Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tips to avoid scams

By Patricia Wiles

There was a post on the latterdayauthors forum recently about identifying poetry scams, so I thought this topic of literary scammers deserved a bit more attention. There are lots of unscrupulous scammers out there who make a pretty good living by emptying the wallets of newbie writers.

We often talk about the business of writing, and writing is a business -- it's a lot more than pouring your creative soul out onto the page. And as with any other business, you will find those whose practices are less than ethical. It behooves new writers to take as much time learning and understanding how the business operates as they do learning how to craft a good story.

Here are a few tips and links I hope you'll find helpful.

1. Poetry and self-publishing scams:

There are legitimate poetry journals, then there are scam anthologies. A legitimate journal will not expect you to purchase a copy of their "anthology" if your poem is accepted for publication. A legitimate journal will, at the very least, pay you in copies. This link will take you to other links that expose some of these anthology-producing publishers for what they are: scammers. Also included are links explaining why some self-publishing outfits are less than trustworthy.

2. Legitimate agents and editors do not charge reading fees.;;

When you begin subbing your work to editors or agents, it pays to spend some time online at these sites. I've heard stories of "agents" emailing a writer, saying they'd read her work online and wanted to discuss representation. In most cases you will not get an unsolicited email from an agent or an editor. It may have happened in a rare instance or two, but most have too many submissions to spend time searching the web for new clients.

Before you submit to an agent, check Publisher's Marketplace to see what they've sold. Check or the AAR website to see if they're listed. Not all legitimate agents belong to AAR, but it's still worth a look.

Agents do NOT charge reading fees. They charge a commission after they sell your work, and most will expect reimbursement for office expenses, i.e. copies. Again, a good way to learn how real agents operate is to visit the blog of a real agent. One I especially like is Pub Rants.

It is common for agents and editors to attend legitimate writer's conferences and accept an honorarium for speaking as well as payment for one-on-one sessions with writers. These private sessions are educational tools to help writers know how to improve their manuscripts. Sometimes an agent or editor may request to see more of the writer's work because of this session. However, there is never any promise of representation or acceptance implied in these activities. They are critiques, not American Idol tryouts.

Real editors and agents will not read your submission, then suggest a friend who's a good freelance editor who can help you whip your work into shape. They can suggest you find one on your own, but they won't point you to one specifically.

3. When it comes to networking, take advantage of writers groups.

I am a believer when it comes to writers organizations. I am a member of SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and over the years I have found it to be worth the cost of membership many times over. I have had more opportunities through SCBWI to network, meet real editors and agents, and learn more about the business of children's writing than I could have ever done on my own. If you have at least one published book under your belt (with an advance by a royalty-paying publisher) you can join the Author's Guild. There are also organizations for science-fiction/fantasy writers, romance writers, mystery writers and etc.

But if you're not at the point where you're ready to join an organization, there are many online resources you can turn to, such as those listed above. And of course, you can visit our latterdayauthors forum (the link is on the right) and ask there.

The process of writing, for all the creativity it entails, also requires a practical approach. Be sure you're prepared to deal with both. As the editor I work for at the newspaper says, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out before you believe it."

1 comment:

Rebecca Talley said...

Great post.

I submitted a children's story to a publisher I found in Writer's Market. He then sent me to an "agent" who could help my manuscript. Thankfully, I did not bite.

I was approached by another "agent" who was anxious to represent one of my picture books. Again, I didn't bite (I was very new to the whole publishing game, but I'm skeptical by nature) and that "agent" is now in prison for fraud and other crimes.

There are many reputable publishers, agents, book doctors, and the like, but you have to research and make sure that the one you've chosen is legitimate.

Thanks for reminding us, Patricia.