In the super-crowded world of publishing, authors must fight for readership and exposure. That makes marketing and promotion a top concern–which makes for fertile ground for scammers.
PR scams are among the most common of the many solicitation scams that target writers. Often appearing to be reasonably priced, they promise services like social media posts, reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, blog posts and interviews, and similar low-cost-to-provide, low effort methods that sound impressive but in reality are next to useless for book promotion–even if the services are delivered, which often is not the case.
At best, this kind of “marketing” is a waste of money. At worst, the scammer will simply take the money and run…like the scammer that’s the subject of today’s guest blog post from author Alina Adams. This scammer went the extra mile to cook up an appearance of authenticity…but as you’ll see, Alina wasn’t fooled.
Note: There are several names associated with this scam. Be sure to read the postscript and the updates.
The Book Marketing Scam That Went the Extra Mile
by Alina Adams
Whether traditionally published by one of the Big 5, a small press, or self-published, promoting your book is the most important part of the writing process. As someone who’s done all three, I knew that as well as anyone. And as a regular reader of Writer Beware, I knew that there were plenty of people out there delighted to prey on the dreams of aspiring authors and con them out of their money without providing anything of value.
Like most writers, I get several solicitations a week with tantalizing offers like: I am a Digital marketer and SEO Expart [sic]. I can promote your Amazon book. I will promote your book on all social media. Do you want to discuss about work?
Usually, all I need to do is ask for the contact info of previous, satisfied customers to receive the stock answer: We would like to tell you that we cannot share our clients’ details as this is against our policy. We would like to tell you that we have been doing this for many years. We have so many clients who regularly avail our packages. But we assure you that our team will work to the best of their ability so you can trust us for once.
When they realize I won’t budge from that one requirement, they leave me alone.
At first, Spring Book Reviewers Club seemed like it would follow the same pattern. They contacted me via Direct Message on Instagram (their handle: @srbofficial1) with this tantalizing, if ungrammatical, offer:
Hey. We’re providing a bunch of services main being guaranteed sales for books, posting reviews on various platforms and publishing articles and blogs on top global magazines. Interested to know more?
When I first asked for references, I heard back:
We work with commission based agencies across the globe having a chain network of hundred thousands of readers. They broadcast your book and its description in their networking chain and thus we provide a guaranteed seller/buyer for your books. Our reviews are from best selling authors so they increase the click to buy ratio. The blogs and articles in top global magazines increase the sales as they’ve a readers database of more than 20 million across the globe. We’re verified on all distributor sites like amazon, B&N etc. as a marketer. The books that are submitted through us are added in the algorithms to the new readers that visit those sites. So it’s like an AI base algorithm in which a certain book is added in suggestion of every reader who searches for books on those sites.
But when I refused to proceed any further without someone to personally vouch for them, they reluctantly sent this:
Our recent project with @martha_teichner. He [sic] got more than 3500 sales through us in three weeks and still counting.
I reached out via the @martha_teichner IG address provided, and instantly heard back:
I was a bit nervous initially but I had an inner feel or gut that this would work and it worked. I invested and got the returns. Somewhere sometime we’ve to bear the risk. They published articles for me in The NY Times. They have some great connections and offered me the services. Who doesn’t want to get their book featured in those publications?
My research did turn up a NYT feature article on Martha. But when I reached out to the author who wrote it, she told me: “I’ve never even heard of [them]. You’re absolutely right — coverage in the Times cannot be bought, and everything must be approved by an editor.”
When confronted with this fact, my friendly neighborhood scam artist got a little testy:
We directly worked with Martha T. You should confirm from her. Yes we sent the order for an article for Martha to be published in that.
Likely sensing that I was wriggling off the hook, they sent me the contact info of another author they claim to have worked with, Susanna Clarke. She’s even featured on their website, with a testimonial that reads like it was created by a self-published author rather than a writer with a Big 5 publisher whose debut novel sold 4 million copies:
“Susanna” (fake IG address: @susannaclarke) assured me that:
They’d initially offered me a choice of three different promotion packages, one for $175, one for $350, and one for $499. But when I asked to see the contract for the $499 package, they explained that no, it wasn’t either/or, it was all of them, for a total of $1024.
In the meantime, the contract they sent me contained no identifying information about the signatory, including company name, address, or contact information beyond the name “Joan Wilson” (“Joan” being possibly another of SRB’s many typos, since the digital signature looks like “John”) and was in a format where the text could be edited after the fact.
When I asked about that, I was reassured:
We’re not a company. We’re a group of freelancing authors and editors working for various magazines and newspapers. We’re working as an intermediary and the agreement is signed by our marketing team CEO. He [sic?] is Chief Editorial Officer.
