In the past 20+ years, we’ve published thousands of books. While many of our authors are young and middle-aged folks, many are also in their 60’s, 70’s, and far beyond. Our oldest author to date is 101! This isn’t surprising because many of us won’t have time to write the Great American Novel until all the kids have moved out and/or we’ve retired. That’s just the way it is in this fast-paced world.
Elderly authors are easy marks for scammers and thieves. Today, I’ll share several examples. These represent a combination of horror stories we’ve heard over the years.
BLATANT, INTENTIONAL SCAMS
MONA THE MUSE
Like with many elderly targets, Mona was lonely and bored. She was thrilled when her son bought her a computer, and taught her how to surf the Internet. She even had an email address, and was so happy to get anything from anybody, including spam. Mona loved “surfing the ‘Net” and she really enjoyed talking to other authors online. She even wrote a book, and was looking at different publishers.
One day, she received an email (spam) from a nice man who said he wanted to help her get her book published. She filled out some confusing forms online, gave him her credit card number, and never heard from him again. Her family later found her book for sale online, under a different author’s name. The publisher was overseas. They also found numerous unauthorized charges to Mona’s credit card from the same company.
WANDA THE WRITER
Wanda was a homebound widow. She spent long hours online, talking to other writers on discussion boards, and via email.
A woman approached Wanda one day by email, claiming to be a literary agent. She asked Wanda to send her a copy of her manuscript. Wanda was beyond thrilled when the “agent” wrote back, lavishing praise on Wanda’s immense talents, and stating the book MUST be published. “The public deserves to read this great literary work!” Wanda, of course, called and emailed everyone she knew to tell them the great news!
The agent put her book on the fast track, pressuring Wanda to sign the contract “TODAY so we can get moving on it NOW!” Wanda, of course, didn’t even read the contract. What harm could possibly come from a “literary agent?” She didn’t understand all that legal jargon anyway.
Wanda signed the contract, but then received another email from the agent, about a week later, asking for several hundred dollars. Wanda expressed confusion but the agent insisted it was a normal fee charged by agents to cover “copying, postage, and things like that.” The agent reminded Wanda that the fees were in the contract, and went on to heap on more praise about Wanda’s great novel. Wanda wasn’t very happy about spending the money but the agent did state that the book was going to be a best-seller so, really, what was there to lose?
Weeks passed and Wanda started getting nervous and upset. She finally heard back from the agent, who claimed she didn’t understand why a publisher hadn’t bought the book yet. She sent Wanda a list of the publishers she claimed to have approached. The list included big names of New York publishing houses. Wanda was impressed! So impressed, in fact, that she sent the agent another $500 so she could keep sending out book proposals to even more publishers. There were so many in the country, right? She trusted her “literary agent” to find just the right one for her book.
You probably know the end of this story. After receiving thousands of dollars over the months, and after Wanda told the “agent” she was about to run out of money, the “agent” eventually “found a publisher” for Wanda’s book! But, the publisher insisted on Wanda investing in the book, too, to show she was 100% behind the project. Of course, the “publisher” was the literary agent in disguise. Wanda was so happy to have finally been offered a contract that she didn’t ask any questions at all. She signed the contract, spent the last of her savings…and never heard from the “agent/publisher” again. Emails bounced back, letters were returned, etc. There never was a real agent, nor a publisher, and no publishing houses ever received anything about Wanda’s book.
TURNING A BLIND EYE TO MAKE A PROFIT
WILLIAM THE WORDSMITH
William was a gentleman who had three completed manuscripts sitting in a desk drawer. With the help of his son, his books were published by a vanity publisher, who was quietly informed by the son that the author was suffering from mild dementia. After the books were published, the author himself started ordering copies of his books on a regular basis. The publisher noticed nobody was buying the books…except the author. He started to suspect the author was buying copies of his book to give away, or perhaps they were starting to stack up in the author’s house. Maybe the author was embarrassed that the book wasn’t selling. Maybe he forgot he’d ordered copies, so he kept on ordering more. The publisher should have contacted the author’s son to prevent the author from spending all his money…but he didn’t. The author was a cash cow and it really wasn’t the publisher’s problem, right? The author’s son later, when reviewing his father’s finances, found the charges, and then found unopened boxes of his father’s books in the garage. He’d counted on the publisher to inform him if this type of activity was occurring but the publisher was too busy pocketing the his dad’s money.
ANDREW THE AUTHOR
Andrew was also an older fellow. He was on medication, and had a hard time concentrating, but he really wanted to leave a legacy to his children. Like William, he wanted to get that old manuscript into print. He found a publisher online, and paid the fees to get his book published. The next day, he forgot he’d paid their fees, so he paid them again. And, a week later, he paid yet again. The publisher noticed the extra payments but didn’t mention it to anybody. It was the family’s responsibility to control their patriarch’s actions and spending, right?
Of course, we must assume that some POD publishers wouldn’t even notice these behaviors. Sadly, some that do don’t care, and do nothing in response in their quest for profits. Taking advantage of the elderly in this fashion can have grave legal consequences. Some who have run scams like the ones preying on Mona and Wanda are sitting in prison now, or are on parole, and prevented from being involved in similar “businesses” in the future.
WHAT TO DO?
If your parent or grandparent is getting their book published, you might want to consider contacting the publisher directly, gently explaining the situation, and asking your relative if they’d mind you helping them through the process. That way, you can keep an eye out for possible scams and you can also make sure their spending doesn’t get out of control. I strongly recommend asking for you loved one’s login info. for their author account in their publisher’s website. One older fella, who is a friend of a friend, ended up spending almost $20K to get his book published at a POD publisher after he was upsold on numerous services he obviously did not need. He’s only sold a handful of copies to date and he’s considering filing a lawsuit against the publisher.
Needless to say, somebody should also be keeping an eye on Granny’s (and Grandpa’s!) monthly credit card bill to ensure she’s not sending excessive funds to a TV evangelist, a pyramid scheme…or a POD publisher who doesn’t give a flip about Granny or her family.
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