marketing potential whatsoever, but I got the same pitch as my friend.) They appear to be essentially a clearing house that farms out work to others without really doing anything except collecting the lion's share of the fee.

    My friend ultimately rejected Penn and found a freelance writer with some decent credits, and lo and behold, the writer--a woman in California--said that Penn and other ghostwriitng firms continually ask if she's interested in doing work for them, but she always declines because they offer $12-$14K for a project, even though Penn is keeping approximately 60-80% of the client's fee. She also told us that the writer who closes the deal for Penn isn't always the writer assigned to the client.

    Happy to say my friend now has an agent, although no sale yet, but we ran the gauntlet with Penn. As I mentioned above, it wasn't hard to find out about this company since, at the time, Bailyn's name was listed as owner. I suspect people don't research Penn or ask the right questions.

  7. #7
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    I'm feeling dumb and dumber. I always do due diligence when selecting an agent, but it was indeed the conference call that hooked me with Penn. One of the writers on the call was someone with some street cred in publishing. The deal-closer you mention, schoonerbabe. He wasn't the writer I got. As Homer Simpson says, "Doh!"

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin schoonerbabe's Avatar
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    Don't feel bad, wordz. My friend might have gotten pulled in as well if it weren't for the fact that she had other people who had agnets or books guiding her through.

    Here's some other info on Penn Group owner Evan Bailyn. His main writing specialty is writing college admission essays, and one of Penn Group's clients, as listed on thier website, is http://www.college-admissions-essays.com/ This organization pairs students with "essay specialists" to help high school students write the essays that accompany their applications. Isn't that called cheating?

    One may purchase celebrity endorsements for books (is this ehtical?), and a client may hire a screenwriter for $16,000 to $22,000. If one wants a "famous screenwriter," however, the Penn Group website says the price goes up to $50,000. This is actually on the Penn Group website.

    Penn's owner Bailyn admittedly uses a pseudonymn when talking with clients in order to avoid being linked with the following websites, which is a bit odd since anyone may find these sites by Googling "Evan Bailyn," although I checked yesterday, and his name has been removed from the Penn Group website. (Stay tuned for contradiction and irony. It gets better.) It was there when my friend first contacted the company, however. He was plainly listed as owner, so this all is a matter of public record. Additionally, it corroborates what is in the article listed by Victoria regarding the Penn Group suing two of its writers.

    His website is http://www.evanbailyn.com/ The site is called "Never Grow Up: A Tribute to the Peter Pan Syndrome." His blog on that site ("Writings") is disturbing in the extreme, and his site http://www.cartoondollemporium.com/ seems to occupy a good bit of his time. (Okay, here's the irony: he admits on his personal, child-oriented website--Never Grow Up--that he runs Penn Group!) So clients are paying small fortunes to a man who overtly claims on his site that he would like to become invisible in order to withdraw from reality in times of stress. I don't think that's who I want to give my money to--someone who would like to disappear because of stress. Again, the "truth is out there," and is a matter of public record. More importantly, isn't using a psuedonym when talking to ghostwriting clients more than a bit dishonest? Isn't it illegal to impersonate someone in order to obtain business. And if he wants to distance himself from these child-like sites by using a fake name, why does he mention Penn Group on those very sites. The Penn Group appears to be Denmark, and something is smelling very rotten. The Penn Group has some serious transparency issues, and it seems as if the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing.

  9. #9
    zenwoman49
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    The Penn Group wanted me to pony up one half of the fee before the proposed book was one third written. To which I said "nyet." They also said my book couldn't be longer than 250 pages because "readers aren't as smart as they used to be."

  10. #10
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    Yes, they wanted one-fourth of the fee up front, before any writing began. $5,500 to start. By the time I realized things were going south, I had already spent a wad of cash. In this economy ... geez.

    I may have talked to the owner--I can't recall the name some guy gave during a conference call. He was brought in when I expressed hesitation. Mostly a woman seemed to coordinate all the calls.

  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin schoonerbabe's Avatar
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    That was another red flag. We kept getting the same female coordinating all our calls even though she said the Penn Group did 100-150 books a year. We asked to speak to some of the editors, writers, adminstrators, etc., but they were never "available." Neither were we given the names of their "top industry contacts."

