When NPR solemnly informed me this afternoon that self-published authors on Amazon in the Kindle Direct program were “catfishing” and “astroturfing,” I began to fret over whether that was me they were talking about. I’d heard both terms before but couldn’t remember exactly what they meant. My interest was further piqued by the announcement that there would be consequences and there were reporters and scholars fast on the heels of these scofflaws.
It turns out “catfishers” are people who pay poverty-stricken writers a little bit to slickly remount their stories and sell them under a pen name. After that, they apply “astroturf,” fake reviews (sometimes paid for, sometimes cajoled out of friends) that make the subject seem popular and desirable. They also dream up bios that make the fictional author seem like an expert in the subject and a genius in general. One catfisher covered in the story claimed his alter ego spoke fifteen languages. Catfished books can become bestsellers, thanks to the marketing genius of their creators. Real authors suffer as a result, losing sales to con artists who flood the market with books on subjects like weight loss and leave readers disillusioned and fed up.
One way to keep catfishers from manipulating your book buying choices is to carefully review the author’s background and also checkout other reviews written by positive reviewers (if all the reviews are glowingly positive, you may have some fakery going on, possibly for money). As for protecting yourself against these unscrupulous practices as an author, keep an eye on reviews and reporting suspicious entries. Of course, you should also try not to be so desperate that selling your goods to a catfisher sounds like a great source of cash.
Anyone who looks at my books on Amazon can satisfy themselves that I’m not pumping my brand up with hyperbole. One look at my bank account would confirm that.