Red Headed Book Lover – How I Beat a Scammer

It was January 2020. My novel had been released for less than two months. I was busy juggling my day job, my master’s degree, running a small business and preparing for an art exhibition. I knew I should have been doing more work to promote my novel, but I really didn’t have the time. And then I got an unsolicited email in my inbox.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Somebody wanted to review my novel. And best of all, I hadn’t had to go grovelling for them to do it.

As any author will tell you, a good review online is priceless. Good reviews make the difference between someone thinking about buying your book, and actually making the plunge. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. More reviews equals more sales, and more sales equals more reviews. The problem is, of course, that the overwhelming majority of people who read your book won’t take the time to leave a review, regardless of whether they loved it, loathed it or considered it to be their new bible.

I’ve gotten many reviews of my novel now, across multiple platforms. A few weeks after my novel came out though, I think I only had one or two. I was overworked (and underpaid) and I had university essays due. I barely had time to walk my dog. I took a quick look at the website of the person who had contacted me, Aimee Ann. And it looked good. Check it out for yourself. The so-called Red Headed Book Lover. Normally I pride myself on my ability to fact check. I have a reputation among my Facebook friends for being ‘that guy’. You know, the one who posts the link to the Snopes article debunking whatever BS post has appeared in his feed. On this day, however, I’m more than a bit embarrassed to say that due to a combination of desperation, fatigue and the on the surface validity of this scammers website, I was drawn in.

What Aimee doesn’t tell you in her initial email, is that she charges $77 for her reviews. That should put up some red flags for anyone. For starters, it’s unethical to pay for reviews. But in my pig-headed state, I tried to tell myself that rule shouldn’t apply to me. I mean, I knew my novel was good. So what if I paid for one review? At the end of the day, I just needed to get the ball rolling. And reading the quality of the reviews on Aimee’s homepage, I thought I’d at least be receiving a decent write up. She even has a disclaimer saying if she doesn’t like your book, she’ll refund your money instead of leaving you a bad review.  Upon reading that, those questions of ethics started to fade away entirely. Of course, what I didn’t know at the time was that Aimee never dislikes a book she is paid to review. And the main reason she doesn’t dislike them, is because she never reads them in the first place.

The sad thing is I probably wouldn’t have figured out Aimee is actually running a scam, if she had of just delivered the review I ordered on time. I paid for the review at the end of January, at which point Aimee told me she would get straight into working on it.

A month later there was still no review.

I sent Aimee a polite email asking what was happening, and she sent me a prompt reply telling me she’d post her review after the weekend. The weekend came and went, and then the weekend after that. And still no review. In my frustration, I decided to Google reviews of Aimee’s website to see if anyone else had had a negative experience with her. And that’s about the time I realised I was a sucker.

The first two responses on Google for ‘Red Headed Book Lover’ are links to the website. The next two are posts by author Lee Hall and Victoria Strauss, warning authors not to be sucked in by her scam. Rather than just repeating their astute criticism, just read the links above if you want more details about exactly why Aimee’s services need to be avoided.

Aimee takes payments via PayPal, a company that has pretty strict rules about buyer protection. That fact in itself contributed heavily to my decision to do business with her. So I decided to apply for a refund through PayPal, on the grounds Aimee hadn’t delivered what I’d paid for on time. Of course, I didn’t mention in my complaint that I didn’t want her review at all any more. This was Aimee’s prompt response:

She’s since deleted the review from her website, but I saved an archived snapshot, which you can read here. If you haven’t read my novel, I suppose there’s a chance you might not see anything wrong with this review. As the author, however, it was obvious to me that Aimee never even read my book. All she read was the back cover. Why it took her over a month to fabricate a BS review, I will never understand. Of course, by this stage I’d already made up for the fact I didn’t initially do my homework.

Aimee frequently changes the dates of her book reviews on her homepage to make them look current. Don’t take my word for it, just check screenshots of her website courtesy of the Internet Archive. On August 25, 2018, her website said she had reviewed ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ on August 20, 2018. On January 9, 2020, her website said the review was done on December 8, 2019, and on March 6, 2020, when I confronted Aimee with this information, her website  said the review was done on February 2, 2020. If you look at her website today, it says her review was done on July 2nd.

