Ghostscams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

How to spot and avoid ghostscams when preparing to write your life story or business book
He’s cute, but he can’t write your book. You’re better off doing it yourself with tools from DIYBook.

Unfortunately, many people searching for professional ghostwriters are targeted by scam artists, or “ghostscams” as they’re called in the industry. These scammers promise a high-quality professional ghostwriter on the cheap–sometimes just a few hundred dollars:

Of course, we can write your 50,000-word manuscript for $500! Just pay everything right now…

And then, nothing. Or, the unwitting customer receives a manuscript full of gibberish. Or, it is completely plagiarized. This week’s post–the first in an occasional series–is about spotting ghostscams so you don’t become the next victim.

A note: We made the choice not to hyperlink to these ghostscammers and their websites because we don’t want to drive any traffic their way. If you happen upon a site that meets any of the following criteria, you’ve probably landed on a ghostscam.

If a ghostwriter promises you a bestseller, it is a scam. No reputable ghostwriter will ever promise a bestseller because it is impossible to know if a book will or will not become a bestseller.

Some of these ghostscam websites have “sales associates” willing to quote you a special price via chat. The “sales associate” will quote anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars for a book. When the mark say that’s too expensive, the scammer returns with a special price drastically reduced–just for you!

You’ll get 80% off if you buy now!

Too good to be true? You betcha.  

Writing a book–whether a life story or a business book–is a time-intensive process. It can take hundreds of hours for a ghostwriter to prepare a manuscript. 

Let’s consider a few examples. I have seen ghostscams offering to write an entire manuscript for as low as $699. It is common for a manuscript of approximately 50,000 words to take at least 200 hours (and that assumes no research, minimal edits, and no drastic changes to the book’s structure). That means the ghostwriting company would earn $3.50 per hour, and after considering expenses and overhead, your “ghostwriter” would earn less than $3.50 per hour. No one can (or would) work for $3.50. And these ghostscams often claim that their ghostwriters are highly sought-after professionals with multiple bestsellers. If that’s true, why would they work for less than $3.50 an hour? 

Why would anyone work for so little? Well, most of these ghostscams don’t employ ghostwriters. These companies convince you to pay upfront. Then, they do no work, provide you with plagiarized material, or quickly make up unreadable junk.  What about the ghostwriter bios highlighted on these sites? Stock footage and bogus credentials. I’ve seen the same picture used for two separate “author bios” on two ghostscam websites. Neither one was real: the photograph is a stock image.

Unless you are famous–perhaps a celebrity, an athlete, a movie star, a well-known politician, or have millions of followers on a social media platform–professional ghostwriters will not accept a royalty (a portion of book sales) instead of being paid. The reason is first-time or unknown authors are often not profitable. While there are exceptions, they are exceptions, not the rule. 

Ghostscammers try to trick unsuspecting customers by offering a hybrid payment option: an upfront deposit plus a share of royalties. Suggesting a hybrid approach sounds legitimate; some legitimate publishers provide their authors with a hybrid publishing option, making this an effective technique because the ghostscammer plays to your ego by suggesting there might be royalties. (In case you’re curious, the IBPA shared a list of what to look for in a reputable hybrid publisher here.) Mentioning royalties sounds professional and like this company cares about your project. Don’t be fooled: it’s a bait-and-switch. The ghostscammers take your money and disappear.  

Professional ghostwriters do not offer a full refund if you are unsatisfied. Scam artists are happy to make that promise because they have no intention of keeping it.

But it raises a valid question: why don’t professional ghostwriters offer refunds? Ghostwriters cannot make this promise because your book is unique–if you return it to them, they can’t sell that work to someone else. In contrast, imagine you buy a product at a local retailer. If you don’t like it and return it in the packaging, sure, they can give you a full refund because there is an expectation they can sell it to another customer. But for a ghostwriter, once the work is complete, they can’t recover the time and energy they spent on your book. They can’t resell it to another customer. That time and energy is gone.

Professional ghostwriters want you to be happy with their work, but sometimes, you may be unable to continue working with them. When you work with a professional ghostwriter, look for a contract that allows you, the customer, to walk away if you are unsatisfied with the work but that you pay for any work completed up to that point.

If you are looking for a ghostwriter to help you write a book in English, you should expect excellent written work. If a website is full of errors, whether on a website, in emails, or chatboxes, steer clear. (A few tip-offs that you’ve stumbled upon a scam site: the use of the words “avail,” “hence,” and “glimpse.”)

Many of these scams are based overseas, so the scammers often speak and write English as a second language. Scam websites are rife with grammar errors, and the writing is clunky or downright unreadable. If you can’t understand the website, there’s no way the work product will be any better.

DIYBook was created to help people avoid ghostscams. We provide you with the tools and techniques professional ghostwriters use. And, if you do need a ghostwriter’s help, you can book time with one of our professional ghostwriters right from your own Author Account. Plus, with our 7-day free trial, you have nothing to lose.

Author Barabara Basbanes Richter, Founder of DIYBook
About the Author

Barbara Basbanes Richter founded DIYBook, an affordable and easy-to-use book writing program. She also founded In Ink Ghostwriting, a full-service ghostwriting firm helping politicians, pundits, scientists, CEOs, professional athletes, and others get their stories into print.

Under her own byline, Barbara’s writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, The Vineyard Gazette, Humanities, The Sewanee Review, Fine Books & Collections, Literary Features Syndicate, High Country News, Ravishly.com, Westchester Magazine, and other outlets.

Barbara is a fluent French speaker, and her translation from French to English of Mademoiselle de Malepeire was called a “clever, inspiring gem.”

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