The Top Six Book Scams of 2023

Check out this text I just got about my book. It says, “Dear Amanda, I hope this message finds you well. I represent Lionsgate Entertainment. We recently stumbled upon your book, and we were absolutely thrilled about it. It is a tapestry of mesmerizing emotion, and a heartfelt action.”

They want to make my book into a movie, except they don’t. Lionsgate doesn’t text random authors without mentioning which book they’re talking about. This is one of the most common scams I saw in 2023. Going into 2024, I want to give you the six most popular scams I have seen targeting authors this past year.

All six of these scams have two things in common. They exploit author’s dreams and they are pretty easy to spot if you know how the industry works.

Before we get into these six scams, I want to give a little bit of a caveat. Please do not take these as a reason to be cynical about every single publishing professional who approaches you. There are many very qualified and experienced professional editing service providers who are doing things like cold outreach to support authors however they can. Whether you choose to work with those folks or not, that’s up to you. Please don’t assume that a paid service is a scam. We’re talking about scams in this blog, not about legitimate companies that offer paid services, like mine, for disclosure.

50% off, even 75% off, publishing services.

So what is our first scam of 2023? 50% off ghostwriting services. When we start to have economic downturn, we will see these scam companies come out of the woodwork. They realize that aspiring authors still want to get their books out, even though they don’t have the money to pay for top-tier services.

How can you spot this scam? I find the 50% off scam usually comes through a Google ad. If you Google ghostwriting services or self-publishing services, you’re likely going to have five or six results at the top that are sponsored ads.

They’re not all scams, which makes this tricky. If you see sites with wording like, “Best ghostwriters” or “Best-selling ghostwriters”, that is a red flag. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a scam, but it’s a red flag. If you click through a banner, or some other pop-up, that promises 50% off or more for ghostwriting services, that’s when you really know it’s a scam.

No ghostwriter is going to give you 50% off. In fact, most ghostwriters don’t have a flat fee. They’ll need to hear about your project and then they’ll give you a quote. For these scam companies, if they wanted to do 50% off, they are going to quote you double the number, take 50% off, and then never deliver your product. That’s a problem.

These pop-up companies will have great-looking, flashy web pages. They’ll use bright colors, have animations, look professional, use chatbots, and will push you to give away your contact info. Many times, you’ll run into something that gives you 50% off ghostwriting but only if you sign up with your contact info right then.

With these pop-up companies, myself and other well-known ghostwriters will sometimes be listed as the personnel on these websites. They know that if their folks can be Googled, with verified identities, it gives more credibility. You are never going to see a legitimate editing service giving you 50% off. Most ghostwriters really cannot give a discount. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s likely because it is.

Unsolicited publisher or agent acceptance.

Scam number two is an unsolicited invitation from a publisher or an agent. This is tricky because there are hybrid publishers that do some cold outreach campaigns. It is a paid service. If they are a legitimate hybrid press, it’s not necessarily a scam. Agents, on the other hand, unless you are a very big-name person, will probably not reach out.

If you are trying for a traditional book deal, the process is going to look something like this. You will put together a proposal for your nonfiction book and a query letter. You will send your query letter and proposal to agents that you think would be a great fit for the book you want to write and publish. Agents will review it and reach out to you if they want to represent you. You’ll have a contract that will have terms. You can have a lawyer look at it if you’d like. You will sign a contract, offer letter or offer representation letter to work with them. Your agent will take that proposal to editors at publishing houses, who will work to get sign-off from anyone they need. When they do that, they will offer you your book contract. Your agent will usually take 10%-15% off the top of your advance in royalties.

Here is the rub. Legitimate agents get hundreds or thousands of queries a week, depending on the agent. They do not need to reach out to unknown, aspiring authors. Unless you had something go viral that has to do with your background, or are a celebrity, it is going to be a huge red flag to get a query from an agent. If you are getting offers from Big Five publishing companies, like Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and so on, that is always going to be a scam as they never reach out to authors directly.

A major republishing offer for self-published authors.

The third scam is where a self-published author is getting an invitation from a major company that wants to republish their book. Sometimes this is a scam. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s not a good idea.

It’s extremely rare for a traditional publishing house to offer a traditional book contract to a book that has already been published. Sometimes, if you’re a self-published author that has done well for yourself, such as selling millions of copies, you may get an invitation to write a second book. That is still going to be very rare.

When you have self-published a book, it loses huge amounts of value in the eyes of that publisher, and for good reason. You’ve already released it. You’ve already hit your main readers, so there won’t be room to create a campaign to build up excitement.

Now, you might get emails from companies that are either hybrid presses or assisted self-publishing companies that saw your book and want to help you make it look a little bit more professional. That’s fine, but they should identify themselves as such. You should be able to click over to their website and see that they offer paid services. This offer will never come from a traditional publisher as they’re not going to ask for an investment upfront.

