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.

 

 

Just how much fakery does one author need?

Self-published Carolyn Arnold has been busy but her more than 200 fake Amazon reviews are the tip of an iceberg.  We also tracked Arnold’s dubious activities on other sites, connecting friends and authors that Carolyn Arnold frequently talked to on social media to the reviews they were writing to push sales of her books.

Arnold had no fear of being caught. She was so brazen about her activities she openly discussed them and gave pointers to authors who wanted to follow along. A huge contrast from Melissa Foster who expressly tried to keep her activities hidden and quiet while she traded and bought her way to many hundreds of reviews.

However, an odd Arnold tactic had Zon Alert bloggers temporarily confused. Several times we noticed reviews of Arnold’s books had disappeared. These reviews were ones written by close associates whose activities we also were tracking, like Carmen Desousa, Ashley Fontainne, Collette Scott, Richard Hale, Ann Swann, Kirkus MacGowan, and Zach Fortier.

At first we thought perhaps Amazon had caught on to Arnold’s tactics and was removing reviews. There were rumors going around that Amazon was in fact removing reviews being traded between authors as it was and remains a widespread known problem. These disappearing reviews didn’t seem to be part of that. Instead they were reviews Arnold friends had written of all or many Arnold books, usually some of the first reviews written of a book in fact. To Zon Alert bloggers, it appeared they were trying to cover their tracks, to make their dubious activities less obvious.

Disappearing reviews is something we found on Goodreads too. Again it was older reviews, usually some of the first reviews written of an Arnold book, that were disappearing. Based on what we saw, we believe Carolyn Arnold used the early reviews by close associates as fodder to get even more reviews out of other associates. When these early reviews were no longer needed, they were removed.

As we discussed previously, tracking Carolyn Arnold led us to closed groups on various sites where Arnold and others traded tactics and made plans, such as for writing reviews of each others books on Amazon, rating each other on Goodreads, becoming each others fans on Goodreads, voting up favorable reviews, voting down or reporting unfavorable reviews.

Members also would get their friends and family members to review other members books.

Authors who reviewed Carol Arnold’s books on Goodreads and were members of these groups

A M Hargrove http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5338829.A_M_Hargrove

Alle Wells http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5030886.Alle_Wells

Ann Swann http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5420711.Ann_Swann

C C Cole http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4038165.C_C_Cole

Cege Smith http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5329790.Cege_Smith

Collette Scott http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4929698.Collette_Scott

D A Graystone http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5089051.D_A_Graystone

D Ryan Leask http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4874901.D_Ryan_Leask

Dixie Goode http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4418209.Dixie_Dawn_Miller_Goode

E L Lindley http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5753702.E_L_Lindley

Frederick Lee Brooke http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4856232.Frederick_Lee_Brooke

Joanna Lee Doster http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/461445.Joanna_Lee_Doster

K J Bennett http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5300157.K_J_Bennett

Karen Vaughan http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1378692.Karen_Vaughan

Kenneth Hoss http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4897439.Kenneth_Hoss

Kerry Reis http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis

L J Kentowski http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5382939.L_J_Kentowski

Linda Hawley http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4868074.Linda_Hawley

Linda S Prather http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1031821.Linda_S_Prather

Lorena Angell http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4976775.Lorena_Angell

M Todd Gallowglas http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4883304.M_Todd_Gallowglas

Marni Mann http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5400988.Marni_Mann

Melinda Leigh http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5141609.Melinda_Leigh

Pamela Fagan Hutchins http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/682431.Pamela_Fagan_Hutchins

Rachel Dover http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5831003.Rachel_Dove

Rick Bylina http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5157782.Rick_Bylina

Rick Soper http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6872897.Rick_Soper

Robert Pruneda http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/967521.Robert_Pruneda

Rosie Cochran http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3314072.Rosie_Cochran

Sandy Wolters http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4772120.Sandy_Wolters

As parts of these operations are much like pyramid schemes, there are varying levels of activities. Authors at the bottom of these schemes, like Carolyn Arnold and Melissa Foster, recruit new authors to the top of the scheme. The authors at the bottom of the scheme became increasingly successful, the others not so much as you’ll see if you examine the links provided.

