After Atheist Writes Book, a Christian Formatter May Have Added in His Own Links

Suppose you wanted to self-publish a book. You write it all up in Microsoft Word (or whatever) and you turn to people who can help you get it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You pay them a fee and it’s ready to go, right? Not quite. You have to format your document to meet the needs of the various publishers. Amazon requires a particular format for the Kindle, Barnes & Noble requires a different format for the Nook, etc.

That’s what Joseph Herrera needed help with after he wrote a book called God Doesn’t Exist: And Yes, I Can Prove It.

He tried formatting it himself but just couldn’t get it right, so he visited Smashwords (an eBook publisher and distributor) and they addressed his exact concern on their website:

… if you don’t have the time or patience to do [the formatting] yourself, send an email to list@smashwords.com to request “Mark’s List” of low-cost ($40+) Smashwords ebook formatters and cover designers.

Easy enough. So Joseph requested and then went to their list to look through all the formatters. Smashwords says it “cannot warrant the quality of their work,” but Joseph decided to go with someone named Jacob Drake:

Joseph paid Jacob his fee and soon got his manuscript back with what appeared to be all the proper formatting. Great! Smashwords approved the revised manuscript and it’s now available at their website.

But Joseph had a weird feeling after his final email exchange with Jacob, the end of which said:

“Good thing God provided me to tell you this and get your book ready for you, isn’t it?

In His following,

Jake”

That’s… weird. Even in context, it’s tough to tell if that’s supposed to be a joke directed at the author of a book about atheism. But whatever, The book was formatted and everything seemed fine.

Until Saturday, that is.

Joseph was removing the hyperlinks from the book so he could prepare a different version of it. As his mouse cursor hovered over the links in his Table of Contents, he saw the names of some of the “bookmarks” — code that would allow readers to click on a section in the Table of Contents and be taken directly to that part of the book.

There was one for the preface…

And one for “How to use this book”…

And one for “What is an atheist?”

Whoa… “Eternally Damned”?! Where did that come from? Not Joseph, that’s for sure…

He wrote on his website:

My initial reaction was shock, then I chuckled a bit, then I got angry. This man holds himself out as a professional and charges for his work. If he didn’t want the job due to his personal religious convictions, he could have turned it down. But apparently money speaks more loudly than faith, so he took the job and then just couldn’t help but deface my work.

Maybe “deface” was too harsh a word. The bookmark only applied to the Word document and none of the readers would ever see it. But still… You can imagine Joseph’s paranoia. He started re-reading the book, looking to see if there were any other changes.

It wasn’t long before he found two magical additions to the end of his book.

Here was the original version of his appendix (in pre-formatted PDF form):

And here was the formatted version he got back from Jacob… with two additions which I’ve boxed off:

Those two questions were linked to here and here, respectively.

Who knows what else was changed…

I reached out to Jacob to ask him about these changes and, instead of denying the changes and leaving it at that, his response was to never speak with me again:

First, I don’t discuss dealings with clients. Second, I never change anything from clients. All I do is format what they send to me. If a change is made to a file after it has been received by a client there is nothing I can do about it.

Our discussion is finished. If you are not a client, please don’t write to this address again.

Jake

I had a few more questions, but Jacob clearly didn’t want to communicate with someone inquiring about his work… So that’s where we’re at. Joseph sent a file to Jacob without those additions, Jacob returned it to Joseph with those additions, and Jacob refused to talk with me about it.

He did respond to Joseph, though, saying that he was “baffled” and “completely confused” over how this happened.

To his credit, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, has been very responsive to Joseph. They’ve exchanged several emails going over the details of this case, and Coker apologized to Joseph, stating that he would deal with the matter personally and undergo a thorough investigation. This incident shouldn’t be a poor reflection on their company. The way Coker is handling it seems very professional.

Which is more than I can say for Jacob…

***Update***: Becky Garrison writes:




About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    Smashwords is a good company, and the fact that one person on their formatting list didn’t behave professionally doesn’t really reflect on them. I’m sure Mark will look into the situation carefully. But anyone who sends out a book for formatting should check it thoroughly. Joseph was smart to look it over, and I’m glad he caught the additions. I hope he starts over with the original Word doc and a new formatter, and doesn’t let this sour him on getting his book out there.