I know for a fact Aimee hadn’t done my review by the 2nd of March like she claimed, as I had been checking her website daily. I confronted Aimee with the screenshots, and threatened to present the evidence to PayPal that she was running a scam if she didn’t refund my money. I didn’t get a response from her by email, but I did get this email from PayPal only minutes later.

 

Part of me wishes I had of sent the evidence to PayPal, on the hopes her account may have been banned. But hopefully this information will at least help her next unfortunate victim. If you are that victim, make the call yourself as to which option you want to go with. Oh and if you haven’t figured it out yet, just don’t pay for reviews. Even if it isn’t a scam. If you’re looking for free, honest reviews, I’d recommend Booksprout.

New podcast interview with Damien Linnane

I’m very happy to announce my first ever podcast interview is now online. Alexandra Coffey from Grow Where You’re Planted interviewed me about prison, quarantine and my novel. You can listen to the podcast here on Spotify.

I’ve also been given a profile on the Australian Library and Information Association’s (ALIA) website featuring authors who are available to be booked for online events. If you’d like to book me for a live or pre-recorded interview regarding crime fiction, the prison system, memoirs or any other topic, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can check out my profile on the ALIA website here.

Things have been going well for me as the world returns to a sense of normality. I’m still waiting for the university semester to formally end so I can apply to graduate, but the great news is I’ve almost finished the first draft of my autobiography. It should be done in a week or so, though don’t expect it to be on shelves anytime soon. As I can tell you from experience the publishing process is long and arduous. Updates will be posted here as always.

Scarred now available on Kobo

When Scarred was released last November in paperback, my publisher signed an exclusive deal with Kindle for the digital version. The terms of that agreement have now expired, so I’m pleased to announce Scarred is now available from other ebook providers. It launched on Kobo today (see here), and it should be available from all the other leading sellers within a couple weeks.

In other news, unfortunately COVID-19 has claimed yet another business, in the form of news website 10 daily, which will close down this Friday. While I’m upset I will no longer be able to write for them I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity. They will be missed.

Something I learnt in prison is that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. One of the first things I did in prison was start writing my novel. When that was finished I started teaching myself to draw. When the pandemic restrictions started I took it as an opportunity to focus my energy on completing my master’s degree. The coursework is now done and I am essentially just waiting for the current semester to formally end so that I can apply to graduate. Now that that chapter of my life is over I’m finally free to focus more on my autobiography. I’ve now cracked the 100,000 word mark, and hope to have an ‘up-to-date’ draft within the next couple months. Watch this space as always folks. 🙂

Update: Now also available at Booktopia ebooks, Barnes and Noble ebooks and Apple Books.

Interview with Damien Linnane up at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

A journalist working for Sydney Criminal Lawyers, a law firm that also publishes regular articles relating to the law and criminal justice system, reached out last week regarding my views on COVID-19 and the government inaction on releasing prisoners. That article went live this morning. You can read it here.

It’s definitely a real shame Australia hasn’t followed the example set by countries like the US, Ireland, and even Iran in releasing low-risk offenders to help protect the community from corona-virus overwhelming the cramped conditions inside our prison system, and then spreading back to the community via essential prison staff. And especially confusing since laws allowing for the release of inmates for that reason have been passed, though not taken advantage of. Check out the article to read more on the subject.

New article published on 10 daily

It’s been a while since I’ve sold an article to 10 daily, but as I already mentioned I’ve had more time to write ever since coronavirus effectively shut down all the promotional appearances I had booked for my novel this year. Ironically one of the first things I’ve done with my time is write some opinion pieces about coronavirus and the prison system. I sent an article to 10 daily last week though it wasn’t their cup of tea; I instead shared it on my website in my last post. They did, however, suggest a topic for me to write on instead, and given what it was, I was only too happy to oblige. So here’s my official response to everyone currently quarantined in a five-star hotel that are comparing themselves to prisoners. Check out the article here.

Thankfully my novel promotion isn’t completely dead in the water either. The Australian Crime Writers Association has featured Scarred on their website, and I got a killer review from author Lee Hall just the other day. Go check out his website and his novels if you’re looking for something else to read during our extended self-isolation period.

Update: The Daily Mail ended up publishing an article … about my article. You can check that out here.