How Scammers are Ripping Off Authors Now More Than Ever – And Why You May Fall Victim

“The only constant in business and marketing is everything is constantly changing.”

These were the words my professors told our class in both my intro to business and intro to marketing classes in college. I have found no truer words in all the classes I took while studying for my business management degree. If someone out there insists that they know how something in business works every. Single. TIME, without fail, I have one word for you – run.

Anyone who has spent more than two minutes in any type of business, but especially in the publishing industry, knows the one thing which never changes is nothing ever stays the same. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan that will work 100% of the time for 100% of the authors for 100% of all fiction books, without fail. Anyone trying to tell you different doesn’t know as much about business as the average college student still sitting in Intro to Business/Marketing 101. Veteran authors know you have to go back to the drawing board every single time, every single book, every single launch. Just like we have to have our fingers on the pulse of the next hot new trope, we also must be able to roll with the latest marketing strategies that get results.

Not sure if someone is trying to sell you snake oil or if they really know what they are talking about? Take a look at how they are actually making their money. Does the bulk of their income come from selling courses and other services that target authors, or are they making their money off doing the thing they are teaching? If you are not sure, then ask yourself these two simple questions.

Question 1: If this course worked so well, and they were able to truly turn anyone into a bestselling author making thousands of dollars every month, then why would they want to share that secret? Why wouldn’t they just do this wonderful business strategy they are peddling to produce their own bestselling books and make thousands of dollars like they claim they can do for other authors?

Question 2: Why would they also then create more competition for themselves in the publishing industry by helping other authors hit bestseller status?

The long and short of it is – it simply doesn’t make economic sense to sell an earth-shattering money-making secret and simultaneously create even more competition for yourself in the market, unless the way they are making their money isn’t by using their own advice, but selling said advice to other authors while promising them the moon (and a six figure income to boot).

This brings me to an important case study I came across when I began researching the best ways to market an indie book. Everyone knows what a “success story” 50 Shades was (and still is, considering we recently got the same book from a different POV which also sold millions of copies). However, what most people don’t know (and what EL James has tried to scrub from the internet but hey, screenshots are forever) is James used a combination of gorilla marketing and a huge pot of her own money to basically buy her way into bestseller status. Let’s take a look at the backstory.

Some people may not be aware, but before James became a world renowned author, she was relatively famous in her own circle of readers on a Twilight fanfic site. That’s right, 50 Shades started out as fanfic. But you probably already knew this. The book was initially called Master of His Universe and after prompting from readers, James self-published the book. She coerced her former fanfic fan base into nominating and then voting for the book in one of Good Reads’ many lists and contests that used to frequent the site where it ranked very well. The book would later be picked up and published by an Australian press before Vintage Books (now owned by Random House) offered her a contract. (there is a lot of interesting details to this story and I highly recommend doing some in-depths search if you can still find anything from the old archives. You’ll want to look for articles written between 2010 and 2013, anything written in the past 3 to 5 years mentions little to nothing about the origins of how all this really came about) According to one case study I came across, James spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $100K of her own money on marketing and promoting the book. If rumor serves, I believe the deals for the first movie was also signed, or at least in the works, when she was signed on with VB.

Now, James will vehemently deny spending this much money. In her own words, “I didn’t even have $100K!” But as I said, the internet is forever, and try as she did to scrub this sordid backstory from the catacombs of the past, those of us who were lucky enough to see the articles and the original posts, etc. know the real story. Fanfic and bitchy attitudes aside, there is still a correlation between this story and what it has to do with selling and buying marketing courses in the publishing industry. As far as that goes, there is a direct correlation between this story and what it takes to actually make money as an indie author. That in itself is no big secret – you have to have money, and lots of it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In a nutshell, if you toss enough money at it, you can literally make any book into a bestseller. And while I used 50 Shades as an example, there are other books out there where authors have tossed even more of their own money into marketing their books in order to crack bestseller status. I came across one romance author who admitted to sinking $1K a day into Amazon ads just to keep her books ranked in the top 10K overall on Amazon. It’s the age-old adage where if you throw enough shit at the wall, something will eventually stick. To be blunt, publishing has turned into a pay-to-play industry where only authors who have a hefty marketing budget are able to gain any real traction. And this is a tiny little tidbit which many marketing gurus and those peddling author courses that promise to turn you into a $100K/year earning author conveniently leave out of their own marketing pitches.