    • SecularPatriot

      Well, employees pretty much by definition reflect on a company. It’s the companies reputation that stands on deciding what to do about employees that disappoint customers.

      • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

        These aren’t employees; they’re self-employed formatters who are listed on the Smashwords site. There are lots of formatters and cover artists and editors for self-publishers out there, and it’s very much a buyer-beware kind of market. If I were Smashwords, though, I’d consider getting rid of the list, because it’s impossible for them to vet these people perfectly and know that they’ll do a good job in all situations, and despite the disclaimer people do tend to blame SW for any errors or alterations made by these formatters.

      • The Captain

        Actually, no. I think you misunderstand the nature of the relationship between Smashworks and the formatters. The formatters are not employees of smashworks. The are basically freelancers whom have worked with them in the past and done a good job. Hence “marks list” is just a list of freelancers who have done a good job for them in the past. It doesn’t mean Mark knows any of them, or that they have ever spoken even. It’s really just a referral to outside venders.

        • Spuddie

          But if Smashworks supervises the final product, puts their name behind the effort and is the one writing the checks to the formatters, they are responsible under vicarious liability.

          The responsibility for the acts of people who are essentially subcontractors is a function of the level of control exerted.

          • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

            Smashwords is doing none of the above. Here’s how it works: a self-publisher puts together a Word document. He discovers he can’t get the formatting right (which is not surprising, as formatting can be tricky), and he isn’t sure how to find someone to format it for him, so he goes to Smash and looks in the FAQs and finds a list of formatters. He picks out one, asks them to format, and pays them directly (usually by PayPal). He then uploads the finished product to Smashwords, and Smashwords gets some of his royalties from sales. The formatter is a freelancer who really has nothing to do with Smashwords. Smashwords is not a publisher, but a retailer who lists self-published books and makes them available on other sites like iTunes and Kobo. Smashwords does not provide editing, cover art, formatting, or any service except a platform on which to sell books.

            • Spuddie

              Which means unless the formatter has a history of such pranks SW is not responsible for a negligent referral.

              The formatter is responsible as a matter of course and breached a contract with the writer and is liable for damages (the money already paid for the services, lost time and money to reformat it correctly).

              • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

                Exactly. Smashwords might want to take down the list to reduce the hassle they have to deal with from this sort of thing, but it’s not their fault. And I’ve never heard of this happening before– generally speaking, you can ask a formatter up front if they mind handling your sort of book (whether it’s gay erotica, BDSM, or atheist nonfiction), and if it’s not their thing, they’ll usually say so.

                And while the formatter is probably liable, no one’s likely to sue him over a matter of forty dollars, and self-publishers generally don’t have the money to take people on legally anyway. I imagine that’s what he was counting on.

                • The Captain

                  I’d hope they wouldn’t take down the list, especially because of this. Most people who actually use freelancers, or have a need for them understand this kind of stuff. Sometimes a freelancer doesn’t work out for a lot of reasons, sometimes they are great. I’m sure other formatters have screwed thing up before, but since this is religious in nature it gets all kinds of press. The list is a good service to help the freelancers connect with clients that might not even know where to start looking for a formatter. I’d hate to see the other formatters get punished for the actions of one douche.

                • Darrell Ross

                  “SW should take down the list.”

                  Or how about adding a review system so that people could provide ratings for the referred people.

          • The Captain

            No, as Marguerite said Smashworks does not supervise the final product or put it’s name behind anyone or even write the checks.

            They are not subcontractors, the relationship is more like what Elance does (except for free) where they just have a platform for freelancers to connect with new clients and visa versa.

            • Spuddie

              I addressed it in the comment below. Unless the formatter has a history of such pranks SW is not responsible for a negligent referral.

          • JWH

            Spuddie — If you’ll notice, Smashwords explicitly disclaimed any warranty for the contractors’ work. So, no, Smashwords is not responsible.

