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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bad Buzz

A couple of posts ago I proudly announced that Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead had made the list of finalists in the historical fiction category of the Prize Writer Competition of BookBzz.com. When I submitted my novel, I had no illusions about my chances of making that list. So when I exceeded my own expectations, I was delighted. I had no expectation of actually getting a prize—especially since the process favored those who could best exploit legions of fans through social media. I’m the first to admit that the whole “social media” thing is not my strong suit. Thus, there was no real disappointment at not picking up a prize.

What I did get, though, was the entitlement to put a Prize Writer Competition 2015 BookBzz.com Finalist sticker on my blog. What I did not expect was that I would also get a genuinely and intriguing story out of the experience.

Bookbzz.com was one of a number of web sites I discovered in the inevitable process of marketing my book. I learned that there are numerous such sites out there—ranging from straightforward blogs, curated by writing and/or reading enthusiasts, to more elaborate web sites that are run as businesses and therefore aim to make money. What they all have in common is the purpose of being of mutual benefit to writers, readers and, not least, the web site proprietor. Bookbzz.com belonged to a subcategory of sites that essentially want to be a destination akin to the granddaddy of book web sites, Goodreads but with a more in-your-face approach about providing services for which they can charge. Fair enough. Everybody is entitled to make a buck if they can. The truth is, though, I didn’t really know much about Bookbzz.com aside from what I’ve just recounted and the fact that it is based in London.

I know more now. While I was visiting the U.S. over the recent Easter school break, an email landed in my inbox. It was from Conrad Murray, Bookbzz.com’s publisher, and it apparently went out to everyone on the site’s mailing list. It can also be read on the site’s home page, accompanied by a photo of a forlorn-looking Murray and his dog. That is how I learned that the writers who did get selected as winners in the site’s competition had not received their promised cash prizes. It turns out that Bookbzz.com has ceased to function—although the web site is still up with its many book listings, including my own. As explained by Murray, it had been a joint project with Susannah, his partner of a quarter-century, and it all went pear-shaped earlier this year when that relationship broke down. And here’s where it gets really interesting.

He blamed Susannah’s 39-year-old daughter Charlotte who, it turns out, is rather notorious in the British press. Murray linked to a Daily Mail article from a year-and-a-half ago that details Charlotte’s somewhat spotted history and her attempts to lay claim to the estate of her father, a Scottish baronet whose relationship with Susannah years ago was, as they say, without the benefit of clergy. While Sir Malcolm supported Charlotte financially through her childhood and beyond, he apparently drew the line when she began advertising herself to well-heeled clients on escort web sites under the name of Charlie Foxtrot.

More information is available on a very useful web site that I cannot believe I had not found earlier. It is called Writer Beware and is a volunteer service sponsored by various writers’ organizations. It provides advice and information for writers with the aim of shining a light on “the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.” It reports that, not surprisingly, the competition winners are pretty unhappy about not receiving their prizes. It also provides additional background information on the web site and Conrad Murray. Clearly, many writers believe that the web site was a scam from start to finish.

Murray says that the business’s accounts “all were systematically emptied” by Susannah, but he has promised to eventually pay the prize winners from his own personal resources—after “legal complications” have been overcome. He says he hopes to have this completed by the end of April.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it all. I don’t feel personally aggrieved since I never expected to get any money out of the experience. I will leave my Finalist sticker on this page for now—until such time as I become convinced that the honor is utterly bogus. But I am upset for the entrants who entered in good faith and then were promised prizes. Time will tell if Murray is some kind of con artist or just a very unfortunate businessman.

In the meantime, the best way to profit from the situation might be to write about it. The story has everything—mystery, money, aristocracy, bad behavior and more than a whiff of sex. Indeed, it has all the makings of a very interesting article—or even a book.

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