How can a coloring book be bad? Well, anytime something becomes wildly popular, there are going to be people who wish to take advantage of its popularity to cash in. The adult coloring trend is no exception.
Every day, more spammy, scammy, and just plain bad coloring books are appearing on Amazon. Did you know that from late 2015 through these first six months of 2016, approximately 3000 new coloring books are being released every month on Amazon? It’s a staggering amount! And unfortunately, a lot of these new coloring books are fakes or poor quality books.
Defining Bad Coloring Books
What makes a coloring book bad, and how do you spot the fakes and the scams? Read on so you don’t get duped. It’s time to stand up for good coloring books. And don’t miss the Gallery of Shame at the end of this article for real examples of bad coloring books and colorist experiences.
First, let’s go over what constitutes a bad coloring book. Here are some examples and criteria:
Knock-off Fakes of a Popular Title
Johanna Basford fans might be familiar with this one. Unscrupulous overseas sellers will take a popular title and reproduce its contents using cheaper quality printing, binding, and paper, and sell it online or through brick and mortar discount stores.
Unoriginal Art or Designs
This can include outright pirated content as well as stock images such as clip art.
A large number of the fake books on Amazon are made up of poor quality, low resolution, pirated images taken from image search results without obtaining permission from the artist. Oftentimes, these fake books will use different covers with the same pirated images inside of each book, or just a few variations to trick the automated approval systems. These books are in blatant violation of international copyright laws. In other words, they are made illegally.
Quite often, these pirated books are produced to capitalize on a popular keyword phrase and the content of the book isn’t even what it claims to be.
Stock Clip Art and Public Domain Images
Sometimes coloring books are made up of stock images and clip-art that was either purchased from a stock image agency or acquired through public domain sources. These books aren’t illegal, or even necessarily bad, but it’s good to be aware of this practice if you’re wondering why you often see the same images repeated in many coloring book titles from varying authors.
There are many ways coloring book creators use stock images. Not all of this constitutes a bad book, but it is something to be aware of.
- Some will purchase the stock images and put them into a book in their raw form without any editing or modification. These are often the types of books you will find in the dollar stores and bargain bins of discount stores.
- Some coloring book publishers are acting as curators where they acquire stock images of a similar theme and style and assemble them into a cohesive book. Penny Farthing is one coloring book curator using this practice, and it’s not what I would consider an example of bad coloring books as the images are carefully chosen specifically for the purposes of coloring books for grown-ups.
- Still others are using public domain images. That is, images which are not protected under copyright due to their age or because they have been released by the original creator as copyright-free. There is nothing wrong with this practice and it can produce both good and bad coloring books. The good books consist of carefully curated public domain source images which are usually cleaned up, restored, and refined specifically for the purpose of creating coloring books. These curators are providing a valuable service by preserving this vintage content for future generations. Vintage Coloring is one curator using public domain images to create high-quality coloring books.
- Unfortunately, there are also coloring book publishers who do nothing but assemble public domain images into a book format with no editing, no theme, and no attention to quality. Often you will see these same images repeated over and over, in poor resolution, resulting in blurry or smudged and dirty-looking coloring book content.
- Now that gray-scale coloring books are taking off, you will often find coloring books curated from huge public domain photo collections. Again, there is nothing wrong with this practice, and there is some artistry in converting a color photo into gray-scale for coloring, but it is good to be aware of. As the number of coloring books increases, you are likely to see the same popular public domain photos repeated across these types of books. If you want to avoid this possibility, look for books that advertise having original photography.
Computer Generated Images
I’m going to talk about “computer-generated” images here too. Notice I didn’t say computer generated art? Digital art isn’t the problem–I am a digital artist myself–but I create original designs. One of the shortcuts taken by the get-rich-quick publishers, is to use software to churn out hundreds of images per hour (usually mandalas and patterns). These are often very simple and repetitive designs lacking the organic quality of true art. They’re not all bad, but they’re often simple, bland and boring and the publishers of these kinds of books generally don’t take the time to understand what colorists want.
Hobby artists aren’t doing anything wrong if they are using their own imagery or legally obtained images. But all too often these hobby artist don’t take the time to learn about publishing and how to create a quality book that people want to color. Hobby artists may have oodles of talent, but they can still produce a bad coloring book because they don’t take time to learn the ins and outs of preparing their artwork for publishing.
