Monthly Archives: October 2015

How an industry of ‘Amazon entrepreneurs’ pulled off the Internet’s craftiest catfishing scheme

29 October 2015

From The Washington Post:

Dagny Taggart spends her time traveling the globe, meeting new people and learning new things. She speaks more than 15 languages, including Latin, Russian and Chinese. In the past year, she has written a new book at the rate of about one every five days: 84 books in total. All of them have gotten glowing reviews from her hordes of Amazon groupies, who leave 5-star reviews on everything she does.

There’s only one problem with Dagny Taggart — she doesn’t exist. Evidence collected and examined by The Washington Post suggests that Taggart (who is named for a character in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”) is a made-up identity used by an Argentine man named Alexis Pablo Marrocco. Marrocco, meanwhile — and other self-described “Kindle entrepreneurs” like him — form part of a growing industry of “Amazon catfish.”

The catfishing process varies according to the specific “entrepreneur” using it, but it typically follows the same general steps: After hiring a remote worker to write an e-book for the Kindle marketplace, Amazon’s e-book store, publishers put it up for sale under the name and bio of a fictional expert. Frequently, Kindle entrepreneurs will then buy or trade for good book reviews. (Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.)

. . . .

“Making money with Kindle is by far the easiest and fastest way to get started making money on the Internet today,” enthuses one video that promises to guide viewers to riches. “You don’t even need to write the books yourself!”

. . . .

When questioned about Taggart, Marrocco staunchly defends himself from any accusations of wrongdoing.

“I act and have always acted according to Amazon’s policies and rules, rules which prohibit the acquisition of biased or dishonest reviews,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a pen name for a book, or a book series. There is absolutely nothing wrong and unlawful about using a pen name … The key is always to provide value to the marketplace.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Shelley for the tip

A Little Slow

29 October 2015

PP had a little surgery on his right wrist yesterday.

All went well, but he has a rather large  and very thick bandage on his right hand and wrist. Typing is slow, but, fortunately, PG has used voice dictation systems with some regularity over the years.

Dealing with the mouse is like wearing the world’s largest mousepad all the time, so that is a bit slow.

If posting is not as sprightly as usual, please understand the cause.

Only kings

29 October 2015

Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial “we”.

Mark Twain

Gay-romance novelist accused of plagiarizing straight-romance novelist

29 October 2015

From The Washington Post:

Any writer knows that finishing any book isn’t easy. It takes craft. It takes persistence. It takes guts.

But a romance novel isn’t exactly “Infinite Jest.” Though some bodice-rippers are dirtier than others, there is a formula — at some point, the wealthy heiress or the lady-in-waiting hooks up with the horse wrangler or the errant knight, and jeans come off or, well, bodices get ripped.

But the fill-in-the-blanks quality of some romance novels seems to have been quite the hurdle for Laura Harner. The self-published author of romances featuring gay people has been accused of plagiarizing the work of a best-selling author of romances featuring straight people — and, in a statement, Harner has all but admitted it.

. . . .

“I was just notified by a reader that she started reading M/M romance recently and read a book by another author that is almost VERBATIM my book My Kind of Trouble with the exception it’s a m/m book!! I need a recommendation for a good literary attorney fast!!”

It appeared “Coming Home Texas,” a work by Harner published in 2015, was a lot like McGraw’s “My Kind of Trouble” (2012). The similarities between the books were apparent from their opening pages.

“My Kind of Trouble“: “The only regret she had at the moment was driving her old pickup back to town instead of her BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision. Bessie had taken her out of town ten years ago, and Cassie thought it fitting that she should bring her back. Since she’d gotten the call from Imelda, the closest thing to a mother that Cassie had known since her own mother died when she was ten, Cassie had been in that mode. Once she decided she needed to come back, the memories she thought she buried ten years ago would not leave her alone. Thoughts of Luke Matthews would not leave her alone.”

