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 copes). 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/immortal 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?

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, 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.**

I Write My Own Damn Books, Thank You Very Much

Back in January, I unofficially announced that I was “taking a step back from publishing.” I feel there has been a lot of misconception on exactly what I meant by that. A lot of my readers took it to mean I was no longer going to be writing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In all actuality, I have the next two books in the BTSR series ready to go to print, and am currently working on book 7 of that series and I’m plotting out what could turn in to another paranormal NA series. So, if I didn’t stop writing, then you maybe wondering exactly what I meant when I said I was taking a step back from publishing.

If you haven’t read my blog post Can We Just Real For a Momentthen I strongly suggest you take a look at it. This post helps identify a lot of what is currently wrong with the self-publishing industry right now. For all intents and purposes, Amazon has basically become the get-rich-quick poster child for indie publishing at this point. It’s the new-age MLM (multi-level marketing) scheme that thrives on hiring cheap ghost writers off of fiverr and other websites like it, shoving the atrocious books up on Amazon as fast as possible, putting them up on KU among other “stuffed” books (books that are actually several books bound together to look like a single book done so to max out the number of pages that KU allows so instead of getting a few pennies off of a 200 page book that legitimate, honest authors are making, they are raking in upwards of $15 per book for each KU read because the book is 3000 pages long), and running up the click bids on AMS ads (Amazon Ads) so legitimate authors can’t afford to run ads any more. So when you do a word search for popular categories such as romance, paranormal romance, paranormal fantasy, vampire romance, shifters, alpha romance, etc. all you get shoved into your search results are unedited pieces of drivel with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of fake 5* reviews also purchased off of fiverr.

It may surprise a lot of readers to know that such horrendous, bestselling books by the likes of Bella Forrest, Amanda Hocking, and Melissa Foster, just to name a few, have been padding their books with fake 5* reviews for years. Some of these authors have been known to hire ghost writers as well so they could push out more and more books each year, resulting in an over saturated market that has made it increasingly harder for legitimate authors to be seen on Amazon. Then we have the Chance Carters & Cassandra Dees of the world stuffing books and getting awarded All Stars bonuses from Amazon even though he is reported to have used click farms to artificially inflate his page reads. Let’s not forget the whole fiasco with Faleena Hopkins for trying to trademark the word “cocky” and force authors who had been using the word in their own book titles to re-brand books that had literally been out for years before Faleena even decided to start writing. And now we have #copypastecris going on where a self-proclaimed USA Today bestselling author (she’s not, by the way. You can actually search the list and her name has never appeared on it despite the fact she claims to be a bestseller) plagiarized at least five books by Nora Roberts and dozens of other books where she basically hired ghost writers to Frankenstein some books together for her using large sections of other, popular books that had been copied and pasted directly.

Guys, the list of the shit going on in this industry is endless.

So, let me make this as clear as possible. Every review you see on my books, and heaven knows they aren’t many, are all legitimate reviews from regular readers or a variety of beta readers that literally signed up through BookSprout to review the book. I do not hire ghost writers. I have a degree in business management and work a full-time 45-hour-a-week job. I agonize over every single last word that I write down. I have to foot the costs of editors, proofreaders, and graphic art work out of my own pocket. Taking all this into consideration, this is why I only manage to hammer out two books a year.

And nothing is going to change that.

Because I actually give a damn about the books that get published in my name. I’m not out to get rich by shoving out as many half-assed books as I can a week and dupe unsuspecting readers into buying them because I hired a bunch of click farms to buy the book, thus raising my ranking on Amazon, and I certainly do not buy a bunch of fake, 5* reviews to make readers think they are getting a good book. I’m a real person, with real social media accounts. I go to book signings. I’m not a nameless, faceless stable of ghost writers hiding behind a fake persona on Amazon. I post pictures of myself, I post pictures of my kids, I tell funny stories about what happened to me.

I am a real person, writing real books, at a real person speed. And I’m not going to apologize for that. When you follow me on social media, what you see if what you get. When you read my books, you know I worked my ass off to write them, and that **I** actually wrote them, and then had them polished by editors before they were published.

So, when I said I was “taking a step back from publishing,” I meant just that. I am still writing, and from here on out I am no longer going to sit idly by and let the Bella Forrests and the Chance Carters of the world ruin the industry that I’ve busted my ass in for the past thirty years for. When I see shitty tactics going on, I’m going to start calling bullshit, just like Nora Roberts.

Because I’m sick and tired of getting shit on in this industry. And that’s exactly what is happening to good, hard-working, legitimate writers. We are being told to stop rocking the boat, we are being forced out of the industry, we are having our books targeted by backstabbing, bitchy writers whose scams we are threatening.

Well, enough is enough. I’m going to continue to write, and at the end of the year I will once again begin publishing after I’ve got a few more books written.

And from here on out I am going to start calling a scam a scam when I see it.

I am Nicola Chey Matthews, and I write my own damn books, thank you very much.

Why Should Amazon Clean Up This Giant Book Scamming Mess?

Because when you aren’t losing money, why should they give a rat’s ass, am I right?

It took the better part of 10 years before the rest of the indie community finally took notice, but I’ve been screaming FOUL! since 2008 on the shit going on over on the Zon. Ever since I hopped on board the KDP train back in 2008, about a year after it was unveiled, I’ve sat back and watched this entire industry dissolve into one huge cesspool of nothing but crappy books by even crappier people who are in this to do nothing but make money – by any means necessary.

