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The Mystery of the Disappearing Manuscripts

Books targeted include “Such a Fun Age,” by Kiley Reid, “The Sign For Home,” by Blair Fell, “A Bright Ray of Darkness,” by Ethan Hawke, and “Hush” by Dylan Farrow. Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, two of the biggest publishers, have sent out warnings about the scam.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, the author of the debut novel “The Nest,” was targeted in 2018 by someone pretending to be her agent, Henry Dunow. The emails began about eight months after she had sold her second novel based on a sample of the manuscript called a “partial.”

Often, these phishing emails make use of public information, like book deals announced online, including on social media. Ms. Sweeney’s second book, however, hadn’t yet been announced anywhere, but the phisher knew about it in detail, down to Ms. Sweeney’s deadline and the names of the novel’s main characters.

“Hi Cynthia,” the email began. “I loved the partial and I can’t wait to know what happens next to Flora, Julian and Margot. You told me you would have a draft around this time. Can you share it?”

It was signed, “Henry.”

The note struck Ms. Sweeney as odd, so she forwarded it to her agent. “He freaked out,” she said. She did not reply to the scammer, but the emails kept coming. Finally, she said, she wrote back, asking the person to leave her alone.

Instead, Ms. Sweeney got this response: “It’s me, Henry. How could I know about your new novel??”

“It’s so befuddling because it’s not like fiction is driving our economy,” Ms. Sweeney said. “Ultimately, how do you monetize a manuscript that you don’t own?”

Ms. Sweeney’s first book was a best seller, so she, like well-known authors Jo Nesbo and Michael J. Fox, may be obvious choices. But the scammer has also requested experimental novels, short story collections and recently sold books by first-time authors. Meanwhile, Bob Woodward’s book “Rage,” which came out in September, was never targeted, Mr. Woodward said.