Based on our findings and tracking of Carolyn Arnold’s activities, we found the following on Goodreads. Arnold recruited friends to write reviews, give ratings, and add books to their shelves.

57 of 72  reviews of Ties That Bind were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

172 of 193 ratings of Ties That Bind were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

577 of 589 people who “added” Ties That Bind to their shelves were fake, from the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

20 of 23  reviews of Eleven were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

59 of 65 ratings of Eleven were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

94 of 99 people who “added” Eleven to their shelves were fake, from the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

6 of 7  reviews of Justified were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

37 of 41 ratings of Justified were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

74 of 78 people who “added” Justified to their shelves were fake, from the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

14 of 17  reviews of Pearls of Deception were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

29 of 36 ratings of Pearls of Deception were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

60 of 63 people who “added” Pearls of Deception to their shelves were fake, from the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

7 of 7  reviews of Sacrifice were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

22 of 27 ratings of Sacrifice were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

51 of 56 people who “added” Sacrifice to their shelves were fake, from the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

6 of 11  reviews of Assassination of a Dignitary were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

12 of 20 ratings of Assassination of a Dignitary were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

62 of 67 people who “added” Assassination of a Dignitary to their shelves were fake, from the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

If these numbers are enough to churn stomachs, wait till our eye-popping Melissa Foster research and accompanying Melissa Foster Report are published.

Please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

Crime Author Criminal: Carolyn Arnold

Earlier we blogged about the fake reviews of Carolyn Arnold on Amazon but those 200 fake reviews are the tip of the iceberg. Carolyn Arnold’s dubious practices are plentiful.

Before we get started, please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

In the descriptions of her books, in her bio and on her personal sites, self-published Carolyn Arnold often adds gushing praise written by the same author friends with whom she swaps reviews.  Arnold  prominently lists that a book was selected as one of the Top 12 fiction books of 2011. The phrasing changes from time to time and currently reads

“Arnold’s imagination and attention to detail do not leave any loose ends. Exciting.”
–MIAMI BOOKS EXAMINER’S “Top 12 Fiction Books of 2011” list.

Reading this you might think this is a legitimate review source but upon examination you’ll see it’s just one more dubious practice in Arnold’s long con game. Examiner.com is a site where freelancers can share about anything. The site has over 100,000 freelancers who contribute, most of which aren’t paid anything. They are unpaid bloggers.

Miami Books Examiner is the tagline of one of the bloggers, just as another blogger is The Hunger Games Examiner. Miami Books Examiner is in fact the tagline for Rosa St.Claire, a friend of an Arnold friend.

Oddly enough, Arnold’s book actually isn’t even one of the Top 12 in the list as implied. Her book is part of an additional “special recommendation” section.

Using fake review sources seems to be a tactic used by others Arnold was swapping reviews with. These sources are made to sound legitimate but don’t hold up upon examination. Not much different from the way Carolyn Arnold misappropriates the name of the legitimate children’s author of the same name, often trying to use the other author’s reputation and accomplishments as her own.

Whether pen name or real name, misuse of another author’s name is a tactic of Arnold and her author friends. More on this in upcoming posts.

When Authors Have No Shame: Carmen DeSousa

Tracking the questionable activities of Carolyn Arnold led us to many other authors using the same shameful tactics. One of these authors is Carmen DeSousa whose reviews were written by some of the same “friends” as Carolyn Arnold. Carmen DeSousa’s deceptive reviewers were much harder to track however, as the reviewers weren’t as overt.

