Ripping Readers Off: Kindle Unlimited Scam eBooks

Copyright 2016 by Lisa Maliga

Kindle-Unlimited-logo-220x86

Last April, I wrote this article: Don’t Buy or Borrow Kindle Unlimited Rip-off eBooks. 

What’s changed since then?

In July 2015, Amazon launched KU2, which pays authors by pages read. KU1 was a fluctuating amount of at least $1 per eBook borrow. The Amazonians have altered the system for their benefit and the amount per page is less than a penny –.0049 per page or less. If an author wants to make any money, they need to write longer books. And those books need to get read.

Or do they?

Nope, the author offers a free book or gift card or something for nothing and has that clickable link take the reader to the back of the book. Like magic, all the pages are read!

With the KU program, Amazon is like long defunct author’s sites Themestream and the Vines – pay per click companies that went belly up. While some legitimate authors are doing quite well, others are faring far worse than they were in KU1.

One of the main problems I’ve seen in the KU program, and this is in the nonfiction area, are foreign plagiarists stuffing books full of repetitive “information.” Or they upload their entire catalogue into one title. I’ve also seen books where the contents are available in a dozen different languages. Can you guess that the translation is run through an online translator resulting in hilarious errors?

What inspired this article was a review request from an author: someone who had been “University” educated, and an expert in various fields dating back to the early 90’s. A quick search revealed nothing except the author’s books in various Amazon stores. Here’s the email:

As an avid buyer and author on Amazon, I want readers to feel they are getting value for money and would recommend to their friends and family. I feel this book meets that requirement.

 I was hoping you could review a books and leave an honest review.

If you are interested I can send you the book as a gift free of charge.

 I saw that the title wasn’t unique and when looking at the author page I noticed:

“She has a passion for sharing his experience…”

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner? Nope, someone who just didn’t care about proofreading their bio or who wasn’t too fluent in English.

There are many excellent titles in the KU program. But I’m going to point out potential rip-off titles that are often plagiarized from websites, blogs and Pinterest. By reading this article, you’ll learn how to avoid downloading or wasting your time and money on rip-offs and supporting scammers.

If you’re a reader who wants to learn how to bake cupcakes, wouldn’t you want to read a book by someone who has baked the recipes and can provide photos along with helpful tips? I want that! A few weeks ago, I mistakenly downloaded a scam book. At first I thought, oh goodie, 600 pages of cupcake recipes and information—all for 0.00. Wrong! 600 pages of drivel, NO pictures, and recipe after recipe of things I didn’t want to bake. The few cupcake recipes were so generic that one of them listed cake mix. I deleted that eBook.

Spot Those Scammy eBooks

Here are some things to look for when shopping at Amazon.

kindle unlimited logo * No author biography

If there’s no bio, there’s no way of knowing how much knowledge they have pertaining to the subject they’ve written about. There won’t be an email address, website, Etsy page or social media information such as Twitter, Pinterest or Face Book. They have no blog or newsletter.

kindle unlimited logo * Fake Author Biography

Some of the scammers have gotten smarter and include biographies and even pictures or illustrations of themselves. Read it carefully and you’ll see it’s false if no professional training is indicated. Or they might mention a school or university. How is the bio worded—in proper English or does it read as if it was translated from another language?

kindle unlimited logo * Common American Names

This is another way to lure borrowers and buyers—by using familiar surnames like Thomas, Brown, Mitchell, White, etc. It’s also how those from other countries make names seem more acceptable than their own. Authors who use several pseudonyms may do so to avoid detection. It’s also a way of using a name like a keyword – to attract more borrows and sales.

 

kindle unlimited logo * Poor Translating

Foreign authors may have run the manuscript through an online translator resulting in unintentionally hilarious reading. My favorite was the one about heating your soap over a “weak fire.” Some of the faux fiction scam books have incredibly bad titles.

kindle unlimited logo * Offer FREE Bonus/Gift at the BACK of the eBook

This encourages you to click the link and get the page reads. You won’t be able to miss this offer as it’ll be shown in very large and colorful fonts. It may appear more than once.

kindle unlimited logo * Very LONG eBooks

KU1 featured scamlets of 50 pages or less. Now the less is more motto has been replaced with the more [pages] the merrier! One trick I discovered is seeing lengthy books enhanced by offering the book in a dozen different languages. You can also bet that a professional human translator doesn’t translate, as that would be very expensive and time consuming. Ultimately, no one benefits.