            • Spuddie

              A disclaimer is not the same as showing a level of control. That comes from looking at the nature of the formatter relationship with the company. In this case they do not meet that level so there is no liability to SW.

  • Bitter Lizard

    So this guy made Jesus proud by taking a guy’s money under the pretense of doing a professional job, then vandalizing it with a comment expressing glee at the idea of atheists burning in fire forever and ever.

    Jesus sounds like someone who would hang out with Beavis and Butthead.

    • Jim Jones

      They never hesitate for a second before going to dishonesty. Because Jesus.

    • EvolutionKills

      But lying for Jesus is okay, because Jesus will forgive you for helping to spread his word, even if it’s through premeditated deception and fraud.

      Because, Jesus…

      • Andrew McInally

        If the Western world hangs in the balance because of some asshole who can be convinced to do evil in the name of religion then we are all fucked. This is just a book. But what of our military? What of our politics? We know both have strong interferences from and are control by religious institutions.

  • Tainda

    I would have been livid! The worst part of it is the denial that he did anything wrong. “Baffled” and “completely confused” my ass

    Side note: Did anyone else giggle at the names? Jacob and Joseph?

    Yes, I’m easily amused!

    • Bitter Lizard

      I actually get the impression that he’s trying to convince the writer that it was some sort of miracle and God did it. Seriously.

      • Tainda

        If it was anyone, it was Satan. That reformatting bastard

        • http://www.devitaylor.com/ Devi Taylor

          Don’t you mean Satin, Satan’s more fabulous brother who curses believers with the inability to spell or use grammar correctly? I believe Satin would actually be the one in charge of anything to do with literacy and books.

          • Tainda

            No, Jacob Drake wrote Satin lol

  • Gunner Miller

    I did a little digging and found this page.
    http://ebooksmade4you.blogspot.com/

    same email address as Jake and everything and the blogger is named Jake….what are the odds?

    I looked at his blogger profile
    http://www.blogger.com/profile/06464514963488016673

    I noticed that he follows the following blog

    http://gwensatincummings.blogspot.com/

    Satin Stories of Eros..

    Your good Xtian editor is into amateur erotic writings…ha ha ha

    • http://www.last.fm/user/runawayuniverse runawayuniverse

      More interesting work by the same Jake? ( possible NSFW )

      http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/2940013030664_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG

      • http://www.last.fm/user/runawayuniverse runawayuniverse

        I posted a link and now the image is showing up. I didn’t mean to do that.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Do you take requests? I want nude pictures of CommentMaker next.

          • Jim Jones

            What if you get Rush Limbaugh?

        • Tainda

          It works for me lol

          • allein

            Hey, some of us are at work! (Then again, I have all three Fifty Shades books and the cookbook on my desk…)

            • Tainda

              hahaha I am too! It’s the best place to fantasize though!

        • Jim Jones

          ‘Sallright? ‘Sallright.

          ‘Sok? ‘Sok.

      • What Do You Expect

        Why just go for one volume. You can buy the complete compendium of his “erotica” available here for the low low price of $3.99.

        I really appreciate this comment in the description:

        Seriously – I had a lot of fun writing each of these stories, but I know they are not for everyone. Feminists will cry out that I am using women for sexual gratification. Hello? I am MAN – that’s where I live. :O]

        LOL

      • Guest

        Good catch.

      • Tom

        A supposedly professional formatter produced that cover?

    • Boo Hoo

      Yeah, I saw that, too.

      Why am I not surprised?

  • CommentMaker

    This also happens on Excel. I have had a web address showing as one thing but when I hovered over it there was a different web address or even an email address. Clicking on it caused me to go to the hidden location. Kind of an odd phenomenon.

    • Bitter Lizard

      Yes, exactly the same thing. Your reading comprehension remains stellar, as always.

    • Tainda

      In my biz we call that an ID-10T error

      • CommentMaker

        Thanks, good to know. Do you just reformat the cell?

        • Bitter Lizard

          You just made my day.