I’m sure there are marketing coaches out there reading this shaking their heads muttering, “But I show authors exactly what to do and exactly how to word their ad campaigns and exactly where to marketing/promote, and the exact set of keywords they need to use on the Amazon ads to make them effect. If they follow my directions and do what I tell them then they are guaranteed to make big money!”

And what happens when the book doesn’t make the author lots of money? What is the excuse then? Will the coaches then claim it’s because the book didn’t get a proper edit or have a good enough cover or wasn’t a very well written novel? I’m sure they can sell you all those services. And do they even bother to tell authors their books aren’t up to par? What if they don’t? Then who is at fault when authors shell out thousands of dollars on these courses only to find out they didn’t have a marketable product to begin with? Where does the money pit end?

Let’s look at the flipside of that argument. What if their book has everything going for it? What if it has a killer cover, edited within an inch of its life, perfectly formatted, and written to market yet it still fails to become a bestseller? The author does everything to the letter but the book still fails to perform. Who is at fault then? Is it because the author didn’t have the money to spend on marketing (something which isn’t their fault and definitely should have been disclosed prior to signing up for any of these courses), or is it because the one-size-fits-all marketing plan just flat doesn’t work? Either way, it disproves every sales pitch used in order to get authors to sign up for their courses. You can’t very well claim that it’s just the course/advise/service that is earning an author $100K/year if they also have to sink $100K/year into various marketing avenues. When it comes down to it, any book with that kind of marketing dollars behind it will have a fairly decent ROI, as 50 Shades has proven time and again.

Do you see where this is going? There simply isn’t any way anyone can claim to make any author into a bestseller making thousands of dollars a month, no matter how “fool proof” the courses are. When the books fail to thrive, and there are many which will, it begs of the question of where the fault lies.

Thus there are two very important lessons to learn which lies at the heart of marketing courses – the first being how much time and money will ultimately be required for an author to find something that truly works for them (throw enough shit at the wall to see what sticks) through trial and error, even when following step-by-step instructions on what to do. (I wrote another article on this very thing – the three “missing ingredients” or “secret sauce” these courses do not tell you about) And second – when the book fails to thrive, where does the blame fall? Even when the book is up to par, and an author follows everything to the letter, where does the fault lie? Is there a money-back guarantee? .

This brings me to a few important questions to ask prior to signing up for any course.

1.      Is there a money-back guarantee? If the book fails to perform, regardless of the reasons, is there a money-back guarantee offered? If not, or if they offer other of their services instead of a monetary refund, then you may want to seriously rethink their offer.

2.      How much money will you need to spend on marketing and promotions after you have completed their courses and/or services? If they have a very specific marketing plan in place, then they should know how much money their plan will require to at least get it started. If they can’t give you an answer on how much money you will ultimately have to shell out to make their plan/course/services work (it just depends on your book and the genre and the keywords you use, but if you follow my instructions you’ll start seeing a ROI in no time!), then you may want to give pause.

Trial-and-Error should not be a part of their sales pitch – they should be giving you hard data that clearly shows how much money their average author is spending on marketing when using their courses/services, how many sales that marketing strategy is generating, and how much net profit the author is seeing. Claims like creating thousands of authors making six-figures or that they have thousands of happy authors or pointing you to a bunch of reviews of their services should not ever be offered up instead of hard data. If the claims can’t be backed up by hard numbers, then you may want to pass it on by. And never, ever, let the company harass you, guilt you, or threaten you. Above all else, do your due diligence and research the person/company across the internet, including keywords such as “scam” and “scandal” with their names.

It should go without saying any company wanting to bully, harass, or threaten you or your career, who otherwise act in an unprofessional manner online, even in private groups, should not warrant your money or time. If you even suspect the company of doing this, even in the past, it should be an automatic hard pass no matter how many raving reviews from authors. It’s not worth your hard-built career chasing after rainbows which may end up getting your butt scorched by the lightning that comes out of the thunderstorm. The quickest way to taint your name is to have it associated with a person or company who has been known to scam authors, be in legal negotiations/have been sued, who use threats/bullying, or have otherwise been involved with, suggested, or used black hat/immoral business practices to further their careers or the authors they are selling services to.

