Ghostwriters and Passive Income Scams

Recently a would-be author reached out to me for help with marketing a book. I will call this writer Harry Potter.

Harry, an apparently successful professional, must have heard about ghostwritten ebooks as a great passive income stream.

I will guess that the Stormtroopers who contacted Harry with this proposal required Harry to provide a story premise. He signed a contract for three books at a cost of $10,000, payable in installments.

He paid the Stormtroopers $2000 and they required the next $2000 installment after the first book became a bestseller on Amazon. The next installment of $3000 would be due once Book 2 reached bestseller status, and finally the remaining $3000 when Book 3 attained its rank.

So Harry wanted guidance on how to better market his book, of which he has sold about 50 copies. I did not enquire whether these books were sold to friends, family, or strangers.

As marketing is not my strong skill, I had limited advice to offer. So I visited Harry’s sales page on Amazon to see what I could learn.

Some of the gaps I found:

  • An incomprehensible title
  • An amateurish book cover, apparently provided by the ghostwriting Stormtroopers
  • A blurb that did not read as if it were written by a native English speaker
  • No reviews
  • An odd price point
  • No categories selected, which I think ultimately saved this writer a lot of money.

Now Harry obviously hadn’t done his research, didn’t know that his books should be priced for each country’s market, didn’t’ have any knowledge of the relative costs of editing, proofreading, cover design, and advertising, which, if done properly, would have eaten up much of that original $2000 he spent.

But in this case, it can be hoped that Harry only lost $2000 instead of $10,000 because of his lack of knowledge. Because if he HAD selected good, specific categories, the sale of those 50 books would have resulted in an Amazon bestseller.

He would have made a pittance in comparison to his scammers, though. For a book priced at $3.99, an author makes up to a 70% royalty, minus a few other deductions. 

$3.99/book * 70% * 50 copies = $139.65

Per his contract, he would then owe the Stormtroopers the next installment. It is my belief, based on some quick web-searching, that the 50 copies purchased were likely bought by a group of Stormtroopers who spent $200 to make $2000. I have also seen that bots exist to prevent plagiarism detection, and other bots exist to design random text that generally makes sense. A team of Stormtroopers could even divide up and dictate some kind of rubbish related to the story premise enough to satisfy Harry. Possibly they could take a collection of pre-written scenes from another victim, change some critical details, and pass it off with Harry none the wiser.

Ultimately the most baffling part of my conversation with Harry was his insistence that his story was worthwhile and that he still stood to make money.

Honey, if it were that easy, we’d all be rich.

Now I will freely admit to not being the most tactful person, but I also hate to see people make avoidable and expensive mistakes.

But Harry was so convinced that absent a quality book, absent any advertising, that his “bestseller” was going to make his fortune. An Amazon bestseller, unfortunately, is not a New York Times bestseller.

If I were to hire a ghostwriter to put together a first draft, I would then put my own writing skills to use and rewrite the draft to sound like my writing voice. It does not appear that Harry did this or even planned to do this at any point, instead trusting the ghostwriter(s) to handle all of this for him.

As a personal point of pride, I also don’t know how I would feel about claiming that work product as my own.

Harry provided an idea, and a pretty thin one at that, for each of his three books. Anyone who has written a novel knows that there is a lot of plot that has to be developed beyond giving a character a name, a career, a history, a problem, and a love interest. There are many people who believe their ideas and their words are heaven-sent and unable to be further improved.

I am not one of those people, and I fall firmly in the “write a crappy first draft and fix it, then let someone else fix it.” Accepting criticism freely from people I trust allows me to share a quality work with strangers and not greatly fear their adverse reaction to my beloved story.

Harry, however, apparently believes that he has a chance to make money from books he’s buying from people who are clearly in it to make money from him. I can’t help people determined to believe a lie.

Magic, Monsters, and Mommy

When my kids woke up yesterday and discovered drink stirrers, they immediately morphed into wizards.

“Sssssss,” goes D. “You’re a frog, Mommy.”

Dutifully, I “ribbit, ribbit, ribbit,” from the pillows until he gets bored.

“Sssssss, you’re Mommy again.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I was getting hungry and didn’t want to eat flies.”

Then T gets in on the action. “Zap!” she says, brandishing her clear wand. “You’re a monster.”

“Sssssss,” D says. “Mommy.”

“No, turn her into a monster,” T insists.

“Sssssss,” D says, “you’re a monster.”

“ROAR!” Replete with a deepened voice, hands gripped like claws, and wide angry eyes, I morph into Monster Mommy.

The kids scream, T with surprise and D with some genuine fear. He hides behind his big sister and peeks out at me. After a moment, I offer them an unexpected ROAR again. D screams again and wraps his arms around his sister’s waist. T comforts him with an arm draped over his shoulder. It was a priceless, precious moment I’ll treasure as their mother, even if they did look a bit like these lemurs.

“You better turn me into a Mommy again if you want cuddles,” I warn.

“No, not yet,” says T, but D is ready. “Sssssss.” He climbs up to snuggle in bed with me while T tries to undo his work.

“Your wand doesn’t work anymore,” I tell her. “Only your brother’s does.” And then T climbs up to cuddle with me, too. Best start to the day ever.