In this article I share insights into the world of what I will call “passive income generation” and “inauthentic books”. These refer to very specific types of publishing which I will endeavour to define and are not intended to refer to regular self-publishing, independent authors, marketers, or any specific individual.
In general, this article refers to books which are inauthentic in their authorship and content, where those do not match the explicit or implied statements about them, the most extreme examples being fake biographies or outrightly plagiarised contents. Mainly, I will be dealing with a shady grey area that takes advantage of online platforms to sell titles which are partly or wholly inauthentic in this context.
I am writing from the perspective of an author and co-author of over fifty books, both self-published and mass-market published, with ten years full-time experience as a professional author in the world of tarot, pagan and western esoteric books. I also hold an M.B.A. in Business Studies from the University of Central Lancashire, and a DMS Post-Graduate Diploma from the University of Derby, which I mention as context and credential for discussing marketing in this article.
My authored and co-authored books are based on over forty years of experience, study and practice in witchcraft, magick and divination and several have been either best-selling or award-winning in their respective fields. I have made a lot of mistakes during that time and had a few successes, yet it has taken me over a decade to feel comfortable even referring to myself as an “author” by profession.
I am also writing from a personal feeling which ranges across mild bemusement, curiosity, sanguine acceptance, disbelief, deep concern and, on occasion, outright frustration. In a sense, this piece of writing is something to get off my chest and move on, having written it down and shared it with anyone who may find it interesting, useful or equally bemusing.
The Strange World of Inauthentic Books and Passive Income
Not all is as it might seem on Amazon and other online platforms. Many of the books we find swamping the “top 100” or “best-selling” non-fiction lists are not real books – at least, in the way we usually consider that term. It may even seem odd to consider that a book is “not real”, “fake” or, as I will term it, “inauthentic”.
We know a real book. It is written – and I am referring to non-fiction throughout – by a real author, first-time or long-established, about a subject in which they have some experience or knowledge, for the reason of writing that book. These reasons may vary from author to author; some have a passion, and some have a skill with which they want to earn money. Some have all the reasons, in varying amounts. To be fair, a real book can be written by an author with little experience, or knowledge, but in a real book, this will be authentically shared in their biography or content, and it may even add to the interest of a reader in the book.
However, not all such books are “real” in this sense. They are real books with real titles and real content written (or copied) by a real person, but they are not authentic. They do not have enough qualities of reliability, originality, accuracy, and neither are they a genuine presentation. They may not even be considered as significant, nor responsible, nor do they have honesty of their purpose or thought to their consequence. But they do exist.
Some titles have been created purely to make “passive income” sales in a niche market, and the “author” has no expertise, experience or ability in the field to which they are purporting. This is not necessarily a “bad thing”, nor is it (if the content is original writing) illegal in the sense of breaking legislation in copyright, trademark, or plagiarism, etc. However, at best, it can be misleading and at worst, it could potentially be dangerous.
These titles to which I am specifically referring are generally not written by an “author” but contain content which has been paid for by the creator of the title. The producer of the content will have no knowledge or experience in the subject, nor necessarily (if charging less) any ability in writing.
Again, this can be common practice with “real” books, where a ghost-writer has been employed to write content (in part or whole) for the author whose name is on the book. In a real book, this is done with consideration to the accuracy of the content, the skill of the ghost-writer and the brand of the authors name. There is usually a high level of editing and proofing for books created in this manner, cost and risk to reputation, both to the author and the publisher. It is usually done with good reason and intent.
A few years ago, my co-author of many books, Tali Goodwin, and I were curious as to the mechanism and intent of many titles starting to flood the tarot market on Amazon, particularly on Kindle. I spent a weekend diving into the world of “passive income entrepreneurs” and was genuinely shocked at the widespread and blatant teaching which aims to take advantage of online publishing, targeted specifically to make as much money as possible with as least work, time, or consideration of consequence.
Many of the videos I watched, on a computer that had been quarantined and with an email address specifically set-up for the purpose of exploration, I found truly dire. So much so, I felt the need for a very long and very hot shower after the weekend. The world of “passive income” may be based on simple and everyday marketing, but at the edges, it is simply about making as much money as possible, ideally with as little work as possible, by preying (and even generating) fear in other people.
The fact that it can be found lurking under the skin of glossy “books” and “courses” teaching ‘soul-centric wisdom’ is as terrible as it is inevitable. The term itself, “passive income” is not particularly negative or misleading, it is a good term for “author royalties”, for example! However, it is when it is conducted with no thought to the consequence, or in an “inauthentic” manner that it gets its more dismal reputation.
