Bait-and-Switch for Self-Published Authors

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.


  1. I belong to a writing club, and if I've a problem, I let them look at it. I'd received copy-write for a book, and in no time, I'd receive an email from a publishing co in Pittsburgh, Pa. wanting to publish the book. Never bothered to answer them, all the answers are on Google. Don't understand writers not checking Google for scams.

  2. I am finishing the copyediting courses at UC San Diego this week. I want to work with self-published authors in a genre I enjoy reading. There are some great writers out there who self-publish and I would love the opportunity to assist in making their books the best they can be. I would never e-mail an author and point out his or her mistakes. I join groups and meet authors there to find work.

  3. I will add that I suggest applying for work in the traditional way. Send an unsolicited resume and say you are available for future projects. Ask happy clients to refer you to potential new clients. List yourself in databases of editors for hire. You can express your interest and qualifications in many ways without pointing out errors in someone's already published book.

  4. When hiring an editor you should look for:

    * Formal training, whether from working at a publishing house, through reputable copyediting courses (like those that at least used to be given at UC Berkeley extension), or possibly through college journalism courses. Having a degree in English does not teach a person to edit. Being a good writer does not teach a person to edit.

    * Willingness to edit a few pages of your work free as a sample of their work.

    * Understanding of your schedule and budget and willingness to sign a detailed agreement to work within those that is fair for both parties. You need to specify what will be delivered when and when payments will be made (it's best to pay in two or three increments, not all up front and not all when the job is finished).

    * A reasonably accommodating personality. There are many good reasons to freelance, but a few people do it because no one wants to work with them full time. If an applicant starts complaining about the job before ever being hired, do not hire them, because they will be far more obnoxious if you do.

    When I was taking editing courses, one instructor taught us never to try to get an editorial job by pointing out people's errors in an unsolicited way. It just offends people (she said it offended her as a hiring manager). That does not mean the author is unable to work with an editor they have voluntarily hired or who a publisher has hired to work with them. The Internet is full of people getting in each other's faces, doing things like writing snide little comments about how someone who wrote a thoughtful Amazon review of a book awarded a different number of stars than would have been awarded by the person criticizing them, instead of that person writing his or her own review. Many people are really tired of unsolicited nitpickers and just blow them off.

  5. what bothers me the most about this sort of behavior is that it targets new authors. the enthusiasm to get 'picked up' or 'voted up' might blind them to the fact that there are ALWAYS a few individuals who look for an easy way to make money at the expense of the unwary.

    however, on the flip side of that, there will always be individuals (fellow authors, enthusiasts, and yes, sometimes editors) who will offer assistance to budding talent for the sake of encouragement and/or because thats the sort of people they are.

    (in fact many well published authors are now releasing eARC/ARC into the wild just for such feedback)

    my only hope is that the authors 'smell-o-meter' is able to separate these two groups.

  6. Good to read that the author had a healthy amount of scepticism when receiving such a message.
    Always ask questions!

  7. Not all comments about errors are "phishing" expeditions. I’ve written authors with obvious contact information with comments, including any typographical errors I may have noticed, usually because I *liked* the book and I tend to be the OCD type who makes pencilled corrections in printed books as well as electronic versions. To me, it just seems polite, like quietly advising someone that they have a bit of spinach in their teeth.


  8. Suggestion: If you do send your work to a friend whose opinions you trust, be sure to send it with a few handwritten "corrections."

    Id you send a pristine copy, it will come back to you that way. If you send one with some corrections made, it will come back with more! Stew

  9. I don't totally agree with your motion to "beware of editors posing as readers". I DO read. I am an editor and I buy and read books, many by Indy writers for several reasons. I find stories I really love that are self published. If I don't care for them, I haven't spent a lot. I want to help out "the little guy" when I can as big publishing companies now rarely publish for new authors or for non-celebrities and I feel that is wrong.

