I’m reeling.

I was at a cell phone service store today, chatting with the staff while waiting to deal with a billing question and my guy noticed my email address. “Are you a writer? Carlos is a writer,” says my guy, “Well, not exactly a writer. A publisher.”

“Carlos” (name changed, obviously) is a heavyset, laughing, youthful man in his late twenties, with short dreds and really nice shoes. “Yeah. I don’t write a word. I make books. I’m not exactly a publisher, though,” says he. “More of a market research guru.”

Intrigued, I asked for more details.

“Well, I have an Amazon imprint, you know? for eBooks. And I take a look at what’s hot – like what’s being Googled a lot, what books people are searching for, you know?–and then I think of a title and a pen name and get some cover art, come up with a table of contents, do some graphic design and then I get my writers to do a ‘report’ for me. Each report is a chapter of the book.”

I am now trembling and appalled (and despite myself, really impressed at the nerve and cleverness of this scheme). “Do you pay the writers?”

“Sure,” he says, “I pay them $50 or $60 for a ten thousand word report. Then I throw it all together with good graphic design and put it out on Amazon as an ebook. They sell like crazy; no work for me.”

“Sleep money,” says my guy.

“Yup,” Carlos proudly nods. “Sleep money. I just started, and it’s going great. The guy who told me about this? He makes 60K per month.”

Let me repeat that last bit. The guy makes sixty thousand dollars per MONTH. I hope you weren’t trying to eat while you read that. I nearly choked.

On the good side, this can only be done in non-fiction, where people search by keyword and where people don’t really care who wrote the book, just that it’s by “an expert.”

In fiction, we are still…so far…safe.  So get back to writing your novel, people. Or, hey – pool together with your writing group to each write a short story on a very popular, contemporary topic – self publish the collection, and promote it on Twitter using the popular hashtag. It might not be a bad way to fund the annual party!

There is still time to submit to the $1000 Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents. All writers at any level with a child under ten are eligible. Follow this link for guidelines.  Deadline April 17, 2013.