by Gina Burgess
Most scams that authors and writers face are as old as Methuselah. A scam may have been updated to this digital age, but the con’s premise is the same.
I know we talked about literary agents and their worth a few weeks ago, but there are some scams that authors and writers face that need discussing. These are not limited to literary agencies. There are some bold-faced scams coming from supposed professionals in writing industry that need a bit of purifying light shed on them.
I was scammed years ago, and didn’t even know it. This “literary agency” replied to my query that the novel’s premise was intriguing, but new authors rarely wrote books worth publishing right off the bat. I needed a critique of the manuscript and they would critique it page by page for $400. Foolishly, I did no research of this firm. I took them at their word that they had helped Norman Mailer get his first book published and it sold one million copies. Good. So I packed up my 300 page manuscript, clipped a check for $400 to it and mailed it off.
Six weeks later, and still no word from them, I mailed a letter questioning when I’d hear back from them. The following week I got a reply with two pages of suggestions and one page of why this story wouldn’t sell. Most of the suggestions were similar to, “Well, your lead character has an unlikely last name. No one is named Le Fleur.” He was in New York, what did he know of Cajun names? And, “the historical data here is too much. You need more story.” So, my year long stint in the State of Louisiana Public Library researching everything about the Civil War in Louisiana was for naught?
This was back in 1982 with no email, no websites, no real Internet. After the pain subsided a bit, I checked Writer’s Market. This “literary agency” wasn’t even listed in the book. Let this be a lesson you do not have to learn the hard way. Developmental editors are real helpers for authors, but literary agencies don’t critique manuscripts, and reading fees are a very strong indication you’re facing a scam artist.
Literary agencies sell you and your books to publishers. If they give you copious praise about your writing, and then recommend an editor to polish it for you (only one editor, mind you), the likelihood you’re facing a scam is strong. If your manuscript has great merit, it does not have to be edited before an agent sells it to the publisher. Traditional publishers have their stables of editors that will help you polish your book for publishing. Do your research before you ever let go of a single penny.
Co-investing scams – another term for vanity presses. I got a letter from a publisher in 1983 that loved my novel. I showed great promise as a romance novelist. But they already had a similar story in their line-up. If I subsidized their efforts to print and market my book, they would consider publishing my novel, but I needed to send them a check for $30,000 no later than the first of next month.
Some contests lead to heartbreak even though they are legal – There’s this contest, see? We want you to write a poem, story, article to submit, see? No submission fee, see? Sweet deal. Then you get a letter praising the quality of your poem, story, and/or article. Although it didn’t win a prize, it was worthy to be published in the anthology, which you can purchase for $49.95. It cost you nothing to submit and you get a book with your writing in it and now you can call yourself a published author. No royalties come your way, and the quality of the other writing in the book is probably not very good, and it could even be pornographic, but at last you are published. A blog is much cheaper, you have control over the content, and you can promote it in all the right places. You don’t have to pay any fees, but you don’t get any royalties, either.
Editors that charge you a reading fee, or a fee for editing a chapter so you can see how you take to their style of editing, are suspect. Most editors will give you a sample of their editing with your first five pages, or even a full chapter. Check out their website, make sure the editor you choose will treasure your author’s voice. Reputable editors welcome your questions and will give you phone-time to discuss their suggestions.
Rule of thumb: If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Of course God blesses us in many ways, and miracles do happen. Yet, do look that gift horse in the mouth; do yourself a favor and research.
Con’t from the newsletter:
Generic solicitations to represent you or to publish your work. The key is generic. Reputable agents and publishers may find your work in a review or some other promotion, read it, be impressed with it, and contact you sincerely wanting to work with you. You’ll know they’ve read your work because they’ll talk about it. But those generic letters, emails or phone calls (con artists can find you and your info; there is no such thing as private information anymore), wanting you to spend money on a trip to a book fair, or to spend money on anything related to printing, publishing, book covers, editing, etc. writer beware.
One of our members sent me a letter titled Beware of Ego Traps, and I have her permission to share it with you. Do you recognize this scam?
