Investigating Misconduct at Amazon

It’s no secret Amazon staffers play favorites when it comes to books and authors, or that the number of those affiliated with Amazon staffers who have become Kindle stars is excessively high. What’s not so well known are the tactics used to ensure certain books and authors succeed while others fail. While working at Amazon, our former Amazon insider saw these tactics employed firsthand.

Amazon is a company built around a search engine. The same search engine used to find products is used to feature products and control product display. Amazon staffers manipulate many aspects of the search engine every day from selecting which products appear in which features and which products don’t to determining which products are given higher precedence when a customer tries to find a product and which products aren’t.

Our former insider saw it all. Authors who were disliked or complained about issues at Amazon sites were punished. Their books were flagged, removed from features and listings or worse.

Tactics were used to push books of these authors so far down the listings no one would see them. One way to do this was to reset the sales data for the day, the week, the month or entirely. Another way to do this was to flag or remove reviews from an author’s books.

One of the ways B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars got ahead was to associate their books with top professionally published authors. For example, Hugh Howey entered Suzanne Collins, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan and other top author names as keywords for his Wool books, ensuring the books would be displayed in the search results whenever anyone searched for these top authors and their books. Thus, instead of his Wool books only being displayed in search results a few times a day, the Wool books were being displayed in search results thousands and thousands of times – and in some cases over 100,000 times a day.

The tactic is extremely unethical because customers were unwittingly being redirected from a book or author they were searching for to a book fraudulently inserted into search results. The tactic was so successful that scammers like B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars went from making a few dollars a day on sales to making thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a day. Meanwhile, the sales of the authors these cheats were scamming from went down dramatically.

In a series of secretive meetings between Kindle executives and various Kindle self-publishing stars from Hugh Howey to Amanda Hocking this tactic and others to get ahead of the system were often discussed and shared. Amazon staffers even rewrote the Kindle publishing rules to ban many of the practices discussed, while continuing to allow B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars to use them.

A key reason for this was the anti-trust litigation involving major publishers and Apple. The fact Amazon staffers were actively looking for ways to punish major publishers and their authors. The fact Amazon wanted its Kindle self-publishing program to dominate the market. Thus, Amazon staffers looked the other way and allowed a select group of authors cheat the system, while simultaneously punishing other authors who tried to use the same tactics.

Amazon and Others Purge Thousands of Fake Hugh Howey Ratings and Reviews

We’re pleased that Amazon and other sites have taken action, purging thousands of fake ratings and reviews from Hugh Howey’s books over the past few months. These purges do not go far enough, however. Hugh Howey has perpetrated a massive fraud. A fraud that is likely the largest in the history of publishing. A fraud is so massive and elaborate Hugh Howey makes “A Million Little Pieces” author James Frey look like a beloved saint.

As our reporting of Howey’s fraud grew traction, we noticed many of these early fake accounts began to quietly disappear. 387 disappeared over a two-month period in fact, largely we suspect due to Hugh Howey himself deleting the fake accounts to cover his tracks. To date, nearly a thousand such accounts have quietly disappeared in all. The more recent purges seem to be due to sites like Amazon identifying the fraud we’ve pointed out and taking action. Google Hugh Howey Fraud Zon Alert to see others who have joined our efforts to expose this fraudster.

The fact is Hugh Howey defrauded people the world over. His multilevel scams and schemes go back to his earliest works of Zombie fiction, most of which have been pulled from Amazon and other stores in recent months. Fortunately, Zon Alert researched, analyzed and catalogued every review of those works before Hugh Howey was able to completely cover his tracks.

Based on our analysis, every review of those early works was created using fake accounts. Fake accounts set up for the sole purpose of promoting Hugh Howey. Not only did the fake accounts write multiple reviews of Hugh Howey’s self-published works, they also mentioned Hugh Howey in other reviews they wrote, in Listmania lists, in So You’d Like to guides and on customer discussion forums.

It was from those reviews that we, along with the Amazon insider on our team, were able to track and identify hundreds of similar fake accounts used by Hugh Howey to promote his self-published works and act as his own fan club.

