In 2018, I wrote a post that, in part, warned about a solicitation from an obviously dodgy “ghostwriting” service (one big clue: the mangled English everywhere on its website).
With a bit of digging, I discovered not only that this service was a single scammer doing business on four different websites under four different names, but that domain registration, content, and other similarities linked the ghostwriting sites with nearly 30 other scammy websites offering other kinds of services, from logo creation to accounting.
Back then, ghostwriting scams (ghostscams for short) weren’t super-common. How times have changed. There are a TON of ghostscams now.
Like the ghostscams I wrote about in 2018, they offer not just writing services, but editing, cover design, publishing packages, marketing and more. They do business under multiple names–ten, twenty, even more–and many are part of even larger complexes of predatory service providers: video creation, Wikipedia page creation, illustrations, web design.
Since they’re based overseas–primarily in the Philippines–their websites are littered with English-language errors. They misrepresent–and outright lie about–their qualifications, credentials, and projects. A common feature of ghostscam websites is a false claim to have worked on books from well-known, trad-pubbed authors. Many have even gone to the trouble of inventing fake staff rosters.
Based on complaints I’ve gotten from writers who’ve fallen into the ghostscams’ clutches, as well as several chats with scammer sales associates, costs can range from $1,500 to $3,000 for a “written from scratch” book of around 350 pages–all paid in advance, naturally. Of course the initially quoted price is always higher–but there’s always a very special discount, just for you! Editing alone can be as much as $4,000, depending on manuscript length–though when I lamented that the price was more than I’d budgeted, several ghostscam sales associates offered to cut the cost by a third or more. If you want a cover and publishing services, those will set you back another $500-$1,000.
Here’s the “discounted” price Efficient Ghostwriter quoted for my 350-page “romance fiction novel”, including writing, editing, cover design, and publishing on Amazon, B&N, etc.:
Ghost Writer Experts was more pricey–and that’s even after granting me a super-exciting 10-Year Anniversary Sale! discount. But they did throw in a $550 publishing package for free:
I’ve gotten complaints from writers who’ve used ghostscams for editing, and have received edited or copy edited manuscripts full of errors, or random and unnecessary changes. And while I’ve never heard from anyone who has gone all the way through the bookwriting process, I’d imagine that the quality of the finished book is equivalent to what you’d get from a ghostwriter on Fiverr–which, by the way, would cost you a whole lot less. (As noted above, all of the ghostscams’ claims about their portfolios are fake, so there’s no way to research people who’ve actually used their services.)
How to identify whether that company you’re thinking of using to write, edit, and/or publish your book is a ghostscam? Following are some suggestions.
I’ve said this so often that I’m sure my readers are sick of hearing it, but these days, THE NUMBER ONE SIGN OF A WRITING SCAM IS SOLICITATION.
I’ll say it again. The. Number. One. Sign. Of. A. Writing. Scam. Is. Solicitation.
Just like reputable literary agents and publishers, who only very rarely reach out to writers they don’t already represent, reputable ghostwriters and editors will not email or phone you out of the blue to try and convince you to buy their services. Especially with something as cheesy as this:
Here’s another thing no reputable company will tell you: that your book can (or will) be a best seller. That’s a guarantee no one can make (well, no one who isn’t a con artist or a liar), and reputable companies and individuals know better than to make it.
Bonus bogosity: the email address in the solicitation above references one ghostscam (Pearson Ghostwriting). The text references another (Paramount Ghostwriting). And the links lead to a third (Central Ghostwriting) and a fourth (Ghostwriting Publication).
If you’re going to hire someone to write an English-language book for you, or edit or copy edit or proof your English-language manuscript, they should be capable of producing literate English prose. Right? I mean, it just makes sense.
Ghostscams–which are based overseas (in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines), and are created and staffed largely by people for whom English is a second language–maintain websites that are stuffed with ungrammatical, tortured, and sometimes incomprehensible English. For instance this, from Pacific Ghost Writing:
Or this, from Paramount Ghost Writing (note that they get their own name wrong):
Or this, from Ghostwriting Avenue:
As a side note, one common English-language error on sites like this is misuse of the word “avail.” If you see something like this, it’s a sure-fire tipoff that whoever you’re dealing with is not a US company:
Seriously, if you want to hire someone to pen down your creativity, publish your beautifully conjured fiction, or harness your creative horses, don’t overlook bad English in their self-presentation. If a company doesn’t care enough, or isn’t capable, of producing a grammatical, error-free website, what reason is there to assume that their writing and editing staff will be any more competent?
