If you picked up a copy of Opus’ third printed issue of the year – the Community magazine – you may have read my piece, “The Rise of the Bookish Community”. The article focuses on the positives of the ever-growing bookish community with the development of social media such as Instagram and the TikTok sub-community BookTok, changing the face of marketing self-published books. However, with great success comes the potential for great ruination.
Recent negative events have plagued the bookish community, and well-established issues have exponentially worsened over the course of the year. The demand for books, specifically special editions, has drastically increased, buyer behaviour at exclusive events has become ridiculous, and the rise of book flipping, scammers, and the use of AI for book art is causing shock waves in the bookish community. This article is a follow-up discussion to raise awareness of the growing negative issues, which are deeply disappointing to see in such an extensive, vibrant community.
The term “flipping” is used when someone buys a book that is usually in high demand and proceeds to resell it at a much higher price. For some people, this is a legitimate practice and form of income. The bookish community is filled with like-minded people who love and support the sharing and reading of books. It is quite common when a book convention is held in a region, such as Australia, that doesn’t have access to specific books that others do for people to buy in bulk and sell for roughly the same price to those who cannot access them. It is not unreasonable for individuals to charge a little extra in reselling these books, as they attended the event and paid for copies. However, whilst some members have pure intentions in the spirit of the community, others will hike up the prices beyond what is reasonable. And unfortunately, due to the high demand for special editions, desperate book lovers will pay the money to get their hands on them, further encouraging this behaviour. An extreme example of this event was the US First Edition Fourth Wing hardcovers…
The Fourth Wing Drama – (this was so ridiculous it gets a section of its own.)
Back in April 2022, author Rebecca Yarros released Fourth Wing, the first book of the Empyrean series, a book of the romantic fantasy genre. Yarros had published numerous novels before writing Fourth Wing and is an awarded romance author. The Empyrean series is Yarros’ first delve into the fantasy genre, and it was a surprise that Fourth Wing exploded in popularity the way it did. The BookTok community discovered the story, and it took off, with many profiles on Bookstagram, BookTok and YouTube reviewing and recommending it. Only a handful of accounts disapproved of the book and did not understand the hype. Whilst Fourth Wing is an amazing story, it is not necessarily written in complexity or with finesse, and Yarros has stated the book was meant to be a fantasy version of a beach read – meaning a simple, immersive story that everyone loves.
The increasing popularity in the fantasy genre from readers may be the reason for its popularity, and the story has an epic enemies-to-lovers trope and dragons! But the rise in popularity of fantasy stories has also caused traditional publishing houses to see an uptick in contracting more authors entering the fantasy genre, where previously large publishers would avoid the genre. Either way, congratulations to Yarros for her success in entering a new genre and producing an amazing book, which I personally love!
However, Fourth Wing‘s popularity caused outrage in the book communities across social media. When a book is released, there are usually various copies of special editions that contain a pretty cover, artwork, or sprayed edges. For the limited-edition US hardcover copies, it was the sprayed edges that people went crazy for, and the book flippers started snapping them up left, right and centre across a range of sellers until they ran out of stock and began flipping them through Buy Swap Sell (BSS) groups for thousands of dollars. Booklovers were desperate to get their hands on the popular new fantasy book with the limited-edition sprayed edges that it was utter mayhem for the entire community. Selling books on BSS groups is a first-in-best-dressed situation, and there would be hundreds of comments on a single post selling one of these books. And to make it worse, flippers were successfully getting away with this because buyers were willing to pay a fortune, but some book lovers were being scammed.
When flippers ran out of legitimate copies, demand was so high that scammers began popping up offering the book, and once the transfer of sale went through, the scam seller’s account would disappear, and the buyer was left without a hefty sum of their money and no book. The Fourth Wing drama came on so suddenly that BSS groups could not get ahead of it quick enough to block such deceitful events from happening, but it has now led to a harsher crackdown for sellers. The issue of scammers is nothing new for BSS groups, but this debacle has led most groups to adopt further rules and regulations when it comes to selling books, with specific details needed in the images of the books being sold.
BSS groups and online book groups are exceptionally good at sharing the profile of a known scammer to raise awareness amongst the community so others do not fall for it. Sometimes, it is a lot harder to tell if something is a swindle and usually a buyer must learn the hard way, but most importantly, that scam profile is never allowed back into the same groups it has been flagged in.
Here are some helpful tips for identifying whether a sales post is a scam:
- Check out their profile – if the user has not been active within the year, be wary. If they have not been active for over a year and only have a scarce number of photos posted around the same time, the images have most likely been copied from someone else, or the account has been hacked.
- Check how active they are within the group – most scammers do not last long in BSS groups because they get kicked out. If a profile with limited posts is quite active within the group over an extended period, they are most likely legitimate and simply do not post on social media.
- Check the images of the stock being sold – usually a scammer will have multiple photos of a variety of books they want to sell, and since they have most likely been copied from multiple posts belonging to other people, their images will have different coloured backgrounds.
Members of BSS groups are usually very active, and admins have implemented selling rules where a card or piece of paper needs to be in the photo containing the name of the seller (profile or first name) and the date the products are being sold. This is to discourage scammers from reusing images.
