***Last updated Saturday 31st March 2012 2pm GMT***
Yesterday evening I received an e-mail to info[at]catherineryanhoward.com from a person I didn’t know. I’m always suspicious when this happens because if a stranger is trying to get in contact with me, clearly the Contact page on this very site is the way to go. But if you want to send me a message from your e-mail account, that’s not going to work, so you either trawl the internet looking for mentions of my e-mail address or you put “info” in front of my domain and hope for the best. The suspicion arises because of the answer to the question why must you send me a message from your e-mail account? It’s usually because you want to send me an attachment and/or include me in a mass mailing. Both of those say “I’m selling things!” which, when you do it in an e-mail to a person you’ve never communicated with before, is called spam.
So I was suspicious before I even opened the message. Then I read it.
“Subject: Loved your book
Just checked out your book on Smashwords, Catherine and you’re so so talented. Do you have any suggestions for a budding writer like me? What has worked and what hasn’t? Tried FB, Twitter, even book marks. I just don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t work. I just read a couple EXCELLENT books on it. One was recommended by my friend called “Effortless Marketing”:http://amzn.to/EFFORTLESS I got it cause Mark Coker the Smashwords guy endorsed it and cause it’s free for the next 24 hours anyway. And it was surprisingly really, really good. Do you have any other books you’d recommend?”
(That text was copied and pasted from the e-mail; all mistakes sender’s own.)
I clicked on the link, and ended up on a listing for an e-book called Effortless Marketing: How I Sold Thousands of E-books, Landed an Agent and a Book Deal in Just 10 Minutes a Day Using Message Boards by someone called Jeff Rivera.
Now maybe I’ve been reading too many crime novels recently, but nothing about this sat right with me. First of all, the message was sent to my e-mail address instead of via my Contact page. That alone suggested spam, or at least something suspicious. Then there was the subject line—”loved your book”—even though the message seemed to imply that the sender hadn’t read it, but merely “checked [it] out” on Smashwords. (And if they had read it, they’d know I generally don’t do anything to promote my books that a traditionally published author wouldn’t do AND I don’t believe in selling books to other self-published authors, and therefore I avoid message boards.) Then there was the total focus on selling books as opposed to creating them, the odd mention of book marks (?!) and the late-night infomercial line “I just don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t work.” (I can just see that guy from Amazing Discoveries in his terrible wooly sweater, consoling the actor playing the part of a frustrated audience member. “Well, now you don’t have to!”)
But it was the completely out of the blue book recommendation—complete with link!—that really set alarms ringing, especially since it just so happened that it was free to download for Kindle that very day. There were the capital letters (“EXCELLENT”), the forced casualness (“that Smashwords guy”) and the odd timeline—free for 24 hours, but the sender has already found it, downloaded it, read it and wrote to me to recommend it? Somebody’s been a busy bee, eh?
The sender’s name was Mogoli Angelberg. When I googled it there were only about five results returned and none of them were very illuminating. The top one, however, was this (click for larger image):
A profile page for Mogoli on something called The Gatekeeper’s Post, of which Jeff Rivera—author of Effortless Marketing— is both founder and editor in chief.
This was my reply, in its entirety:
“What hasn’t worked is spamming people with e-mails in which I pretend (badly) to be seeking information when what I’m obviously doing is trying to get people to download the book my “friend” recommended. –Catherine”
The truth is, I often get e-mails of this type. I must look stupid or something. Regular blog readers will know that this is the first time I’ve called anyone out about it (although rest assured each one I receive does get filed in the “Don’t Do This” notes section of the new edition of Self-Printed). But this one was so blatant and presumed me to be so stupid that I just had to say something.
Right up top on the book’s Amazon listing is an endorsement from Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, that reads:
“Jeff Rivera provides honest, ethical advice for how authors can leverage message boards to attract readership and build platforms.”