During a period of time from early 2009 to mid 2012, Hugh Howey created fake accounts daily until he had amassed thousands of accounts. To date, Zon Alert has identified over 3,500 accounts created during this time period and used to promote Hugh Howey. Not just at Amazon or Goodreads but at sites across the net. If there is a site where people talk about books Hugh Howey and his fake accounts were there to talk up his books.

These accounts numbering in the thousands pre-date any actual or legitimate following of Wool and yet they were all talking up and promoting Hugh Howey. Point of fact:
Wool 1 was published July 30, 2011
Wool 2 was published Nov 30, 2011
Wool 3 was published Dec 4, 2011
Wool 4 was published Dec 25, 2011
Wool 5 was published Jan 14, 2012
Wool Omnibus was published Jan 25, 2012

And yet fake accounts were talking up Hugh Howey from early 2011 on and the numbers grew until they encompassed nearly all of the fake accounts Hugh Howey set up by December 2011.

The scale of the fraud suggests Hugh Howey didn’t act alone and likely enlisted his wife and others in the scheme. In analyzing the writing styles used, there seems to be a few regular tropes like the teen who doesn’t use proper grammar, the soccer mom whose kids loved it too, the bibliophile who supposedly reads a hundred books a year but has never read anything so great. Underneath the standard tropes though what’s being said is clearly orchestrated, organized and planned. Often it’s the same message, just with slightly different wording, even when what are supposedly a few different people are espousing the virtues of Howey.

Something else we encountered but didn’t understand until recently was how Howey’s fake accounts were used to attack other authors. At first we thought this was just something that happened randomly but as we tracked the accounts and the attacks a larger pattern emerged.

A pattern of reinforcing his self-manufactured negativity was the most involving. Certain accounts were used to write bad reviews of the authors’ books. Others were used to reinforce the negativity. They added negative comments or discussions that were in turn voted up or reinforced by yet more Hugh Howey accounts.

A standard treatment was to use his multiple accounts to write reviews complaining about bad grammar, spelling mistakes and such about how poorly written a book was. Next, he’d use other accounts to make comments or discussions thanking the unhappy reviewers for saving them from buying the book.

Essentially, it was open season on any author who could possibly be considered a Howey competitor and just as often any author Howey seemed to dislike for whatever reason.

It’s time this fraud ended. Google Hugh Howey Fraud Zon Alert and send the results to sites where Hugh Howey continues to operative his scams and schemes.

Writers Beware: Joining World Literary Café May Irreparably Damage Your Career

It’s widely known author Melissa Foster is not a nice person. We’ve alerted readers to her numerous fraudulent practices from fake awards to fake reviews to buying her way onto bestseller lists. Readers of this blog know she is a cheat and a liar who will do and say anything to con others into buying her awful books.

As if the endless flood of tweets and posts about love, helping others and caring from such a truly despicable person weren’t enough, we’ve received disturbing reports about Melissa Foster’s World Literary Café. Apparently a number of authors who joined World Literary Café found themselves suddenly on the receiving end of floods of animosity that could only have one source: Melissa Foster herself.

These authors had one thing in common: They wrote in genres where Foster or Friends of Foster also wrote.

What happened? The authors started receiving odd, hateful reviews. Mostly the reviews were 1 or 2 star reviews filled with vitriol. Largely, these vitriol-filled reviews attacked any of the books strength and lied about the books supposedly needing editing, having bad formatting, blank pages or such. Sometimes the reviews were 3 or 4 stars but were written in such a way as to make readers not want to buy the books. These odd reviews continued and spread until sales of the books were damaged enough to fall out of competition with Foster or Friend of Foster books.

Sound like our least favorite hustler Melissa Foster? Blowing sunshine while secretly lashing out? You know it.

How many authors wrote in? 32 so far. The odd, hateful reviews were the least of it. Melissa Foster and Friends of Foster used their contacts at sites like Amazon and Goodreads to make false claims against the authors that resulted in all sorts of nastiness.

One of the authors who knew a Goodreads employee investigated and was forwarded 4 emails sent to Goodreads by Melissa Foster herself. In the emails, Foster made false claims about how the named authors writing their own reviews, having friends and family write their reviews or such.
Sound familiar? It should. Those fraudulent practices are employed by Melissa Foster and Friends of Foster to ensure their books are continually flooded with favorable reviews.

