The great ebook scam


I had a strange experience the past few days. Come with my, my friends, into one of the murkier corners of the internet…

I’ve known for a long time that my own book covers are … let’s not beat around the bush here … awful. Amateurish. Letting the side down.

The books themselves seem fine. I’m getting four and five star reviews almost without exception. People like reading them. It is just that the covers look as if they have been produced by a ham-fisted idiot trying to work out how to use the mind-numbing complexities of Photoshop.

Which is exactly how they have been designed. By me. Badly.

So I’ve been looking for better covers. At one extreme I could pay hundreds or thousands to an expert. At the other end I could try to DIY with Photoshop or GIMP or Word or something else.

Being a fan of the self-publishing revolution, I turned to my kindle and ipad to see what my fellow authors had published to Amazon or the ibook store. Surely there must be a decent “How to” guide out there?

Well, yes and no.

I found no shortage of candidates. Typing “How to make an ebook cover” into Amazon returned more than 20 titles. I say “more than” because frankly I got bored after the first twenty.

Some interesting patterns started to emerge…

In virtually every book, the author was not an expert. I did not find a single book written by a designer. They may be out there somewhere, but as far as I can see most of these “how to” books were by people with limited experience of making their own book covers.

The majority of the books had poor covers. There were one or two exceptions, but on the whole these were not covers that looked as if they had been designed by a professional.

Then I started to notice something really odd. Many of these books were incredibly short. These are the costs and page lengths for the first twenty books:

  • £2.21 – 104 pages
  • £2.00 – 17 pages
  • £3.65 – 145 pages
  • £2.36 – 115 pages
  • £2.39 – 56 pages
  • £2.24 – 62 pages
  • £3.89 – 56 pages
  • £2.99 – 90 pages
  • £2.32 – 73 pages
  • £0.99 – 21 pages
  • £2.14 – 60 pages
  • £2.23 – 23 pages
  • £0.99 – 52 pages
  • £2.24 – 24 pages
  • £2.23 – 52 pages
  • £3.49 – 137 pages
  • £2.10 – 92 pages
  • £2.16 – 31 pages
  • £3.48 – 48 pages
  • £2.26 – 49 pages

Charging more than £2 for something that is less than 30 pages long? Really?

Ah, but those might be 30 pages of priceless pearls of knowledge. Many of these books market themselves as concise. And what could be wrong with that? They are giving us just the information we need with no waffle.

Um, no. Sorry, but no. I have taken a “look inside” most of these books. I have even bought one of them. And I have some bad news …

The content of most of them is not very good. They start with lots of waffle, like telling you how important it is to have a good cover. They repeat information that you can find on the internet.

So I went hunting on the internet to see if there was anything better. It didn’t take me too long to discover that there is plenty of free information on how to design an ebook cover. Video tutorials on youtube. Blogs from friendly authors. Forums on writing websites.

But then I spotted something else. Sitting next to the web pages about ebook covers were books about “how to write an ebook in a week”. A week? Surely not? It takes me month to write a novel. How can someone write a creditable book in under a week?

Then the penny dropped. “Write a book in a week”, sitting right next to a 17 page “book” about how to design an ebook cover. I wonder if those two things could be connected…

I was curious, so I started clicking. I had stumbled on a sub-culture of writing ultra short non-fiction books in a ridiculously short amount of time. Before long, my personal best was broken. I found someone claiming to write a book in three days. Then a weekend. Then 24 hours.

And then the ultimate (so far), I found a video claiming to write a book in an hour. Oh yes, you can become an author in less than 60 minutes…

My gob was truly smacked. A 20 to 30 page book, copy and pasted from the internet, and sold at $2.99. Niche obscure non-fiction that the author knows next to nothing about. Cranking out the quantity and never mind the quality.

This isn’t writing. It’s a con. It is drivel. It puts profit above ethics by claiming other people’s ideas and hard work as your own.

Then it started to become surreal. I found people selling ultra-short books telling other people how to write ultra-short books. I found one book written in a weekend about how to write a book in a weekend.

The story doesn’t quite end there. My research about book design led me to If you haven’t discovered fiverr yet, it’s a cheap way of outsourcing tasks like ebook cover design. For a minimum price of $5, someone with more expertise than you will design your ebook cover, or website, or just about anything.

I started looking at graphic designers looking for a cover for my books. Helpfully they give examples of their work. And … guess what … the vast majority of the book covers in their portfolio had been for niche obscure non-fiction books.

What a mad world we are living in.

The thing that annoys me more than anything is that the people who suffer here are the readers. They are getting a very poor product just so that someone can turn a quick buck.

Readers lose. Real writers lose. The ebook industry loses. Only the scammers profit.


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