If you haven’t spotted them yet, it’s probably because you don’t shop on Amazon, where KU seems to allow scammers to thrive. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Amazon’s proprietary subscription service. But before I move on to how to spot these scammers and their books, let me say what this article isn’t. It isn’t an opportunity to bash Amazon, because I appreciate Amazon as a marketplace, as I appreciate all vendors. The problem may be far more prevalent on Amazon, but exists anywhere scammers find an open door. It works like this: Scam authors, who most often appear to operate in Russia, or Eastern European and Asian countries are throwing poorly written, poorly edited (and sometimes stolen) books into KU, where, readers may download content free of charge, only it’s not actually free, because Amazon pays them for your download. More and more, authors are speaking up and reporting these books, but the key to removing them is for readers to begin standing up and complaining as well.

Personally, I have very few books in KU, but to say I don’t have a horse in this race is not entirely true. Honest authors, who work hard on a daily basis to write books from the heart are finding it harder and harder to survive amidst a sea of badly written and plagiarized books. So how does this affect you? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. As true authors find it harder and harder to devote time to a career that doesn’t allow them to make a living wage, you will lose access to better books and to your favorite authors. You might argue this will correct itself eventually–and it will–but at what cost in the interim?

I’m fortunate enough to have a very loyal readership and I love you all immensely, so, currently, I’m in no danger of going anywhere, but already I have witnessed the exodus of some of my own favorite authors from the industry, simply because they can’t make ends meet and can no longer focus on writing. It breaks my heart so much that I must speak up. But I’m not going to name names because that’s not the goal of this article. The goal is to simply make you aware of what’s going on and what you might do to help.

Aside from lost authors, these are the things that bother me most about this unfortunate trend:

a) The reader is being disrespected by author mills, who churn out the same revised and altered content over and over. Eventually, readers will grow bored, and that’s the biggest sin of all–that the joy found in reading may be lost.

b) Scam books take up valuable space on Amazon’s “bestseller” lists, because KU downloads are weighted more heavily than non KU books. Unfortunately, if you want to see real bestseller lists that reflect an entire world of books that might be obscured on Amazon, you’ll have to go look at the lists on competing vendors, like iBooks, Kobo, B&N and, of course, USA Today and New York Times. (And then dig down to the genre lists.)

c) Many scammers are not following the rules that real authors are forced to comply with, and they are benefiting nonetheless. For example, it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service to buy reviews or pay for downloads, but that’s not stopping these hackers. One way they do this is through unsuspecting readers, who might not realize they are following a scam author and want to do their best to support them, especially when they have been offered a free review copy. The other way is through Click farms (Click this link here to see what I mean).

Now, let me say a few words about review copies, because all authors provide these, and all publishers do as well. 1) you should not be given a “gift card” to download books from the vendor. That is unethical because it manipulates lists. It’s against TOS and legit authors won’t put you or themselves in this position. If you are found out, it jeopardizes all your reviews and your ability to leave reviews in the future.  2) Review copies must be given without any stipulation or guarantee that you will ever post a review, or that it will be 4 and 5 stars. Although we sincerely hope you’ll love our books, you must be allowed not to like it if you choose.

So back to the scam book problem; how can you spot them and why should you bother? The most important reason is that it is potentially damaging to the entire industry, largely because Amazon holds such a large portion of market sales for traditional and not traditional authors. I’m a huge fan of choice and the No. 1 way to support choice is to support Amazon’s competitors. While I do also buy from Amazon, I try to spread the love, buying titles from iBooks, B&N and Kobo as well. (This is also why I don’t use, or any longer give away, vendor specific ereaders that are not universal, meaning, that they won’t allow books to be loaded from any vendor.)

Fellow author Patricia McLinn has a great list of ways you can spot scam authors and scam books, and you’ll want to check out her entire list here:

Some of the easiest ways to tell are:

a) The author profile seems “off.” If it looks like a stock photo, it probably is one. While some might argue that people should be allowed to hide behind a fake photo, I am not a fan of pretense, and these “fake authors” seem fond of using stock photos, probably because many of them are the same person and/or company, merely posing as an author.

b) The book cover is bad. They aren’t in it for the longterm. They are going to take the money and run, so many of the scammers don’t bother to put up great covers, although there are a few of them now that are making so much money they have begun to cover these books well, so this is not a fail proof way to tell. However, if the cover “looks” derivative, or reminds you of another author’s style, chances are they have copied it, and it’s a red flag.

c) They either have REALLY high page counts, or REALLY low page counts, or, if you look inside, the text is double-spaced to make it seem it’s a bigger book. (There are also a lot of other clues, so be sure to check Patricia’s page for more.) David Gaughran also has a helpful article.

d) Weirdly worded author bios that give you a sense that maybe English is not their first language. It seems to be more evident in the profile than in the book themselves, which are sometimes plagiarized.

e) Check to see when they released their books. Did they dump a bunch of titles onto Amazon over a short time, or even on the same day? HUGE red flag. It takes me months and months to write a book. While I have author friends who put out books every 6 weeks, I know they work hard to do this–so hard that some find it hard to have a life outside of writing. I love writing, and love the connection with my readers, but I also adore time with my husband and children and time in the garden. I want to be my best when I’m at my keyboards, and for me that means taking time to recharge, which means it takes me even longer.

f) They often have no website, and their facebook pages are very new.

There are many, many more ways to tell, and as I said, you can find some here and here. Ultimately, there’s only one way this is going to change, and that’s if the reader complains. Again, I won’t give you specific titles, because I mean to leave that up to your best judgment. Really, you’re responsible for your own reading material. However, I respect you enough to at least want you to be aware of this issue, because in the long run, it affects you. If there’s one thing I know about Amazon it’s that they care about their customers, so it’s only for you that they are going to make this a more even playing field.

So that’s all. May you find only pearls.