Yes, I know I’m in this to make money. But when book stuffers and other scammers are literally bringing in more money each year by scamming the Amazon publishing system than authors who have been around for decades hitting the NYT Bestsellers list repeatedly, you would think this would clue Amazon in to the huge shit-storm going on with their site. But as I said, when it’s not technically costing them anything, why should they care? Even if they were to shut down the KDP platform to indies and just went back to allowing trad published books to be sold there, it wouldn’t hit them hard enough for them to do much more than blink. We’re only talking about $150 million compared to the 7 BILLION they grossed last year across the entire store worldwide.

The KU book stuffers are just one more piece of the scammer puzzle that has wrecked havoc on the indie community in recent months. Before it was KU, there were prolific authors who were publishing 5 page serial shorts each week, charging ridiculous amounts for each short, and using shady, unethical business practices to manipulate the rank so the “books” would eventually begin to get organic buys (purchasing reviews on Fiverr & using the earlier versions of “click farms” – basically taking one book, breaking it up into multiple parts, selling each part for $5 a pop and/or enrolling each part into the original KU 1.0 program which then netted each 5-10 page short upwards of $3 and using groups from Fiverr to purchase or borrow each section in mass groups to manipulate rank thus leading to more organic borrows and purchases)

And remember that high profile erotica writer who was sending “his” army of oblivious female readers to harass, bully, and 1 star his competition? That behavior wasn’t just isolated to this one moniker. Many, many authors have been known to engage in social media bullying and sending their hoards of fans and sock puppets to try to strong-arm their competition into quitting the industry or bow down to whatever ridiculous demand they had. Then there is the catfishing that was running rampant in the erotic romance genre. Men pretending to be women authors and women pretending to be male authors who sat around sweet-talking their female fans until they had these women completely convinced these swindlers actually cared about them. It’s the tried-and-true Casanova swindle except with romance authors and readers. It was designed to part these women from their money, pure and simple.

So will Amazon’s new TOS and recent “house cleaning” continue? Who knows. Everyone remember when Amazon finally cracked down on all the padded reviews? Did you notice they didn’t take down the reviews or ban the author accounts? No, because when you have high-profile authors burning up the ranks and bringing the Zon more money, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Instead, they decided it would be a good idea to go after Fiverr instead, although how on earth THAT was supposed to curb purchasing fake reviews is beyond me.

Even when they do finally decide to take action and ban these scammy authors, their accounts rarely stay deactivated. You all remember the whole debacle with boxed set guru Rebecca Hamilton? (If not, go take a gander at THIS kboards thread, it’s a real eye opener) After multiple complaints of her ill-gotten gains through boxed sets which hit the lists through mass gifting and author purchasing of literally HUNDREDS of the boxed sets, on top of the illegal lotteries she was running to tip the sales in favor of the large lists, Amazon finally banned her from publishing through them. But guess what? She’s back on Amazon and is even still putting together boxed sets for the hefty sum of $2000 per author, among other author services. And there are still dozens of authors who continue to sing her praises either out of sheer ignorance or the usual I-don’t-give-a-shit-so-long-as-I’m-making-money attitude which seems to run rampant among a lot of community members these days.

Then there is the prolific book stuffer Chance Carter who recently lost his publishing privileges through the Zon. This is at least the second incarnation of the same person so who knows how long it will be before he’s back up and running. He’s also the mastermind behind the BookClicker and BookBoyfriend apps. The BC apps has been used by hundreds of authors who have all unknowingly given this guy access to their MC and ML mailing lists which can then be skimmed for the subscriber information. I found all sorts of fun, incriminating information over on this Kboards thread. And if all this wasn’t enough to make your toenails curl, Chance Carter is also the mastermind behind a whole crew of authors using nefarious tactics to game the KU system. It’s really scary just how deep and convoluted this entire debacle goes, and just how many authors are all tied into this. I just don’t get why it took nearly a decade for other authors, and readers, to finally wise up to what’s been happening right under their noses. These authors are basically embezzling money and instead of the Zon firing them & having criminal charges brought against them, they are literally being slapped on the hand and allowed to carry on as if nothing happened. What the actual fuck Amazon?

Basically, the mighty Zon has changed their own TOS so much and are only half-ass enforcing them to the point that what they decide to do next, or if they will continue to enforce their own TOS, or if they will continue to catch innocent authors in their broad net while they try to clean up their own act, is anyone’s guess. If I’ve learned anything in the past ten years of being independently published through KDP it’s this – if you are making the Zon enough money they basically don’t care. Even if enough people throw a big enough fit to force the Zon’s hand, they are just going to allow these scammers to come back under a new name (or in Rebecca’s case, her own name) and keep right on with business as usual.

And about the only way a legitimate author is going to be able to compete with their black hat tactics is if they have a whole hell of a lot of cash to funnel into the marketing. After all, when everyone around you is using a bullhorn, about the only recourse you have is to break out the sky-writing.

 

Quick Links:

CASSANDRA DEE AND MOSAIC BOOK STUFFING

ONLINE RATINGS AND REVIEWS ARE FAKE

HAMTILTON LAWSUIT – MERGED THREAD

BOOKCLICKER

BAD ROMANCE

WHEN #COCKYGATE AND #TIFFANYGATE COLLIDE

WAIT, I’M ONE OF THE ADULTS?

BOXED SET SCAMS ON THE PASSIVE VOICE (please note the original article this thread links to on The Passive Voice has since been removed. While we are unsure why the original article was removed, it has been speculated it was due to the civil suits still going on between RH & some of the former participating authors of her boxed sets.)