We decided to put our rapid learning to the test and produced our first “Andrea Green” book as a demonstration of many of these principles – other than those we found truly unethical. There was also a big difference in that we spent an entire week writing original content, and it was content we were happy to publish, and genuinely written by ourselves from years of experience, research and knowledge.
The success of this one small book, written by a pseudonymous author, but leveraged purely on “passive income” principles, compared to authentic books traditionally self-published or by established publishers, demonstrated clearly that the marketing worked – and was equally working for titles created by those without any experience or knowledge of content.
So, in this Authentic Book Spotters Guide, I hope to share some of our observations from that experience, in order that readers might be informed as to spotting a real book with relevant and considered content. Whilst I am writing specifically about ‘pagan’, ‘new age’ and ‘divination’ books, the reader might be shocked and appalled to know that any ‘trending niche’ is target for these titles, from running a food van to health advice, from tarot reading to feeding a new-born baby.
AUTHENTIC BOOK SPOTTERS GUIDE
These indicators should be taken together with common-sense and in overall context, as many may apply to authentic authors with authentic content. They should best be taken as markers in total.
1. Is the Author Authentic?
1.1 Does their name check out as belonging to a real person?
They may not have any online presence other than a site to sell their books – which is fine in many cases – but does it also include links to other interviews, photographs, videos, or real-world activity of the author? Can they be verified as a real person on social media? What is their Instagram like? Do they tweet?
Can you answer the simple questions, “do you know who this is?” or “do you trust this person is who they say they are?”
1.2. Have they set up an inauthentic presence?
Most real authors struggle to gain visibility online so are more likely to have a normal website, a range of photographs, podcast interviews, etc. They have ‘prior existence’ and not recently created ‘proof’. Check Youtube to see if they have videos of them as a real person, have been met by other real people, i.e. at a conference, etc.
TOP TIP: Type in the name of the author and “scam” next to it. This doesn’t work the way you might immediately think.
IF you get a hit or two, and they are ALL to the site of the author, their actual book(s) or similar, check that the search result also contains the word “spam” rather than just being a hit for the name itself.
This may be a good example of “inoculation”. Often, passive incomers are taught to set up a site with their own name and words like “scam” involved in another context, to prepare themselves for people checking up on them later! Try it, it really does work.
The site you are led to will be by the “author” and include the word scam, for example, “This book helps you to avoid a scam by tarot psychics” or “I want to help my readers avoid a scam”.
It is not accidental. I was taught it in one of the preview classes I took investigating this weird world of “passive income”. The trick is to do it early when building your website – or even in the “blurb” on Amazon for your own title, so it ranks highly on Google long before anyone suspects you might not be authentic.
1.3 Do they have a profile using a stock image?
TOP TIP: Many browsers, particularly Chrome, will now let you do a “reverse image search” with a right-click and menu choice, otherwise you can perform it from the Google Images page.
There are plenty of stock-art sites and sometimes I have seen images for “authors” that are from little-known hairdresser sites, or other unlikely sources. If you get results that are across a range of pages, having no theme, it is likely a fake attribution to a stock or model image.
An authentic author who has no online presence may be genuine, but they will not be using (or should not be) a profile photo of another person.
1.4. Do they have a History?
If a “passive incomer” starts to gain traction, they will develop their site and titles accordingly, often moving to new material or subjects, often those “trending”. They may also target very niche markets that they believe have ‘simple knowledge’ or a wide range of free material online, i.e. “tarot”.
Again, this is no different to a real author, in this regard – there is no surprise in regular authors doing so. However, a passive incomer will have no real history in any of the new subjects, and may even delete or change their website accordingly, changing their bio and story.
TOP TIP: Way-Back Machine is your friend. Luckily, many domain names have long been archived across time and are accessible by “Way Back Machine”. It is often fascinating to see a biographical story change, such as “I’ve been reading tarot five years” and then, five years later replaced by, “I’ve been reading tarot for twenty years” or every few years a different expertise, all historical.
One site simply changed their text with a simple search and replace of “Crystals” for “Runes”, keeping all the same background detail text!