3.      Does it require signing a contract or NDA? Again, there is literally nothing anyone can teach you that isn’t already out there on the internet somewhere, in some form, if you know where to look and how to research it. Anyone who thinks otherwise and tries to force you into signing some type of contract or NDA or calling any of their ideas “trade secrets” is an immediate red flag, especially if the contract gives the company/person the right to cancel their services without a refund because the author was “suspected of leaking secrets” or otherwise discussing or disclosing any of the information. This is a loophole which gives the company a legal way to pull their services without a refund and without prior warning.

Imagine shelling out thousands for a marketing course only to have the company ban you from receiving any more of the information because they suspected you had “leaked” something from their course. Short of getting a lawyer, there is little recourse for authors so again, it bears repeating for you to do your due diligence and be wary of any company who makes you sign any type of NDA or contract to gain access to courses and marketing information. And if one does require it, have a lawyer look over it before signing it. The last thing you want to do is sink your life savings into these courses only to be banned from receiving the rest of the course/service you paid for because of something in that agreement.

Right now I know there are multiples of you shaking your head mumbling, “But what about the ones who truly want to help authors out of the kindness of their heats?” To this I’m going to say, “Bull. SHIT.” And here’s why. If they were really interested in helping authors they wouldn’t be charging for their services. I’m not saying charging for things isn’t good, but let’s not sugar coat this. We’re all adults, and whether you want to admit it or not, making money off of authors has become big business in recent years. No one is doing this because they legitimately want to help others make money; they are selling these types of courses and services for one very simple reason: to make money for themselves. And that’s fine, but thanks to an influx of authors over the years because of the ease of self-publishing, it now means scammers and snake oil peddlers have a never-ending supply of authors who do not know any better, who do not do their due diligence, and are easily taken in by anyone claiming they can make all your writing dreams come true. While it is a sad fact, it is still a fact nonetheless. So again, ask yourself – if their advice works so well they claim they can easily make you rich as an author selling books, why aren’t they using this advice themselves and getting rich off of selling their own books?

And them not being am author themselves? Do I even need to go over why that’s a bad idea? Would you want your car worked on by someone who wasn’t actually a mechanic? Would you want someone teaching you how to fix your car who isn’t actually actively a mechanic? Then why fork over thousands of dollars to someone for a course in how to become a six figure author when said person isn’t making their money by following their own advice?

For all you authors out there, be you a newbie or a veteran, take heed and use caution. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

** Chances are, I’ve hit a very big nerve with this article. Authors who were taken in by these companies and individuals who don’t want to admit they made a mistake, scammers who are pissed that I’m shedding light on this sordid topic and will begin to do damage control, and readers who may feel they were taken advantage of by buying into a hyped up book that turned out to be just another average story written by an average author. I don’t write these articles for anyone but my fellow authors as a warning. So long as we are quiet about the dark side of this industry, it allows the scammers to thrive and spread like a cancer. By not talking about it, by not making others aware, we are indirectly supporting such companies and scammers. If nothing else, do your due diligence and stay away from any suspect company or person. Even if you are not shouting names from the rooftops, at least warn your closest author friends who may not do as much research as is required to fully steer clear of the sharks swimming in the waters.

I also know there are going to be those out there who wonder what my qualifications are that makes me such an expert on all this. 30 years. That’s my expertise. I’ve spent 30+ years in this business. I have spent decades researching authors, marketing courses, promotional strategies, and everything remotely related to the publishing industry. I have been both traditionally and independently published. While I may no longer be a “bestselling” author, I have been an Amazon international “bestseller” several times over the years. What I haven’t done, however, is lost thousands of dollars on sketchy author courses and marketing classes. I did research, I compared the information available in the classes to what I could find for free online, and I asked questions of my fellow authors, many of which who were more than happy to share their own research, experiences, and techniques. I researched the hell out of companies and classes, I scoured old archives, articles, and message boards (those message boards are a treasure trove of “author beware” information on companies and individuals), and no matter how great a company looked, there was always some dark secret that surfaced when digging deep enough. Take my years of wisdom or don’t. Just don’t be surprised if you choose to ignore my wisdom and end up with the short end of the stick. **

Are Book Marketing Courses Worth the Money?

What can I do to sell more books? This is THE question every author drives themselves crazy asking. So they dive into marketing and promotions, reading up on what to do, how to do, where to do, watch countless videos, and they still aren’t ranking or making bank. Eventually, and inevitably, they turn to marketing “gurus” to help them attempt to turn a profit. There are two very high-profile “gurus” who come to mind. But, you are probably wondering, as I often have, if these courses are worth the money.