I am constantly amazed by how many writers ignore or overlook this huge flashing warning sign.
ABSENCE OF VERIFIABLE INFORMATION
You wouldn’t hire a writer or editor who couldn’t demonstrate that they have the credentials to properly do the job, would you?
A reputable writing- or publishing-related service provider should offer concrete, specific information about itself and its staff, including staff names and biographies, that make it possible for you to assess–and verify–its bona fides. The absence of that information, or info that’s so vague it can’t be researched, or claims that can’t be confirmed or turn out to be false, are warning signs.
Something like this, for instance (from Ghost Writing Professionals) doesn’t cut it:
Which bestselling authors? Which former editors? Which PhD experts? A reputable company would tell you.
Of course, a disreputable company can simply lie. A number of ghostscams provide fake author rosters, using stock photos, made-up names, and, sometimes, fake biographies.
An example: these identical rosters of Experienced and Renowned Ghostwriters claimed by The Book Writing Corp, Professional Ghostwriter, Creative Bookwriters, and Ghostwriting Avenue (note how similar all these websites look). The images are stock. The supposed authors are nowhere to be found online. And the wordy but completely specifics-free “biographies”, which are as horribly written as the rest of the text on these four sites, are nonsensical.
Along with websearches on the supposed authors’ names to see if you can find any professional references, reverse image searches can pinpoint a scam (you can use TinEye or Google Image Search). Some of the more advanced scams employ deepfake algorithms to produce unique images, but many just use Shutterstock or another stock photo provider. For instance, here’s “Nicholas Brown” from Paramount Ghostwriters and Versatile Ghostwriters:
And here’s “Nicholas”, who normally resides on stock photo site Alamy, where he’s described as “Attractive man in armchair looking at camera”.
Internal inconsistencies and claims that can be disproved are also signs that a site is dodgy.
Perhaps the ghostscam claims a US, UK, or Canadian address, but its website is littered with English-language errors. Why would a company based in an English-speaking country have such trouble producing clean, grammatical text? (And why would you want a group like that to write or edit your book?)
Does the company address look like a regular business address? Google it. The fake addresses claimed by scammers are often Mailbox Depots, virtual offices, or random residential addresses–not what you’d expect from a reputable business.
Does the company say that it’s been in business for X number of years? Check its domain registration (you can use a site like DomainTools). You may discover that has only been around for a few months. Chamber of Authors claims “10+ years of experience”, but its web domain was registered less than a year ago. Ditto for Efficient Ghostwriters, which also claims 10 years. Ghostwriting Solution’s claim of 9 years is slightly closer to the truth–but that doesn’t make it truthful: its domain wasn’t registered until February 2020.
Or maybe there’s one name in the header of the site, but text or testimonials reference a different one. Wiki Ghost Writer’s footer apparently belongs to Pacific Ghostwriting. Finest Creative Writers doesn’t seem to have realized (or doesn’t care) that all the text on its website refers to Book Writing Founders. All the testimonials for Paramount Ghostwriting credit Ghost Writing Guru.
It’s important to carefully peruse the website and supporting materials of any service you’re thinking of using, and to double check any claims.
A reputable business doesn’t generally need to maintain more than one website (along with a matching social media presence). Scammers, on the other hand, maximize their victim-harvesting potential by doing business under multiple names and websites. If a site looks iffy–or even just to double-check–some websearching is in order.
Does the website provide the names of writers or staff? Google one or more. For instance, searching on “Scott Truax ghostwriter” (one of the purported ghostwriters at Pro Book Author) reveals that “Scott” is featured on at least eight other sites, most of which have identical formatting and text.
Googling the site’s business address can also expose duplicates (be sure to put the address in quotes to exclude irrelevant results).
Phrase searches can work as well. Copy a distinctively-worded sentence from the website (you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one), and paste it–in quotes–into a browser. Try this phrase from AD Ghostwriting: “Our diversified talent pool with multiple unique skillsets has enabled us to specialize in various genres”. Result: nine other ghostwriting sites using the identical phrase (some that Google has identified as dangerous).
Searching on this, from Stellar Ghostwriting–“Our team of most scintillating ghostwriters are extremely skilled in creating innovatively brilliant content for your book related to any genre”–turns up several other sites using identical language.
