Local ghostwriters chastised by state

The long, sometimes frustrating road to publishing a book is a path lined with snags and setbacks. But when false promises are made and services are not rendered, the journey transcends mere difficulty and becomes a debilitating experience that can strip the confidence of an aspiring and vulnerable writer.

An Oak Harbor couple, who took thousands of dollars from hopeful writers, has been legally prohibited from marketing ghostwriting and publishing services unless past customers have been compensated for their losses, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office announced recently.

Kristina and Michael Canu, operating under the names The Empty Canoe, LLC, and The Ghostwriting Studio, contracted with consumers to help them write and edit books, market their work and handle all facets of the publishing process including printing, copyright and title registration and royalties. The couple advertised their business on www.guru.com, as well as Web sites they owned that are no longer online.

The Attorney General’s office sued the couple and their business after receiving complaints from 21 consumers nationwide. In many cases, the Canus never performed the work, provided only some of the promised services, completed projects late or failed to pay authors royalties for their book sales, according to a settlement filed in Island County Superior Court.

The Canus made other misrepresentations, according to the stipulated judgment. A small operation with relatively few clients, they represented that they were one of the “premier ghostwriting studios in the world.” They also claimed that by uploading books as PDF files to Google, those books would receive higher rankings on the search engine. In fact, uploading files simply allowed computer users to search for titles; and the defendants often failed to upload the files anyway.

Both phone numbers listed for the Canus were disconnected.

Senior Counsel Paula Selis, an assistant attorney general who leads the Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit, said the Canus are no longer in business and unfortunately lack the $90,000 to refund customers. But the Attorney General’s Office has sought to ensure the couple cannot victimize other hopeful authors.

“This settlement assures Kristina and Michael Canu won’t operate another publishing, ghostwriting or book marketing company unless they first refund authors who never received services from The Empty Canoe or The Ghostwriting Studio,” Selis said.

The settlement also prohibits the Canus from making any misrepresentations concerning products or services they market or sell. They agreed to pay $94,000 in civil penalties, suspended provided they comply with injunctive provisions contained in the settlement, and some attorneys’ fees.

Bill Danish lost $5,000 in his dealings with the couple. The northern Idaho resident said the number of people affected was significantly higher than the 21 complaints that were formally lodged.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t come forward. The $90,000 is a very conservative estimate,” he said.

Danish and his wife were fastidious in checking the Canus’ credentials.

“We really checked him out,” he said. “We even had an attorney read the contract. They seemed reputable. We saw online where they had edited and published books. These people knew what they were doing.”

Danish and his wife traveled to Oak Harbor last July to meet with the ghostwriters, who were being paid to proofread the Idahoans’ book and help self-publish the title.

“Anything the book made would go 50 percent to me and 50 percent to them,” the writer said.

Percentages became a moot point when correspondence with the Canus abruptly stopped.

“All of a sudden we didn’t hear anything from them,” Danish said. “The phone was disconnected. The email address no longer worked. I contacted a local detective there and he found where they were at and turned it over to the prosecutor, who made a complaint to the state.”

Cautionary diatribes lambasting the now defunct Oak Harbor-based “hybrid” ghostwriting studio/publishing house riddle the Internet. The Danishes were not alone. Aside from the monetary loss, victims also lost intimate pieces of themselves: their written words.

“They got everything that these people had written,” Danish said. “He took all the manuscripts and they’re gone. It was a matter of trust.”

The Danishes have since found another company to proofread the book. The next step is finding a reputable publisher.

“It sure made a big bump in the road for my wife,” Danish said. “But the book’s ready now and the people who have read it said it’s good.”

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