“Coming Home Texas“: “His other regret at the moment was driving his old pickup back to town instead of his BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision – Old Blue had taken his sorry ass out of town nearly a dozen years ago, and Brandon though it fitting that she should bring him back. … Since he’d gotten the call from Isabella – the closest thing to a mother that he’d known since his own mom died when he was nine – Brandon seemed to be stuck on a never ending sentimental highway. Once he decided he needed to come back, the memories he thought he buried long ago wouldn’t leave him alone. Thoughts of Joe Martinez won’t leave me alone.”

Link to the rest at The Washingon Post and thanks to John for the tip.

On international ebook sales: ‘actionable insights’

28 October 2015

From The Bookseller:

Despite several articles declaring a stagnation, if not decline, of the ebook market, we have seen 8-percent growth in earnings for a cohort of publishers.

These publishers are a representative set and cover a range of company sizes and title-counts. The sales data generated by this cohort of approximately 200 publishers show that growth has been possible—and has in fact been accomplished—during this new phase of the ebook market.

These publishers stand out for not allowing their ebook function to be a passive add-on to their print houses. Instead they have regularly reviewed their global sales data and taken various actions such as targeting specific markets, experimenting with price promotion, and dedicating their time to finding the right price point for specific book-types in specific markets.

Interestingly, this 8-percent growth has been achieved with an average earnings-per-unit-sold figure that rose in the first eight months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.  The net impact is that publishers are garnering more earnings with less volume. For example, in May 2015 this group of publishers sold 8 percent less in terms of volume, but earned 21 percent more in earnings compared to May 2014.

. . . .

South America

Although coming from a low base, the growth experienced here cannot be ignored. Consistent monthly growth has yielded a 45-percent increase in year-on-year earnings.  Average earnings for sales in South America are less than 70 percent of the all-country average for these publishers, indicating a lower general price point.  However even at 70 percent of the overall average, the average earnings figure in South America has actually risen year-on-year.

As for what types of ebook are selling, the growth seen has primarily been driven by fiction, especially Spanish-language titles. But there is also an appetite for English classics, reflecting the desire to learn the language.


Sales down-under have yielded a 17-percent increase in 2015.  The average earnings figure for Australian sales has risen marginally this year, and the figure is also slightly higher than the all-country average, an indication that Australia is able to absorb a higher price point.

Fiction is unsurprisingly popular in terms of ebook sales, in particular titles dealing with family life. And a number of old-fashioned family sagas have done well for this cohort of publishers. But there has been extremely strong growth (58 percent) in the biography & autobiography classifications, albeit at a lower price point than the overall average.

. . . .


Similar to South America, the earnings figures are off a low base but have shown consistent growth and are currently 44 percent up on last year. The growth is driven mainly by volume but there has also been a 10-percent increase in average earnings. However, unsurprisingly, the average earnings figure for India is still much lower than the all-country average (60 percent of the overall figure).

The two leaders in terms of genre for this cohort of publishers are self-help and business & economics. And looking at the self-help genre in more detail, it is worth noting that books classified as “personal development” perform the best.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

No passion

28 October 2015

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.

H.G. Wells

Dylan Thomas – Happy Belated Birthday

28 October 2015

Julia reminded me that October 27 was the birthday of Dylan Thomas.

We may forget that good poetry doesn’t reach its greatest potential when it sits on the page. Thomas reminds us that performing poetry well opens up the poet’s work in wonderful ways.

Thomas was a teenager when he published his first poems.

In addition to his poetry, Thomas worked actively as a professional broadcaster for the BBC. Between 1943 and his death in 1953, Thomas was featured in about 150 programs.  His subject matter ranged from his childhood memories to discussions of other writers. Some of his wartime poems were first heard on the BBC. He wrote radio plays, including Under Milk Wood, and filmscripts.


Apple is turning iOS into an iTunes-like mess

28 October 2015

From ZDNet:

[W]hile Apple can still come up with innovative new features for its mobile platform, it’s not able to integrate these into the platform in such a way as to make them visible to the end user.