I’m guessing there’s no mention of spam-disguised-as-praise-and-queries e-mail in Effortless Marketing; I’m certain Mr. Coker wouldn’t have endorsed it if there was. Perhaps Mr. Rivera is unaware of this e-mail campaign. But if he isn’t, he should be. And he should make sure that it’s stopped.
Because the very last thing this effort could be called is ethical.
What do you think? And have you ever received anything like this?
UPDATE #1 | 27.03.12: As I suspected, I’m not the only person to receive this e-mail. See Ashley’s comment below.
UPDATE #2 | 27.03.12: Julie Cohen has also received this e-mail. It seems to be coming from Smashwords—i.e. the people behind it are trawling through Smashwords looking for authors to send it to, presuming they’re self-published and interested in selling more books. Considering how many authors are on Smashwords and that only a few hours after posting this, at least 3 people who also received it have read this post, I think that points to potentially hundreds of recipients.
UPDATE #3 | 28.03.12. Oh boy. It’s now 10.30 a.m. GMT on Wednesday 28th March, or about twenty-four hours since I first posted this. In that time, between comments, tweets and e-mails, 19 other people have told me they’ve received this exact same “Loved your book” message. Considering that this group consists of people who received it and either knew me or took the time to Google the sender’s name, found me and were motivated to leave a comment, I think that points to a huge number of potential recipients. More than one recipient found the message in their Spam folder, which also points to a mass mailing.
I also received a very interesting message from a self-publisher who prefers to remain anonymous for personal reasons. (I know this self-publisher, believe he has no reason to lie and therefore am trusting that this is the truth. However I must of course concede that this did not happen to me; I’m merely repeating it.) Several weeks ago this self-publisher—let’s call him Bob—received a message from Jeff Rivera, the author of Effortless Marketing, entitled “Loved your book!”—the same title, of course, as our spammy message.
The message began with praise, just like the spam message does, but then went on to invite Bob to read an interview Rivera had done with a big-name author who had turned to self-publishing. Bob didn’t reply. Later Bob received another, similar message from Rivera. He didn’t reply to that either. A week after that, Rivera sends him another message saying (I’m paraphrasing): “Hey, I think I deleted your most recent message. Can you re-send?” Suspecting that Rivera is “just trying to sell” him something, yet again, Bob doesn’t reply.
Sending messages into the abyss doesn’t, apparently, deter Rivera, who sends Bob another message shortly thereafter. This one promises Bob a “top secret” list of agents and editors who are foaming at the mouth looking for self-published success stories (um, obviously I’m also paraphrasing there, but you get the idea)—in exchange for a review of his book. Needless to say, Bob didn’t respond to this either. But his curiosity was piqued, so he downloaded Effortless Marketing, which was free for Kindle at the time.
Now I have a personal rule about not revealing the content of books like this, but suffice to say that his “effortless marketing” method has a lot in common with the spammy messages we’ve all been receiving, according to Bob (it just moves it to a message board/private message setting), and among other terrifying advice, suggests using Fiverr.com to find an editor. I was also pointed in the direction of a thread on Kindle Boards where Rivera, back in August 2011, told his fellow authors that if they had had self-published success, he could help them get a traditional deal. In it he says “Ask Joe Konrath or Karen McQuestion if you have any questions” [about his or his offer's legitimacy]. What does that mean?! Presumably he wants you to think that Konrath and McQuestion, two of the world’s most successful and most visible self-published authors, will vouch for him. But that’s not what that line says.
Let me be clear here: this is not intended in any way to be an exposé, or an attack. I really don’t care what this guy is up to, whether or not his book is good or if this “Mogoli Angelberg” even exists. I think people should make their own buying decisions, I couldn’t give a crap either way, and, anyway, this isn’t that kind of blog. But as soon as I read that message, I knew something was wrong with it. I knew something wasn’t right. After Googling, I was positive something wasn’t. And because e-mail happens behind the scenes and spamming operations like this can go unnoticed, I decided not to let it go. I decided to blog about it. And I think that’s my right, considering that I was a recipient of the e-mail.