Another method is for the scamming “author” to take several books and rearrange the order so the book becomes bloated with excess pages. You get a bundle of books you [probably] don’t care to read.

kindle unlimited logo * LONG Titles Stuffed with Keywords

Example: Homemade Body Butter: 25 Natural Body Butter And Lotion Recipes To Keep Your Skin Smooth And Feeling Moisturized! (How To Body Butter, DIY Body Butter, Natural Body Butter And Lotion Recipes).

kindle unlimited logo * Enticing Cover Photo of the Product[s]

A rip-off will be revealed if the featured product[s] recipe and photo aren’t included inside the eBook. For example, a stack of oatmeal soap on the cover, yet there is no oatmeal soap recipe in the rip-off title. Also, most rip-off eBooks won’t contain any photos.

kindle unlimited logo * If recipes are included, they may be in a mixture of ounces, grams, tablespoons and teaspoons, which is very confusing for the reader.

kindle unlimited logo * No medical or legal disclaimer. No safety precautions.

kindle unlimited logo * The name on the cover may be spelled differently than the name on the book’s Amazon page.

In order to avoid being ripped off, please use this article as a checklist.

Also, read what author Ann Christy has written about this topic. She includes in-depth analysis along with screenshots of some flagrant examples. http://www.annchristy.com/anatomy-of-ku-scams

 

Advertisements

70% of Nothing: The Reality of Indie Publishing

By Lisa Maliga, Copyright 2015

computerscreenI barely passed basic math in seventh grade, but I’ve learned a lot about numbers, percentages and book rankings since 2010.

On October 21, I released my $2.99 novel, Notes from Nadir, which I had serialized via my blog of the same title. The price was chosen because I would earn a 70% royalty rate. I sold four copies the first month, the same number in November, and soon the book was ignored.

By February 2011, I had five novels on Amazon and a few other stores. The titles were previously published online and I had regained my full rights. Sales in the dawn of e-publishing [2000-2004] were minimal and I noticed nothing had changed, except that I was now doing all the work.

I self-published my nonfiction titles as I had extensive experience making soap and bath and body products. Over time, my eBooks were available on 12 other Amazon marketplaces like the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, etc. I uploaded titles to B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, CreateSpace [paperbacks], iTunes, and Draft2Digital. I joined AuthorsDen, Manic Readers, Twitter, Face Book and WordPress. I’ve had my own website since 2001 and this year I launched a newsletter and offered free eBooks. I have two instructional videos and two book trailers on YouTube, and I joined Pinterest because I like photography.

When it comes to nonfiction books, I’ve discovered that it’s exceedingly difficult to get linkbacks/mentions from companies/sources that are listed. I revised one of my titles to include several photos and interview some suppliers. While I provide their links and contact information, they won’t add a link to my eBook on their website, nor mention it in a newsletter/blog.

Why are those listed suppliers unable to provide a link? I’m asking for no money and in many cases have even spent money on their product[s]! I offered them a free copy of my eBook in their preferred format.

Don’t these suppliers realize that they can make money from eBooks? Should a consumer read it and want to buy supplies, that supplier has just picked up some biz? Also, if a supplier has an Amazon or B&N affiliate link, they’ll get money for each copy sold from their website. [I realize that not all websites sell via Amazon/B&N].

Indie writers are easy to ignore. They have no agents, managers or publicists to get the word of their eBooks out there. Ironically, while many of the bath and body suppliers are fond of the term FAIR TRADE, they won’t do a simple link exchange which would actually benefit their own company!

But I kept writing until my titles increased from 1 to 32, almost evenly divided between fiction and nonfiction. Contrary to the myth that more books equal more sales, I’ve found the opposite to be true. As of August 2015, I have 7 more titles yet I’ve earned 30% less than I did in June 2014 on Amazon.