Does the finger pointing work? Apparently it does. More than half of the authors who were attacked in such ways by Foster and Friends of Foster eventually gave up writing. Others were forced to remove their books from sale.

The authors who wrote in had some words of advice for anyone who might be enticed by the eternal sunshine gushing out of Melissa Foster’s backside. The overwhelming sentiment? Don’t walk away, run. Avoid Foster and Friends of Foster at all costs.

Sickened by this? Take action. Make sure others know about the fraud of Melissa Foster and other cheating authors we’ve exposed here.

Melissa Foster Joins Hugh Howey in Buying Her Way Onto New York Times and USA Today Bestseller Lists

ResultSource is one of many companies offering to help authors buy their way onto New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists. ResultSource was outed by The Wall Street Journal in The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike,
How Are Some Authors Landing On Best-Seller Lists? They’re Buying Their Way
.

After you read The Wall Street Journal article google “authors buying their way onto bestseller lists” for an even more eye-opening experience. As also told by The Wall Street Journal, a growing number of author frauds are buying their way onto the New York Times Bestseler List and USA Today Bestseller List, including Hugh Howey and Melissa Foster.

Soren Kaplan purchased about 2,500 books through ResultSource, paying about $22 a book, including shipping, for a total of about $55,000, to buy his way onto the bestseller lists. He also paid a few of $20,000 to $30,000 to ResultSource for a total cost of $75,000 to $85,000.

Unlike Soren Kaplan, Joseph Michelli and other authors mentioned in the article, who aren’t wizards at gaming the system and easily got caught when their sales skyrocketed and then plunged, Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey know how to game the system and play every angle.

Hugh Howey was the first to play this game when he starting buying his way onto bestseller lists in 2009. Unlike Soren Kaplan who did a one-time $75,000 – $85,000 book buying campaign for his own $22 books, Hugh Howey priced his books at .99 and had his paid buyers buy them primarily through Amazon.com. This ensured Hugh Howey would quickly become a Kindle Superstar and an author Amazon was sure to start hyping.

As with all things Hugh Howey, there were multiple levels to his fraudulent scheme. He knew not to do a one-time buy or to use only one ResultSource-like company. Instead, he purchased the services of multiple “bestseller marketing service” companies and he used their services multiple times to create steady streams of sales. Meanwhile, he also created demand for his books by buying thousands of paid endorsements, mostly in the form of reviews.

Ultimately, Hugh Howey’s $50,000 buying spree translated into 500,000 sales for the first installment in his Wool series and a movie deal that is sure to make him a multi-millionaire.

In November 2013, Melissa Foster began following in Hugh Howey’s footsteps. Playing the game to not get caught she started buying the services of multiple “bestseller marketing service” companies. Like Hugh Howey, Melissa Foster also buys paid endorsements, mostly in the form of reviews, to help create demand.

By February 2014, Melissa Foster hit pay dirt when her schemes landed her on both the New York Times Bestseler List and USA Today Bestseller List.

How long will scammers like Hugh Howey and Melissa Foster keep at it? Until real readers get fed up and take action.

See also:

http://kindlereadersbeware.wordpress.com/

http://shame-on-you.webs.com/

http://freport.wix.com/tagged

http://five-report.blogspot.com/

Thumbs Down Author List

Below is a list of authors about which we have received the largest number of complaints regarding unethical practices or about whom, based on documentation, are the most unethical authors. Every author listed has been identified as using many of the following unethical practices:

1. Sockpuppets – including fake users and identities created by the author, friends of author, or associates of the author for the purpose of promoting the author through reviews, discussions, and other commentary.

2. Paid reviews – including reviews purchased from paid review companies, such as Fiverr.com, GettingBookReviews, Craigslist, and others.

3. Paid endorsements – including endorsements and celebrity endorsements bought from Buysellads.com and others.

4. Traded reviews – including reviews traded between authors whether as favors, kickbacks, referrals, or otherwise.

5. Swapped endorsements  – including endorsements swapped between authors whether as favors, kickbacks, referrals, or otherwise.