    But, I DO find a lot of mistakes in self published books and I read about 2/week. The downside is that often self published writers think they are better than they are and they are not willing to accept that they have made mistakes. I don't point any mistakes out unless the book is poorly written as well so I feel like, despite the low cost, I was scammed as a reader/buyer. I NEVER offer to fix the mistakes though. I just don't buy or read any more books of theirs. I am on Goodreads and on most social media and I am fairly well respected even though somewhat "inexperienced". But I don't need editing to be a full time income for me. I am also a writer and I have income from that as well. As an indy writer, you should consider the ones who point out true mistakes as your friends. They "edited" for you free. Editors, even good ones sometimes miss things. Pay attention to what they say but you don't have to change all of the "mistakes" they find. You are free to leave them but you will lose fans if they are truly mistakes and you choose to ignore your free editors. I am in many writing groups and other writers talk about this often as many of us also edit. Mistakes in books make readers buy and read other authors books-its that simple.

    I don't use this blogger and I'm not with Google yet so I must be anonymous, however still right about this.

    By the way, I was in advertising for several years (writing copy)
    and this is not really "bait-and-switch". It's just failure to disclose important information initially.

    Few writers wear only one hat, that as a writer only. Many of us edit as well, proofread, review and those of us who want to be successful also read. I have never heard of a writer is not also a voracious reader. But it's not always necessary to tell the author in a review that we are also an editor, especially if we are not offering to edit. I have never gotten an editing job that way and I would not market to a writer that way. So far, knock on wood, all have come to me.

  10. Um, I'm a freelance editor who has over 40 manuscripts under her belt in little over a year and a half. I do contact and solicit new clients when I see disastrous errors on the free kindle books I get every now and then, but I always say outright that I'll work for a discounted fee if they agree to hire me to work on more than one of their books.
    So no, it isn't always a scam. I have an ever-growing client base with big shot self-published authors, and work on a freelance basis for a publishing company as well. However, for some reason some seasons are busier than others, and when I see I have a free month or two, I do solicit work. As of yet, no one has gotten back to me, unfortunately, but my awesome clients will post on their websites that I'm taking in new clients and work suddenly shows up.

  11. I received a review like that on Amazon for LILY WHITE LIES. I was traditionally published and expressed my concern for the mistakes they 'claim' they came across and said I would bring it to my editor's attention. Within several minutes, the review was gone! There are so many scams out there that they're hard to keep up with. It pays to read blogs such as this one…. Thanks for posting!

  12. With any boom you'll see the scammers come out and try to work it. They won't stop either. It's good to have blogs like yours out there.

  13. Wow, I suppose there are no depths that some people will descend to…

    I guess some of this is exploiting the fact that many SP books are not edited and that there are a good few writers who are not confident in their own use of grammar, so any claims of mistakes cause paranoia.

    I suppose if you get a post like this and are not sure if there are mistakes in your book, best option may be to see if you can find a friendly person you actually know to look at it for you and give an honest opinion.

  14. Over the years, I've received many self-published books from people asking me to read and review. If I can get past the first page I may read on. So far, I haven't made it more than twice. Self-published authors often need a lot of help, but once the book is out there it's a little too late. I quit reading a writer named Stephen Hunter, one of my favorites, because in one book the publisher decided to publish it without any punctuation or quotation marks. It may have been Mr. Hunter who decided, but I felt it was a dumb decision. I don't want to look up words when I'm reading and I don't want to figure out where I'm at or who is talking. It takes years to learn how to edit and the learning never stops. No one has to do that anymore. They just slap on a cover and throw it out there.

  15. I think it's unfortunate that FauxReader and the like are out there…because it only raises the hackles of the self-pubbed even more than many of them are already. And many, MANY of those books could have used a good editor. But unfortunately, in most cases, you'll never get the authors to believe that–especially not if you then are proven to be a person who (gasp!) dares to actually ask to be PAID for that work. Consequently, the cringeworthy factor of many books continues, and as its counterpart, the stubborn notion that anyone who's editing books for money is somehow Evil. (sigh.)