Wi-Fi Assist – a feature that switches your iDevice to using your cellular data plan if you happen to be in a spot where Wi-Fi coverage is poor – is one such feature. The only reference to this feature is buried at the bottom on an obscure page under Settings in such a way that only the informed or highly determined will find it.

If you want to find it, you have to take a trip to Settings > Cellular (called Mobile Data in some regions) and then scroll to the bottom of a very long page. Oh, and the default for this feature is on, so when you’re inhabiting spots with poor Wi-Fi, your iPhone or iPad is burning through your data plan.

And this is only one of hundreds of features that are buried behind a thick, near-impenetrable wall of menus and options in iOS.

. . . .

I remember when iTunes was a sleek and simple music player, but over the years it’s had so many new features thoughtlessly bolted onto it that it’s not a long-winded, tortuous muddle.

Unless Apple gets a better grip on how features are added to iOS, this is the future that awaits iPhone and iPad users. And the slip-slide into chaos is already on the way. You can’t just keep on bolting new features into the OS and then scatter those settings far and wide throughout the settings app without creating a usability timebomb that’s will one day explode in the face of the users.

Apple clearly knows that there’s a discoverability problem because in iOS 9 it made the options within the Settings app searchable, but that’s only any good if you know what you’re searching for. That’s not going to be any good to you in tracking down why your iPhone or iPad is burning through more cellular data since you upgraded to iOS 9.

Link to the rest at ZDNet and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Chuck Logan and the death spiral of the mid-list author

28 October 2015

From MinnPost:

In the 1990s, Chuck Logan’s publishers flew him to book events around the country. Sometimes, he’d get the deluxe treatment and arrive at his readings in a limo. When his thriller “Home Front” got turned into a movie, he met celebrities, attended a Hollywood premiere and got to see Winona Ryder and James Franco play characters he’d created. He did eight books for Harper Collins, co-wrote one with John Sandford … and then the publishing world changed.

“New York told me to get lost. The legacy publishing game completely collapsed, my editors and agents were gone, and I paid a price for not being commercial enough. In other words, I didn’t sell enough books. I’m living the typical death spiral of the mid-list author,” he says, wryly.

. . . .

His latest book, “Fallen Angel,” features an Iraqi war pilot who returns to civilian life, but can’t move on until she sorts out fractured memories of an incident that took the life of a friend — an incident the government wants her to forget. Yeah, this veteran is a woman.

“They told me that wouldn’t sell. But I was thinking about how the military has changed, and looking at modern warfare and the roles women are taking on. I’m interested in how things work in the real world. I’m interested in complicated people. I wanted to write a book with a military flavor, that drew on some of my own observations but also took place in the present world. I wanted to see if I could write a credible female character — not some superhuman ninja warrior, not some kind of male sexual fantasy, but a real person like we actually have fighting these wars,” he said. “There is also lot to be said about the issues we are facing today with rehabilitating wounded veterans. I wanted to write about what happens after the action movie ends.”

Link to the rest at MinnPost and thanks to WHM for the tip.

Here’s a link to Chuck Logan’s books.

The Martian and Other Self-Published Books

28 October 2015

Before it was a big-budget studio release, The Martian was a book, and before that book received a proper released by Crown Publishing in 2014, it was a self-published novel. Author Andy Weir had been writing sci-fi novels for years, and while he’d found some success with previous works, none can compare to The Martian, with its impressive sales numbers in addition to the box office earnings of the movie version.

. . . .

After failing to find interest in the literary world with The Martian, Weir began posting the book one chapter at a time on his website – for free. He ultimately put a 99-cent version of the book on Kindle, and by 2013, the book had become popular enough that Weir received an offer from Crown Publishing to buy the book for $100,000.

. . . .

Weir said the publishing deal happened around the same time that the film rights were purchased, and the strangeness of achieving so much success so quickly was not lost on him. “That was an eventful week for me,” he said. “By the way, at the time I was a computer programmer, so I was like in my cubicle fixing bugs, then I’d sneak off to take a phone call about my movie deal, then back to my cubicle to fix bugs. It was pretty surreal.”

Link to the rest at People


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