          • Tainda

            Everyone asked me why I was laughing so hard lol

        • Tainda

          lol I was being a smart ass :)

          But yes, reformat your cell

          • CommentMaker

            Thanks.

    • Makoto

      I agree, it happens.. intentionally. Someone has to format the cells (or document) in that way. It’s not odd at all, it’s someone editing the file.

      • Gareth

        I’ve had it happen at work where people copy someone’s email sig, and update the visible email address, but forget to update the hyperlink. Not that same as this thing here, where someone obviously edited a document.

        If they say that evolution is an improbability, then this is an awful lot of monkeys at typewriters

    • Mario Strada

      Go to Google

      This is how it’s done

  • rhodent

    The irony here is that many Christians claim that Muslims think it’s okay to be deceitful toward non-Muslims in the service of Allah, and these Christians consider that “proof” that Muslims are evil.

    • terrykepner

      Actually, I can show you the verse in the Koran where the Prophet says Muslims should do exactly that.

      • trj

        Well, Yahwe is known for personally sending lying spirits on occasion, so if he can lie and deceive why shouldn’t mere humans?

        • JohnnieCanuck

          He also apparently hardened Pharaoh’s heart so he wouldn’t give in to Moses’ demands. That way He got to show off His plagues.

    • Jim Jones

      The real irony is that Shakespeare based The Merchant of Venice on a real story. But in real life, it was a Christian that wanted a pound of flesh from a Jew.

      Little changes.

  • DougI

    Just goes to show, never trust a fundy.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m not sure what’s worse, Jacob’s dishonesty, or his reliance on really bad false urban legend. “Einstein schools professor on God”? Really? That’s actually worse than Pascal’s Wager.

  • What Do You Expect

    Well I certainly hope that Mr. Herrera sent a strongly worded email to Mr. Mark Coker (Founder, CEO, and Chief Author Advocate) at [removed by Hemant] describing this outrageous behavior and asking that Mr. Drake be removed from the approved list of formatters as according to this page formatters are not supposed to do any editing of the manuscript whatsoever and are just to format it no matter how bad the submitted manuscript turns out to be.

    Formatters do not perform editing, copy editing or proofreading because it is not their responsibility.

    I would consider adding material to a copyrighted work to be “copy editing” specifically proscribed by Smashwords.

    • The Captain

      Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill.

      Yea, I think Coker is on it all ready. If you had read the last paragraph then you would have known that. So lets not unleash the internet rage horde on peoples email accounts whom already seem to be helping and over such a small matter.

  • RiverPub

    Depending on how Joseph paid Jacob, he might be able to get his money back. He definitely has this option if he used a credit card.

  • baal

    Adding stuff to a book, especially the inclusion of links (as opposed to the behind the scene jump links) may be a violation of copyright.

  • axelbeingcivil

    I’m really happy to hear the company’s owner got things sorted personally. Good for them.

  • SEQLAR

    (from his blog)

    “Obama has proven through his own words this past year especially that he is NOT an American, but a Soviet and one who is religiously a Muslim or Islamist in the very core of his being. If you think otherwise, stop being the total idiot you are and run a search on YOUR president, because he sure the fuck is NOT my President and you will see the truth about this soviet who has nothing less at his core being than to see the United States of America torn asunder and delivered into the hands of his cronies and religious buddies, those who are the worst of the worst of the Islamic terrorists who want to not only destroy the People of America, but to wage a jihad, or “holy war”, as if such a thing could ever be “holy”, against those of us who have lived our lives in the most free country this world has ever seen. Barrack Hussein Obama is the elected Emir of the United Socialist Emirates”

    http://mypetviewsoneverything.blogspot.com/2012/11/welcome-to-use.html

    LOL

    • Tainda

      Wow hahaha

      I was talking to a friend of mine about how taxes suck and I only bring home half of what I actually make. She looked at me and said “Obama!”

      I waited a few minutes and then said with a straight face “I have this bump on my leg and no idea where I got it!…………Oh yeah, Obama”

      People are wackadoo

    • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

      Argh! Like an old boss of mine once said, words mean things! You can’t take a jumble of snarl words, slap them together at random, and expect coherence!

