The "latest" Vanity scams - 2019

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Over my long career, I've encountered the victims of scams and frauds against organizations and individuals. Almost always, the con artists who perpetrate these illegal or merely unethical actions are taking advantage of a victim who is either too greedy or too lazy to investigate and research the scheme offered by the con artist. In short, the ever accurate aphorism is "IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT ISN'T!" Lately, I have been besieged by spam emails and messages on LinkedIn, offering me "opportunities" to speak at conferences and publish articles in Journals (many of which are obscure and not read by folks I respect.) The key factor in ALL these pitches (once you dig down to the nitty gritty) is that the author or speaker gets no fee or share of profits, but merely "exposure" which is supposed to enhance his income from his real business. The very latest scam is one which I discuss a little later in this post.

When my career started back in the 1960s, folks looking to get ahead in the academic or business world soon learned that becoming noticed by peers and superiors as an "expert" was an important factor in getting ahead of the rest of rivals and competitors. One way to do that was to publish books and articles on one's field. Many "Journals" and industry-focused trade magazines sprung up to provide this route, "Some" of the folks publishing these soon realized they could get their "content" for free from eager-to-get-ahead self-proclaimed experts AND make money selling ads to folks who craved the demographics of the readers who would read these publications.

Soon, some savvy book publishers realized they could expand the idea going back almost to the time of Gutenberg (a "Vanity Press") by charging wannabe authors all the costs of editing and printing up front and then taking the lion's share of any sales the resulting book might make. Surprisingly, wannabe authors bought into this idea (literally, buying their way into publication.)

In the past week, I have received two related, but different types of scam direct pitches to my LinkedIn account (both types are related because they appeal to my supposed vanity and that they require a substantial up-front payment to the broker [the folks pitching the idea] from the intended victim [me.])

Scam 1 Be appointed to a Board of Directors of an organization (both profit and non profit organizations)
I have been on various boards over my long career, both profit and non-profit, and the method these folks propose is not the way I or any of my fellow Board members got there!

Scam 2 Publish a non-fiction book as an expert in your own field in a matter of weeks.

This one is an interesting twist on the Vanity Press scam - you don't even have to write the book! You just have a series of "conversations" with an "editor" who will convert those conversations into a book. (Essentially, this is a ghostwriter who listens to the wannabe author ramble to get the git of the topic, then dashes off a manuscript which these folks then turn into ebooks and [on demand] printed books.) There are a variety of slants to entice the victim (get more $$$ from public speaking because you are a published author; get a better job; gain prestige; get YOUR story or theory out and publicized, etc., etc.)

Suffice to say, regardless of the pitch, these are not ultimately successful ways to get rich and famous. When you go to a trade conference, odds are the featured speaker is NOT paid by the conference, but is there to pitch his/her sales story to the demographic concentrated at the conference. He's already famous and is paid by his organization to be there and may just incidentally be selling HIS book on the topic.

I'm pretty familiar with what I term MBZ pitches (they talk Millions, Billions, and Zillions, but you end up picking up the tab.) Got questions about a pitch you've received? Ask it here. (Do not give these gonifs extra notoriety by identifying them or including links in your post.)


Fully vaccinated are you?
Just watch some episodes of "American Greed" (on ABC antenna TV - Usually 2 one hour episodes in succession starting at 2PM).

These scams are not by any means new. The "books and articles" scam goes back at least 400 years if not longer.

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Right! The "new" part is the ghost writer. The conference speaker bit, of course, is just plain BS, with the speeches also written by ghost writers.


Fully vaccinated are you?
Well.... Not really... E.g.: (broken link removed) and Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters

Of special interest to me is the author of the Perry Mason TV series (I have every episode on disk): Erle Stanley Gardner - Wikipedia - Somewhere I have an excellent documentary on him. He didn't write many books, actually. He dictated them and had something like 3 or 4 girls who took his dictations, collaborated with him on some aspects, and they actually did the typing writing the books. If I remember correctly, he was a lawyer, a good one, for something like 30 years when he decided he wanted to write books.
The "latest" Vanity scams - 2019

Early on, he typed his stories himself, using two fingers, but later he dictated them to a team of secretaries.
I can't find the file off hand, it may have been on one of the Perry Mason DVD "Extras", but when he started using a team of secretaries he bought a small plot of lad way out in the sticks somewhere, put 4 trailers on it (one for him and 3 for the team of secretaries) so he could "write" in seclusion. A very interesting man indeed.

It is true that anyone can write a book (or have one written by a ghostwriter) and have it printed within days if not a couple of weeks (I think even Amazon offers this service).

Just as Edison (as an example) had many ideas, his "employees" did the actual work most of the time, and (as an example) .... Who actually invented the lightbulb? Many of Edison's inventions were improvements on what had already been invented.

I posted because the thread title is a bit misleading. E.g.: "Board of Directors" thing - From the East (and West) India Company to insurance companies which all had "board of Directors: The Top 10 Oldest Insurance Companies in the World (UK Established) - Of course their "boards" were connected, influential (and typically very rich) cohorts (so to speak).

