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Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but more not-good things are coming to light in book and reading world that are important for you to know so you can protect yourselves from being taken.

Sigh. I’d much rather bring you stories of puppies and kittens. Instead, there’s #cockygate and update and now #tiffanygate.

#Tiffanygate touches on an issue of Amazon scammers that I’ve blogged about before.

HURTING KU READERS

The short version is that “authors” are scamming readers and the Amazon Kindle Unlimited system by various means, including “stuffing.” This has various renditions, including putting a number of “stories” into a book, then rotating the order of the “stories” to create a second book, then rotating again for a third book, and on and on, so you could buy ten titles from such an “author” and they’d all have the same material, simply juggled.

Yup, it’s a total cheat and ripoff of any reader who buys these.

Not only do you, as a reader, get directly ripped off by spending any money on these. But you are also hurt if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription because these scammers are pushing out legitimate authors. Authors in KU are paid in large part by fractions of a penny-per-page-read formulas. By having lots of pages in their stuffed books, the scammers grab the lion’s share of the money available to authors.

If you’ve ever read Aesop’s Fables, you’ll know that the “lion’s share” is actually whatever the lion wants to take, which is usually everything!

HURTING EVERY READER

These scammers hurt all readers because their fake books:

–Dominate many Amazon not-really-bestseller lists[LINK], making it hard for you to find the books you’re interested in

–Clog searches (including for completely unrelated categories) on Amazon, making it hard for you to find the books you’re interested in

–Drive legit authors trying to build a career out of the business, making it hard for you to find books you’re interested in.

(For the record, the only Patricia McLinn book in KU is one Kindle Worlds title, which was required to be in KU. That book will be disappearing soon. I plan to rewrite it and reissue it … not in KU.)

These scammers’ goal is not to tell a story that a reader can enjoy. Their goal is to make the maximum money in the shortest amount of time and with the least investment.  If KU folds, these scammers will be gone. They’re carpetbaggers, looking for their next easy meal.

SPOTTING THE GOOD GUYS

If an author has been around for fifteen, twenty, *coughcough* thirty years or more, it’s pretty safe to say they’re not after a quick buck. Yes, we need to make money to support ourselves, our families, our dogs’ treat habits, but we could make that money other ways, often more money in these other ways. We’re here for the long haul, we’ve made this our career because we love telling you stories.

It can be harder for readers to sort through the more recently arrived authors.

I’m going to repeat from an earlier blog a list of things that raise my antenna and prompt me to look more deeply at a title/author, frequently finding scam “books”/”authors,” but I also want to add a new one:

To get around Amazon’s rule about no more than 10% “bonus” material (not-the-book stuff) the scammers are calling their stuffed books “compilations.” Amazon has had the 10% rule for a long time, but hadn’t enforced it. Apparently it has just recently used it to hit a smattering of the scammers.

THE REST OF THE LIST

No single one of these items automatically indicates an Amazon KU scammer. Look for combinations.

–A “book” that is listed as a thousand “pages” or more.

–That length becomes an especially major red flag if you get to the end of the title “book” before the end of the “Look Inside” and this was not lists as a collection of short-short stories.  (To check, click in the Table of Contents for whatever comes after the supposed main part of the book. I just did one and I was to the “bonus story” with more than half of the “Look Inside” to go. That indicates you’re getting very short pieces that likely are rotated and repackaged as if each were a completely new book.)

–Beware of titles that never give you a sample of the writing in the “Look Inside” because they’ve filled up all the space with marketing/other stuff.

–Few or no authors whose names you recognize included in the “book’s” Also Bought section.

–No author photo, a book cover in place of an author photo, an object in place of an author photo, or the photo is the kind you’d find in a newly purchased wallet. (Amazon KU scammers use stock photos for their pictures.)

–Strangely worded bios. They frequently skip a, an, the, etc., in places where people familiar with English would use them.

–TMI – naming their family members in their bio, including children. Many legit authors are careful about and protective of family members’ privacy, especially children.

–Few to no reviews, especially on books that have been out for a while.

–If there are reviews, they are super generic: “I enjoyed this book.” Especially if you look at the reviewer’s history, they only give 5* reviews and all their reviews say “I enjoyed this book.”

–Lots and lots of books released – either in a short amount of time or very regularly over a long period of time. (You can see this by searching for the author name in Amazon, then change the “sort by” to “publication date.”)

**There are legit authors who save up books and release a series all together or in a short time period. Those books will usually be branded as a series (titles and covers) and show the rest of the series in the “Other Books in this series” ribbon on the Amazon page.**

The Amazon KU scammers will also hit many other red flags listed here. For example, one “author” ticked ~every~ other box on this list ~and~ released 14 books on the same day. None were listed as being part of a series.

Another multi-warning sign “author” has released 154 titles in two years. That’s 1.5 books a week, every week for twenty-four months.

–They have “books” listed as co-written, so there are two or more names listed as “author”, yet only one author’s name appears on the cover.

–Author name is generic/super easy to spell. **Many legit authors DO have easy names to spell! Again, it’s essential not to look at any one point alone, but in combination with others.**

–They have titles listed as co-written with other authors who also have simple/generic names, and all the bios have issues, as listed above. Especially if the bios repeat phrases from each other.

–Some (but not all by any means) will use the same cover over and over, sometimes with variations of color wash. Though they seem to be getting smarter about this.

— They will offer a “bonus” of a “bestseller” – In researching for this blog, I’ve just seen two that tout the bonus as a “#1 Amazon Seller,” yet neither of these bonus titles exists on Amazon.

–The writing is … less than stellar. Okay, this is subjective. But, again, combine this with the other elements. Definitely look at the “Look Inside.” Beware of odd phrases … almost as if someone were translating, perhaps?

— No website.

— If there is a Facebook page, it is not very active. All posts are only about releases. No author photo. Only other pages liked are other questionable authors whose FB pages are also not very active and only have posts about releases, with no author photo. And, lo and behold, Author A’s FB page cover actually touts Author B’s book, while trying to get you to sign up for a “publisher” newsletter.

—David Gaughran notes that Amazon KU scammers frequently hit over weekends because Amazon’s doing even less about this then (though how it can be doing less, I’m having trouble imagining.)  I will note: The “author” with 14 titles released on one day, did that on July 4, a major U.S. holiday. Interesting.  So add weekend and holiday releases as another potential warning sign.

WHO’S WRITING?

Furthermore, there is evidence that at least some of these “authors” are finding people on Fiverr to write these “stories.” (Some Fiverr listers have linked stories in some of these stuffed volumes as examples of their work.)

Ghostwriting has a long history and can be legitimate (think celebrity memoirs, for example.) Books with a co-writer are being completely aboveboard about what is going on. (Mind you, I can’t fathom an author using a ghostwriter because getting the story out of my head in my words is the whole point. But, that’s me.)

But these book stuffers generally jam together drafts by multiple ghostwriters in potentially widely divergent genres.

Update 12/20/18:  A looong, yet interesting article from The Verge about how Amazon deals with legit sellers and doesn’t deal with scammers in the “Marketplace” (a k a Not Books. Shows the same issue of coming down hard on legit folks for minor or non-existent issues, while letting scammers run riot. 

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