Approximately 90,000 eBooks are released on Amazon every month. The chances of any book being seen are in the league of unlikely to very unlikely.

How does a writer earn a decent living by writing eBooks? Four years ago, I saw a pattern. They wrote an eBook or two, especially a series or serial, blogged, went to other authors’ blogs and left comments. Those other authors had a larger following, so the neophyte eBook author sucked up to the “bigger authors” and dished out excellent book reviews, hoping to get the same treatment for their books. Even after that exhausting circle of writing, praising other writers, and occasionally having other writers praise you, they still hadn’t seen an increase in book sales. Others have speculated that at the start of the self-pubbing boom, some authors bought dozens of good reviews on Fiverr, thus launching their careers.  A self-published author/blogger exhorted their followers to write a book, write a second book, a third, and repeat indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, that author wrote a book about how to write and market books.

After releasing my twentieth title, I thought there would be more sales. I uploaded a horror novella that had small blocks of white spaces appearing randomly throughout the book. No one contacted me about it because I never sold a single copy of the aptly titled An Author’s Nightmare.

Since then, I’ve changed how I perceive indie publishing. Whenever I upload an eBook, or even a paperback edition, it’s not publishing, it’s uploading a manuscript. I also uploaded three freebies; hoping readers would discover my other titles. Occasionally, they did.

So, how does an “indie” author get noticed? By advertising?

Advertisers are popping up all over the place like psychedelic mushrooms. They’ll send your book’s links to the best potential customers — readers. Sometimes grand promises are made of thousands of readers willing to download or buy your book. I tried getting a $2.99 novel out to 106,000 Face Book fans. The result? Zip. I could have done that myself, as I’m a member of more than 50 book-related groups. In fact, I have. The result has been similar. With some advertisers, you’ll get a few sales or a few hundred downloads for a freebie. Then what? Not much. Your book plummets in rank, maybe you get a review or two, and the title rests in obscurity with hundreds of thousands of unread eBooks on Amazon, B&N and other online bookstores.

Getting lots of downloads of freebies is meaningless if no one buys your other titles. There’s another myth about more reviews attracting more sales. Sometimes it’s true, especially if they’re legitimate reviews by readers. Yet how many people actually read and review those freebies?

After my years in indie publishing, I’ve learned that only a few authors can make a lot of money. I’ve earned far less than I did when I was temping.

Being an author isn’t unique any more. Self-publishing is for anyone who can process some words, design a book cover or have one made for a few dollars. Many books aren’t even proofread, let alone edited. With the glut of available reading material, it’s almost impossible for an author’s book[s] to stand out. Most eBooks will plunge to the murky depths of internet bookstores far, far away from the best sellers. They’ll wind up with six or seven-digit rankings, doomed to obscurity.

Most people don’t read. Most people don’t buy eBooks or prefer downloading freebies. And most readers don’t review books.

And that’s what I’ve learned about selling eBooks [and paperbacks] for almost half a decade.

WIN A VARIETY OF BOOKS! Sign up for The Discerning Readers’ Newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/UZbE9

Don’t Buy or Borrow Kindle Unlimited Rip-off eBooks

Copyright 2015 by Lisa Maliga

 bookscomputerJust after the July launch of the Kindle Unlimited program an author of a soap making eBook emailed me asking for a review. After reading it, I got the impression that everything within the 50 pages was regurgitated information. There weren’t any resource links. The recipes weren’t coherent—add some of this oil with some of this water and this amount of lye. Instead of getting a review, the author received an email asking about her soap making experience. Unsurprisingly, there was no response.

That was my introduction to a Kindle Unlimited eBook.

Books in Kindle Unlimited, KU for short, are only found on Amazon’s website. None of the titles are available at Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, Smashwords or other online bookstores.

While free for authors, readers pay $9.99 per month for the service that “…allows you to read as much as you want, choosing from over 700,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks. Freely explore new authors, books, and genres from mysteries and romance to sci-fi and more. You can read on any device.”

kindle unlimited logo Read this title for free and get unlimited access to over 700,000 titles.