      • The Other Weirdo

        The old DOS insult program would disagree with you.

  • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

    As the subject of this post, I’m blown away by Hemant’s involvement and how supportive everyone has been in the comments. My sincere thanks.

    • Mario Strada

      Well, that’s a really shitty thing to do. I have the know how to do that kind of formatting and I would never do it to anyone. Not even Pat Robertson.

      I know the amount of work and dedication it takes to write a book and I respect that process to much to even think about defacing the work of someone that trusted me.

      Next time, by the way, you may want to google the name of the guy you hire. Did you read his blog? Not only he is a jerk of the first magnitude, but he is insane. His diatribe about Obama is a clear sign of a mental imbalance (not to mention ignorance of modern ideologies)

      • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

        I feel foolish about it in hindsight. I randomly pulled his name from the Smashwords List after a great experience with a random selection from the eBook Cover list.

        • Mario Strada

          You should not feel foolish. The other guy should feel like a fool. If I were Smashwords I would make that section more interactive so that customers could leave a review. I’ll bet jerks like him would think twice about pulling something like that.

          And his attitude about “you are not a client” is appalling. That alone should ban him from the service. When I have a client, it doesn’t matter if they paid me already or not. They remain clients until such a time when they tell me they don’t want to work with me anymore, but I stand behind all my work and I consider all former clients active.

          Please keep us updated about any measures they take against him. If I was in charge of that website, this guy would be so banned I’d want the wayback machine to delete him from my records.

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            Very much so. Even if someone is not your ‘client’ they are still a potential referral (and human being). He may get some business from a very narrow segment. But his loss of clients, whatever their religious views, who want a professional, will suffer.

          • UWIR

            I think you misunderstand. Mehta emailed him about the issue, and he told Mehta that he (Mehta) was not a client.

        • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

          Joseph, I can tell you that most formatters (and cover artists and editors) out there are decent and professional people. They have to be– their livelihood depends upon it. You just got unlucky. It happens. Don’t let it sour you on getting your work out there!

          But I will agree with Mario– Googling someone you’re going to work with never hurts. It can also be helpful to hang out on self-publishing forums and ask questions.

          • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

            Thank you. This is all part of the learning experience for me. I just heard back from Mark Coker at Smashwords and I’ll post a separate comment and write a brief Epilogue on my blog about it.

  • Mick

    I can see Drake strutting into church next Sunday and hoping to Christ that the other parishioners have heard the rumors about his heroic action. He’ll be quite miffed if they haven’t.

  • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

    I couldn’t be more impressed with how prompt, thorough and respectful of evidence Mark Coker of Smashwords has been during this process. I first alerted him to what I’d found mid-day on Saturday, we exchanged email throughout the weekend, he requested the documents so that his investigation would be objective, and I just received an email from him indicating that he’s completed his investigation and is taking what I think is the appropriate action regarding the formatter, i.e. removing him from the Smashwords list.

    I want to once again express my thanks to Hemant, who responded to my request for advice over the weekend, and for this terrific and completely unexpected coverage of my story. I’ve been a fan of the blog for a long time and had the pleasure of meeting Hemant in Charleston recently.

    Thanks for all the support everyone. I feel like a minor celebrity today.

    • CoboWowbo

      Can I have your autograph? :p JK.

      I’m glad everything worked out.

      • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

        Thank you. I’m mentally exhausted, but feeling the best I’ve felt since Saturday.

        Signed,

        Joseph O. Herrera
        :)

  • Guest

    http://www.blogger.com/profile/06464514963488016673

    Well, for a Christian, this Jake person sure seems to have an odd interest in sexually provocative literature.

    Oh, the hypocrisy….

  • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

    I opened a resolution with PayPal requesting a refund from Mr. Drake and he has agreed to refund my money, adding this comment to his refund payment:

    “This is NOT an admission of guilt. This is simply in being a part of what you claim does not exist and settling this dispute as amicably as possible. Since I am refunding your money for a job well done I expect your friends will stop harassing me.”