1.5 Is their name deliberately optimised?
Is their name an amalgamation of search terms? As the “passive incomer” knows very little of the subject, they will often choose names that come from search terms, such as “Doreen Gardner” (mixing Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner) or innocuous names that sound “home spun”, such as “Lisa Freeman”.*
Their name might also sound like it could be a perfectly normal name – for that market. Sometimes they will choose a name similar to other authors in that same subject. Sometimes they will even choose a name that has an obvious pun, e.g. “M. Y. Prophet” (my profit).
2. Is the Title Authentic?
The name of the book will often be “Ultimate Guide”, “Top Guide”, “Quick and Easy”, “Beginners Guide To”, etc. because these are search term optimised. They have also been created to answer a specific fear (rather than need) of likely buyers; “Simple Tarot Spreads”, “Safe Spells for Beginners”, etc.
The aim of the marketing is to have a “benefit rich title”; another term in the weird world that overlaps “normal” marketing with “passive income” marketing.
Again, there are many real books and real publications with similar titles, as publishers and self-publishers also have to get their title recognised in the online jungle. The title is simply another marker in the sum total of markers that may indicate an authentic book or non-authentic book.
Unfortunately, it also means that the market will rapidly be flooded by “beginner” books, leading to a false perception that it is beginner books which are selling and popular, leading to more “beginner” books being created, both authentically and non-authentically.
As a teacher of tarot and long-time advocate for deeper studies and research, this is obviously a particularly frustrating state of affairs.
3. Is the Content Authentic?
We now turn to what I consider the main problem with such books – the content is not based on knowledge or experience. As a result, it could be misleading, even dangerous, and at the very least, time-wasting for the reader.
For many of these “passive income” books, most of the content is taken from online sources and then slightly changed to avoid outright plagiarism. Passive Incomers are often advised to use “Copyscape” or similar programs to parse their final text to ensure it is amended enough to not get flagged as plagiarism. They actually use the tool designed to spot copying to refine their copied text to get as quickly under that radar as possible. Again, the aim is to do least amount of work.
Where a “non-authentic” book has not been “re-purposed” from another source, it might have been written by a “copy writer” who has been given the subject, a tight deadline, and little fee, to produce the content. Passive incomer “entrepreneurs” provide lists of sites where this can be done, ranging from well-known sites such as “Fiverr” to other sources in countries where the work is – for whatever reason – a lot cheaper.
There is no issue with copy-writers, the issue is that the produced material in these circumstances will often have been sourced from generic on-line sites and written without any knowledge or experience. It may well produce misleading text, that the original author and the person producing the title has no experience to spot or correct. It can often include non-checked personal details from the original source which has been copied, for example, “When I was young, my sisters …” whereas the biography might state the “author” had only one brother, etc.
These inauthentic books are usually extremely short, to save time, expense and likelihood of their source material being discovered. As a result, the material is often padded out to get a higher page-count, particularly for Kindle.
To myself, the real problem is that people might read these books as being based in experience and knowledge, and try and learn – or, heaven forbid, practice the things that are being reproduced by ‘authors’ with no knowledge of the subject or the consequences of practice.
I came across one self-praising “passive income” blog discussing how they had made a fair amount of money from using this approach in publishing a diet book. I’ll say that again – a diet book.
When they were discussing their “mistakes”, they reported, with no sense of shame or consequence, their two biggest mistakes were:
A. Not Reading the Text Before They Published It. [Real World Editors and Publishers Look Away NOW, you have been warned!]
They didn’t think to read the text they were sent, they simply put it through a Kindle Optimiser and loaded it right up to Amazon. As a result, they were surprised that a couple of chapters were missing. They had to get the text sent from their ‘writer’ again and vowed that in future, they would always check at least once that their ‘book’ looked OK.
B. They later found sites that offered “copy” text for .02c a word, not the .04c a word they had been charged.
They had no thought at all that this was a DIET book – consider the consequences of trying to follow a diet by a self-purported expert, written on their behalf by a non-expert using random text from the internet.
When we consider wicca, tarot, esotericism, etc., the consequences are far more subtle, perhaps, but nonetheless there can be real damage to your spiritual life as much as your material health.
4. Are the Reviews Authentic?
Inauthentic books follow a straight strategy for marketing and a good knowledge with which to game the algorithms on Amazon that determine the placement of a title. They cannot rely on existing readership, authorial recognition nor content.
The titles with lots of reviews are not necessarily the “best reviewed” or “popular” titles. They are rather more the titles with the most successful gaining of reviews.
These books also need what is literally termed (with no irony) “social proof” as they will have no authentic social presence. So, a task is to generate such “proof”.