Before dishing out cold-hard cash, I invite you to read this article:

This is a very interesting read, and echoes what I have discovered for myself through years of research, trial, and error. Please read the article and then come back to this post as I would like to further break down what the author points out.

First, I’d like to bottom line this for you. There is literally nothing Mark Dawson, or any of the other gurus promising to turn you into a 6 figure making author, can teach that you can’t already find for free on the internet. Honestly, marketing isn’t that big of a secret. The hardest problem is hammering out a marketing plan and executing it. Sure, there are 6 figure author coaches who will “coach” you on how to create a marketing plan, they may even hand you a one-size-fits-all marketing plan. They may offer you dozens of services to help you sell more books. But no matter how good your plan is, no matter what courses they offer or what services they offer, if you don’t have the three “missing ingredients” (or as I like to call them, what the gurus don’t want you to know) that the author of the above article talks about, you won’t sell books. And even if you do have all the missing ingredients, you still won’t make money.

Wait, what? How can I have an exceptional marketing plan, all the missing ingredients a.k.a the “secret sauce”, and still not make any money? It’s because of the way these gurus teach you to sell books. It’s the “dog chasing its tail” mentality. Meaning the only way to keep making sales is to keep funneling more and more money into the machine, keeping it greased so your book stays in front of people. Unfortunately, the entire industry has become filled with authors who are taught to “publish fast” and sink as much money into marketing as they can get their hands on. It’s just not a viable marketing tactic. But why, you may ask? Let’s break it down.

The above article talks about whether or not Mark Dawson’s Advertising for Authors is worth the money. The article could have been written about any marketing guru – the root analysis is basically the same regardless of who is claiming they can turn you into a 6-figure earning author. What the article uncovers holds true no matter the coach, the guru, or the marketing plan.

The article talks about three “missing ingredients” that Mark Dawson’s course does not directly mention. The author mentions she specifically asked Mark Dawson what was the “secret sauce” and his replied was simply “there isn’t any.” The author goes on to list three “ingredients” that Mark’s plan doesn’t include or even mention. Whether Mark, or any other publishing marketing coach wants to admit to it, these ingredients are the “secret sauce.” Or as I like to call them, the information they don’t want you to know. And these ingredients are universal regardless of the marketing course, who is teaching it, who the PR or marketing company is, or what service is being offered. Let’s get into those missing ingredients.

The last ingredient the article talks about is “a good book.” While I agree to a certain extent, if 50 Shades  and the plethora of unedited books have taught us anything, it’s that if you toss enough money into something, you can sell it. Unfortunately, all these marketing courses promising to make you a 6 figure earning author have created a market drowning in subpar books. Sure, many of them will tell you if you don’t have a really good book, then it won’t sell. What they actually mean is – if you are not writing to market with the same formulated plot and book cover that looks just like all the others in your genre, you probably won’t be able to sell the book.

Honestly, it’s not that difficult to see why they push this approach in their courses and services. Your book has to be eye-catching, and it has to be marketable. The easiest way to market is to compare it to something already hitting it big in the industry. After all, no matter how great the book is, no matter how well-written, if it’s not a genre or trope currently selling in the industry, you are going to be hard-put to sell it.

Now, here’s the catch on writing to market, which I hinted at earlier in this post.  When you are writing to market, it means you are pushing out the same tired plot line with the same look and narrative voice you can find in hundreds of thousands of other books already on the proverbial bookshelves. It’s considered “disposable entertainment”, and you won’t keep readers around long writing like that. Let’s take a further look at this.

After your book is ready to launch, you activate your launch/marketing plan. It goes well, you make sales which means you make money. But your readers want a new book now. Actually, they wanted it five seconds after they finished reading the one you just launched. They really wanted a new book already sitting on their Kindle ready to go as soon as they finished this last one. So you are forced to crank out another book. Then you have to launch it, which means you shove all the money you just made off the first one into the next one. And thus the cycle of the “dog chasing its tail” continues. You can’t create unique plot lines when you have to crank out a new book every month or two. So you “write to market” because the books sell, but in order to keep those books in front of readers, you have to keep funneling all your money into each new book. To put it bluntly, these gurus turn you into a publishing farm, where you crank out the same plot line repeatedly, producing book after book that looks like, reads like, and has the same tired plot line as thousands of other books. And the only way to keep them selling is to funnel thousands of dollars into marketing.