    Now for some MAJOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST! I got my "college admission" link wrong. It's http://www.college-admission-essay.com/ ... but guess what. This website that helps students write their college application essays (I still think that's dishonest) says in fine print at the bottom that major content to the site was provided by (drumroll, please), The Penn Group. Funding for the site is listed as coming from CHILDHOOD REMEMBERED, a site dedicated to the Peter Pan Syndrome (cf. see owner Evan Bailyn's site named in the above posts). Another sponsor of the college essay site is (drumroll # 2) Cartoon Doll Emporium, another Bailyn website--http://www.cartoondollemporium.com/ I'm betting Bailyn owns this essay application mill. Speculation? The entire college admission site, content and graphics, is copyrighted to The Penn Group, 2008. So the Penn Group may perhaps be operated by a man who also owns a company that does writing which violates the ethics of most colleges.

    But is gets even better. Evan Bailyn has several legal essays on a site sponsored by the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers http://kacdl.net/chooselaw.html/. On the same page as his essays is an advertisement for the National College for DUI Defense. At the bottom of the college essay site, there are numerous advertisements for soliciting help for DUI in a number of states. Since Penn has copyrighted the college essay site, there seems to be some obvious connection. And why would a college essay admission site be advertising help with DUI and also "Parole violation"?

    Is this getting too bizarre for anyone yet?

  12. #12
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin schoonerbabe's Avatar
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    Well, the URL aside, I just noticed that the essay website's actual name is The Penn Group College Admission Services. Duh. It's obviously owned by Bailyn.

  13. #13
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Hello folks,
    I am an established writer with a (legit) bestseller and book contracts with big publishing houses. Several years ago I discussed the possibility of ghostwriting a book through the Penn Group. What can I say--times were rough and I needed a few extra bucks. I could go on for hours about the Penn group, but I'll try to stick to the basics. (Full disclosure: After they attempted to ruin my life, I got a little obsessive and I have to admit to knowing way, way too much about their shady operation.)

    The Penn Group is the vanity project of the Bailyn brothers. Evan fancies himself a writer and would like to have some literary cred rub off on him. His brother Brad is a lawyer who had little luck with his own firm, and is now in-house with the Penn Group. The third brother, Russell, is a financial planner and the author of Navigating the Financial Blogosphere. They make their real money from Cartoon Doll Emporium--and I do mean real money. They live the high life in New York due to the profits from their creepy tween website. The ghostwriting operation is not a huge money maker, but it's where Evan can go to imagine himself a legitimate part of the NY publishing scene.

    I'll spare you the details of my own ordeal, in part because I don't want to get sued yet again. Evan and Brad served me with papers twice. These cases were entirely baseless and went exactly nowhere. Since Brad is a lawyer, filing lawsuits costs these boys nothing, and they use lawsuits as a means of extortion and blackmail. Brad is enamored of the power of his own law degree and thinks that he can bully anyone around with the threat of lawsuits. They used lawsuits to try and get me to sign a grossly ridiculous contract, and they also suggested that I might be able to buy my way out of a lawsuit for a few thousand bucks. On the merits their cases were ridiculous; poor writers without great access to lawyers are in danger of being steamrolled by them.

    Evan uses a number of pseudonyms. It's been a few years since I had any contact with them, but at the time he was going by Sandy Resnick. He also claims to be Dr. Robert Sparrow, a world renowned, Yale-educated child psychologist. I checked with Yale and they have never graduated anybody by that name.

    I visited their offices in New York. They are modest and have only a few people working there, not the buzzing hive that Penn would like to suggest. Evan is charming and persuasive. Their website is slick and well-linked, coming up high in Google searches. I'm embarrassed to admit that the clean design of their website tricked me into believing that they were a legit enterprise.

    Through their essay writing and college admissions websites they prey on the fear and naivete of youngsters. Through Penn group they prey on the hopes of wannabe writers, and also established writers looking for a little extra income. I'm not trying to toot my own typewriter here, but I realized quickly that I was a much bigger fish than they were accustomed to landing. When I declined to work for them under exploitative conditions, they sued me. Pay close attention to that sequence: I did no work for them and I never so much as began contract negotiations with them, and still they sued me.

