Earlier this month, famous author Jane Friedman was in for a nasty surprise: several copies of books supposedly written by her were listed for sale on Amazon. Just as bad, they were listed under her Goodreads page as well.

As Friedman explains, after 25+ years in the world of writing and publishing, few things anger her anymore. Given her extensive experience in the industry, she knows not to expect much from platforms like Amazon and Goodreads and actually anticipates disappointment. She’s come to terms with the fact that she can’t change how these companies operate and instead focuses on what she can control.

However, her tolerance is now being tested. As Amazon and Goodreads become inundated with low-quality content, she’s finding it harder to maintain her energy-saving strategy of moving on.

A new sort of piracy

As she explains, Friedman is aware that her work gets pirated, but doesn’t mind: it’s not a battle she’s willing to fight at this point. However, what does bother her is that fake books are being uploaded to Amazon with her name falsely attributed as the author. These titles, such as “A Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Compelling eBooks” and “Igniting Ideas: Your Guide to Writing a Bestseller eBook on Amazon,” seem likely to be AI-generated works created to prey on writers who trust her name. Even the book covers deliberately mimicked her style to make the fake titles indistinguishable from her own!

Fake Jane Friedman book | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Fake title. Image: From the blog of Jane Friedman

The speed with which the fake titles were published suggests they were written by AI rather than humans in a tone that resembles hers. Friedman is familiar with AI tools and has used them extensively to test how well they can reproduce her knowledge. She also does a lot of vanity prompting, such as asking, “What would Jane Friedman say about building an author platform?” Since she’s been blogging since 2009, there’s plenty of publicly available content for training AI models. Reading the first pages of these fake books, she immediately recognized the style as similar to ChatGPT responses she had generated herself.

Amazon’s response

For now, these books aren’t receiving customer reviews and usually sink to the bottom of search results. They don’t appear on her official author profile on Amazon, so critical readers may doubt their authenticity. Yet, the fact that these misleading books exist and bear her name still poses a problem. When she contacted Amazon to get these books removed, she was initially told she couldn’t as she doesn’t own the copyright to them or have exclusive ownership of her name!

Adding to the frustration, these sham books are being added to Friedman’s official Goodreads profile. Contrary to what one might think, authors have no control over what books are displayed on their profiles, nor can they easily have them removed. To correct a Goodreads profile, they have to contact volunteer librarians, which requires joining a group and posting in a comment thread.

Thankfully, due to her visibility, the issue was resolved as soon as she went public. In her own words:

Update (afternoon of Aug. 7): Hours after this post was published, my official Goodreads profile was cleaned of the offending titles. I did file a report with Amazon, complaining that these books were using my name and reputation without my consent. Amazon’s response: “Please provide us with any trademark registration numbers that relate to your claim.” When I replied that I did not have a trademark for my name, they closed the case and said the books would not be removed from sale.

Update (morning of Aug. 8): The fraudulent titles appear to be entirely removed from Amazon and Goodreads alike. I’m sure that’s in no small part due to my visibility and reputation in the writing and publishing community. What will authors with smaller profiles do when this happens to them? If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I’d start by reaching out to an advocacy organization like The Authors Guild (I’m a member).

A common problem

Fake Jane Friedman book | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Fake title. Image: From the blog of Jane Friedman

After Friedman complained about the issue on Twitter, another author replied that she had reported 29 illegitimate books in just a week. With the surge of AI-generated content now on Amazon, often attributed to authors in a misleading or fraudulent manner, it’s unreasonable to expect authors to spend their time policing this. Yet, if they don’t, they risk hearing complaints from concerned readers or losing potential readers who fall for these fake books.

Friedman implores Amazon and Goodreads to create ways for authors to easily verify authorship or block fraudulent books credited to them. Even when such books are removed from official profiles, they continue to exist on these popular platforms, waiting to be discovered by unsuspecting readers.

In the meantime, she has created a guide on what to do in such cases: What Remedies Do Authors Have When Fraudulent Work Appears on Amazon?