If you have read this blog at any length of time, you should know that there are unscrupulous publishers out there to scam authors. However, a while back I had an experience with a scammy bookseller. I haven’t seen anyone speak of any fraudulent or scammy booksellers on any blogs anywhere. So could this be something new to keep a lookout for? Something like this could happen to a traditional or an independent author who would try to expand their distribution if the opportunity arises.
If anyone knows anything about scammers, they should know they are attracted to places where the money is–like a moth to a light. I have read quite a bit that the self publishing boom is beginning to accumulate some dough. Again, a traditional author that is left to fend on their own will pretty much gravitate and work with people and entrepreneurs in the indie community. I know because I have met and worked with them :).
You can also say scammers are like cockroaches; there are ten more you don’t see for every one you see.
To read the more personalized account about the whole ordeal with this unscrupulous children’s bookseller in all its creepy glory, click on the link below to visit my author website:
I shared that story on WriterBeat and ReadWave as well as on my social media with readers and other authors, and I received some surprising reactions about what could have happened. They were actually very scared for me. I almost believe this was no ordinary scam, but a catfish scam. This is simply because the perp seemed more interested in the author herself than getting any free books or money from her. I do believe his initial contact had nothing to do with books from the get-go.
After my experiences with Xlibris and Author Solutions, I have learned how to smell a rat pretty quickly. AS reps are simply the best deceivers for anyone who doesn’t know their reputation. That said, I was onto something being pretty early on because my guard was up, but I never expected to be fishing for catfish. Until recently, the only catfish I was familiar with were the ones that live in the water. I say it’s a catfish scam since he was looking to have a relationship and he was trying to get me to go to his home country. Like I said, the books were an afterthought or not a thought at all on his part. To read more about these kinds of scams Google/Ask/Bing catfish scams for more reading.
From this ordeal I can draw some conclusions. If there are any more rogue booksellers out there, I would say most of them are not catfish. Most of them will simply want free books for them to sell and you not get your royalty.
Here is a list of things to look for/watch out for if you have suspicions:
- Does not have a website. Most booksellers will usually have a website where their contact information and present catalog of books to sell. My fake bookseller did not have a website of any kind.
- Use flattery in the initial contact. In my case this was taken more to the extreme. A scammer will use some sort of flattery since it has a ‘disarming’ effect. This is one of the main weapons in the AS arsenal. The author’s appearance or anything else about them is not relevant for business. If they say your book is so ‘great’, how do you know if they actually read it? Simple. Someone suggested asking a question or two from the book or sample that would require actual reading and cannot be pulled from the Book Description. If they get it right, the praise is legit, and they actually read it. Surely you can think of something. No one knows the book better than the author, right? This is also a handy-dandy defense, if Author Solutions tries to sell you dreams. They tell every single author that comes through their cattle chute that their book is great. That’s how they try to get you!
- Ask you to mail books at your expense. Booksellers will purchase books from your distributor, and it doesn’t matter where in any part of the world. They rarely or never approach an individual author, but if they do, they will purchase the books at a wholesale discount of 40-55%. They will also ask about or look if the books are returnable. My scammer tried this even though I provided distributor info and didn’t answer questions about royalty splits, returns, etc. Sometimes, though, an independent bookstore or sometimes Barnes and Noble will allow you to mail/bring books in which will be at your expense, but that brings me to the next point:
- Does not provide a written contract of any kind. I have experience in this area in both local bookstores and an independent bookstore in another state. Before any books are sent or anything is done, there is a written agreement that determines the length of time the bookstore will carry the book or details of a one time fee, etc. Royalty splits and returns of unsold books to the distributor or author will also be included. Not so with my scammer.
- Ask the author to pay a salary. Booksellers do not take salaries from authors in any shape or form. They make their profit by purchasing the books at a discount and reselling them. They also will take a portion of the royalty in most cases, or ask for a one time submission fee (which is usually small), but all of that is spelled out in the site and/or the written contract. This is how they make their money. Think about how Amazon works for a moment; they require a discount to purchase print and they take a fee on any book sold in any format. Booksellers usually only buy books in small portions and they usually look at samples and return unsold books after such-and-such time. My scammer tried this, but I have a feeling that the “salary” in question was not monetary since he demanded my physical presence to pay it and completely disregarded Paypal or Western Union. I know for a fact that these platforms perform services of this nature to his home country.
- Tries to force you to talk by phone. There is just something about scammy people in how they want to talk to you on the phone. Sometimes they try this with you on the first contact. Most business can be done by email or fax, so phone is not necessary, especially if it’s international. International correspondence can be done via Skype, but not everyone has it or is comfortable with it. Most authors would rather not talk by phone. Our minds are connected to our fingers rather than our mouths. AS reps get you on the phone and won’t let you off. I took Mark Levine’s advice and watched the movie Boiler Room. It’s dead on. That’s what any scammer will do if they get you on the phone. Don’t want to talk on the phone? You don’t have to. Politely ask to chat by email or something. If they don’t honor that, then breaking connection is perfectly okay. You don’t need that kind of stress in your life.
- Multiple Social Media Accounts on the Same Platform. This is not the same thing as having multiple social media accounts on different platforms. Scammers have sock puppets and or variations and/or other aliases in case one of their accounts is sniffed out. Based on a hunch, I looked the guy up since he had sent me a friend request from another Facebook profile with an alternate spelling of his name and the name on his email address he sent me had a different spelling than the Facebook profile we were connected on. What did I find? 3 other Facebook accounts with variations, and that’s all I know of, but that was quite enough, but he didn’t have a Facebook page. He also had two accounts on Linkedin. After I unfriended him, he changed the profile picture on the Facebook account we were connected on. Coincidence? I don’t think so! Who knows if there were sock puppets? There are ways to know but that is a bit to tech for me.
These simple tips can help safeguard you if a bookseller should come your way and not your distributor’s way. So be alert!