Regular readers of this blog will know what my stance is on selling books. This isn’t a game. This is a wonderful opportunity for writers who previously had no hope other than the magic “yes” from an agent or an editor. Now we have the world at our feet—or at our keyboards, anyway. We should never abuse it. (See my infamous guest post on Taleist, Why Self-Publishers Need to Start Minding Their Manners, for more info on that.) We should be honest, and work hard to find readers and convince them, through transparent methods, to buy our books. Organic growth is the only growth that works, the only growth that matters. Yes, you might manage to sell 100,000 or even 1,000,000 books by some form of Jedi mind trick, but what then? What happens when people read your crappy book? What happens when you release your next one? The only way to sell books is to write good ones, and then let people know—in a way that’s acceptable to everyone—that they exist.
It drives me ten kinds of cuckoo when people try to sell books by any other method, but the red mist descends when they try to sell them that way to me.
UPDATE #4 | 28.03.12
UPDATE #5 | 28.03.12 I’ve been informed that the Amazon.com listing for Effortless *cough cough* Marketing has received 3 one-star reviews from people who have received the same message, word-for-word—and I know this because I went to read the reviews, and two of them have the message pasted in. I read it about five minutes ago, and just now when I went back to copy and paste the URL, there was a new 5* star to add to the 20-odd 5* reviews already on it. This is amazing, considering the book was published six days ago, on March 22. What’s his secret? Apart from the spam, none of us are privy to what lengths exactly Mr. Rivera has gone to to promote this book, but I think we can all agree on one thing: he’s sure making a huge effort.
UPDATE #6 | 28.03.12 This saga now has its own thread on Kindle Boards! I would URGE anyone following this story and/or concerned about this issue to read through the posts on this thread. [*waves to everyone on that Kindle Boards thread*]
UPDATE #7 | 28.03.12 Jeff Rivera has posted an update on his site in which he responds to the “Mogoli Angelberg” spam debacle. I don’t want to keep dragging this on and on, but I’m afraid I have to take some issue with Mr. Rivera’s explanations.
He seems slighted that we, the recipients of the spam messages, didn’t immediately contact him about them and instead complained about them publicly – on blogs, Twitter, Amazon, etc. Of course, if something like this was happening in my name and I was unaware, I would wonder why, when I found out, that someone didn’t tell me sooner so I could have done something about it. I totally get that. But it was only by sharing that we’d received this weird message that it became clear it was not a one-off, but a spammy mass mailing.
Secondly, if you look at the Twitter screenshot above, when someone did approach him about it yesterday, his answer was “I’m not sure what you mean.” Yes, if he wasn’t sending the e-mails, he wouldn’t have known what the tweeter meant. But the tweeter specifically mentioned the name Mogoli Angelberg. If he is known to Mr. Rivera, as he statement claims, wouldn’t that have raised alarm bells with him then?
Moreover, in his statement Mr. Rivera says he found out about this because he saw the spam-related negative reviews on his Amazon listing. Such reviews on Amazon.com are all dated March 27th, yesterday. As you can see in the screenshot above, the tweet was sent to Mr. Rivera on March 26th, the day before that.
The endorsement from Smashwords founder Mark Coker has also been removed from the Amazon.com listing.
Finally, I was sent a link to this statement via e-mail. But when I went to Mr. Rivera’s home page, I could find no trace of it. I had to go back to the e-mail and copy and paste the link just to re-locate it.
(On a personal note, yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I’m relatively young. Yes, my blog is pink. But I’m not stupid.)
UPDATE #8 | 28.03.12 Jeff Rivera has also taken the time to comment on this post, below.
(The Final!) UPDATE #9 | 29.03.12 So, this turned into something, didn’t it? Wow. I hope you made enough coffee to get all the way down to this bit. The thing is, I’m so glad I posted about this and helped, in a little way, to expose shady practices of people who prey on my fellow writers and self-publishers, but Catherine, Caffeinated isn’t supposed to be an episode of 60 Minutes. Therefore, this will be my last word on the matter, although of course please feel free to comment, move onto Kindle Boards where this has got VERY interesting indeed, and spread this around so we can alert as many people as possible to this kind of crap.