For literally two weeks, they reached out several times a day, hammering me about the value of their service. They insisted that this was a risk-free deal, since I would be paying via Venmo (fun fact: The contract they sent didn’t offer Venmo as a payment option), and could always get my money back by disputing the charge.
Finally, I offered to invest in the very lowest priced package: $175.
Considering the man-hours they’d put into the back and forth with me, I could not imagine how this could possibly be profitable for them.
They told me to go ahead and sign the contract they’d sent me. I did not sign the contract. But I did Venmo $175 to the address they provided. I was curious to see what happened next. (And if the IRS is reading this, yes, it was a legitimate business expense. It was research.)
I did not expect to sell thousands of copies of my book (they assured me the topic didn’t matter; they were so good they could sell anything at any time). I did not expect to receive thousands of positive reviews. But I did expect some token something on their part.
Instead what I got was radio silence.
Followed by their IG account disappearing. Followed by their Venmo handle disappearing. Followed by their website disappearing.
This blew my mind.
Had the entire fake social media presence been set up to scam ONE PERSON? Me? How inefficient is that? What is the revenue model in that?
The fake Martha Teichner and Susanna Clarke IG accounts are still up. Though, strangely, they aren’t getting back to me now with the same enthusiasm as when I asked for referrals. I reached out to both authors’ publishers to let them know they were being impersonated.
And I did file a dispute with Venmo, who ruled in my favor and refunded my money. But because the account I’d sent it to disappeared, I assume the money came from Venmo directly. So, in sum, the scammers did get away with it.
For what by my estimation was a good 20+ hours of work (for a detailed transcript of our entire interaction, please click here and here), they netted a grand total of $175. I realize that there are places in the world where that is a substantial amount. But, surely, there are more time-efficient ways to earn the same?
I also realize that I am in a privileged position, where potentially losing a $175 investment can be a tax write-off which does not hurt my overall earnings.
But that’s not the case for everyone. I wrote this post specifically to warn others to, well, Writer Beware! It doesn’t matter if they have what looks to be a robust social media presence. (My teen-age daughter tells me you can buy thousands of followers for ten bucks). It doesn’t matter if they seemingly have glowing recommendations from best-selling authors. It doesn’t matter if they promise you fame, fortune, and, most importantly, book sales. It doesn’t even matter if they spend so much time cajoling you that you start to think they must be legit – how else could they afford to waste so much time on sales?
They are not legit. They are liars and they are scammers and, what’s more, they’re not even particularly good ones. If they can’t effectively sell themselves, how can they possibly sell you?
I am curious if others have been approached by this particular outfit. One of their websites is still up, as are the two fake author profiles on IG, and the primary IG account they used to catfish me with. Are they getting ready to set up a new account and approach some other patsy? Please help spread the word to stay away!
Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap-opera tie-ins, figure skating mysteries and romance novels. Her latest historical fictions are “The Nesting Dolls” and “My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region.” Visit her website at: www.AlinaAdams.com, or her Substack: A Literal Literary Loser.
Postscript from Victoria:
Just before Alina contacted me to offer this post, I heard from another author who was approached by the same scammer on Twitter, with the handle @bookpublicityhq (the account–which of course had a blue checkmark–has been suspended). The pitch was a bit different from the one Alina received…
…but the scammer’s initial outreach, as well as its response to the author’s request for more info, were identical to what Alina quotes above–and it too went the extra mile to “prove” its prowess, once again via a fake Susanna Clarke account. Below is what the scammer claimed was a set of screen grabs of their “most recent” DM conversation with “Susanna”–but as you can see, the whole thing is laughably bogus (traditionally published authors don’t “receive orders”, for example).
Solicitation scams are everywhere, and any writer can be a target. For any offer that comes to you out of the blue–whether on social media, by email, or by phone–extreme caution is in order.
UPDATE 5/5/23: I just got an email from a writer who was approached by another iteration of this scam, which is on Instagram as Book Library Media. They approached the writer with the same sort of pitch, including sharing the fake Susanna Clarke account.
UPDATE 5/22/23: Another name uncovered, thanks to a writer who was tagged by the scam on Twitter and responded. On Instagram, it’s BookstagramWC, aka Bookstagram Writers’ Centre. Here’s its Twitter feed; as of this morning it was reply spam after reply spam (“DM US, Let’s work together” [sic]) but by this afternoon all the tweets had been deleted. The writer who responded reported the exact same approach, including the same fake Susanna Clarke messages screenshotted above.
And another name, per another tip: Book Booster (@bookboosterwc on Instagram. @Bookboosterwc on Twitter). Hilariously, it has blocked me.