It’s absolutely fantastic that independent artists and authors can easily and inexpensively get their work into print through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand platform, but that means it’s also inexpensive and easy for any Joe Blow to put out an inferior product.
Avoiding Bad Coloring Books
So now that you know what makes a bad coloring book, how do you avoid them? It’s not always simple to spot them, but I am going to give you a few clues and tips to help you avoid bad coloring books.
Use Amazon’s Look Inside the Book or Look for a Book Preview
Take time to use Amazon’s Look Inside the Book (LITB) to preview some of the designs from the book before you buy. Look to see if the images are consistent in style and appropriate to the theme of the book. If the book is supposed to be about woodland creatures but LITB shows a bunch of geometric mandalas, you probably are looking at a pirated book.
Little known fact: At first, LITBe will only show a handful of pages from a book, but if you are signed into your Amazon account, you can click “Surprise me” repeatedly to see many more pages from the look inside preview.
It can take days several days or weeks for LITB to become available for a new book, however, so sometimes this is not an option. If you can’t look in the book, do a search for the author’s website, sample pages, a preview video, or a book flip-through video. Genuine artists with a quality book will always have a web presence of some kind.
If you are shopping in a brick and mortar store, especially a dollar store or discount bin, avoid the sealed books that you can’t open up to see the paper quality or images inside. Especially if it’s a popular title at unbelievable prices! The same goes for online if it seems to good to be true; ask around before you fall for cheap knock-off from those deal-of-the-day sites.
Click on the author name on Amazon and see if you get an author page or simply a search result page. Quality authors will have set up an author page on Amazon with a bio, follow me button, and links to all their books. Fly-by-night scam book sellers don’t want all their bad books associated, so they often won’t have an author page.
Does the author have hundreds of other books listed? None? Both of these can be red flags. Look at the publication dates of the books. If you are seeing a large number of books published in a short amount of time, there is a good chance they are producing bad coloring books.
Is the author using a real name or a generic pen name? A “collective” pen name isn’t always a red flag–Blue Star Coloring, Creative Haven, and Global Doodle Gems are all legit coloring book publishers, but “Sparkling Unicorn Coloring Books for Adults” (I made that up) likely isn’t. If the author “name,” the book title, and the series name are all a direct repeat of the book’s prime search keywords, then it’s probably a fake book. Use this as one more gauge in your quest for clues.
Kindle and Kindle Unlimited
Publishing a coloring book on Kindle is against Amazon’s guidelines, and most legitimate coloring book artists won’t do it. You can’t color or print from a Kindle ebook, so why would you put it on Kindle? It’s a scam. Most Kindle coloring books say they come with a “free” download of the digital pages for you to print yourself. The trick here is that Kindle Unlimited pays its authors based on number of pages read. By putting a link to a free download in the back of the book, the scammy publishers can fake the number pages “read” and get paid a tidy sum.
Even though you might not be paying directly for these fake books, you’re still putting money in the pockets of scammers. There is also a real danger of getting a computer virus or malware from these download links as they are not monitored or verified by Amazon at all. This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine after downloading several files linked from the “free” Kindle coloring books she had collected.
Do Judge a Book By Its Cover
With art-oriented books more than anything, the book’s cover can be a good indicator of what you will find inside. Is the cover professional in appearance, with good spelling and grammar? That said, once again this is only one part of the puzzle–a bad book can also have a very good cover as scammers take advantage of templates and cheap overseas design services to put a pretty wrapper on their garbage books.
Or, just like the content of these fake coloring books, the cover might be pirated, as seen above. Also look at the back cover of the book. Is it plain except for an ISBN, or does it show examples and describe the book? Scammers won’t bother taking time to design the back cover of the book because they know search engines can’t “read” it and it can’t be used to trick you into buying a fake book.
Read that book description and look for one that is well-written and professional, with good spelling and grammar. Does the description mention original designs or hand-drawn art? Does it ring true? Watch out for excessive use of repetitive keywords, weird word combinations, unrealistic claims, and vague descriptions. Good coloring book authors will want you to know the number of illustrations found in the book, the types of illustrations, and whether they are printed on only one side of the paper.