This is the problem with writing “disposable entertainment” books, or those that are written to market. You don’t keep the same readers for more than a book or two before they have moved on to another author. Can you make money at this? Yes, absolutely. But are you getting to keep any of it? No, and that’s the part these gurus don’t tell you. One of many moving parts they don’t want you to know about. They don’t tell you that in order to make $100K a year, you will shovel $99,900 of it back into writing and launching more books. It’s not money you get to spend on bills or vacations or whatever it is you are expecting to pay for out of those earnings. You have to keep “feeding the machine” to keep that money flowing.

The only way to stop this endless cycle is to strive to become a legacy author, or a “household name.” Think about it. When was the last time you saw Anne Rice, Stephen King, JK Rowling, or any of today’s greats launching a new book every few weeks, or every month? Most of them only release once or twice a year. And in Rice’s case, she can easily go years without producing a new book. But all of their books are unique, their plot lines unique, their world building unique. When you read one of their books, you immediately know you are reading their work because their narrator voice is also unique. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The second missing ingredient, another part of the “secret sauce”, or another moving part of the machine the gurus don’t want you to know that the article talks about is money. This is the #1 item which usually trips up most authors. And we’re not just talking about the money you spend on the course or the coaching. What no one wants to tell you is after you spend thousands of dollars on their courses and teachings, you then have to come up with even more money to implement any type of marketing campaign. There are literally hundreds of sites to market to, Amazon ads, Facebook ads, BookBub ads and deals … the list goes on. And it can take a lot of money before you see any results. Because the results aren’t usually immediate.

Authors shovel a lot of money into the campaigns and the ads and the marketing, and then it could be months before they see any results. It’s a gamble, no matter who is doing the teaching or how “tried and true” their plans and services are, it’s still a gamble with your hard earned money that you have to spend on these launch campaigns and services. If you don’t have the money to piss away on it, you could easily lose thousands and still not see any results.

Even if the plan/course/whatever they are teaching/giving you has worked for thousands of authors before you, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work for you. It’s literally a case of throw enough shit at the wall to see what sticks, as the author of this article points out. Simply put, there are no guarantees. You could have the best written book on the planet, it could be written to market, you could have the best cover art ever seen, shove a half-mil into marketing, follow your guru’s courses and plan to the letter, and the book still bomb. This entire industry is a gamble, and if you don’t have the money to play the game, then you can forget about ever getting ahead in it.

The last missing ingredient is time. And this is another big one. The article talks about time to read through the courses, learn it, and then time to execute everything you have learned. But it’s not just that. It’s also the time it takes to write the book, to edit the book, to get the book ready. And then it’s the time you have to wait to see if all your efforts will actually pay off.

For those of us who are still working full time jobs, we often don’t have the time required to adequately launch and market a book, especially not on our own. And if you do hire a 6 figure author coach or some other guru, you aren’t just letting them take over. You still have a lot of time and energy you will have to put into launching the book. Unless you are hiring a complete PR/marketing firm who will do it all for you, you will still spend a lot of time learning about and executing a marketing plan. Even when hiring a “one-stop shop” company who handles the entire marketing and launching of the book from beginning to end, you still need to be very involved in the process to find out what works and what doesn’t. Otherwise, you could spend thousands of dollars on useless services that just aren’t helping.

This brings us back to the age-old question – how do I sell more books … when I don’t have a shit-ton of money to shovel into marketing?

Oddly enough, the short answer is very simple. The execution, not so much. I have a business plan already in place, and yes it would take several hundred dollars to execute. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the money to spend right now. But the short answer? That is super easy, and it’s something authors already do, they just don’t do enough of it to make it work.

So what is this magic bullet? Networking. But not like you are networking right now. As I said, I have a game plan in place, I have a marketing plan in place, but what I don’t have is the team of fellow like-minded authors who are willing to join me on the journey of breaking out of the cycle of publishing books with meager or no sales. It requires networking with authors who are good writers, who produce a quality product, who understand how important editing and good graphic art is to the equation. It’s about networking with authors who understand it takes a lot of work, who are willing to put forth the effort and time, but who may not know how to leverage the knowledge they have gained, or who simply do not have hundreds of hours a week and thousands of dollars to spend. If you can find those types of authors, you can help turn the tides of the industry, those who are team players and willing to work with others, those who can follow directions and are willing to learn and help each other. You find your tribe, and yes, you can do all the things the gurus teach, minus the large guru price tag.