Word of warning "Love of Books Self Publishing Gold Coast Queensland" founder as complaints dog self-publisher and convicted fraudster
'We publish some amazing stories,'' Julie Marie McGregor once boasted of her business providing specialist services for people with dreams of publishing their first books.
But the do-it-yourself publishing entrepreneur has an incredible story of her own involving bankruptcy, fraud and a string of complaints from disgruntled clients from Victoria, NSW, Queensland and the ACT stretching back more than three years.
The law caught up with McGregor on November 1, 2017, when a Southport magistrates court convicted her of three counts of dishonestly gaining thousands of dollars from three restaurants using fraudulent credit cards. She was handed a nine-month suspended sentence for what the prosecution said was a "calculated, fraudulent activity, not once but three times".
Acting magistrate Gary Finger described McGregor as "certainly naive to say the least" for her role in the complex fraud, in which she booked restaurant functions on fraudulent credit cards and then persuaded the restaurant owners to pay for non-existent florists and limousine services. A sobbing McGregor was told she would face jail time if she came before the courts again.
The undischarged bankrupt presented herself as a model businesswoman who had built her online publishing service from scratch only to emotionally fall apart following the death of her husband in 2015.
The English-born pensioner claimed to have been targeted online and convinced against her better judgment to transfer the illicitly-gained money into other accounts for which she was entitled, but rarely took, a 10 per cent commission. At the time she was grief-stricken, was downing a bottle of Bacardi a day in the months after her husband's death and was easily manipulated, her lawyer said.
But a number of former customers have come forward to the Sun-Herald to reveal the loss of their hard-earned savings for books they ordered from McGregor's do-it-yourself publishing business but never received, which arrived too late for book launches or were so amateurishly produced they were unsaleable.
It was McGregor who dealt exclusively with a Melbourne high school whose parents spent $10,000 to produce a cookbook as a Christmas fundraiser in 2016.
The school, which does not want to be named, paid a $4000 deposit raised from local sponsors plus a further $6000 to McGregor's business, Love of Books Brisbane, to print 1000 copies of recipe favourites.
To date the fundraisers say they have not received a single copy of the book, which was to have been delivered four weeks after the supply of artwork and content in September 2016.
"Ms McGregor was incredibly encouraging and promised the world initially," a parent said. "But it wasn't long before the relationship felt uneasy. It was erratic and inadequate. Work would come back poorly done, with corrections not addressed. She would be uncontactable for days. It took me 2½ weeks to get them to settle on a font while she made a litany of excuses and apportioned blame back on the school.
"Ms McGregor was the only person you could ever get on the phone, she was the only person who was ever there. She was frequently irrational and emotionally aggressive to deal with. It was a nightmare."
Prospective author Graeme Allan fell out with McGregor over his feelgood fairytale for children and adults that had been 10 years in the making.
Allan flew to the Gold Coast in 2016 to meet McGregor at her home and handed over cheques for $4950 to start the edit and proofreading.
After the edited manuscript was returned with grammar and spelling errors and Allan received no assistance to manage the difficult self-publishing process as promised, he notified McGregor he was terminating the contract and demanded a refund. He has yet to receive one.
Word of caution
Since the arrival of Amazon's Kindle and the e-book, it's never been easier for authors to get published – or burnt, says Juliet Rogers, executive officer of the Australian Society of Authors.
Beguiled by the chance to see their work in print and inexperienced in the industry, first-time writers are paying thousands of dollars for editing, print and website services with little scrutiny of contracts or knowledge of the services they are purchasing, Rogers says.
The high costs involved in taking a case to court, combined with the inherent risks of defamation, mean the majority of writers are unable to take the matter any further when contracts fail to live up to expectations.
Disaffected clients claim they handed over sums ranging from $2000 to $12,000 since 2013 and as recently as late 2016 to entities including Love of Books Brisbane and Books Publishing Services Australia. The projects have ranged from historical research and commercial fiction to travel guides.
Another complainant is a Queensland debut novelist who unsuccessfully claimed a partial refund when the deadline for her fantasy fiction "was exceeded, my manuscript edited with no permission or tracking to show where the edits took place, no finished product and then I had to pay someone else to edit it again from scratch".
