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.

Advertisements

Melissa Foster’s Attacks on Other Authors Continue

Since we exposed the truth behind Melissa Foster’s World Literary Café, we’ve been flooded with comments and questions from others who have experienced the same things we discussed. Increasingly, those who came forward expressed deep concern. It was no secret to them that Melissa Foster hid behind the supposed good things she was doing at World Literary Café while secretly lashing out because they too had been victimized by Foster.

Overwhelmingly, those we heard from wished they’d stepped forward long ago and told others about what Melissa Foster and others associated with her had done to them. Having experienced Foster’s viciousness and ruthlessness firsthand though, they were too afraid to say even privately, off the record, much more about what had happened to them. Mostly, it was because they feared further reprisals and retaliation from Melissa Foster and those associated with her, like Hugh Howey.

We got the sense that Foster’s threats weren’t just taking place online and it was these physical confrontations that were most feared. Whether physical confrontations were made by Foster or associates we were unable to confirm.
One person who we’ll call Sandy told us she was once in Melissa Foster’s inner circle and agreed to speak openly as long as we didn’t use her real name. Sandy also told us about threats made against her family. Threats that made her certain she’d stumbled into a criminal organization.

Sandy went on to tell us about various fast-money schemes operated by Melissa Foster and her associates out of World Literary Café. During our investigation into this and related matters, our member bloggers did find the over-priced “writing” and “self-publishing” courses and other paid offerings discussed.

Anyone who joined World Literary Café became a mark to bleed of cash or a target to bash. We were told authors who joined World Literary Café and bought into these paid offerings were left alone, while authors who joined World Literary Café but didn’t buy these offerings were targeted for take down. The goal according to Sandy was to make self-publishers who didn’t buy in feel like they couldn’t do anything right on their own.

According to Sandy, Foster was extremely petty. She used her inner circle and others to go after non-paying authors hard. The sign up process and profiles created by the authors themselves when they joined World Literary Café gave Foster the ammo she needed to do it, as it told Foster all about where they were active on social media, what books they’d published and where, etc.

Sandy said it was a shakedown. While the authors were targeted for harassment on social media and derogatory reviews, Foster was baiting them with smiles, trying to pull them deeper into the spider’s web. World Literary Café was telling them about special offerings that could help them self-publish.

Some, according to Sandy, got the nuclear option, meaning Foster wanted them gone, destroyed, out of the writing business. Sandy wasn’t sure how these were chosen. It seemed just as easily to be those who got on Melissa Foster’s bad side as those who were successful self-publishers that somehow got on Foster’s radar.

All of this struck a nerve with our members, but it was something Sandy said offhanded that struck deepest. It was about how often Foster talked about karma. How Foster believed the bad things someone did would come back, and how the good things someone did offset this.

Sandy said often when Foster was up to no good, Foster would also be on social media spreading positive, uplifting statements. Melissa Foster believed this was the way to ensure the bad things she did didn’t come back on her. It was her way of balancing the negativity caused by her misdeeds.

Needless to say, we were just floored by this. Help us spread the word about this fraud. Google Melissa Foster Fraud. Tell others.

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.

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.