Bait-and-Switch for Self-Published Authors

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Recently I heard from a self-published author (let's call her Author) who received an alarming email from a reader--or at least, someone claiming to be a reader (let's call her FauxReader).

FauxReader said she loved Author's book, but was distressed by the large number of errors in it--wrong tenses, mis-spelled words, and grammatical mistakes on nearly every page. Not only did this make reading less pleasurable, FauxReader was worried that it might result in bad reviews.

Author was shocked. She works with an editor, and carefully prepares her manuscripts. She didn't think it could be formatting glitches, because those wouldn't insert mis-spellings and grammar snafus. All she could guess was that she'd uploaded the wrong file.

When Author asked FauxReader where she'd purchased the book, and to provide a few examples of the mistakes, FauxReader became cagy. She did eventually offer a retailer's name, and also identified a few typos--but nothing like the major errors with which, she'd claimed, Author's book was riddled.

By this time, Author was suspicious. She did some research--and to make a long story short, discovered that FauxReader had recently hung out a shingle as a freelance editor, apparently undeterred by the fact that she had zero qualifications. Author was being set up; if she'd continued interacting with FauxReader, she probably would have received an offer to fix the "errors"--for a fee, of course.

This is at least the fourth (and most brazen) bait-and-switch scheme targeting self-publishers that I've heard about in the past couple of years. They all seem to operate similarly: the author gets an out-of-the-blue contact from someone claiming to have found text mistakes, or cover art problems, or even metadata deficiencies. The mistakes and problems may or may not be real. The person presents as a Good Samaritan, just trying to help the author out--but always, in the end, there's an offer of a fix for money.

That's one of the "beware" issues here. The other, of course, is the problem of unqualified service providers. Unskilled and less-skilled editors may seem appealing because they're often cheap compared to pricey skilled professionals, but they haven't the skills to do the job and may actually make things worse.

This isn't a new problem: Writer Beware has been receiving complaints about unqualified editors (both freelance and, unfortunately, employed by small presses) for almost as long as we've been in existence. But the boom in self-publishing has really given it legs. Scammers, con artists, and predators go where the opportunity is--and right now, there is huge opportunity in self-publishing. From small-time operators like FauxReader trying to rip off one author at a time, to big corporations peddling dreams that relieve thousands of authors of cash (*cough* Author Solutions *cough*), the danger is everywhere.

Self-published authors, you are the new frontier in literary schemes, scams, and cons. Be careful out there. Verify credentials, don't settle for unskilled service providers even if they're cheaper or you like them personally, and beware out-of-the-blue solicitations.

For another reason to be careful, see my post on self-styled book publicist Kerry Jacobson.

6 comments to Bait-and-Switch for Self-Published Authors

  • This post was brought to my attention because I asked a question of authors on Facebook: If a reader was to contact you to let you know about editing errors, would you be offended or receptive?

    The underlying reason for the question is I am reading an Indie author’s book, which is very good, but littered with small typos, etc. My sole intent was to help an author avoid negative reviews about editing errors by listing the location and nature of the errors in the MS.

    The responses were 98 percent positive. The authors said they would appreciate that a reader cared enough to let them know. An author linked this post because she didn’t want my name to be associated with the kind of story above. Another mentioned I might look like an “ambulance chaser”.

    The negative responses were solely due to the fact that I am an editor.

    I find it rather dismaying that my career can be seen as an impediment to lending a helping hand to Indie authors, who operate on a shoestring budget.

    My philosophy is that authors (which I am also) and editors should help each other whenever possible, rather than viewing each other as competition. This is a philosophy borne out by the writing community, which constantly amazes me with the generosity and support that is freely given.

    I am disappointed I am in this position, as I truly wished to help this author – with no hope of future gain – but don’t dare do so.

  • Alison

    I have offered to proofread or fix errors on purchased manuscripts, but when I offer, it’s free. I want to do it because the story deserves it.

    Also, older versions of Calibre have actually put errors IN, especially when converting PDF to epub etc.

    I hate that this is happening. It’s stupid. If you don’t like the story, fine. Otherwise, contact the publisher.

    As to qualfications, I had none when I started. The only thing I had was a voracious reading habit and an instictual understanding of grammar. This said, I was always upfront with my clients about my experience/qualifications and always ready to listen to differing points of view.

    So, as an editor, I can see both sides of the story. But if you want a fee, ask for it upfront. Practices like those described above only give you a bad reputation before you even start.

  • Ugh, scammers try to rip people off anyway they can. I hate it. Thanks for letting everyone know. Hopefully word will keep spreading of this and there will be less victims.

  • Denise

    Wow! I had no idea this sort of thing existed. I sent an e-mail to an author a couple of years ago pretty much telling her the same things, but only because they were true. I sure hope she didn’t think I was trying to scam her – it’s bad enough that I felt compelled to send the e-mail. (BTW, it was an author whose work I had read and immensely enjoyed in the past and I was feeling a little betrayed. The editing was truly nonexistent)

  • Thank you. I’m fortunate enough to have a number of skilled editors and proofreaders in my immediate circle of friends and family (oddly enough, one of my best readers isn’t particularly qualified or degreed; he just pays close attention to the story), but I’ve seen these sorts of things come in as responses to blog posts and the like.

  • Sadly, it was only a matter of time. This is a big issue for many blog and website owners too. But they use a slightly different angle. Instead of bringing up typos to pitch editing services, they tend to come at you with SEO, hosting, or marketing services.

    The two most common examples I see are “I noticed your website or blog isn’t ranking well in Google…” or “I noticed your blog is hosted on WordPress which is known for being slow; let me recommend a better hosting company to you.” The first is to pitch SEO services. The second usually directs you to a “review” they’ve written for a hosting company in an attempt to get you to sign up through their affiliate link.

    Authors need to be equally aware of those kinds of emails if they own their own website or blog. These scammers often harvest your contact information from public WHOIS records, so using a domain privacy service can help.

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