It might surprise readers to know that there are ‘private groups’ which you can join in order to share ‘reviews’ with other ‘entrepreneurs’, ready for your book launch. That way, other than friends and family (also often used in these worlds) you can have ten glowing reviews as soon as your book is launched. Make it free for a day, and in a niche market, you don’t need many sales to then start putting “Top-Selling Author” on your next cover.
Look out for reviews that will often be “cut and pasted” or used with just the title of the book changed to suit. I saw several reviews for one book that were for the wrong book entirely, simply pasted up incorrectly by a fellow ‘entrepreneur’.
The reviews will also fit the pitch perfectly, more so than any normal review, such as “I can’t believe how easily I learnt safe spells from this book” or “I always thought that Chess was hard until I discovered this book”, etc. Usually, normal people reviewing a book will not hit every sales point perfectly in sequence.
The inauthentic “reviews” may also be spotted by their generic nature; “I read this entire book in one day!!! Couldn’t stop reading- packed full of wonderful, beginner, information!!!”
Again, some reviews will read like that, but it is a safe marker to spot a fake book when it stacks up against all the other markers. Normal people don’t review books like that – the fake reviews are “glowing” and address all the selling points as much as the pitch – because they are part of the pitch.
Often, reviews are forced by offering other material in return for review. Again, this is not anything other than good marketing, but it can be ‘shady’ if buyers are being forced into reviewing in return for something that might have initially been promised as free, or at the end of an associated course, before they are given a “certificate”, etc.
5. Are the Marketing and Pitch Authentic?
As with every marker, the marketing text of a book should be taken in context with all the other markers before coming to an overall decision about the source and authenticity of a book or author.
Passive Incomers are taught to identify (through a quick perusal of other titles and social media) what questions – and particularly, FEARS, the audience has about the subject they have targeted to monetize.
They are also advised to join free discussion groups and forums and simply ask people what they want to know, as “market research”. Again, this is common practice – when done overtly, professionally, fairly and with consideration. The Tarot Professionals Facebook discussion group has removed several participants for asking questions to gather information, then repeating all the answers from the group as their own writing and information, on a blog or in an inauthentic book or course.
This is not to be confused with good (and time-consuming) research being done by an existing author in the field, with full disclosure that it is for a book, and with editing and due credit. It is rather a simple strategy to get other people to write your book for you in a subject that you know nothing about, for easy profit. It is actually presented as such on many gloating video classes for “passive income”; as ‘get them to write the book and then sell it to them’. Sometimes this is called “curating”, not to be confused with actual curating.**
Another personal issue I have with the pitching of inauthentic books is that they come to generate an implicit perception of the subject that may not be the case. Most marketing is done on “need”, i.e. people want to know how to read tarot, and your book solves that for them, but passive income marketing is done on “fear”, even if a non-existent state must be implied to do it.
As an example, “In this book, you will learn five spreads” is one thing, “In this book, you will master five spreads not taught outside professional circles” is another thing, “In this book, you will learn the five safest spreads that avoid you getting it wrong in front of everyone” is another.
If that last sentiment is then taken and turned into a positive (there’s no challenge, difficulty or hardship in the passive income model), we would write:
“In this book, easily learn the top five spreads used by professionals that most impress their clients”.
Notice I have implied “clients” there, as a given. Buy this book and you too will have clients.
The problem is that this pitch is not reflective of the content if the five spreads are random ones copied from Pinterest. It is simply inauthentic, and marketing should reliably inform buyers of the product.
Further, there is a far more subtle and pernicious problem. This approach leads to a complete confusion and cyclic stagnation of a market when the “passive income” folk are asking absolute beginners what their questions may be, with not enough experience to filter out whether those questions are valid in the actual teaching of the subject.
As an example, if we ask beginners in tarot reading, we might hear that one concern is being able to “put cards together to make a story”. The non-experienced and inauthentic book creator will take this as gospel and then have a section written about what they might think is an answer or find an answer online to be re-purposed for their text.
They will miss the reality that this is not actually an issue – beginners only think it is because they have not yet learnt to read tarot. It can be dismissed in literally a few minutes, and then beginners can be taught the actual skills and methods that are present in most actual tarot readers.
As the inauthentic books then feed amongst themselves, the “issue” becomes present in all books, as if it is a real issue that people in the field might actually face. It is never tested against real students, readers or in the real world.
