Fortunately, in most cases, we know what to do to protect ourselves from this stuff. Double-check the URL you’re logging into, don’t download attachments from sources you don’t already have a relationship with, don’t email your social security number to anyone, and never believe that email about the Nigerian Business Opportunity.
But what about scams that specifically target writers? There are plenty of them out there hoping to exploit and take advantage of writers who are new to the business and hoping to get published. The thing about these scams is that they don’t come looking for you; you come looking for them.
So with that said, here are Six Writing Scams To Watch Out For.
1. Reading Fees (agents)
I want to say this with a hundred percent clarity: Never pay an agent to evaluate your work. Never. If an agent asks you for any money upfront, run. In fact, the The AAR (Association of Author Representatives) forbids their members from doing this. Real agents will sell your work to publishers and make their money off commission. Real agents will be able to provide a list of some of the real authors they represent. Scammers will tiptoe around that question and ask for money upfront. To avoid scam agents, use a respectable site like QueryTracker to find list of agents actively looking for clients.
2. Reading Fees (publishers)
I might get some disagreements here, but let me state my opinion for what it’s worth: Never pay a publication to evaluate your fiction. There are so many publications out there that do not charge a reading fee. Market listing site Dutrope currently lists over 5000 fiction markets open to submissions that do no charge a reading fee, so there really is no reason to submit to a market that charges you.
Thank of it this way: Would you pay a potential employer to read your resume? I hope not.
Now, there are a few markets that don’t charge a fee for the actual submission, but do charge a fee (or take a donation) for other services, such as getting a quicker response or a detailed critique. I don’t have a problem with that, as you’re not paying them to read your work and you’re paying for an additional service.
3. Phony Publishers
There is a certain American publishing company that I have heard tons of complaints about but don’t want to name here because they like to sue people. That particular one isn’t the only company like this though. You can find horror stories of authors who were coaxed into paying thousands of fees for “editing” or “marketing” after their novel was accepted. The “editing” was still scare and the the “marketing” still non-existent. You can also find horror stories about small companies who don’t live up to their end of the contract and then hold the work hostage by charging exorbitant amounts to buy out of the contract.
Whatever you do, make sure you do your research before accepting a contract. Check out sites like Preditors & Editors or Absolute Write Water Cooler and search for information on the publisher you’re considering.
4. Hidden Amazon royalties
I’ve seen a few complaints about this in recent years. Basically, the contract from a small press makes no mention of third party resellers like Amazon, so when the royalty statement comes, it only includes payment for sales directly through the publisher, even though the publisher has been selling the novel on Amazon. I don’t know if this is an intentional scheme or an oversight, but it’s a bad thing either way, so before you sign that contract (and I mean for novels AND short stories) make sure you understand how the royal payments work.
5. FTL anthologies
I might get some heat for calling this a scam, but that’s what makes things fun.
Say it with me: Do not submit short stories to anthologies that do not pay you.
There is no reason to publish a short story in a so-call For The Love (of writing) anthology. None. You’re not getting exposure, because if they had an audience they’d be paying you, and you’re not padding your bio because agents don’t take them seriously. So don’t do it.
So what’s the scam? They publish your story, give you nothing for it, and then sell you copies of it. Doesn’t that seem a bit fishy?
Submit to anthologies that give your something. Anything. Contributor’s copies are a perfectly acceptable method of pay for new writers. Token pay for a fraction of a penny per word is fine as well. Royalties? Yes, but proceed with caution. There are a few anthologies I’ve got stories in that claimed to pay royalties, but have never sent so much as a dollar, let alone a sales report.
Actually, that might be another scheme I haven’t thought about…
Anyhow, while I say you should stay away from non-paying anthologies, I think it’s just fine to submit to non-paying ezines, as long as the ezine is free to read, links back to your author site, and remains archived and public as long as the site is live. If those conditions are met, non-paying ezines can give you a way to pass around a free sample of your published fiction to new readers and won’t cost either of you a penny.
6. Vanity Press
You don’t hear too much about vanity press anymore, but pretty much everyone agrees that you should avoid them like the plague. In today’s environment where anyone can self-publish, there are very few reasons to ever consider a vanity press. In fact, I can’t think of any. They might not technically be considered a scam, but they are definitely not money well-spent. If you’ve got capital to invest in a project, use a reputable self-publishing (aka “micro-publishing”) company instead.
So in closing, I know I only brushed the surface of the numerous ways con-artists might try to scam new writers, but I hope this was a good primer for those of you new to the publishing process.
Just remember this:
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
And if a “publisher” or “agent” seems more like they’re trying to sell something to you instead of for you, then they probably are.
What other types of writing scams are lurking out there?