What we found with Carmen DeSousa were reviewers who were more sophisticated. They understood how to game the system, how to try to blend in. Instead of using more easily tracked full names, these reviewers tended to use first names or pen names, so we found reviewers like Bubba’s Mom & Dad, Romance Reader, WiLoveBooks, Kim Pitbull123, Amy R, TomTer7, MyKindle, London Fog, Peace, and Nancy of Utah who wrote review after review for Carmen DeSousa.

Plenty of author friends and friend friends who openly wrote reviews too

Ashley Fontainne

Karen DeLabar

Jaime Rush

Ann Mullen

Christine Steendam

Rebecca Neilsen

Robert Lee Carey Jr

Ruthie Derby

Linda Giron

Rachel Jorgensen

Teresa Cypher

Shaunna Rodriguez

Orlando Ramos

Rick Gillispie

Marilou George

Dr. S Drecker

If you took a look at Carolyn Arnold’s reviews, you probably recognize many of these names. They wrote fake reviews for Carolyn Arnold too.

Like Carolyn Arnold, Carmen DeSousa is friends with several of the top-ranked reviewer shills. But another reason DeSousa’s questionable reviews were difficult to track to source was that DeSousa made use of a few new “review” networks we hadn’t encountered before like a romance blogger network, which was run by romance writers and where these writers swapped feature posts and interviews with each other like cigarettes.

Based on our findings, we found the following on Amazon

91 of 102 reviews of She Belongs to Me were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

10 of 10 reviews of Entangled Dreams were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

18 of 21 reviews of Land of the Noonday Sun were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

12 of 12 reviews of Split Decisions were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

7 of 7 reviews of When Noonday Ends were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

33 of 34 reviews of The Depot were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

37 of 39 reviews of The Pitstop were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

More on how fake blogs are being used in future posts.

The Many Faces of Self-published Carolyn Arnold

The biggest fake review scams we discovered in our research also are  some of the first we came across. The impetus for this blog in fact was a book by self-published Carolyn Arnold called Ties That Bind. The book was by far the worst book one of our member bloggers had ever read but was being praised to the heavens by reviewers on Amazon.  Not just in a few reviews either, but in so many reviews it boggled the mind. In fact, all of Carolyn Arnold’s books were being similarly praised, though upon reading they were all terrible.

What we were able to determine with extensive sleuthing is that reviews largely were written by author friends of Carolyn Arnold. Friends that Carolyn Arnold frequently talked to on social media. Carolyn Arnold was so brazen about her unethical tactics she openly discussed them on social media. She even gave pointers to authors who want to commit similar acts.

We tracked the activities of Carolyn Arnold for some time and it led us to a large group of authors who were each others fans and reviewers. Tracking Carolyn Arnold led us to closed groups on various sites where Arnold and others traded tactics and made plans, such as for writing reviews of each others books on Amazon, rating each other on Goodreads, becoming each others fans on Goodreads, voting up favorable reviews, voting down or reporting unfavorable reviews.

Members also would get their friends and family members to review other members books. It’s how many of the members got hundreds of reviews.

Authors who reviewed Carol Arnold’s books and were members of these groups

Collette Scott
Betty Dravis
Richard Hale
Joanna Lee Doster
D A Graystone
Ashley Fontainne
Sandy Wolters
Zach Fortier
Stacy Eaton
Carmen DeSousa
Jennifer Chase
Todd Bush
Kenneth Hoss
Ann Swann
J A Hunsinger
Karen DeLabar
Kirkus MacGowan
Linda Hawley

All these authors have dozens or hundreds of fake reviews too and will be discussed in future posts.

