Wednesday, August 17, 2011

We Interrupt Your Scheduled Blog Post...

I was going to write about submissions today, but something else caught my attention several times this week, so I wanted to post a little on the subject of writer scams.

Writer scams are everywhere online - they predate the Internet, but have really exploded in recent years. Why do they work? Simple - when you are a new writer with plenty of dreams, it can feel really overwhelming to get your book out in front of people. Agents take forever, if you even get replies from them, and Big Publishers even longer, and most of us have little or no training/experience with publishing before we finish that first book/collection. And scammers know this, and they know how to talk to us in the right way to prey on those hopes and dreams.

Probably the premier, most famous form of writer scams would be vanity presses - those who promise "Become a Real Author!" (but only if you send them a cheque for $1200). Here's the skinny, folks - if it's a real publisher THEY PAY YOU, not the other way around. This is vastly different from Self Publishing, in which an author pays for services (cover art, editing, etc), but ultimately owns their own work. A vanity press really does nothing for your book but stroke your ego and take your money - lots of it. And they don't give it back. Now, with Amazon/KDP/CreateSpace, I hope we are hearing the dying howl of the vanity presses, but it's not likely. Many more aspiring authors will fall to them before they go away, sadly.

And now with the rise of agents who "facilitate" self-publishing, there might be a whole new racket for vanity press scammers. This is not to say that all agents who handle self-pubbing are crooks, but any day now we'll start seeing the crooks move that way, if they haven't already.

The Rule is: Except for putting together a self-publishing project, the author's only dealings with cheques should be signing the back of their royalties.

The second big one is Contests! Yes, there are many, many legitimate writing contests out there, with real prizes and good exposure. Some, like the RWA, do charge writers to enter. (I personally don't pay to enter contests, but paid contests might not be scams, so just do your research.) However, not all contests are legitimate. If it's a free contest, you don't stand to lose much but time, but please save yourself the hassle of entering fake/worthless contests with hefty entrance fees. Also, in many regions, it is illegal to force entrants to "buy the finalists' collection" at the end of a poetry or short story contest. Such things are scams, where they basically let everyone become a finalist so more people will be forced to buy the resulting collection. Do the leg work! Research the contest before you get excited.

Third, there are the newer vultures circling the small press/indie world: Book reviewers who are also editors. Now, naturally, many reviewers also offer editing services, and not all are scams. What I mean are book reviewers who offer to review your book (especially a self-pubbed one) merely so they can tell you it stinks - but, don't worry! "I can edit it for you for $1000!" That's the scam part. I believe many reputable editors who also do reviews make it policy not to take editing jobs from the authors they have reviewed, and vice versa. The reviewer may very well suggest you need an editor, but they are often careful to suggest OTHER editors, instead of themselves. Otherwise, it's a bit of a conflict of interest, don't you think?

Most legitimate editors allow a sampling process - you send them a sample, and they will edit it and return it, before you engage them. If you go this route, it might be a good idea to send the same sample to several editors, and compare the returned work before making a selection. And, in my opinion, accept a reviewers' suggestion that you need editing, but don't hire that reviewer to do it. Sample a few others, and then decide which way to go. As always: Author word-of-mouth is a great way to find what you need, and it's the safest way.

Then, on top of these sly jobs, we also have the occasional rumour/allegation of truly shocking instances of out-n-out extortion. There are also people burned outright by paying upfront for covers that never come, or editors that never deliver.

The above categories cover the majority of the pitfalls out there; some are ubiquitous, while others a bit less common. There are many other ways a newbie writer can lose buckets of money/time/hope/energy/reputation - ghost town sites/blogs charging for ad space, reviewers demanding payment for their condescension, display sites that charge you for profiles that no one ever visits, small pubs who are basically beards for one author's self-publishing activities, etc, etc, but those aren't truly "scams" in that they are offering some type of service, at least, and you get exactly what they promise (even if it is lackluster). And you should know what you're getting into before you hand over the money or your manuscript (always).

The Internet is a wonderful thing for the global writers' community - it brings us closer than ever before, allows for multiple genre circles to form and disseminate information very quickly, and evens the communication exchange between experienced writers and aspiring authors. But it also contains snakes of all varieties. Use it wisely - arm yourself with information, do your research, and treat your name, money and manuscript like the precious resources that they are.

So, that's my little PSA for today.

It's a jungle out there! Good luck.

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