UPDATE 5/31/23: Another name, per a comment below: @booklibmedia on Instagram. They offered the fake Susanna Clarke testimonials, and also fake testimonials from Miriam Toews.
i managed to escape them today, May 25th 2023, thanks to this post that I found when I decided to contact via FB, besides IG, the two references they provided me with. I was approached by them as @booklibmedia on Ig and offered Susanna Clarke and Miriam Toews as clients who confirmed their version.
Thanks for the info, and I’m glad you were able to evade them. I’ve updated my post with this additional name.
FYI: They are now using the name Bookworm Writer’s Center. I was recently approached by them. They used Susanna Clarke and Zadie Smith when I asked for testimonials.
i was contacted by phone from Suzanne Murphy at Harper Collins to offer a publishing acquisition. I was having a hard time understanding what was offered so we scheduled a phone meeting today. My book was recommended by The Literary Acquisition Guild. ,I have asked for an email to verify the recipient, but have only the phone number of “Suzanne Murphy”. I have had many scam attempts and have paid a bundle in lost fees. I believe this is a scam and would sincerely appreciate your expertise.
Greetings. There is no such thing as “The Literary Acquisition Guild.” The scammers do not even know how humorous the name “The Literary Acquisition Guild” is.
You’re correct: this is a scam, and a pretty common one. I’ve heard from many authors who’ve gotten similar contacts supposedly from major publishers, with claims of endorsements or recommendations by anonymous “book scouts” or a fake organization like the Literary Acquisitions Guild. The thing to remember is that reputable publishers don’t reach out, out of the blue, to offer contracts (they acquire books via submissions, and almost exclusively via reputable literary agents).
The purpose of this contact is to string you along with the carrot of traditional publication and eventually hit you with the stick of having to pay for something as a condition of getting the supposed contract–re-publication, PR, bogus lawyer services to retrieve the “license” for your book (there’s no such thing), a fake document such as an International Book Seal…the list goes on.
If you get an email, would you forward it to me? firstname.lastname@example.org . Various scammers are behind these offers, and I like to keep track. Thanks.
Thank you for your advise.
There’s that word “avail” again in the pitch. It seems to be the favorite verb of scammers in the Philippines.
Yeah, wrong use of “avail” is a marker, as is “tailor-fit” (as in “we customize our services to tailor-fit your needs”) and statements shown as questions (“Who We Are?” “How Our Work Benefits You?”). I suspect such lapses will diminish with the advent of AI chatbots, and poor English will become less of a reliable marker–at least on websites and in initial solicitations.
Based on the spelling and bad grammar, my guess is that this came from China. It’s actually better than most native English-speaking Chinese do, but it definitely has a foreign flavor. My advice: read everything carefully. If there are more than ONE typo or grammatical error, BEWARE!!!
Most likely the Philippines, or possibly India or Pakistan–that seems to be where most publishing-related and PR scams are based these days.
Well, Susannah Clarke. Susannah Clarke definitely doesn’t need to pay for 20 Amazon reviews. Her first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, published by Bloomsbury in 2004, won the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, and was named the Time’s Best Novel of the Year. Clarke also received an undisclosed seven-figure sum for the film rights, but the production studio (which had produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy) collapsed. Later, the BBC adapted the book into a 7-part miniseries. Do you really think an author like her had to pay for reviews of her long-awaited second book? Which, by the way, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2021 and was translated into several languages. And the claim that she is happy that the scam agency helped her to sell 3.500 copies for this award-winning book is ridiculous. Same with CBS news correspondent Martha Teichner who won 12 Emmys before writing her first book. A book, whose North American rights were – according to Publishers Weekly – bought in 2018 by Celadon Books in a five-way auction for high six figures. Writers, read, research and think! Wikipedia will do. When obscure companies adorn themselves with such established and high-profile authors, it is definitely fraud.
Thanks for sharing this. Is there no one honest anymore? I am so tired of all these “republishing your book” scams!
I’m not sure if this is another Philippines scam but according to Google, $175 US Dollars is $9692.73 Philippines pesos. So maybe that makes it worth all the effort for them.
I wonder if the real Ms. Susanna Clarke knows “bookreviewer.club” is faking an endorsement from her. Also fake endorsements from PR Daily, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal. I find this “a little hard to believe.”
“Whether traditionally published by one of the Big 5, a small press, or self-published, promoting your book is the most important part of the writing process.” Normally, I’d just stop reading after an opening like that. Maybe substitute publishing for writing.
Maybe she didn’t want the alliteration. But I would agree marketing isn’t really part of the “writing” process of a book.