Zon Alert – Call to Action

Zon Alert members have identified dozens of fraudsters at Amazon. The worst offenders are listed below on the Do Not Buy List.

Suggested Reading:

The Many Faces of Carolyn Arnold

When Authors Have No Shame: The Carmen DeSousa Story

When the Crime Author is a Criminal – The Carolyn Arnold Story

The Online World is Overrun with Fake Reviews

The Shameful Fake Writing Awards of Melissa Foster

A Con Artist at Work: Carolyn Arnold and Her Fakery

Tracking the Fraud of Melissa Foster

The Hugh Howey Tirade: Exposing Amazon’s Biggest Fraudster

Caught Red Handed: Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey

The Crazed Antics of Cheating Authors

The Epic Fraud of Hugh Howey

The Thumbs Down Author List: Fraudsters Identified

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

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

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

Hugh Howey Attacks Serial Novelists

The Truth Behind the Rise of Wool and Hugh Howey

Melissa Foster Continues to Attack Other Authors

More Amazon Fraud Identified

The Crazed Racist Rants of Hugh Howey

Investigating Misconduct at Amazon

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

Aaron Pogue

Alle Wells

Amanda Hocking

Ann Mullen

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 Tardiff

Christine Steendam

Collette Scott

D A Graystone

D Ryan Leask

Daniel Arenson

David A Wells

David Dalglish

Debora Geary

Dixie Goode

Dr. S Drecker

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

Jaime Rush

James Dean

Jasinda Wilder

Jay Allan

Jennifer Chase

Jennifer Probst

Jessica Sorensen

Jillian Dodd

Joanna Lee Doster

John Locke

K Bromberg

Karen DeLabar

Karen Vaughan

Kenneth Hoss

Kerry Reis

Kirkus MacGowan

L J Kentowski

Linda Giron

Linda Hawley

Linda S Prather

Linda S Prather

Lorena Angell

M R Mathias

M Todd Gallowglas

Mallory Monroe

Marilou George

Marni Mann

Mary Campisi

Matthew Mather

Melinda Leigh

Melissa Foster

Michael G Manning

Orlando Ramos

Pamela Fagan Hutchins

R J Palacio

Rachel Dover

Rachel Jorgensen

Rebecca Forster

Rebecca Neilsen

Richard Hale

Rick Bylina

Rick Gillispie

Rick Soper

Robert Lee Carey Jr

Robert Pruneda

Rosie Cochran

Ruthie Derby

Ryk Brown

Sandy Wolters

Shaunna Rodriguez

Stacy Eaton

Stephanie Lisa Tara

T R Harris

Tarryn Fisher

Teresa Cypher

Todd Bush

Zach Fortier

 

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Hugh Howey’s Attacks on Serial Novelists

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.

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.

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.

The Melissa Foster Fake Email Correspondence Debacle

In an apparent attempt to discredit this blog, Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey fabricated the following email correspondence which is being circulated on various blogs by Melissa Foster and her author friends in an attempt to hide guilt and apparent attempt to defraud:

From: Fiverr Legal
To: K (Name removed to protect from future attacks)
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Sharing Private Fiverr Correspondence OnlineDear K,Thank you for reporting this. This blog is a complete fake, including the “employee” who was never employed at Fiverr and the information provided in the blog, thus there is no breach of privacy since it is not real information…the users mentioned on the blog are not known to us. We do appreciate the fact that you took the time to alert us to this slanderous content.Best regards,Fiverr Legal Department
There are several variations of this fake email floating around, all of which are originated by Melissa Foster.  These fake emails invariable are followed by variations of requests to remove links to our blog so as to “keep from driving traffic to their site.”
     Clearly, the authors we’ve identified are desperate and trying to do anything they can to hide the truth instead of admitting their guilt. They clearly don’t want anyone to visit this blog and learn the truth.
     Here’s another variant of the same posted by Melissa Foster to Cheryl Tardiff’s blog (another author we outed for buying numerous reviews):
From Melissa Foster:Karma is a b*tch, and the owner of that website is about to find that out. A concerned citizen contacted Fiverr’s legal department and received the following verification of the false accusations. Please share this publicly and stop the hatred! I’ve removed her name to protect her from being attacked as we were.See, most people ARE good xoxFrom: Fiverr Legal
To: K (Name removed to protect from future attacks)
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Sharing Private Fiverr Correspondence OnlineDear K,Thank you for reporting this. This blog is a complete fake, including the “employee” who was never employed at Fiverr and the information provided in the blog, thus there is no breach of privacy since it is not real information…the users mentioned on the blog are not known to us. We do appreciate the fact that you took the time to alert us to this slanderous content.

Best regards,

Fiverr Legal Department

On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 3:25 PM, K wrote:
Hello- I just wanted to alert you to the fact that this person is sharing private correspondence that he obtain while employed with your company on his blog. I believe this is against your privacy policy and may even be illegal.

(FULL ACTIVE LINK REMOVED TO KEEP FROM DRIVING TRAFFIC TO THEIR SITE) – See more at: http://cherylktardif.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-history-of-paid-book-reviews.html

The fact that Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey created and spread fake correspondence like this demonstrates not only their guilt but the lengths they’ll go to to try to bury truth. Shame on Foster and Howey!