The Truth Behind the Rise of Wool and Hugh Howey

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.

60% of Online Ratings and Reviews Are Fake

From corporate publishers with schemes to create the next Harry Potter by generating avalanches of “support” for authors and books to small-time book hustlers writing their own reviews, the online world is overrun with fraud and fakery. Online review systems are broken and untrustworthy. Amazon’s own internal memos state up to 60% of the reviews on its sites are disgenuine. 60% is a large number but based on our extensive research we believe the actual number is significantly higher.

When we started researching online rating and review fraud, Zon Alert and Fiverr Report bloggers didn’t know what we were getting into. Our initial investigation lead us to criminal crime author Carolyn Arnold and a large cabals of authors committing online fraud by faking ratings and reviews. This investigation lead us in turn to Melissa Foster and an even larger cabals of authors committing not only rating and review fraud but also driving multilevel fraudulent schemes of many types. Frauds that revolved around fake awards, fake fans or street teams, authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, organized efforts to damage the careers of other authors, organized review-for-favor schemes, consumers lured with promises of gifts and gratuities if only they reviewed certain authors’ works, authors swapping reviews with each other like bubble gum, and many other types of organized review-writing schemes.

In our investigations we identified numerous cheating authors and named them in this blog. Caught red-handed the cheating authors tried to discredit this blog and its members. Some outed for hundreds of fake reviews made claims they were innocent as they didn’t have hundreds of reviews at Amazon, knowing full well the scope of their fraud extended to many sites beyond Amazon. Knowing also some, and in cases many, of the fake reviews weren’t used to support their own books but to cause harm to others.

The list of cheats quickly grew to encompass not only authors but also friends and relations who knowingly participated. Our infamous list of badly behaving unethical authors grew to include

A M Hargrove
A Meredith Walters
Aaron Pogue
Alle Wells
Amanda Hocking
Ann Swann
Ashley Fontainne
B V Larson
Bella Forrest
Betty Dravis
Blake Crouch
Brandon Sanderson
C C Cole
Carmen DeSousa
Carolyn Arnold
Cassia Leo
Cege Smith
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Collette Scott
D A Graystone
D Ryan Leask
Daniel Arenson
David A Wells
Debora Geary
Dixie Goode
E L Lindley
Edie Claire
Elizabeth Reyes
Emma Chase
Erica Stevens
Erin Hunter
Frederick Lee Brooke
Gail McHugh
H M Ward
Hugh Howey
Ilona Andrews
J A Hunsinger
J A Konrath
J S Scott
James Dean
Jasinda Wilder
Jay Allan
Jennifer Chase
Jessica Sorensen
Jillian Dodd
Joanna Lee Doster
K Bromberg
K J Bennett
Karen DeLabar
Karen Vaughan
Kenneth Hoss
Kerry Reis
Kirkus MacGowan
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
Melissa Foster
Michael G Manning
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
R J Palacio
Rachel Dover
Rebecca Forster
Richard Hale
Rick Bylina
Rick Soper
Robert Pruneda
Rosie Cochran
Ryk Brown
Sandy Wolters
Stacy Eaton
Stephanie Lisa Tara
T R Harris
Tarryn Fisher
Todd Bush
Zach Fortier

As we kept digging we kept uncovering more and more cheating authors including hustlers like C J Ellisson, Martin Crosbie, A J Cosmo, Samantha Chase, Elle Casey, Jennifer Blake, K D Emerson, Rachel Yu, Michael Yu, Eve Carter, Helen Hanson, Lily Lexington, Michael Baisden, Sharlene Alexander, Monique Martin, Gerald Hawksley, David Dalglish, CC MacKenzie, Rosalind James and Alexia Purdy. Some of which are small-time cheats, while others are huge fraudsters earning tens of thousands a month through deceptive practices, unethical behavior and outright fakery.

Not to mention even bigger cheats: B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Melissa Foster, Amanda Hocking, et al.

The research left us disillusioned and angry. We believe the rating and reviews systems are so broken the only way to fix them is for all online ratings and reviews to be removed or for every site to have a widely displayed disclaimer that reader ratings and reviews cannot be relied upon to determine the quality or merchantability of any product. We won’t be holding our breath for such things to happen and you shouldn’t either. Instead, you should report the aforementioned fraudsters wherever their fake reviews appear and demand justice.

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.

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.

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.