Based on social media posts we were able to identify friends that Carolyn Arnold engaged with frequently, who also wrote reviews and acted as her fan base

Richard Goodship
Sherry Buikema
Sheilagh Lee
Andrew Butters
D L Atkinson
April Plummer
Karen Vaughan
Brooke Frederick
Patricia Robinson
Glenda Bixler
Debbie Grimes
Tina Samuels
Robyn Ryan
Vicki Hancock
L Smith
Joe Wilcox
Katie Jennings
Michael Stedman
Darlene Langley

Based on our findings and tracking of Carolyn Arnold’s activities, we found the following on Amazon

124 of 143 reviews of Ties That Bind were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

61 of 68 reviews of Eleven were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

31 or 38 reviews of Justified were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

28 of 30 reviews of Sacrifice  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

29 of 32 reviews of Assassination of a Dignitary  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

5 of 5 reviews of Hart’s Choice  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

10 of 10 reviews of Rings of a Tree  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

We’ll have more on Carolyn Arnold, these authors, and fake reviews in upcoming articles.

Please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

Why are paid reviews unethical?

When we started our research into paid reviews, we severely underestimated how widespread the problem was.  Paid reviews are on Amazon, Goodreads, Angie’s List, and elsewhere.

Paid reviews are reviews authors and others offering goods or services pay to receive. Payment can be in cash, goods or services. Paid reviews bought with cash are the most common. Less common are reviews bought with an exchange of goods and services. Often with paid reviews there is an unspoken understanding the purchased reviews will be supportive, even if somewhat critical.

Paid reviews differ from legitimate review sources that charge fees in several important ways. With legitimate review sources, such as Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly, someone pays a fee to have a recognized source read and review the good or service and gets one and only one review from that recognized source. The review comes specifically from that source and doesn’t appear to be a  review from a consumer. The review may be good or bad.

With paid review companies, the buyer can purchase as many reviews as they want. If the buyer wants 50 reviews, they can buy 50 reviews. Every review will appear to have been written by a consumer who purchased the product or service. Some companies, such as Fiverr where one of our member bloggers worked undercover for two years, allow people to buy reviews for as little as $5. For an extra fee the company will ensure the reviewers buy the product and are verified.

In our research, we expected to find a few companies offering such services but we found there were dozens. Our marketing expert also found professional marketing companies were ensuring products and services were reviewed as part of their marketing packages. This was where we found that practice of payment in goods and services to be especially prevalent. The most common form of non-cash payment was the gift card where consumers were paid in gift cards for writing reviews.

We found authors giving gift cards to readers for the same purpose. Readers were given gift cards to purchase an author’s book, accompanied by either a direct or implied request to review the book.

In a similar vein, we found many authors offering kindles to readers for reviews and ratings. During our research, we tracked groups of authors who had monthly or weekly kindle giveaways for readers who wrote reviews and rated their books. During the tracked period, some of these authors garnered hundreds of ratings and reviews from this highly unethical practice.

What is a troll?

Trolls were one of many unexpected things we learned about in our research into unethical tactics and fake reviews. In the context of online discussions, a troll isn’t a mythical monster or a child’s creation rather a troll is someone with ill intentions.

Trolls make outrageous claims. Trolls start online fights by saying hurtful things. Trolls attack others with words. Trolls do this to get a reaction. The stronger the reaction, the better, as far as trolls are concerned. Trolls do this because they want to get people angry. Trolls want to cause damage. Trolls want to cause harm.

With regard to books and authors, trolls often are the ones writing spurious commentary and reviews. Trolls do this to take down certain authors while promoting others. Trolls are plentiful at Amazon and Goodreads. They’re also present at Angie’s List.

It might surprise you to learn there are professional trolls. Professional trolls come in a few different varieties. Some work in marketing where their goal is to push a brand, book or author while devaluing another brand, book or author. Our resident marketing expert spent over a year tracking professional trolls before she stumbled upon the worst of the worst in professional trolling: hacker trolls.

Hacker trolls are different from most other trolls. They’re around to cause severe damage, promote extreme agendas, and do absolute harm while gaining recognition for their exploits. The more harm they cause, the higher the likelihood they will be accepted at certain closed sites and chat rooms where hacker trolls exchange stories, build their reps by detailing their exploits, and exchange tactics and ideas.

A clear warning: Stay away from dedicated hacker trolls. These trolls destroy lives and livelihoods for enjoyment.