6. Compensated reviews – including reviews bought with promises of remuneration or gifts, such as gift cards given to readers for reviews or merchandise give to readers for reviews, including free kindles.

7. Fake fans or street teams – including paid promoters, friends, family and acquaintances who act as fans and are used to create fake buzz for the author.

8. Misrepresented associations – including authors who repeatedly and habitually misrepresent their associations with author friends they praise publicly.

As we update this list from time, be sure to check back periodically. The list begins with the most egregious offenders:

Hugh Howey – Hugh Howey is the only author, based on documentation, identified as using every unethical practice listed above. Hugh Howey is quite possibly the most notorious author fraud, having purchased thousands of reviews and having used paid promotion teams extensively to act as fake fans.

Melissa Foster – Melissa Foster has the dubious distinction of being the queen of fake writing awards and the only author for which we considered creating an all new category: fake awards.

David Dalglish – David Dalglish has the dubious distinction of quite possibly being the most hateful author alive as he regularly purchases reviews to trash other authors.

 

A M Hargrove
A Meredith Walters
Aaron Pogue
Alle Wells
Amanda Hocking
Ann Swann
B V Larson
Bella Forrest
Blake Crouch
C C Cole
Carolyn Arnold
Cassia Leo
Cege Smith
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Cheryl Kaye Tardiff
Collette Scott
D A Graystone
D Ryan Leask
Daniel Arenson
David A Wells
Debora Geary
Dixie Goode
E L Lindley
Edie Claire
Emma Chase
Erica Stevens
Frederick Lee Brooke
Gail McHugh
H M Ward
Hugh Howey
J S Scott
Jasinda Wilder
Jay Allan
Jennifer Probst
Jessica Sorensen
Jillian Dodd
Joanna Lee Doster
John Locke
K Bromberg
K J Bennett
Karen Vaughan
Kenneth Hoss
Kerry Reis
L J Kentowski
Linda Hawley
Linda S Prather
Lorena Angell
M R Mathias
M Todd Gallowglas
Mallory Monroe
Marni Mann
Mary Campisi
Matthew Mather
Melinda Leigh
Michael G Manning
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Rachel Dover
Rebecca Forster
Rick Bylina
Rick Soper
Robert Pruneda
Rosie Cochran
Ryk Brown
Sandy Wolters
Stephanie Lisa Tara
T R Harris
Tarryn Fisher

This list may not be reproduced without permission.

 

 

The Epic Fraud of Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey buys fake reviews from Fiverr.com and many other places. In reviewing Hugh Howey’s Amazon reviews, it was easy to spot the many thousands of fake reviews, even with the many deceptive practices reviewers were using to seem legitimate, such as supposed real names and verified purchases.   Because it’s cheaper to buy short reviews, most of Hugh Howey’s fake reviews are often short, about 50 words as this is one of the lowest price points for buying fake reviews. These short fake reviews don’t really say anything about the book. The fake reviews are there only as online endorsements to get people to buy a book.

Because it’s essential that five-star reviews line the first page, real reader reviews are pushed down as fast as possible. Hugh Howey does this by not only buying reviews but by using influencers to get others to write reviews. Hugh Howey relies as much on influencers as he does review-for-hire writers.

The Hugh Howey influencer scam works like this. Hugh Howey provides incentives for friends, family, and associates to promote Hugh Howey. Cash mostly but also mentions in his blog, write ins for discussion groups, promises to recommend to his publisher and agent, and on and on. The job of the influencers is not to talk about Hugh Howey but to get other people talking about and mentioning Hugh Howey.

“The Joneses” movie shows how scams like this work and Hugh Howey is a pro at this scam. If you’ve ever been on a discussion board, on Facebook, on Twitter or anywhere where someone out of the blue works Hugh Howey’s name or his books into the discussion you’ve encountered this scam. The mentions are designed to seem real but are anything but. The mentions are bought and paid for with cash, with promises, and with Hugh Howey being a few levels removed from the scam.