    I have a big, fancy NY agent, and this fact was one of the most attractive things about me in Penn's eyes. Penn has no pull with agents and publishers, and they were counting on me to pimp projects out to my agent and publisher. They do not run in legit literary circles by any stretch. Please trust me when I say that no good writer works for them for for long, if ever. They most emphatically do not have a stable of quality writers at their disposal. (And on the subject of Rosie's book: that ghostwriter had a longstanding relationship with Rosie and had written for her BEFORE making the acquaintance of Penn Group. The Rosie books did not flow from Penn in any way.)

    The lawsuits eventually resolved in my favor and I made the Bailyn boys look foolish, however it was far from painless. I had legal expenses, and more importantly I had a lot of sleepless nights and elevated blood pressure readings. The hardest thing to swallow is how well they're doing with their tween dress-up site; if only good was rewarded and evil punished...Ah well, maybe there is something cosmic that will come around and snap them in the behind one day.

    These are young, greedy, amoral boys. They are children. I have spoken with enough people who have been burned by them to know that working with them will only result in pain. I wouldn't be surprised if Evan responded here; he's smooth talking and he comes across as eminently reasonable. I wouldn't wish him on anyone. There is no reason to get mixed up with him and I wish you all the best of luck on your own projects. Cheers.
    Last edited by CaoPaux; 12-17-2008 at 09:10 PM. Reason: added P-breaks

  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    That college essay firm is listed as a client of Penn under their copywriting services, but Penn clearly owns it. So Penn is listing itself as its own client. Holy cow.

    dsll, thanks. This is really scary.

  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    <(And on the subject of Rosie's book: that ghostwriter had a longstanding relationship with Rosie and had written for her BEFORE making the acquaintance of Penn Group. The Rosie books did not flow from Penn in any way.)>

    PS. Penn told me that the Rosie book was done by one of their writers. I don't doubt that they made that up too.

  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    wordz--the Rosie book was done by a Penn writer, but the writer landed Rosie with no help from Penn, and was writing for Rosie well before she had ever heard of Penn. After the ghoster started doing other projects for Penn, they demanded (and sued!) to get a piece of the writer's Rosie money, which they had no legit claim to.

    And yes, most (I think maybe all?) of the corporate clients listed on the Penn website are corporations that they own or control. By that logic I can claim not only to have written my books, but also to have ghostwritten them as well. Can I get paid extra for that? Ghostwriting is a perfect business for shady liars because they can say "yeah, we ghostwrite lots of big name books, but we can't tell you which ones." It's like saying you write for The Economist--no bylines, so who's gonna say you didn't? Cheers

  17. #17
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wordz View Post
    <(And on the subject of Rosie's book: that ghostwriter had a longstanding relationship with Rosie and had written for her BEFORE making the acquaintance of Penn Group. The Rosie books did not flow from Penn in any way.)>

    PS. Penn told me that the Rosie book was done by one of their writers. I don't doubt that they made that up too.
    Lauren Slater, who wrote both of Rosie O'Donnell's books with her, did have some business relationship with the Penn folks at some point. But she got the gig with Rosie because Rosie was a fan of her books, and had had her on her talk show.


    There was a thread about the Penn Group before, but I think it fell victim to a board crash in early 2008. It's a shame, because some people did a lot of detecting and uncovered the extent of the Bailyns' self-promotion.
    Last edited by IceCreamEmpress; 12-18-2008 at 04:06 AM.

  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    The Penn Group therefore promotes itself by listing as clients companies that it owns. Certainly unethical, but it also seems to be illegal. But if one of the Bailyn brothers is a lawsuit-happy attorney, I fear that it's simply a conflict of interest that doesn't seem to bother the Penn Group. On the other hand, using phoney names when talking to clients? That kind of deception seems over the line.

    The stuff at the bottom of one of the Penn Group pages creeps me out. Peter Pan, dolls, and DUI? I never saw that stuff when I first went to the site (and handed over my money). Either it wasn't there or I missed that page or didn't scroll down far enough to see the fine print. Oy.

  19. #19
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    wordz--all of that stuff about DUI lawyers and such WAS at the bottom of the website, and you failed to notice it, because it appears as inconsequential, bottom-of-the-page garbage. The way it works is that they have these reciprocal deals with all sorts of random websites to cross-link and cross-promote. That way, when somebody searches for a DUI attorney in Atlanta, the Great Cloud of Computerness registers a hit for Penn Group as well, thus driving up its importance in the Google rankings. It's all a scheme to give Penn more of an outsized internet presence.