Authors with books in the KU program generally price their titles from $0.99 to $9.99. They can also give a title away for up to 5 days during each 90-day period their title is enrolled in the KU program. If free, anyone can download the book whether they are KU members or not. Another huge benefit for the KU author is the borrowing part of the program. Whenever a KU member borrows a title, the author receives up to $1.40. The amount varies every month but it’s always more than one dollar. Even if the book is priced at 0.99, the author still gets $1.40 [or whatever the amount is that month] PER BORROW. That’s why every single rip-off title is enrolled in this program.

There are many excellent titles in the KU program. But I’m going to concentrate on the rip-off titles that are often plagiarized from websites, blogs and Pinterest. By reading this article, you’ll learn how to avoid downloading rip-offs.

[For the record: I won’t tackle fiction because that’s a lot different, especially with series, serials, billionaire romances, erotica, and alphas, etc.]

A rip-off title is usually less than 50 pages in length. Of course, regular nonfiction titles may also be brief, so I’ll point out the many red flags that boldly signal a rip-off. Again, this is only for nonfiction books, as that’s where I have the most experience as I write about soap crafting. I’m going to expand it to include all bath and body/bath and beauty books. However, even if you read and write about real estate or farming, you still should find this article helpful.

 redflagThe Formula

Soap making books begin with the history of soap making. For other bath and beauty books, the opening pages will let you know how toxic commercial lotions, lip balms, sugar and salt scrubs, bath bombs, etc. actually are.

redflag LONG titles with up to 30 words. This is called keyword stuffing.

Example title: Homemade Body Butter: 25 Natural Body Butter And Lotion Recipes To Keep Your Skin Smooth And Feeling Moisturized! (How To Body Butter, DIY Body Butter, Natural Body Butter And Lotion Recipes).

I’ve only changed a few words, but this is how some rip-off books are marketed. It’s not necessarily wrong but it’s clumsy!

redflag Nonexistent book contributors

Every author credits him or herself, but there are also other contributors that can be added like editor, foreword, photographer, illustrator, introduction, preface, translator and narrator. I’ve found books that have ‘body butter’ as an editor, ‘lotion’ as a foreword, and ‘soapmaking’ as an illustrator. Doing this exploits the entire Kindle publishing program and if found should be reported.

redflag Not crediting stock images.

redflag No author biography

Interested in learning about the author? If there’s no bio, there’s no way of knowing how much knowledge they have pertaining to the subject they’ve written about. There won’t be any sort of email address, website, Etsy page or social media information such as Twitter or Face Book. They have no blog or newsletter.

The lack of an author bio may indicate a new to KU author who is unaware that Amazon offers this free promotional tool. Alternatively, it might be a deliberate omission.

An author bio should indicate the author’s experience in making the products they are writing about, as they should be an expert in the field. Do they include their company name and contact information? Whether or not they own a business, or have owned a business in the past? How long have they been making B&B products? If they don’t make and sell their products, what qualifications do they have to write their book?

redflag Common American surnames

This is another way to lure borrowers and buyers—by using familiar surnames like Thomas, Brown, Mitchell, White, etc. It’s also how those from other countries make names seem more acceptable than their own. Authors who use several pseudonyms may do so to avoid detection. It’s also a way of using a name like a keyword – to attract more borrows and sales.

redflag Reviews

If a book has dozens of reviews, that might mean it’s often borrowed/sold. All of the reviews may be legitimate ones, especially if the reviewer indicates that they received a free review copy. To find a rip-off title, look beyond lots of 5-stars or 1-stars, or even no reviews.

eBooks may contain numerous 5-star reviews with only a smattering of bad reviews. Suggestion: read the bad ones. For example, a one star review written by a soap maker noted the amount of lye in a recipe in one of the rip-off titles was incorrect and the author had confused percentages and ounces. In other words, some “author” with no knowledge of soap making is presenting potentially harmful information. If a reader follows the instructions, that soap would burn their skin. Additionally, they would have wasted their time in reading the book and trying to apply the instructions, and money on buying ingredients and equipment. The responsibility of the author of any type of DIY book is to offer correct and accurate information. Sadly, the author of the questionable amounts has also written a dozen other titles in related fields.