Influencers also are used to get people writing reviews of Hugh Howey books. As most of the influencers have established themselves at major discussion boards and sites like Goodreads and Amazon, it’s easy for them to work their scam to get discussions turned to Hugh Howey and his books. They also try to work Hugh Howey’s name into the discussion title so his name is seen even if you don’t get suckered into participating in the influenced discussion.

The massive fraud of Hugh Howey and how he was outed for fake reviews has been widely talked about. The fraud of Hugh Howey is so massive it doesn’t just involve a few fake review or even a few hundred, it involves thousands of fake reviews.

One of the places Hugh Howey bought fake reviews was from Gettingbookreviews.com, a company outed by the New York Times as a review-for-hire company. According to the New York Times, Gettingbookreviews.com was paid to write 4,531 reviews for authors.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The massive number of fake reviews for Hugh Howey’s books is staggering and it would seem that a significant portion of his earnings go to buying fake reviews. Even more disturbing is the fact that buying fake reviews isn’t Hugh Howey’s only fraudulent tactic. Fake reviews are just the beginning.

 

The Crazed Antics of Cheating Authors

For several weeks, Zon Alert bloggers have tracked the crazed antics of the cheating authors we’ve identified as they attempted to deny any wrongdoing. If we didn’t have full understanding of how these authors operated before, we sure do now. These authors have been working overtime to cover their tracks, to try to discredit Zon Alert and The Fiverr Report.

We’ve seen and heard it all. Every excuse you can think of. These authors and their associates have tried it. The velocity, snark, and feigned outrage has Zon Alert bloggers imagining these authors and their associates as red-faced children telling their teachers the family dog ate their homework. Frequently though it’s more like some five-year-old girl saying “That’s right Johnny did it, Mom. It wasn’t me. I’m your little angel.”

There’s a simple litmus test to distinguish between real writing awards and fake writing awards. Real writing awards are highly selective and have few award recipients. Fake writing awards aren’t selective but hand out awards aplenty.

Real writing awards don’t hand out awards to 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 so-called winners. Fake writing awards do.

Real writing awards don’t let authors enter their books in as many years and categories as they can pay for.  Fake writing awards do.

Fake writing awards come from award factories. Award factories are cash cows for those who operate them.

One of the many illegitimate awards we’ve identified is the Beach Book award. Beach Book award is run by an outfit out of California that allows an author to enter as many books as they want for as many years as they want as long as they pay $50 for each book entered. The same company runs 17 identical award programs with different names:

Green Book award
Hollywood Book award
San Francisco Book award
Beach Book award
Paris Book award
New York Book award
New England Book award
DIY Book award
London Book award
Halloween Book award
Los Angeles Book award
Great Northwest Book award
Great Southwest Book award
Great Southeast Book award
Southern California Book award
Animals, Animals, Animals Book award
Great Midwest Book award

There’s even a multiple entry form that allows cheating authors like Melissa Foster to enter a book in all 17 award programs at the same time.

The worst fake award factory is Reader’s Favorite, an award cheating author Melissa Foster has numerous fake awards from. Reader’s Favorite has awards in 100 categories and gives out over 500 fake awards every year.

In each of the 100 categories, Reader’s Favorite has four winners each calendar year: Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable mention. Reader’s Favorite also gives out awards to so-called finalists, so there’s a Finalist award as well. In our research of the award years 2009 to 2012 we couldn’t find any book that was entered that wasn’t a gold, silver, bronze, honorable mention, or finalist medal winner. Even if that meant there were 4 so-called finalists along with the 4 so-called winners in each category.

Talk about incentive to keep entering year after year. No wonder cheating authors like Melissa Foster keep entering books in this contest year after year.

One of the more laughable claims we’ve seen professing how fake awards like these are real is this one: “My award isn’t fake. My entry fee I paid was real. Real enough for you?” But of course the entry fee was real. Award factories are getting rich from authors who want to cheat.

Another more laughable claim we’ve seen professing how fake awards like these are real is this one: “The winner gets $1500 and a trip to Chicago. How’s that for fake? Look it’s a real award.” We’re sure a so-called winner gets a trip to Chicago and $1500.  The award factories try hard to seem legit. Giving out a few thousand in prize money is nothing after taking in $100,000.