Thursday, April 23, 2015

Through the Internet Rabbit Hole

One of the habits I have gotten into since Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead was released, is searching for my book on the web. I am clearly not alone in this. From what I gather, most working authors do it. Checking on one’s book’s web presence is part of the job of marketing and selling your work.

I have learned some interesting things from doing these searches. For one, I have found that my book can be ordered from any number of online book sellers in any number of countries around the world. It is kind of fun seeing your book (written in English) being listed on a site in, say, Sweden or Russia.

Sometimes the title shows up in a way that is totally a surprise—like when it was mentioned on the Spanish language Facebook page of a South American writer based in Paris. It turns out that he is an acquaintance of my friend Mañuco, one of the people to whom I dedicated the novel.

The strangest search result, however, was the one I came across a couple of weeks ago. The excerpt that Google highlighted read like this: “The typical story Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead of the Gingerbread Boy. Not everyone will love this modern version…” Whoa. Apparently, somebody was doing some interesting analysis of my little tale of wayward youth. Naturally, I had to read the whole thing.

But when I clicked through to the link, which was on a site called, I found a discussion board for comic books and ebooks. There was no mention of the Gingerbread Boy. Instead there was discussion, apparently among students, about an English assignment.

“I have to read 3 books over the summer for AP English,” wrote someone called Enmenre. “My parents can’t afford to buy them and they said I’ll have to read them online. Is there a website that I can download books from as documents? I want to read Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead by Scott R. Larson.”

My heart was all aflutter. Some young person had somehow heard of my book and wanted to read it! And it didn’t even seem to be a friend or relative. This was a great. Someone else responded to say that a great place to get it was a site called Booklibrary. Enmenre replied, “Guess what just happened? haha, I found the book I was looking for, all thanks to BookLibrary. YES! I’m so stocked right now, been looking like forever for this old book, and finally I found it! Loving it!”

Very cool that Enmenre was loving the novel. But “this old book”? Hey, give me a break. It was only released last June. Other commenters chimed in with feedback on the book. “This book is a fate,” said Rinbeydo (whatever that might mean). “Interesting and easy to read,” said Iculob, inserting a “WINNAH!!!” emoticon. “Don’t waste your time reading it. Nothing interesting,” wrote a spoilsport called Primourco.

I followed the link that had allegedly led the happy Enmenre to my book. It turned out to be something called, and it did list several servers around the world from which Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead could be purportedly downloaded. It even offered the choice of paperback, ebook and audio versions—which was interesting since, as far as I know (and, as the author, I should know) there is no audio version. Of course, before you could actually do any downloading, you had to “sign up.” I had come across sites like this before. They promise you all kinds of free digital stuff, i.e. games, movies, books, etc. In exchange, they want (at the least) your name and email address and maybe more personal information or even a credit card for the “membership fee.”

Did this site really have my book available for download? Something I had prepared myself for since uploading the Kindle version of Maximilian and Carlotta to Amazon was that at some point I might come across it on a pirate web site. Just about every book ever published seems to show up on these sites, as many authors will readily attest. In a strange and perverse way, the fact that someone would go to the trouble to pirate your book is actually some kind of a cockeyed compliment. At least it means that there is a demand for your work out there.

One of the strangest stories I have heard in this regard was in an interview on public radio’s On the Media program with Peter Mountford about his novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism. I paid attention when the interview came on because I had read and enjoyed Mountford’s book. Set in Bolivia, it has a very passing similarity to mine in that it deals with a young American getting to know something of Latin American culture. Mountford recounted how he got an email out of the blue from a Russian asking him to explain the nuances of various passages in his book. In pursuing this, Mountford learned that his correspondent had been hired to do a Russian translation of the book—one that was in no way authorized. In the end, the author decided to help the Russian come up with the best translation possible. His reasoning was that, if there was going to be a pirated Russian version out there, he would prefer that it be of the best quality.

But back to my question. Did that site really have my book for download? My guess is that it didn’t. I would guess that the site is a scam looking to rip off naive and/or dishonest consumers of digital stuff. Strangely, when I went back to the original URL, it was no longer a comic book/ebook discussion. It was now a more literary site purporting to do book reviews, but still mentioning Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in vaguely non-sequitur kinds of ways. As far as I could tell, the web page was dynamically taking my search query and intelligently weaving it into something that appeared like a real discussion—all with the aim of directing the gullible to the scam download site.

The internet is truly a strange and bizarre (and sometimes risky) place.

So Enmenre almost certainly doesn’t exist and didn’t hear about and want to read my “old” book. So were the owners of the domain part of the scam or were they victims as well? When I went back to the URL more recently (not through a Google search), it led me to a page that looked just as you would expect something called to look. “For A Labor party. For A Workers’ International,” it intones next to a clinched black fist in front of a red star. It gives every indication of legitimately being the web site of a leftist labor organization. Its only similarity to is that it too offers to take your payment details.

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