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.