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- in Publishing Industry
- by Shennandoah Diaz
It’s an unfortunate reality that writers are often targeted by scammers and other creeps. They come at us from all directions, finding us at conferences, slithering through our emails, and sneaking into our social media feed. As a writer you need to protect yourself.
Education is your best weapon.
It’s so important that you constantly educate yourself on the industry, who the players are, and what scams are currently in play. This blog attempts to be part of that education process. With that in mind I want to touch on a couple of scams and traps that are popular now and then I will close with a few more tips to help you protect yourself (and your wallet).
Scam 1: Twitter Spam
Even after a mass outcry by the writing and publishing community, Twitter spam targeting writers still runs rampant. Tweets saying “Writers needed” or “get paid to write” appear with a hyperlink to a shady website. Twitter does a great job of taking them down once you report them (I reported one on Friday morning that was gone from my feed that same day). Unfortunately this morning I had another spam tweet, this time a ghetto blast written in horrible English meant to anger you enough to follow the embedded hyperlink to another jacked website. Should you get this kind of spam, report it immediately to twitter by following their reporting guidelines.
Scam 2: Fake Publishers
Another thing you need to watch out for are “publishers” who send you an email, tweet, or mail advertisement saying they are looking for writers. These publishers convince writers to spend thousands of dollars to produce poor quality books that will never see a bookstore shelf. Not all “pay to play” publishers are scammers though. You can pay to be published by a credible indie house, the key difference is the quality of the books, the number of awards they have won, and how many of their books are distributed through retail chains. Before you fork over the dough, look for the following things:
- What is the publisher’s reputation like within the industry? Look at what places like Writers Digest, Writer Beware, Galley Cat, and Publishers Weekly say about them.
- Do they belong to any reputable organizations? There are several organizations for publishers to join including SPAN, SPAWN, and IBPA.
- What does their author roster look like? You should be looking at a publisher who represents your genre, and thus you should recognize the names of the authors or the titles of their books.
- What does their distribution and marketing package look like? This is especially important if you’re goal is to see your book in Barnes & Noble. You need to make sure that the publisher has a reputable distributor with a history of getting books into retail chains. There are many vanity presses whose books would never make it into B&N because the quality of design and editorial is poor and because the design does not include key elements such as a standard trim size, ISBN, and title on the spine. You also want a publisher who will at the very least market your book to the trade through Shelf Talker, Library Journal, Ingram and other outlets.
Scam 3: Fake Editors/Book Doctors
Writing is a laborious process, and if you find yourself piling up rejection letters you may consider hiring an editor or book doctor to help you. I think that’s a great idea and more and more publishers and agents are encouraging it too. Of course, that has opened up another realm for unqualified “professionals” to siphon money and energy from aspiring writers. When looking for a professional to help you with your book, you need to ask the following questions:
- Do they have a relevant degree? Editing is a specialized field. As such the editor should have a degree in journalism, English, literature or some variation of those.
- Do they have experience in the publishing industry? Freelance editors should pay their dues and get real world experience before soliciting writers. How can they know what publishers want and what sells if they haven’t ever worked in the industry?
- Do they have references? You should be able to talk to past clients to see how their working relationship is and what effect their guidance had on the writer’s project.
A real editor also will NEVER guarantee that you will get published or that our book will be a bestseller. There are so many factors affecting both that it is impossible to make such guarantees. Anyone who says they can is playing with you. Run away!
Of course, as fast as we identify scams a new one pops up. Here are a few more tips to help you protect yourself:
- Always get the opinion of a lawyer before you sign any contract. There are plenty of law offices that offer low, flat-fee contract evaluations. Yes you may have to spend a little money but its much better than getting your bank account and your favorite project tied up with a dirty deal.
- Get connected! Networking with other writers is a great way not only to find out about current scams, but to get referrals for quality products and services.
- Take a class (or twenty). Writer’s Leagues, Writer’s Digest, Media Bistro, and other outlets offer reputable classes on many aspects of writing and publishing. Arm yourself with first-hand knowledge from industry pros.
Above all, follow your gut. If something feels off it probably is. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is not true. If you’re not sure, get a second opinion, but never rush into anything. It’s your money and your creative future on the line.