Additionally, if you are particularly a business owner, an influencer, somebody who is leading communities, it’s possible your book will get on the radar of a big publisher. They might want to offer you a deal either for that book or your next book. This is only going to happen if you are selling gangbusters.

Here’s what I want to say to you.

If you are selling your book so well that you get the attention of a traditional publisher, why do you want the traditional publisher? If you’re already selling so well, signing with a traditional publisher is essentially giving away money to the traditional publisher. While these publishers do have some power, they’re not going to have as much power as you if you have a connected, engaged audience and you’re pounding the pavement to reach them.

If that happens, it may not be a scam, but it won’t be worth your investment. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s going to be such a better investment rather than go with a traditional publisher after you’ve already seen success.

A huge bookstore order in need of a discount.

Scam number four are those huge bookstore orders. Even in huge metropolitan areas, bookstores do not order hundreds of copies of any one book. They just don’t get that kind of traffic these days. If a bookstore is ordering your book, they may ask for up to a dozen, not a whole pallet.

Here is another way to really tell if this type of order is a scam. This is what I do when bookstores call me and I don’t see who it is before I answer. I ask them, “Do you order through Ingram?”

If you are self-published, I hope you’ve published your book through IngramSpark. If you’ve done that and chosen the wholesale discount at 55% and free returns, that’s the best way for a bookstore to order your book. This is how they normally put orders in. If “they”, the bookstore, fight with you on that, then you know it’s a scam because you’re already giving them a discount.

If you are a traditionally published author, you cannot give a discount to a bookstore. By publishing traditionally, I guarantee you signed away your right to be able to sell that book for less than the press is selling it for. Of course, you’re not going to be a competitor with your own press. If you mention any of those things to them, “Order on Ingram, I’ve got the wholesale discount setup,” or “I published traditionally, so I can’t give you a discount,” they should understand, as a bookstore, that’s how things work. Bookstores do not call random authors and ask for discounts on bulk orders.

An appearance to be on a hit TV show you’ve never heard of.

Scam five — television appearances. This is the first scam I ever experienced as an author, and I almost fell for it. You’ll get an email, text or voicemail from a person posing as a publicist for a very well-known television star. It’s usually just some random-sounding person. They will invite you to be on their show to do an interview.

Very often, this is not actually a scam. You’re being invited to this interview and they’re planning to blow up your ego by talking about how many people you’ll reach with your book. You’ll get excited, tell other people, and then they’ll let you know it’s a paid appearance.

The last one of these I got, I went down a rabbit hole to see the offer. It was $1,500 for a YouTube interview. If you are an author and put together a professionally published book, you do not need to pay $1,500 for a television appearance. You might pay $1,500 for someone to pitch you for many interviews. You do not need to pay $1,500 to go on someone’s show.

Movie rights inquiries.

Finally, scam number six is the scam I began this blog with and the one I’ve seen the most. This is the “We will make a movie or a series out of your book.” scam.

I hear so many authors who want their memoirs to be a movie or Netflix series. Unfortunately, places like Lionsgate do not randomly email, text, or call authors of self-published or traditionally published books. If it is a traditionally published book, they’ll go through your agent. If it’s self-published, they’re not going to reach out to you (you would need to work with somebody that could pitch to studios if you wanted this).

These scam emails are often packed with details of your book, usually found in reader reviews or in descriptive copy on Amazon. If you reply, you’ll be on the list of these scammers selling email addresses. The big red flags in these emails are going to be strange ChatGPT-type grammar, such as a lot of exclamation points or things we don’t usually see in a professional email. Steer clear of this one.

As you head into 2024, make sure you’re going in with your eyes wide open, ready to say “No.” to anybody that is trying to take advantage of you and your love of your book. If you’re still needing a little bit of help for getting that book out in the first place, the best place to head is to our Book Strategy Quiz.

We would love to give you some free advice on how to get that book to come out the way you want it and how to publish in a way that’s going to suit your personality, your goals, and your book.

I am on a mission to make sure that everyone has access to the support and tools that they need to tell their story and tell their story well. If you’re finding it hard to do this, you might need a ghostwriter or book coach. If that’s the case, I have an exciting announcement!

Our Change Maker package is a brand-new package that will give you ghostwriting and the editing support you need to bring your story to life, even if you’re not a writer. While that package is only available to our newsletter subscribers right now, head over to our Book Strategy Quiz to stay informed when this package is released to the public and get a ton of helpful information along the way!

Happy writing!

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Amanda Edgar

Dr. Amanda Nell Edgar is an award-winning author, ghostwriter, and book coach and the founder of Page & Podium Press. Co-author of the forthcoming Summer of 2020: George Floyd and the Resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Amanda has authored two nationally award-winning books and ghostwritten many more.

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