The writer says she is still owed $4000 and has not heard a word from McGregor since she was promised the refund in August 2016. At that time, she was not advised that McGregor was a bankrupt.
"The first time I made contact with Julie she informed me she was 'one' of the directors and the middle man – she didn't do any of the work herself – that she had multiple 'professionals' she used in all different areas of publishing to get my book from A to Z. I later found out these were friends and family friends.''
Melbourne author Dean Munro signed up with McGregor a year out of university in 2014.
Having studied at RMIT University with the support of seven scholarships, and acquired a property portfolio worth more than a million dollars, Munro wanted to sing of his success in a how-to book for like-minded entrepreneurs.
He was persuaded to self-publish by a friend. More control, an easier path to publication, he was told.
Munro paid $11,850 up front to McGregor of Love of Books Self Publishing, to proofread, edit, format and typeset the manuscript and print 1000 copies of his 350-page title Breaking the Chains, as well as to set up and host a website and prepare an e-book file.
The Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal subsequently ordered McGregor to refund Munro $10,488, finding she was in fundamental breach of the contract and the "applicant did not get the quality or integrity of that which had been represented he would receive and for which he paid".
Those breaches included printing books that were unusable for sale, that contained spelling errors and had inferior binding.The website didn't have plug-ins for PayPal and credit cards and had no search engine optimisation.
Munro is listed among creditors with claims against the bankrupt estate of McGregor.
The Australian Financial Security Office recently notified Munro that its investigations to date had not been able to result in the "realisation of assets" and that in "the absence of funding and/or evidence provided by creditors", it "did not intend to devote additional resources to investigate further".
Ian Lewis, the director of Love of Books Australia-Wide, a separate entity, said he purchased the domain name and was given the McGregor-run websites and client list in November 2016. It was his own business name under his own ABN.
As such he is not responsible to refund the school or any other complainants for any failures that occurred before this time.
In response to a series of questions put by the Sun-Herald, McGregor conceded the school was entitled to a refund of $8000, less $2000 discount she gave for book formatting.
She said she had kept the order in a state of suspension so the school would not lose the deposit owed to the overseas printer.
"Of course I want them paid. Why wouldn't I? I did ring the school and ask for bank details so that I could do regular payments."
In earlier correspondence before her court hearing, McGregor said: "There is no way I would want anyone's money. Working with overseas suppliers especially China to get funds returned is a case of swap really. They don't like to let go of money.
"Late launches are a product of this industry. Why? Because clients need to ensure their book launch date coincides with the delivery of the books.
"If clients make too many changes to their book file contents it causes delays all round throughout this industry worldwide. However I have continually worked, even around the clock, to assist meet deadlines within logical reason on many occasions."
Apart from Munro, the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal has awarded two other authors refunds amounting to $4445.
Carmel Charlson was one who got most of her refund. Having gone through the process she understands why most people give up: "They usually win the case but lose the battle as the process is so convoluted for the average citizen."
McGregor disagrees with the findings of the Queensland Civil Claims Tribunal against her in the case of Dean Munro and has attempted to reopen the findings three times and unsuccessfully appealed once.
Munro understands there is little hope of getting his money back but wants his experience to stand as a warning to others.
The Arts Law Centre says writers need to be careful entering into financial arrangements with self-publishers.
The greatest potential for dispute arose around online publishers who offered services to print, distribute and promote an author's work, and questions of copyright, reprints and royalties. Under some terms of agreement, authors had found they were obliged to purchase copies of their own printed book at retail prices.
"Often, unfortunately, the writer is coming to us after they've signed a contract and things haven't gone the way they hoped they would," the centre's chief executive Robyn Ayres says.
Following the collapse of the unrelated JoJo Publishing in 2015, in which liquidators estimated more than 50 authors were owed money, the Australian Publishers Association began to develop a code of conduct for members, setting out their obligations to clients.
The code requires members not to partake in conduct that brings embarrassment to the industry or the association and not purposely or inadvertently to defraud authors by making false promises or unrealistic claims, particularly in regards to sales potential and distribution.
Linda Morris Sydney Morning Herald