I’ve been getting quite a few emails from companies claiming to be book marketing or promotion companies. Most of them are outright scams, and the latest prompted me to do this public service announcement.*
Spotting the scammers is very similar to spotting phishing emails or other forms of online social engineering. Misspellings, poor grammar, and inconsistencies should be a red flag.
For example, the email I just received from “Book Knocks” is rife with signs of dishonesty. Aside from the fact that it originated from a Gmail address, they managed to spell their own company’s name as “Bookknocks”, “Book Knocks” and “Book knocks” within the same communication.
Even if they’re not trying to scam us, why would an author want to work with a promotion company who can’t even communicate their own name correctly? A general rule of thumb is that if a marketing company can’t even be arsed to copy edit their own emails and website, don’t give them a dime.
But what about the website itself? Isn’t that a sign that they’re trustworthy? Nope. Just because they have one, don’t think of them as legitimate.
A lot of scam sites are AI generated en masse now. Even if AI wasn’t used, I could manually build a website like “Book knocks” in about thirty minutes — which, after checking the history of their domain, appears to be about how long they’ve been in business.
Using ahrefs, you can easily check things like the domain authority, rank, and traffic of a website.
When a book marketing company offers to list you on their website, ALWAYS check the traffic. Chances are they get zero visits (I’ve checked a lot of them) so being listed on their site will do nothing for your sales. And it won’t help with SEO because backlinks from low domain authority sites add nothing to your scores.
Then there’s the social media part of the offer. These companies always say they have hundreds of thousands of followers. The problem with social media marketing in general is that it actually has a very low average success rate. It tends to be one of those things that when it works for someone, it blows the roof off, but for everyone else, it’s a waste of time and money (from a Return on Investment standpoint).
And we’re talking small success numbers here. Figure for everyone one social media marketing success story, there are probably ten thousand users doing the exact same things and getting no traction.
What I’m getting at is that social media marketing isn’t something you just throw fifty bucks at and walk away with sales. And that’s when you’re dealing with legitimate service providers.
Now, when you consider account shady/scam providers like “Book knocks”, the chances of success are even lower. Because they don’t disclose their lists or even publicize their own social media accounts (a really bad sign), they’re most likely lying about having any followers at all.
What they probably have is a network of bots that can make it look like traffic is being sent to your link. Those could be social media bots or something far more basic, depending on your link and how it’s tracked. One could generate fake traffic with a setup as basic as an Excel spreadsheet with macros if they were so inclined.
Of course, you always want to look out for offers that seem too good to be true, and don’t be swayed by guarantees or promises. Money-back guarantees are meaningless when they’re offered by fly-by-night online companies.
I suspect the strategy in play here isn’t complex. They’re probably going to see how many payments they can get by sending out a few thousand emails to indie authors, then they’ll kick on their bots and walk away.
Of course, you also have to be wary of fraudulent payment portals. Depending on how nefarious these scammers are, they may be using the website to capture your PayPal login information.
I would recommend sticking to portals that exist on PayPal’s secure site. Don’t be fooled by anything that looks embedded in the seller’s site. It’s pretty easy to make a website that looks like a legitimate PayPal gateway, so always check the URL in your browser for authenticity.
What if I’m wrong? What if “Book knocks” is someone’s legitimate attempt at starting a book promo company, and I’m crapping all over it?
My advice would be that they need to set their QC standards higher if they expect to be taken seriously. It’s 2023. There’s no excuse for a website covered in spelling and syntax errors. Their SEO metadata should be squared away. They need to be more transparent about their 100,000 Twitter followers, because consumers have no reason to believe this company is even on Twitter.
There are just too many frauds and malicious actors out there for anyone to take a risk on a shady-looking online retailer. So if they expect to do business, they need to try really hard not to look so untrustworthy.
That said, I’m sure “Bookknock” is not legit, so the above advice is moot.
What’s more important is helping everyone avoid scams like these. They can be tempting, especially with the low prices that make you think “eh, it’s $20, what do I have to lose?” But that $20 payment can easily lead to a compromised PayPal account if you’re not vigilant.
And always remember: Marketing is one of the easiest industries to get into right now, but it’s not easy to do well. Anyone can call themselves a marketer and the barriers to entry are low.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing and promotion companies online run by people who are running a playbook that’s so unethical it should be considered fraud. They run these businesses like gyms; they don’t care if you get results, they just want people to sign up and pay for as long as possible.
So just watch out and do your due diligence.
NOTE: For those who don’t know, I’ve been writing about IT professionally for over fifteen years. I’ve probably written enough articles about cybersecurity to fill up a bookshelf at this point.