But scammers are also active in the art side of the book community. Most recently, an active TikTok account trying to build up a following released a video portraying the creation of a sketch for an art piece they claimed to be theirs before switching to show the final product. The sketch had, in fact, taken artwork of popular author Sarah J Maas’ characters from another site belonging to a licensed artist. It did not take long for the BSS and book lover forums across social media to quickly call out the profile. The account has since been deleted, and no doubt that the scammer will be setting up under a different username to start again. The goal is most likely to make money and gain followers by using that artist’s name and work.
Behaviour at Bookish Events…
Yikes! This is something book lovers and attendees should not be proud of and definitely a concern being expressed by authors themselves. Over the last two years, the world has thrown itself into the post-COVID-19 era with great enthusiasm, and the bookish community is no exception. Authors are now able to attend conventions and signings to market their books and meet their fans that were previously cancelled during lockdown periods.
However, after being in isolation and lockdown, this may have led to many people going a little stir-crazy and losing their heads. There have been repeated reports of book buyers misbehaving at conventions to get their hands on a limited edition being sold, which is disappointing to hear about and turns people away from attending events that are usually crucial to authors who have taken the time to do a signing. It discourages book lovers from enjoying the event and almost scares people away from going.
One of these events that stuck out for me was the incident that happened earlier this year at a Book Bonanza event in the US. The popular stalker romance Cat and Mouse duology, more commonly known as Haunting Adeline (2021) and Hunting Adeline (2022), are enormously popular among readers of dark romance. Carlton attended Book Bonanza to do a signing for a limited edition of one of her books, exactly which one I am unsure, but the author had a lot to say about the behaviour of the buyers – listing incidents where people were shoving one another to get ahead in line, stealing other people’s copies of the books, yelling and swearing at one another. Later the same day, the author turned to social media and released a statement reprimanding the behaviour and stating she would not be doing any more signings for that particular book.
On Bookish THUNDERDOME, a Facebook group, member reshared Carlton’s post:
Comments from the post (shared below) show that the wider community of book lovers also disapprove of the behaviour and have voiced their outrage over such incidents – which are becoming more prevalent.
It’s truly mind-blowing some of the behaviour that is being reported at these events. A select few people have now managed to ruin signings and events for those who are really looking forward to them and know how to act appropriately without taking something away from anyone else. After being unable to hold these events due to lockdown, it’s a shame that authors are now deciding not to go to them at all due to people’s behaviour and the safety concerns of others.
The development of AI is not a new concept. In fact, they are now developing university courses to implement the use of AI since it is now so prevalent in the real world. No doubt everyone would have heard of some form of AI, from ChatGPT, the My AI on Snapchat, to unlocking your phone using your Face ID.
The bookish community is no exception to being affected by the implementation of AI. There are obvious issues in cases where the use of AI is quite threatening and frankly insulting to writers as the AI learns to spit out computer-generated stories rather than authentic pieces by a human being. But more immediately, it is the use of AI in the visual arts side of the bookish community where troubles arise. As discussed in my Community magazine article, artists make character art of certain fandoms that have the potential to be licensed by authors/publishers and are compensated for their work. These artists use social media to market themselves and their art, with things like watermarks to protect the work and with some works available to purchase.
However, there has been an increase in scammers, not only claiming other people’s hard-earned work but also using AI to create work to get licensed. There was an incident where an artist claimed the pieces displayed on her TikTok account were produced entirely by herself. Another user called her out for her videos, which suggested she did not, in fact, draw the art but had used AI and other people’s work to create the portrait she was claiming. The attached comments from the TikTok video (see below) suggest that producing artificially generated artworks cannot be claimed as your own because the intelligence chews up existing works and bases the result on those.
The second attached image is a discussion of the same event on a bookish group on Facebook. It further highlights the need for people to expose accounts such as these across the community and the disappointment for an artist trying to express their work and earn a living to face these challenges in what is supposed to be a community of people who all love stories and the characters in them.
But character art is not the only area of art in the book world being affected. In June 2023, the popular subscription book box Illumicrate announced an update on their limited edition, special covers of the Empirium Trilogy by Claire Legrand. After announcing the new covers of the books set to be released later this year, the book box notified followers that they would not be releasing the books as some of the images within the cover art were AI-generated. The book box stated they are firmly against using Artificial Intelligence and apologised to book lovers who were hoping to grab a copy. The attached images below are of Illumicrate’s post and the resharing of the post in a Facebook group discussing the issue.
It just goes to show how easily it is for a company so against using AI-generated art to accidentally end up using it. But it is also important to note that Illumicrate did not release the book and stood by their word. The right image shows how enthusiastic people are about their books and the pretty covers that subscription boxes, such as Illumicrate, produce.
The increasing number of negative incidents discussed in this article raises concerns for the book community. As someone who delved deep into social media groups and book collecting just before the start of COVID, I came into it with great excitement with other like-minded people to enjoy discussing books with. I was so naive in the beginning, I was buying books left, right and centre, it is amazing I was not scammed out of any money. Everything comes with risks and pitfalls, but to have such a large cloud of negativity within the book community does not always allow it to be a fun and positive environment. It is important to be vigilant in the digital world and social media, but it sure can take the fun out of it sometimes.