Now - You mentioned Linkedin. I know there are people who have gotten jobs from it, some have gotten very good jobs, but Linkedin today is more of a data aggregator which is used to gather data about people and selling it. And, just as it is/was with newspapers, many advertised jobs are not really jobs. Not really much different than Facebook, in my opinion. And just as bad, if not worse, is Linkedin is one big advertisement platform.

I do admit I think both Facebook and Linkedin have some good content, but taken as a whole they both suck.

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Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Sure, there have been "ghostwriters" since the first written word, always with an intent to deceive as to the true author. My point was that this scam has added the wrinkle of actually advertising for victims to sign up and pay PLUS enlisting brand name partners in the scheme. Among the "partners" lending their name to this scheme is Forbes, offering their imprint on the finished product. (Personally, I think any company doing that is really shooting itself in the foot because it would ultimately cheapen their brand with a flurry of hack-written books.)

Of course, because of the price gouging, the net fee to the ghostwriter (even after the middlemen all rake off their piece of the pie) is more money than 90% of all authors earn in a year from book sales. The average John Doe who writes a business book is not getting the same kind of advance from a publisher as ex-presidents and their family members get for writing "memoirs" (also liberally assisted by ghost writers.) The difference being that celebrities DO get paid, while the others pay up front for the ghostwriter.

The sad fact is there are always willing victims who delude themselves that they can earn prestige and respect by paying someone else to actually do the work for which they will then take credit. (Come to think of it, that's what a lot of corporate bosses do with employees and then take the credit by writing clauses in employment contracts that all "inventions and innovations" belong to the company [in some cases to the boss, personally.])

So, why did I start this thread?

First, to alert folks that might waste time getting all excited by a personalized approach telling them how marvelous they are. (That's just urinating in your ear and telling you it's raining.)

Second, to tell you that if you REALLY are a star in your field and have a book's worth of knowledge, there ARE "editors" and ghostwriters who can help you prepare a manuscript fit for publishing for less than $25,000.00.
Here's the pitch I got, identifying info redacted:
I recently came across your company and I wanted to start off by saying that I am impressed with the organization that you have built.
[redacted] is looking to publish a top CEO in your industry and I think with your dominance and success, you’d be a perfect candidate.

My name is Caroline
[redacted] with [redacted] , the publishing arm of [redacted] . Your achievements in your industry make you an ideal candidate to publish a book with the iconic [redacted] brand and share your unique success story.

Do you have time to speak with me about becoming a published author on the
[redacted] platform? Click the Schedule Call button below to get some time on the calendar.

Obviously, I did what any intelligent person should do - I researched both the person who signed the message and the companies to which she is aligned besides the ones mentioned in the message. I also looked up some books under the imprint - suffice to say I probably won't be laying out any cash to acquire some of them.

Here's another quote from the blather the company offers to dazzle the victim (ID info also redacted):

[redacted]’s mission was to demystify and democratize book publishing. Given his passion for entrepreneurship, he quickly realized that business owners were the people that could benefit most from a book. By partnering with local writers and graphic designers at the time, he pioneered a done-for-you system that made publication an effortless experience, even within the demanding schedule of a business owner.

[redacted] could write, design and distribute books that told the stories of its authors—whom [redacted] warmly referred to as “Members” of the “[redacted] family.” The process appealed to hundreds of entrepreneurs nationwide. The idea gained steam and spawned imitators.

Pyramid marketing schemes have spawned imitators, too. That doesn't mean they're good!
In plain English, these two sentences say the founder of this particular company identified likely victims and targeted them in his marketing. From other sources, I learned the buy-in is about $25,000.00 which gets you the book and a website for the book.

Along the way, I've learned a new euphemism for "Vanity Press" - many of these guys now use the term "Hybrid Publisher."

Let me close with a quote from an author who got sucked into a Vanity Press deal and learned a hard lesson.
True self-publishing is done through owning your own ISBN under your name or your publisher’s imprint [a company YOU set up] and uploading directly to bookseller websites such as Amazon and iTunes. This is the best way for self-published authors to maintain maximum creative control.

It may still be in its fledgling stages, but self-publishing truly is the way of the future. You do not need the “help” of a vanity press or “self-publishing” company; writers can contract out specific services like editing and design, and even an author coach to guide you through the publishing process. When your book makes enough of a splash, legitimate traditional publishers will approach you.

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Well, those grocers just feel all you folks down near Cincinnati are so wealthy, you're happy to pay for their Lexus, Mercedes, AND those fancy power boats I see racing up and down the Ohio River every time I drive across on a bridge.

Reminds me, Marc, I have a new bottle of Jameson's to share when next I pass near Cincinnati.

Ronen E

Problem Solver
(Come to think of it, that's what a lot of corporate bosses do with employees and then take the credit by writing clauses in employment contracts that all "inventions and innovations" belong to the company [in some cases to the boss, personally.])
This is also how it works in Academia - professors and supervisors take (more or less explicitly) credit for papers their students wrote. It's well known and has been the case since forever.

Which brings about the immortal question (and answer) Why does a dog lick its balls? Because it can!!! :)
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