Jeff Rivera posted a statement on his blog and has left comments below, but his explanation is that an employee of his sent these messages. He’s fired him, he apologizes, end of. But he completely ignores all the other things about his practices that have come to light during this and seemingly has no intention of addressing them.
- If you believe that Mogoli Angelberg exists, I have a time machine disguised as a remote control that I want to sell to you. He’s been on the internet since 1997, apparently, but has fewer Google search results than my stapler. The Kindle Board thread also has screenshots that, to me, look like evidence that Rivera and Angelberg are the same person. One is a posting on a message board where, signed in as Mogoli Angelberg, Jeff posts and signs his own name. If Mogoli was an employee working on Jeff’s behalf, wouldn’t it be the other way around?
- The same thread highlights an e-mail Rivera sent offering a list of agents and editors supposedly looking for self-published authors IN EXCHANGE for a review of his book. Effortless Marketing, published on the 22nd of this month, already has more than 30 5* star reviews.
- Some very clever person on the Kindle Boards thread has been examining how many times the link in the spam e-mail has been clicked. It points to a spam operation on a massive scale. Even if Rivera is telling the truth, (i) how could such a huge undertaking have been conceived of and executed without his knowledge? and (ii) why would anybody but the author be motivated to do such a thing? My conclusion is that it couldn’t have been and no one would.
So that’s it. I hope your cup of coffee lasted this far. I’m off to make another, and tomorrow this blog will return to its normal fare. If you have anything you’d like to add, I’d suggest you pay a visit to the Kindle Board thread listed above, or comment below. Tootles for now.
(This Time It’s Really the Final) UPDATE | 31.03.12 I really was done with this whole thing, but Jeff Rivera has pulled his book and posted another statement, and since (i) people are still coming here to read this post and I want those people to have all the information and (ii) the statement itself needs addressing, I’m afraid I posting another update…
You can read the statement in full here, but here are some highlights:
- “I wanted to personally thank the thousands of writers who downloaded my eBook, Effortless Marketing this week and the over 34 four and five star reviews I received.” This week, potentially thousands of writers were spammed about Jeff’s book, and we know that he contacts people offering them things in exchange for reviews.
- “And I want to thank those who helped make it the #1 Marketing Book on Kindle.” It was free.
- “I also received interest from a traditional publisher about the book as well and what’s funny is that I didn’t approach that publisher at all. They approached me!” You’re right, that is funny.
- “Unfortunately, due to the campaign of bizarre false accusations about me supposedly spamming people about the eBook even when I explained what happened, I’ve decided to pull it off the market for now.” I presume by “bizarre false accusations” he is referring to the majority of people not falling for his explanation that “Mogoli Angelberg” is an employee of his who conceived and executed this entire spamming operation without his knowledge, despite Mogoli having no independent internet presence or any online proof that he has ever existed at all, and e-mails from Jeff and Mogoli coming from the same source and being worded the same way. His explanation doesn’t explain anything, and he hasn’t even attempted to explain—or even address— why he approached writers offering lists of agents in exchange for reviews, or why he does things like advertising a query writing service that charges $450 upfront, and then another $450 when you get ten responses, which Jeff guarantees (see below). It is bizarre.
- “I pray that those who went out of their way to do so will not experience that type of negativity in their own lives.” You don’t need to, because I would never do something as stupid as this. And if he’s referring to me, I didn’t go out of my way to do anything. I received a suspicious e-mail that insulted my intelligence, and when Googling the information in that e-mail led me to believe that someone was conducting themselves in a manner that brings down all self-publishers, I decided to post about it to see if anyone else had got the same thing.
The phrase “You said it, not me” comes to mind…
If you received a “Loved your book” message from the complimentary Mr. Angelberg, please let us know in the comments below.