We want to thank the millions who have visited Zon Alert and Fiverr Report, and the countless thousands who have thanked us for exposing Fiverr and working with Amazon to bring them down. Our work would not have been possible without our founder Harvey Chute. Harvey was devastated by the widespread fraud he saw while operating KBoards.com. He wanted this to be his legacy and we’ve worked to ensure that happened. As the criminal investigations continue against those named here, our work is not done.
Zon Alert members have identified dozens of fraudsters at Amazon. The worst offenders are listed below on the Do Not Buy List.
Where’s Zon Been?
Zon Alert has been on extended hiatus as our founding member was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and passed away September 25, 2015. Although Zon went quiet out of our deep respect for him and his struggle, it also is our respect for him that makes us want to continue his work. Though we no longer have access to the resources of his boards, the private member discussions or internal Amazon access for our deepest research, we will endeavor on to work toward revealing truth.
Another reason for our return is that another of our founding members, a retired DC PD detective, is working to get an attempted murder indictment against Melissa Foster for her role in paying someone to attack a writer she was at odds with. The vicious attack left the writer crippled and without a means to support herself or her family.
The Do Not Buy List
Authors on this list have been identified as having conducted extensive fraud.
A M Hargrove
A Meredith Walters
B V Larson
C C Cole
Cheryl Kaye Tardiff
D A Graystone
D Ryan Leask
David A Wells
Dr. S Drecker
E L Lindley
Frederick Lee Brooke
H M Ward
J A Hunsinger
J A Konrath
J S Scott
Joanna Lee Doster
L J Kentowski
Linda S Prather
Linda S Prather
M R Mathias
M Todd Gallowglas
Michael G Manning
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
R J Palacio
Robert Lee Carey Jr
Stephanie Lisa Tara
T R Harris
Hugh Howey hired PR teams to create a media frenzy around the fact that he “sold” a million copies of Wool. As we’ve discussed, Howey reached that number through many scams and schemes but the biggest scheme involved him chopping the completed 500-page Wool into 5 pieces and “selling” each separately, with Wool 1 being only about 50 pages.
After Wool, Howey scaled back the scam and it wasn’t until more recent precipitous declines in sales that he returned to the scheme, publishing Sand 1, Sand 2, Sand 3, Sand 4 and Sand 5 in rapid succession before releasing the full work.
Starting with a completed novel, dividing it up into pieces and publishing the pieces significantly inflates Hugh Howey’s numbers. When these pieces are given away and counted as “sold”, they inflate Hugh Howey’s numbers even more.
To date, the pieces have “sold” several million copies, with fully half of the pieces being given away yet counted as “sold”. Meanwhile, actual sales of the full works, are a tiny fraction of the whole.
The scheme though is so lucrative Howey, his fakes and his associates go after anyone releasing serial fiction, even those legitimately releasing serial fiction as they write, as opposed to Howey’s finishing a novel and then chopping it into pieces to inflate sales numbers.
The odd, derogatory reviews that often become personal attacks on serial fiction writers are easy enough to find. Odder still is that you’ll be hard pressed to find any such reviews of Howey’s piece-meal works. What you’ll find instead are the glowing praises of Howey’s fakes and associates.
Help us spread the word about this fraud. Google Hugh Howey Fraud. Tell others.
Our investigation into Hugh Howey continues. “Hugh Howey” self-published his first book as Hugh Howey in 2009. The effort was a complete failure, though highly rated by Howey’s fake accounts and bought mostly by friends and relatives badgered into buying.
With sales in the single digits, Howey kept writing, using his fake accounts to sing his own praises wherever anyone would listen. Despite his fakery and deceptive practices, his zombie fiction and other early works published between 2009 and 2011 remained complete failures. Read by few, with no one but Hugh Howey himself talking about them.
Increasingly bitter and angry, Hugh Howey used his fakes to target other authors, especially ones who seemed successful. In particular, Howey seemed to be set off by anyone talking about their sales or success. Oddly his diatribes were mostly about how the authors were self-published, fakes or frauds, which was strange coming from Howey who was all of those things.
Untangling the webs of Howey’s fakes wasn’t easy and even though we’ve put months into the research we doubt we’ve found even a fraction of the total. One of the most interesting finds was that some of the fake accounts pre-date his first self-publishing efforts.
By 2011, Hugh Howey had completed Wool. Instead of publishing the book as a single work, Howey broke the book into 5 parts: Wool 1, Wool 2, Wool 3, Wool 4 and Wool 5. When Howey self-published Wool 1, pretending as if it was a short story, his deceptive practices and fakery went into over drive. Instead of a few fakes singing his praises, there was a chorus of many. This happened almost as soon as, and in some cases even before, the release of Wool 1.
Wool 1 is about 50 pages. In Wool 1, the so-called sheriff of a post-apocalypse missile-silo town climbs a set of stairs, decides to go outside (which is of course forbidden) where he finds what readers believe is his dead wife. There are no real characters. There’s no real action. There’s not much of anything really. And yet, Howey had his fakes out in mass singing his praises endlessly.
Howey self-published Wool 1, Wool 2, Wool 3, Wool 4 and Wool 5 in rapid succession. Offering each for .99, before making Wool 1 permanently free and creating a so-called Wool omnibus.
Go read the early fake reviews of Wool 1, Wool 2, Wool 3, Wool 4 and Wool 5. They’re hilarious. While you’re reading the fake reviews, note how no one complains about Howey chopping 1 book into 5 parts and just about every fake reviewer talks about the parts as if they are complete works when they’re not.
Conning readers into believing Wool was 5 complete works was part of the hustle. It was the whole reason for the so-called omnibus.