EXPLOITING THE BEST-SELLER DREAM
Become a Best-Selling Author! Be the Next Best-Selling Author! Fulfill Your Destiny to Become the Best-Selling Author! Win the Title of Best Seller!
These and similar hyped-up come-ons top the home pages of many ghostscams. As noted above, reputable companies don’t engage in this kind of flimflam: no one can guarantee a best seller, and reputable writers and editors know this. Reputable companies don’t employ these kinds of cheap recruitment tactics.
In addition to fictitious staff, many ghostscams include an array of book covers featuring books by well-known trad-pubbed authors, to encourage potential victims to believe these are books they’ve actually worked on. Here’s Book Writing Bureau:
Even if you’re prepared to believe that acclaimed, Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison didn’t write her own famous novel, how plausible is it that an online ghostwriting service with “10 years of experience” produced a book originally published in 1987? Or that it worked on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, originally pubbed in 2010 (in Japanese)?
Such claims are simply ludicrous, and fall apart under the lightest of investigation.
The shameless con artsts at Creative Book Writers are claiming they ghost wrote my novel TRUE FICTION. When my brother @todgoldberg called & confronted them about it, they hung up on him. I tried calling, too, but nobody answered. pic.twitter.com/O2j9p5jh2W
— Lee Goldberg (@LeeGoldberg) January 18, 2022
Well. This was a very unpleasant, and very unexpected surprise, and it looks like I’m gonna have to break my metaphorical foot off in somebody’s ass. This ghostwriting scam site is claiming to have written my book, THE HOLLOW PLACES. pic.twitter.com/F78FclweCg
— Kingfisher & Wombat (@UrsulaV) January 18, 2022
Falsehoods aren’t limited to website claims, either. The (real human) sales associates who staff the ghostscams’ chat windows are happy to lie:
This one didn’t just lie, but embellished:
In a subsequent conversation, a different Susan resorted to pretending she was a bot:
In researching this post over the past five days, I chatted with dozens of ghostscam sales associates to get an idea of pitches and price ranges for various services. The scams’ chat windows are normally super-eager to engage visitors…but my explorations–plus, possibly, the brutal trolling by Lee and Tod Goldberg and the attendant social media call-outs–seems to have triggered some alarms in scamland (remember, most of these sites are connected, so it makes sense they’d notice patterns).
When I tried to use chat windows yesterday evening, as part of proofing and double-checking this post, I either could see no chat windows at all, or got a message like this:
Looks like they blocked me. Oh well.
UPDATE 7/20/22: Most ghostscams offer a money back guarantee, but you wouldn’t be wrong in suspecting that that’s just window dressing to soothe the anxieties of potential marks. I just heard from a writer who paid one of the services mentioned above, but then had second thoughts and asked for a refund. First they were strung along with excuses (We sent it! No idea why you didn’t get it! etc.), but eventually, when they kept pushing, were told flatly that the company didn’t consider that they deserved to be reimbursed.
UPDATE 3/1/23: Many ghostscams are fly-by-night: here for a few months, then gone. Some are more enduring, however, and there’s especially long-lived one about which I’ve gotten enough complaints that it deserves to be called out by name: Elite Book Writing.
Complaints include paying thousands of dollars for services that are delayed with one excuse after another, heavy upselling pressure, substandard products (“editing” that inserts errors), writers being ghosted after asking questions, and book order scams (the author is told there’s been an order for hundreds of books that Elite will distribute–the author has to pay for printing but will receive “guaranteed royalties” for all sales–needless to say, there are no orders, no royalties, and once the writer hands the money over that’s the last they will ever hear from Elite).
You can see similar complaints at the BBB.
UPDATE 3/32/23: Based on questions I’m receiving from writers, there’s currently a mini-boom in ghostscams using Amazon or Amazon-adjacent terms in their names, in an attempt to deceive writers into believing they actually are Amazon or Amazon-affiliated: Amazon Digital Pro, Amazon Publisher Pro, Amazon Publishing Hub, KDP Publishers, Amazon Publishing Solutions, Amazon Publishing Center, Amazon Kindle Direct Publication…the list goes on.
Typical of ghostscams, most do business under multiple (Amazon-imitating) names. Likely to elude legal action by Amazon, they often have a short shelf life.
UPDATE 7/7/23: Further to the update above, I’ve written a post about the growing number of Amazon fakers.