    I researched whether all of their claims were illegal or just dirty, and for the most part it seems that they're just dirty. It is acceptable to use pseudonyms in business under certain circumstances; claiming to be a board certified psychiatrist is not. The question becomes one of standing--who is hurt by these shenanigans, and who has suffered enough harm to have an actionable claim? Claiming their own companies as their clients is also barely legal, because companies do exist as individual beings. It's not uncommon for one arm of a company to do business and/or compete with another arm of the same company--I've certainly used this to my advantage when dealing with interconnected arms of the publishing world. So, while we all know that Penn and Sparrow are essentially the same companies, they exist as separate on paper, and can make these sorts of specious claims. These things are very hard to make any hay with in court. Damn it all to hell--it seems that their only punishment will be karma. And I don't even believe in karma, so now I'm really depressed.

    As far as the lost thread goes, I remember posting something very similar to what I posted this week. Evan came on the site, complained to the moderator in his eminently reasonable way, and I think that my post was either removed or generally shouted down because I wasn't willing to go into exhaustive, forensic detail with him. All in all it's buyer beware with the Bailyns. I'm not a dumb guy, and I got absolutely snookered by this ganeff. Believe his rhetoric at your own risk.

  20. #20
    I grow my own catnip JulieB's Avatar
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    All those links are not at the bottom of every page.

  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin schoonerbabe's Avatar
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    No, they're not at the bottom of every page on the Penn Group site, just one or two, I believe. But I finally understand why they are there at all and on Bailyn's other sites. They increase the click rate, enhancing the ranking for the Penn Group on Google. The more inbound traffic from various sites, the less a company has to pay-per-click for a high ranking with Google Adwords, which handles Google advertising and search-result-ranking. It's called SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. The paradox here is that Google usually penalizes sites for having links that are unrelated to the content of a site. DUI and ghostwriting seem to be unrelated to me, but Penn gets to keep its top ranking to bolster its questionable claim about being the nation's top ghostwriting firm (a claim made by all ghostwriting companies).

  22. #22
    zenwoman49
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    All of Penn Group's various incarnations and associates are easily linked. Even the phone numbers are virtually the same except for one or two digits. Sparrow Educational Services http://www.sparrowpapers.com/ offers to do educational research for theses and dissertations. I taught high school for a while and have a Masters in Biology. Grad students learn through research. It's what the degree is about in the first place. If I had paid someone to do my research and my faculty advisor had found out, I would have been booted from the program. If this is the ethical standard used by the Penn Group, how can they be trusted in the world of publishing or ghostwriting?

  23. #23
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin schoonerbabe's Avatar
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    I can confirm the phoney name used by Bailyn. The ghostwriter who did my friend's book when we were at the Department of Justice, the freelancer who had declined to work for the Penn Group when contacted by them, said that her conversation was with a Sandy Resnick ... who we now know doesn't exist courtesy of the Boston Globe article above.

  24. #24
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dsll91 View Post
    As far as the lost thread goes, I remember posting something very similar to what I posted this week. Evan came on the site, complained to the moderator in his eminently reasonable way, and I think that my post was either removed or generally shouted down because I wasn't willing to go into exhaustive, forensic detail with him.
    I don't think that your post was removed, or that the thread was removed, because of pressure by the Bailyns: as I recall, there was a quite lively discussion. The entire board went down, and a number of posts (and even entire subforums) were lost.

  25. #25
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin wordz's Avatar
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    I continue to appreciate everyone's feedback and info. Using the Search feature, I found some discussion of Penn under a thread titled "[Publisher] Arbor Books," which speaks of ghostwriting companies in general. This is obviously NOT the missing thread, but it does contain information that seems to corroborate some of the statements made in this thread. Wish I had come here and done a thorough search before Penn got my money, but I'm filing this under "everything happens for a reason." Maybe others will be spared. I am lucky enough to be able to absorb the financial hit. Not happy, mind you, just lucky. I fear others are investing money with Penn and others in the belief that 1) all books get agented and published, and 2) all published books make a gazillion dollars.

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