At some sites, Howey listed a page count for individual parts as if the parts were hundreds of pages long. This was another way to con readers into buying what they thought were full-length works.
Here’s where things get even more wacky with Hugh Howey buying his way onto bestseller lists multiple times, as we discussed in earlier postings. Not just that but Howey then hired public relations teams to create media frenzies around Wool.
The linchpin of the PR strategy revolved around how Hugh Howey is the messiah of the new self-publishing movement, how he’s a Kindle superstar who “sold” a million copies of Wool.
Nothing in the PR frenzy Howey manufactures talks about how he chopped 1 book into 5 pieces or how it’s actually the pieces that together “sold” a million copies. Nothing in the PR frenzy talks about how many copies of Wool 1 were counted as “sold” but were really given away as part of Wool 1 being permanently free.
The real numbers tell the real story and for the time they looked something like this:
Wool 1 – 400,000
Wool 2 – 200,000
Wool 3 – 150,000
Wool 4 – 100,000
Wool 5 – 100,000
Wool Omnibus – 45,000
Shift 1 – 80,000
Shift 2 – 60,000
Shift 3 – 40,000
Shift Omnibus – 27,000
It’s hard to determine precisely how many copies of Wool 1 were given away in this time, though based on other books that rose as high in the free rankings it’s easily 2/3 to 3/4 of the “solds”. What you also can tell from these early numbers is a lot of readers were getting sucked in by the fakery and the manufactured PR frenzy, but fewer and fewer readers were continuing with the Wool saga.
If Hugh Howey’s scams and schemes had collapsed under him back then, Zon Alert and Fiverr Report likely wouldn’t have uncovered his fraud. But his fraud continued unchecked and continues still.
Hugh Howey has a long history of misogynist rants against women. Some of which have been documented widely online. Slate and others have called him out for his public outbursts against women. Slate in particular said:
After [Hugh Howey] took to his blog and Goodreads to bash one woman he met at last year’s WorldCon, the publishing blogosphere may not have much goodwill left.
The result: fierce backlash from readers and publishers alike over his portrayal of an unnamed female convention attendee, whom he calls “the batshit craziest broad at all of Worldcon.” The rant gets more disturbing from there, devolving into a “fantasy” of grabbing his crotch and telling her, “Suck it, bitch.”
As Hugh Howey tried to back pedal against a huge backlash and outright anger, our friend, a Publishers Weekly employee named Rose Fox saw right through Howey’s bullshit apology. She said:
What he gets wrong: completely missing that this isn’t about the words “bitch” and “broad” but about vast and deep offensive.
Read more about Howey’s misogynist rantings.
In the original posting to his blog, which was later removed due to public outrage and backlash, Hugh Howey tore apart “the bitch from worldcon” whose apparent crime was she didn’t know who Hugh Howey was. Misogyny aside, the posting also revealed Hugh Howey’s sense of entitlement and self-importance.
Slate and everyone else who read “the bitch from worldcon” posting got the sense Howey had deep resentment of women and other deep, possibly psychological issues related to self-identity.
A main point of his outrage was this: How could “anyone” not know who “Hugh Howey” was. It’s not something he said openly, but it was there throughout. It’s also one of the rare times Hugh Howey’s true self made a public appearance along with his galaxy-sized ego.
As when his long history of fraud was outed publicly in this blog by Zon Alert members, Hugh Howey quickly found a way to spin the backlash and get others to go after anyone who dared mention “the bitch from worldcon” posting or any of his other strange rants against women.
Howey immediately claimed he was being bullied. He pleaded publicly for anyone and everyone to help stop his bullies on his blog, on sites like Stop The Goodreads Bullies and anywhere else he could gather support. He begged family, friends, readers, others to write reviews of his books, to keep writing reviews of his books for as long as possible, because his bullies were supposedly writing hateful reviews of his books.
All this should sound familiar to readers of this blog. It’s what Hugh Howey did when we outed him for his fakery.
As before, our extensive research found no credible evidence that anyone ever wrote any hateful reviews of Hugh Howey books because of these incidents or any other. The supposed hateful reviews didn’t exist, or perhaps they only existed in Howey’s broken psyche.
After careful investigation, several of our bloggers were left wondering if the whole thing wasn’t another elaborate publicity stunt by master con artist, Hugh Howey. Our investigation did turn up a pattern of misogynistic behavior and general rants against women. It also lead us to The Misogynist Rantings of Hugh Howey where we found a blogger who connected us with a former Howey co-worker.
The former Howey co-worker had many interesting things to say about Howey’s sometimes lewd and often inappropriate workplace behavior, about Howey’s attitudes toward certain groups, women, non-whites and Jewish people in particular. None of what was said was flattering.
Howey often spent his time at work writing instead of working, leaving co-workers to fill in.
Howey often made offhanded, raunchy comments about women and particular female body parts.
Howey seemed to very much dislike certain types of people, non-whites specifically.
There were lots of inappropriate jokes made by Howey, especially about large women and non-white people.
As far as Howey’s romanticized self-story goes, especially about his supposed yacht captain days, the former co-worker said much of this stretched the truth so far as to be laughable. Howey painted his life through rose-colored glasses so readers would like him. No other reason.
In closing, we’d like to say the integrity of this blog is important to us, as is the quality of our in depth research into these important issues. We publish no reports or commentary without first verifying primary sources and second seeking credible confirmation from additional sources. However, the extreme nature of Hugh Howey’s racist, bigoted comments left us conflicted over whether we should repeat them verbatim in this blog. After lengthy consideration, we decided we did not want to repeat such hurtful, hate-filled rants in this blog.
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.
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.