It is as if every book on training health workers now had a section on “keeping blood in a patient” and absolutely nothing on how to treat wounds, because a few people had said to a passive income entrepreneur on a forum that they didn’t think they could become nurses because they didn’t think they would cope with seeing blood.
Thank you, dear reader, for bearing with my soapbox rant above – it is something that perhaps is difficult to explain, but is a real frustration that I have come to see shared by several pagan authors and commentators who have recently noticed the inauthentic books in that marketplace.
6. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The final marker when looking to see an inauthentic book is that the text of the book is either hidden by having a large contents list, so it cannot be previewed ahead of purchase, or the text follows exactly the same contents as many other similar books on the subject.
An inauthentic book will rarely be able to demonstrate originality or individuality, because there is no real content nor authentic ‘authorial voice’. That is not to say that authentic books will always have totally unique content or treat subjects that have never been seen before in other books!
Again, this is a marker to be measured up with all the other suggested markers.
In the case of tarot, the contents of inauthentic books are usually “History”, “Card by Card” and “Spreads”.
TOP TIP: In an inauthentic book, the text is usually endless screeds of short ‘factoids’. They are written one after another. They do not parse. They are not in themselves incorrect. They are almost random. They read strangely but fill content. The best thing about tarot is it is useful for everyone. You can read it too. Pamela Colman Smith was a famous woman in tarot. She designed a deck. A man called White was involved and they made a very popular deck. It was the first to have pictures.
You get the drift. And often, these statements will be wrong. Totally wrong or slightly wrong. Or sometimes a correct fact. You cannot tell as a reader unless you already know the subject. That is why these books are aimed and targeted at beginners. There are rarely “inauthentic” books on Surgery, Finite Element Analysis or the correspondences between Tarot and Enochian Magick.
As an example, I take one of the presently “top-selling” Kindle books on Tarot.
The first piece of text in it – and used in the advertising blurb – is copied verbatim from a well-known modern author of tarot, with no quotation marks or attribution.
The second paragraph is lifted straight from text that appears as being “copy and pasted” across a wide range of tarot websites.
The third paragraph is copied from text that appears all over Pinterest.
These are presented as the text of the author and create the content of the book. In my view, that is why such a title, given every other marker, might be considered “inauthentic”.
TOP TIP: There are also well-known “gold mines” for such ‘authors’, mainly free informative sites in a subject that have been long forgotten or abandoned by the site owner. They are safe to copy, and account for much of the similarity of these fake books.
The main “gold mine” for tarot, for example, is the Joan Bunning “Learn the Tarot” site, as the text from that site has been copied and copied over again in so many sites and inauthentic books that I am afraid I can now recognise the text whenever it appears, which is too often.
As ever, buyer beware.
Whilst having waited several years to get this off my chest, I trust that it has at least provided some insight into the existence of “inauthentic” books on Amazon and elsewhere. It is not an infallible guide, and not intended as such. However, I did want to share my exploration of the subject, particularly as it has been recently noted outside the world of tarot and in the world of paganism and wicca, etc. It also exists in the world of occultism, and every other niche interest one might imagine.
I spent a weekend a few years ago watching videos teaching would-be millionaires that working too much on content was “putting the cart before the horse”. The horse was (and can we get a crowd yell for this) “credit card details”. Not only do inauthentic books sell you misinformation, they are designed to act as funnels to other schemes – particularly those books and sites that ask for your email to receive something for “free”. Again, this is a normal and perfectly fine thing to do in marketing, but not if it is to try and re-sell other people’s material, misleading information or encourage you to buy from affiliate links.
But most of all from that weekend, I learnt that the only good response if you truly care about the sanctity of a subject in which you have experience or knowledge, was to write hard, write fast, but not write dirty.
On that note, can I interest you in my new range of Soil Cultivation Manuals, DIG DEEPER by I. Spade?***
* I am fairly sure these are made-up for this article, but apologies to any real wiccan author called “Doreen Gardener” or any real “Lisa Freemans” who are also authors in this field!
** Another term is “re-purposing”, in this context, utilising the same text in several forms, starting with a website, then a book, then a “workbook”, then a “planner” which all use almost exactly the same text, but sold at increasingly high prices, with even less text used in each than the one before. This is seen as a very efficient scheme if you can get away with it, because you are re-selling the same material many times over, for less work each time, often to the same people.
*** Apologies to any author who has written a Soil Cultivation Manual, or any real Mr. Spade.