    6/05/2014 1:55 PM

  16. As a new freelance editor and writer, I have thought about reaching out to an author in a way similar to FauxReader, but I would have been upfront about hoping for payment. I have a book on my shelf, self-published and received from a publicist, that needs to be edited. Like you say, susanedits, I assumed that, if I did reach out to this author, I wouldn't hear back from him or he would be offended. But his book has a interesting premise and needs editing help. Now that I've read this post, I will let it go.

  17. Great article. Another reason as a self-pub author to make sure your "stuff" is top notch.

  18. Jeez how random is that? But even with traditionally pubbed books, there are errors.But this FauxReader was just WAY out of line. Good for Author for questioning them.

  19. Oh man, This sounds so much like me. I certainly hope it's not. I only have the best interest of the writer in mind. I know how that sounds, but I have to live with my conscience and I like it clear. I bought an ebook on amazon from a writer who is a fellow member of a G+ group. Within the first couple pages, I could I found all kinds of mistakes, and they persisted throughout the book. I did immediately notify the writer of what I found, and I did offer to help. Being a kindle I couldn't give him page numbers, but I did write down the next couple sentences showing the mistakes so I could sent that to him. He never responded back in any way. I would see him promoting his book signings and now book two. I'm left wondering if I got an unedited copy from amazon, perhaps loaded by his publisher by mistake. I hope so.

  20. Thank you so much for your heads-up and I will warn my friends. Luckily, I have an excellent editor and if I did receive a message like that, I would be quite suspicious.

  21. It's doubtful that FauxReader will get far with her approach. Writers who don't do their due diligence by hiring editors in the first place often refuse to believe their work needs editing (or more than light editing), and they become prickly when anyone suggests otherwise.

    At least I hope FauxReader doesn't prosper. Unqualified editors drive me up a wall, but most of them at least don't think they're rooking anybody — they simply aren't qualified enough to realize they're unqualified. Cold-contacting a writer and lying about how a book needs editing is a few levels higher on the evil-o-meter.

  22. (LOL @Matt)

    From what I've seen of the self-pub crowd, there are a bajillion people out there ready to point you to quality resources. Author was smart in this instance, sussing out actual facts. This served to check if maybe there was a pirate site selling bootlegged books, but Author stopped short of danger. If Author really wanted additional editing or cover help, she need only to turn to the self-pub community online for great resources.

  23. As a self-publisher, a former freelance editor, and a former in-house editor for midsized book publishers who hired freelancers, I will observe that the best freelance editors (likewise the best graphic artists) seldom target the self-publishing market. There are excellent reasons. Freelancers prefer clients who:

    * Give them steady work, minimizing the unpaid time and financial insecurity involved in constantly seeking new clients

    * Understand the terminology and customs of the trade, so the freelancer does not have to train the client in everything

    * Have routine procedures for working with freelancers

    * Are financially solid and who pay well according to the admittedly varying scale of the trade

    Most self-publishers do not have most of (or sometimes any of) these qualifications. Whereas, large publishers do. And they don’t want to sift through the resume pile every time they have a manuscript that needs to be edited. When they find a really good editor they hire that person for job after job. Many successful freelancers only have one or two main clients. Therefore the less qualified editors find themselves working for the less desirable publishers. (There are exceptions: I know an editor with medical training who edits many articles for doctors before the doctors submit them for publication, as well as medical books for publishers. But specialty medical editors are scarce and can charge accordingly, and doctors have high incomes.)

    Another thing I have found as a self-publisher is that, even though I’ve informed editors I was interviewing that I have considerable editorial experience myself, they have assumed I am clueless and therefore, have offered absurd ideas like having different style sheets for different chapters of a book. Hello? Copy editing is largely about consistency.

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