It’s been a year of literary scams. Mysterious phishers have been scamming writers out of manuscripts; someone posed as Valeria Luiselli via email and stole £30k of prize money; fake agents were as present as ever; some jerk stole donations meant for Helen DeWitt’s medical bills; a publisher told authors she couldn’t pay them because she was “depressed about 9/11”; “Cormac McCarthy” went viral on Twitter. And the Summer of Tricks shows no sign of slowing down: now, writers are receiving frightening ransom emails asking them to pay up or their Goodreads rating will suffer.
As TIME reported this week, independent author Beth Black received an email from an anonymous server asking she pay for good reviews or have her Goodreads rating tanked by bad ones. In part, the email read, loudly:
EITHER YOU TAKE CARE OF OUR NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS WITH YOUR WALLET OR WE’LL RUIN YOUR AUTHOR CAREER. PAY US OR DISAPPEAR FROM GOODREADS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.
When Black didn’t pay the ransom, her Goodreads ratings sharply dropped as she was inundated with 1-star reviews.
This is not an isolated incident: many writers have taken to Goodreads’s forums to speak up about their similar experiences of Goodreads shakedowns. After refusing to pay a ransom fee, writers get hit with the same phrasing of 1-star reviews: “Full Misogyny,” “Save your money and thank me later,” “Serious anti-Christian religious overtones. Avoid.” Many writers, irked by Goodreads’s lack of response, would like Goodreads to implement policies to prevent review spamming.
On July 31, Goodreads finally released a statement that they are “investigating a small number of bad actors who have attempted a reviews-based extortion scam against some authors on Goodreads,” and encouraged affected writers to contact them using their contact form. It remains to be seen whether Goodreads will make larger changes to the site to prevent spam; in the meantime, stay vigilant. (Or use BingeBooks.)