Who looks at the copyright page, right? But the copyright page can provide clues to whether the book publisher understands copyright or not. Here’s an example of the copyright page from one of my books, compared to the copyright notice taken from Look Inside the Book on a known pirated book on Amazon.
Besides the typo on the pirated book’s copyright notice, the bad coloring book does not use standard book publishing conventions on the copyright page.
Look at Reviews
If there are reviews, look at the low ratings and see what the comments are. Customers are getting better at spotting the stock image and pirated books and often want to warn other colorists. If all the reviews are good, look for reviews with pictures from the book, and make sure the comments ring true. Unscrupulous book makers also use unscrupulous means to acquire reviews, so all positive reviews won’t ensure you don’t get a bad book.
If you enjoy coloring books, please help your favorite coloring book artist out by reviewing their books, and help other colorists by posting reviews for the bad books as well. I can’t tell you how important honest reviews are to us coloring book artists!
Amazon will always list the page count for books. Most colorists want images printed on only one side of the paper, and if this is important to you, you will want to check that the page count listed is more than double the number of illustrations that is said to be in the book.
Publisher of Record (Updated)
This is not a big indicator of a scam book, but if red flags have already been raised it’s one more thing you can look at. As mentioned earlier, many scam books are published through CreateSpace, a print-on-demand company owned by Amazon. There’s nothing wrong with that–I use them myself. However, I pay a small amount for each book to have the publisher of record changed to my branding so the publisher is listed as “SuziQ Creations Publications.” Why? Because I am proud of what I created and want it distinguished and identified as my brand.
Most of the lowest of low book tricksters won’t pay this fee because they only care about maximizing profits. That said, many authentic artists can’t change the listed publisher either, so again–don’t use this as your only indicator.
Update 6/26/2016 – CreateSpace no longer offers the low-cost custom publisher ISBN option, so even authentic artists are likely to show CreateSpace as the publisher.
This area of the product listing on Amazon is also where you will find the page count, the book dimensions, and the series title.
#1 Way To Guarantee a Good Coloring Book
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, none of these things alone can guarantee you won’t get a bad book. So the number one thing you can do to guarantee you are getting a good coloring book with artwork you will enjoy coloring is…
Get to Know the Artists You Love
Legitimate coloring book artists will almost always have a social media presence. In addition you will often find them participating in Facebook groups and other social platforms, promoting their books, answering questions, seeking feedback, and commenting on the coloring.
Book scammers are a lazy bunch so you usually won’t find them out there interacting with their buyers and building relationships in the coloring community.
You can find many authentic coloring book artists eager to get to know coloring enthusiasts in Facebook groups such as Best Independent Coloring Books, Adult Coloring Book Treasury, Coloring Books for Adults, and many more. Visit our Colorist Spotlight series to learn more about coloring groups and colorist’s favorite artists.
A Note About Printing Errors
One last thing I feel I should mention is about printing errors. Hey, it happens. I’ve already mentioned that most independent authors are using Amazon’s CreateSpace service to publish their books. CreateSpace prints the books and ships them as soon as they are ordered, freeing the author from the fulfillment side of self-publishing. That means they can’t personally inspect each book going out. Unfortunately, CreateSpace makes mistakes from time to time including bad prints, poor cutting of the books, and we’ve even seen book covers with an entirely different book’s interior inside! In the off chance that you get a misprinted book, contact Amazon and they will always make it right for you.
Coloring Book Gallery of Shame
Now peruse this gallery of shame, including screen shots of actual scam books and comments from duped buyers. Names have been removed to protect the innocent–but not the guilty. Share your stories of bad coloring books below.
Click to open a larger image in a slideshow. Click the pause button to page through at your own pace.
Check out this video from Coloring Queen where she flips through a dud coloring book she bought. Her article is linked below.
Share Your Stories of Bad Coloring Books
Have you experienced bad coloring books? If you know it wasn't simply a printing mistake, be sure to post a review of the bad coloring book online and report it to the seller, whether online or in a store. Writing positive reviews of the coloring books you do enjoy will help other colorists find good coloring books and benefit the coloring book authors you want to help. Independent authors especially rely on reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations to keep producing high-quality, original coloring books for you to enjoy.
Share your bad coloring book experiences in the comments below, with examples, if desired.