    To my friends, known and unknown, I thank you for your support.

    • ZenDruid

      I have no choice but to give you an Attaboy for your work, at the very least.

    • Tainda

      He could have settled this dispute even more amicably quite awhile ago. Or, I’m sure it never occurred to him, not done it at all.

      • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

        Exactly. When I first confronted it him about it I told him how unprofessional his actions were, that he could have just turned the job down for his personal convictions instead of doing what he did, and asked for a refund. He denied any wrongdoing and said he was “baffled” and “completely confused.”

        I’m really not sure how I would have reacted had he admitted it, apologized and refunded the money right away. I guess we can’t know.

        • cipher

          He’s clearly mentally ill, but as I keep saying on this blog (and elsewhere), I consider that to be part of the personality profile for fundamentalists.

    • TheBlackCat13

      “This is simply in being a part of what you claim does not exist”

      I can’t begin to parse this. Translation, anyone?

      I am glad it turned out about as well as we could hope. As far as I understand, the resolution is:

      1. You got your money back
      2. You got your book formatted (for free or did you still have to pay?)
      3. No one else going through SmashWords will see this jerk’s name on the list
      4. SmashWords is aware that this can be a problem and is willing to support its authors.

      Is this accurate?

      The only thing missing is an apology or at least an admission of guilt from the culprit, but it seems this was unlikely to begin with.

      For someone who seemed so self-righteous in his actions, he sure didn’t want to stand up for those actions when he got caught. But it seems such people rarely are.

      • Spuddie

        “The only thing missing is an apology from the culprit, but it seems this was unlikely to begin with.”

        Because its much easier to seek forgiveness from God for one’s wrongdoing than it is to make amends to people who were harmed.

        • Ender

          Easier?! That’s the WHOLE POINT of the religion!

          • Spuddie

            Well that and finding excuses to wear funny hats in public.

        • TheBlackCat13

          I don’t think he expects forgiveness from God, I think he expects a high-five. Which makes his refusal to admit what he did confusing to me.

          • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

            Yes, you are exactly correct. I did get a refund from him, I was able to correct the document and remove his additions, but the rest of the formatting was well done, Smashwords did remove him from their list of recommended formatters and stood by me and all their authors.

  • WallofSleep

    “But apparently money speaks more loudly than faith…”

    Ah, but that is precisely what organized religion is all about. Money.

  • E. Dacey-Fondelius

    What a hypocrite! Jacob M. Drake’s profile on Smashwords includes his own books. From his book B.A.B.E.S. Caught in the Web

    “Spyder Babe is on top of the world as she enters into her new world of being a B.A.B.E.S. operative. She has her powers of shooting webbing from every natural orifice from her body, greater strength,and huge boobs to boot. But then she meets an enemy who doesn’t have the cheery outlook she does. Doc Cock is out to make sure this web-swinging Babe doesn’t leave his lab untouched – or unscrewed.”

    Mighty misogynistic this Christian fellow.https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jacobmdrake

    • TheBlackCat13

      And, apparently, proudly so.

    • cipher

      You’re kidding. Someone actually writes like this (and promotes it online, yet)?

  • Dave

    LOL who said christians didn’t have a sense of humor? I take my hat off.

  • Ajax Blackburn

    Really? Is this some kind of put on? There is a story of jealousy involving Jacob and Joseph but, for entertainment purposes, this time the “father” is jealous of the “favorite son”? :-)

  • StevesWeb

    Jacob was faced with a choice between business ethics and defending his Invisible Sky Monster. He chose poorly.

  • Robert Groves

    I’ve read all the comments and I want to say that I’m really impressed with Mr Herrera’s professionalism. At no point has he insulted or berated the formatter. He has had plenty of opportunity to vent and call him names but instead has been a true gentleman in every sense of the word. I’m going to buy the book on payday because of this.

  • Dalbert

    He apparently likes to write erotica, too; check out some of those titles and synopses:

    https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jacobmdrake

    The disconnect is strong with this one.


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