I am Fay Risner, an independent author. Over the years, I’ve built up a fan base for my books. The positive comments from readers please me and bolster my ego. I have email contact with many of the people who buy my books. Sometimes, we chat about what is going on in our lives. We have become cyberspace friends. Some of them send me Christmas cards. It makes me smile when the card says Merry Christmas followed by when will your next book be ready to buy. Don’t forget to put me on your mailing list. The feedback from people after they read my books let me know they enjoy my writing. That spurs me on to self-publish another book.
Years ago, I came across a list of one hundred and fifty agents that I could email three chapters of a manuscript. I did it. I had many replies from agencies that didn’t handle Amish romance fiction. Five agents replied they liked my story but had as many authors as they could handle at the moment. They had to turn me down. That was my first and last try to find an agent. I have remained independent with my bookstore online and my books for sale in the usual places. I became a legit publisher and published two books for relatives. In each of my books is written Booksbyfay Publisher with my email address. Not too hard to do a little searching, and anyone who is interested can find my phone number.
In May of last year, I found a message on my answering machine from a man who said he was a marketing agent for a publishing company. The company’s name was muffled, but the man’s name and his phone number weren’t. He said his book scout pointed out one of my books in a foreign language had potential. The agent stumbled over pronouncing the title of the book and apologized for that.
For one second, I thought the man wanted to talk to me about being my agent. Before I called him back, I decided to google the man’s name and research him. His name would be connected to the publisher he worked for so I would have that information, too. You would think the head marketing agent for a publisher would be easy to find. He wasn’t so I ignored the call.
Now fast forward to August of last year. Another marketing agent called and left a message. I clearly heard the publishing company, his name, and phone number. This agent wanted to discuss the same book the previous agent was interested in. His book scout told him the book had potential. Much of what the man said sounded as if he used the same script the other agent used. More google searches and I came up empty handed so I ignored the call. That is until I answered the phone one day and found I was talking to the agent. He said foreign books were in demand. He wanted me to fly to Miami, Florida to a book fair and talk to people about my book. I listened politely, and my answer was no. He didn’t estimate what this promotional trip was going to cost me or what I would owe his company and him. As we talked, he brought up my books on Amazon. Maybe if I wasn’t interested in the trip, I might hire his company to publish my books and make my book covers. I declined. So far, I am out very little upfront by publishing at Create Space and designing my own covers. The agent wasn’t ready to give up on me yet. He said he might call back. I said I’d be glad to talk to him, but my answer would still be no. He hasn’t called.
Recently, a woman agent from California called. Her book scout pointed out one of my western books had potential. She asked if I knew Amazon was giving my book a favorable ranking. I said no, but I didn’t bother to point out to her that book hasn’t sold a copy in years. The rank on Amazon would match my book’s no sales. She wanted me to go to a book fair in New York. I could meet someone who wanted to turn the book into a movie? I shouldn’t pass up the chance to promote the book. I’d only be paying a share of the expenses. She didn’t say what the dollar amount might be. I told her I wasn’t interested several times. Finally, she asked if she could send me her proposal by email so I could look at it since she went through the information fairly fast. I said sure. I’d like a chance to look at what she emailed me. That proposal didn’t come. This was a friendly, persuasive young woman I was talking with, but I politely said no thank you. Did I believe her sales pitch about my western with the great ranking getting published or made into a western? My thought was she needed her book scout to have suggested one of my other books if the agent wanted to sound credible. Anyone can look up the ranks for their books on Amazon and find out she wasn’t telling the truth. Besides, western movies are rare these days. A scriptwriter would have to work hard to turn my G-rated western book into a manuscript a movie producer would approve for today’s western movies. So my final words were thank you for calling, but I’m not interested. Right away I googled the agent and her publisher. This time I found the company has a site, and the agents are noted for their scams so stay away from them.
If you, the writer, didn’t contact an agent about a manuscript, beware of agents that call you and seem eager to help you sell your book. You will hear repeated phrases like great rating on Amazon, book scout, book fair, no limit to the book’s potential even a movie. If you are interested, ask the agent questions. Hang up and research the agent and publisher. You can always call them back if you decide they are legit.
My last words to the agent from California was though I had to turn her down, I’d be sure to tell others that an agent called me. That’s what I’m doing. Although, I’m afraid I mislead the agent to think my conversations about her call were only going to be with family and friends.
So have you ever been sucked into a similar scam? Ever find yourself in a quagmire of a scam and can’t shake yourself free? What happened? What did you do?