A rip-off title may have garnered many positive reviews based on review swaps. I’ll go on record and state that I did a few of them from September to December 2014. Since then, I have completely stopped reviewing books due to the numerous rip-off titles I was getting.

redflag Proofreading problems

If the author is someone who is fluent in English as a first language, the quality of authorship ranges from excellent to riddled with grammar and “spell checkitis.”

redflag Poor translating

Foreign authors may have run the manuscript through an online translator resulting in unintentionally hilarious reading. My favorite was the one about heating your soap over a “weak fire.”

redflag Offer FREE bonus or gift in the beginning of the book.

redflag Enticing cover photo of the product[s]

All book covers should be enticing, of course. However, a rip-off will be revealed if the featured product[s] recipe and photo aren’t included inside the eBook. For example, a stack of oatmeal soap on the cover, yet there is no oatmeal soap recipe in the rip-off title.

redflag NO sample other than a table of contents or a legal disclaimer. The reader has to purchase or borrow the book in order to read more because there’s no actual writing sample.

redflag If recipes are included, they may be in a mixture of ounces, grams, tablespoons and teaspoons, which is very confusing for the reader.

redflag No medical or legal disclaimer. No safety precautions.

redflag The name on the cover may be spelled differently than the name on the book’s Amazon page.

redflag Rip-off titles can be heavily promoted and reviewed by bloggers. Unlike non-KU titles that only earn 4% commission on each title sold, bloggers may get up to 8.5 % on KU titles sold and/or borrowed.

In order to avoid being ripped off, please use this article as a checklist.

Wanna swap book reviews?

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015

I’ve never been sought after as a book reviewer until I began posting on some Facebook book promotion groups. I’ve written book reviews in the past, but I don’t mention that on my website, blog or Facebook page. I also joined some groups where readers gave reviews. Soon I learned that 99% of those readers were also authors who needed their books reviewed. I was sent requests to swap reviews several times a day.

“Hi, are you interested for a review exchange?  My book is FREE on Kindle.”

“Hi Lisa, can we swap for your book? let me know. thanks”

“Hi Lisa, are you up for an honest review exchange? I have downloaded your book  and if you’ll give me a go signal then ill leave a positive review for your book. I have two books for free right now and ill appreciate if you”ll choose one for this.”

“Hi Lisa, I just downloaded your book.My book is also free today. Would you like to trade reviews?”

“Hey There, Would you be interested in doing an honest review exchange for some free books? I have 4 free books.”

“Hey would you be interested in an honest review swap? I have two free books today. Please download 1 or 2 and send me over your book (s) Free Books Only Today”

“Hi Lisa . Do you have 99c books for exchange reviews? Please let me know . Thanks!  Here’s my book :”

This is my latest request that I had to include as it’s so blatant. “Hi Lisa, I saw that you have an ebook available on Amazon – . I have one too, and I want to ask you if you want to exchange some reviews? I’ll buy your ebook and review it on Amazon with a 5 star and you’ll do the same with mine? Let me know if you are interested” 

Whenever I got one of those review swap requests, the first image that came to mind was this: grumpycat

Going by the casually written email examples, many of the free eBooks offered for review were of the same caliber. Worse than that, much of the information contained within the mercifully brief nonfiction titles could be found on Wikipedia and other online reference sites. 

I’m not saying that all nonfiction titles are scams, but the way you can tell if they are is to see if the author is an expert in their field. Have they written a soap making book and make and sell soap? If the book is about dieting and weight loss, have they utilized the diet plan they write about? I’ve discussed it in this post about shopping for soap making or bath & body products eBooks, but it applies to all nonfiction titles. 

What made me stop this quid pro quo review shenanigans? 1. I felt like I was at a certain vanity publisher’s message boards circa 2005 reading about authors asking other authors to buy and review their books. 2.  Review swaps aren’t appreciated at Amazon. 

So, I’m officially done with swapping, trading or exchanging eBook reviews. 

If you want to put a stop to review swaps, feel free to share this photo! 

grumpy cat says no to swapping book reviews