Episode 59: Fakes, Phonies & Fraud Part 1.5

On September 7, we revisited the 8/31/2019 topic of scams and frauds. If that episode was a bit bumpy for you, don’t worry, this one is a bit more predictable. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Hoaxes, Frauds, and Scams Part 1.5


  • Last week’s episode was wonky and we were a little distracted…
  • Writers are vulnerable people
  • Hoaxes
  • Frauds
  • Self-Created Melodrama
police money finance funny
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Segment 1

What about hoaxes like A Million Little Pieces, the memoir of addiction that Oprah Winfrey made a bestseller and then had to have the author on the show to admit he’d made some of it up? There’s some defense called “surrogacy” that says just because the work isn’t 100% true, doesn’t make it untrue. Read more here.

Do we think memoir must be true?

What about biography?



Creative non-fiction?

Why does it matter if the story is completely true? Can a story ever be completely true?

So what’s the appeal of “literary fakes”? And why do people indulge them?

How important is authenticity and can we ever really achieve it?

Jessa Crispin writes:

“The publishing industry not only attracts but rewards these fraudsters in large numbers. It fetishizes and exploits so-called authentic experience, especially from marginalized populations, but its insularity and homogeneity makes it ill-equipped to detect fakery.”

During our film shows we talked about the “based on real events” and “based on a true story” appeals in our current marketplace. Can our sensationalizing of “real” things be a form of defacto credibility?

Crispin makes the case that the fraudulent memoirs all have something in common: a redemption sequence wherein the author has overcome these terrible circumstances to achieve success — at least literary success. She says we’re superficially comforted by the idea that storytelling, writing, can “rescue” someone.

The authors of the fraudulent memoirs she cites are all still working writers, one with an upcoming release from Simon & Schuster. 

Segment 2

Okay, finally in this conversation around “fraud” I want to address our friend Bonnie’s blog talking about counterfeit books sold on Amazon. 

According to the New York Times

“Amazon takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore, never checking the authenticity, much less the quality, of what it sells. It does not oversee the sellers who have flocked to its site in any organized way.

That has resulted in a kind of lawlessness. Publishers, writers and groups such as the Authors Guild said counterfeiting of books on Amazon had surged. The company has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue, they said, often taking action only when a buyer complains. Many times, they added, there is nowhere to appeal and their only recourse is to integrate even more closely with Amazon.”

Everything from Agatha Christie to recent award winners like Lauren Groff’s Florida and Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize winner Less has been summarized and duplicated on Amazon and the platform has no incentive to correct it. The business model for Amazon benefits from sales, even if those sales are of illegitimate product.

So whose job is it to police the quality of the work?

How should authors protect themselves and their work?

We all know writers who get crazy pants about copyright and plagiarism when they haven’t done anything yet. Bringing your work to workshop for feedback does not make you vulnerable to having your work stolen, okay?

Quick link on copyright info for writers. We won’t bore you with it but a ton of bloggers will.

Our pal Jane Friedman took this on in this blog. She says to remember that your ideas, while probably intriguing and unique, are not subject to protection under the law. So yes, if you share them, someone else might use them.

That said, according to Jane, “the chances that an agent, editor, critique partner, or stranger will a) steal your idea, b) execute it better than you, and c) AND be able to sell it are next to zero.”

Hear that? No one’s taking your idea about monkeys enslaved to fire t-shirt cannons at hockey arenas. So get over yourself.

Segment 3

Literary scams aren’t new. And, sadly, we’re not the only creatives who are victims for charlatans. 

This blog talks about the history including compelling similarities between a 1915 scam under the literary magazine name Blue Moon and a 2018 expose in the LA Times about a fraudster named Anna March who organized writer retreats that never happened (absconding with the money) and claimed literary credibility that impressed and made victims of even successful authors.

Here’s a link to some of those fraud publishing outlets you should avoid. Here’s a list of definitions for you on the publishing side:

  • Vanity Press — their revenue is not from book sales, it’s from selling their services to authors. Their editorial standards might be lower than a traditional press because they make just as much money off a flop as they do a successful book.
  • Hybrid Publisher — they’ll split the costs of production with you and ask for a smaller percentage of sales. 
  • Companies who will “publish you with Amazon” — self publishing means you’re doing it yourself; but there are companies who will do it for you for a fee.
  • Copyright and ISBN — these book identifiers and “protections” are sold by their licensing agencies, don’t pay a third party for them. ISBN will cost you $125 (roughly) and copyright $35

Questions to ask about the publisher:

  • How much do they charge authors in general for their 50% share of the editing and design costs? Compare this to market rates.
  • Do they have a track record of producing well-reviewed, successful books? Read/review their books.
  • Are there any hidden costs lying in wait? Talk to their authors.

What can you do if you’re just not sure?

  • Google it
  • Check with fellow authors
  • Be wary of unsolicited offers
  • Ask questions

Segment 4

Okay, Thursday way #pitmad on Twitter. So let’s talk about these digital “hype” things. Are they real? Are they silly? What will they do for you?

Hashtags you may find useful:

  • #pitmad — supposedly agents and publishers are trolling this hashtag on specific days of the year looking for new manuscripts. May or may not be worth it. Low effort, possible high reward if an agent hearts (or likes) your pitch tweet and asks to see the query.
  • #MSWL — this is the manuscript wish list hashtag that agents use to indicate what they’re looking for. It’s a good way to find an agent searching for that exact kind of book you’ve written. But you still have to go through the query process with them and that’s subjective as hell.
  • #FF — this is twitter-wide but Follow Friday is rampant in the #WritingCommunity because authors need a platform with “proven” attention and followers is an indicator. 
  • #WritingCommunity — this is a set of authors who “support” one another with retweets and follows. It’s a little bit like an artificial inflation since those writers are unlikely to buy and read your work, but it’s nice to be noticed and included.

When I first got online there was a Facebook “Like Me Back” thing where writers liked other writers to help them earn more social cred. I think building your following this way is artificial at best and faking it at worst.

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