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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, December 20, 2015

10 Ways Being a Writer is Like Being Santa Claus


by Tara Sparling


Tara Sparling is an Irish blogger and humorist. I stumbled onto her award-winning blog, "Tara Sparling WritesA Sideways Perspective on the Bonkers Business of Books" through a Tweet, and I've been an avid follower ever since. Her take on the writing life is uniquely quirky and hilarious... and oh, so Irish. Seriously, follow her blog--she'll bring a little much-needed laughter into your work week. And today she has some laughs to help us through this frantic season. 


Why Being a Writer is Like Being Santa Claus
by Tara Sparling


1. Most people don’t believe in you. You’re not even sure if you believe in yourself.


Santa gets a lot of stick. Even the people who believe in him question his existence. Eight- and nine-year-old kids make it their business to go around playgrounds, discussing the logistical anomalies of his work.

And at peak production time, having left his underwear on the floor three days running, we can be sure that even Mrs Claus is questioning whether or not he is for real. It has to get a man down at times, even one as relentlessly jolly as good old Saint Nick.

Which brings us to writers, who don't live in the real world at all. If you did, instead of writing, you would be packaging leveraged financial derivatives on Wall Street for enough money to make an accountant's eyes water.

Upon informing your nearest and dearest of your literary ambitions, they smile sadly and say "You must follow your dream, darling."

But inside, they're crying, because they've just bid adieu to their own dream of a tropical retirement. They'll be too exhausted to enjoy it anyway, because they’re going to have to spend the next twenty years coaxing you out of an endless cycle of self-loathing.

2. Your greatest work is done alone, or in remote locations.


Certain occupations (such as supernatural sleigh deliveries) are by their very nature solitary. I will concede that at the North Pole, Santa is surrounded by elves.

But how friendly with them is he, really? He is the boss, after all, and as any of us who have worked for a large organisation are aware, the boss is not your friend. Santa might create decent working conditions, and welcome his elves in the mornings with a hearty Ho-Ho-Ho, but he's never the person Snuzzle Figglesticks confides in about secretly fancying Esmerelda in Doll Assembly.

No: Santa works alone. He spends 364.25 days a year in one of the earth's most remote locations, not the sort of place where one can easily form a support group for Magical Toymakers.

Writers seek the same solitude. Nowadays, however, most don't have the luxury of Thoreau. You're forced instead to make remote locations out of whatever comes to hand (a back bedroom with the door locked; a garden shed with a two-bar heater and fingerless gloves; or even the kitchen table, having told all loved ones to cross your path on pain of death).

Here, you pretend that you are utterly alone, save for the makey-up people in your head. But there is no more solitary occupation than writing, unless you're co-writing, which is extremely dangerous, and should never be undertaken by anyone with a discernible pulse (which is why it's fine in Hollywood).


3. You work for free.


I know Santa is magical. I know the joy of children across the largely western world is payment enough. I know he doesn’t want money. That’s not the point, though. The point is, if he did want payment, he wouldn’t get it.

Nowadays, even mid-list authors are working for free, because the number currently retained by advances substantial enough to live on is estimated to be about 0.00357% of the writing population (I made that up, but I defy anyone to provide a better figure).

You might argue that the ultimate writing payoff comes later: that even salaried staff are paid in arrears. But the work I do in my office results in a dependable sum at the end of the month (unless, of course, I bankrupt my employer by accident), whereas a writer almost never knows if they're going to make money with what they're writing. And almost most writers don't make any.


4. You have a long and illustrious cultural history, but people are always questioning your future.


Saint Nicholas was a Greco-Turkish bishop who was famous for centuries before you and I were even thought of. Yet no matter how many miracles he wrought, or how many legends are told about him, there is a constant drive to question his relevance in today's society from Hollywood, organised religion, and plain old mean folks. If I were Saint Nick, I know what I'd be doing with my bishop's staff.

Even Santa hasn't been subjected to the same degree of abuse as the poor old writer, however: even though writers have been writing since someone first decided society needed a rule book, and someone else had the bright idea of trying to make the rules a bit more interesting.

Just a couple of centuries ago, widespread literacy created a boom in storytelling: but now, professional writers are an endangered species, and will soon be preserved in a zoo, where people can take a break from reading free books to come in and observe them in their natural habitat.

5. You’ve worked bloody hard for a very long time to get where you are. But as soon as people hear of you, they think you’re an overnight success.


When Christmas morning arrives (unless you’re from certain countries in Europe: just go with me here, for the sake of this article), people take approximately 14.7 seconds to marvel at all Santa achieved on Christmas Eve, delivering presents to billions of children in an impossibly short window. It's magic! they cry, delighted with the end result.

They don't think about the other 364 days Santa toiled and prepared and manufactured, inventoried and sorted. They don't care.

Lots of writers explain their process online, detailing the writing of their books word-count by word-count, tweeting #amwriting like it’s #ambreathing, and discussing the many and varied tribulations of trying to market a book in order to become successful.

Nobody cares. People care only about the final number, and whether that’s the no.2 New York Times bestseller spot, or a $300,000 advance, that’s all readers will ever remember about how you got there.

6. You're constantly asking people what they want, but no matter what they tell you, they always seem to prefer a surprise.


How was Santa supposed to know, having sat on eBay for thirty-six hours straight in order to secure the world's last available 5-Minute Wonder Character Doll™, that after all that, you'd spend every waking minute between Christmas and the New Year playing with the $2 rubber egg he threw into your stocking at the last minute?

And just try talking strategy to the poverty-stricken writer who took a break from his life's work (a 1,000-page opus on the futility of the self in a digital age), to dash off a comic novella about Hitler being taught how to make bagels by a Polish baker, only for it to win him sixteen literary prizes, several hundred thousand dollars, and a fellowship somewhere swanky.

7. You despair sometimes, that your work will ever be appreciated: but just when you feel exhausted and beaten, you find that someone has left you a carrot.


Well, let's be honest about it. The carrot is for Rudolph, not Santa. But Santa's a nice guy. He doesn't mind. He just drinks the booze, scoffs the seasonal pastry, and gazes fondly at the image of himself reflected in a very contented, shiny nose.

A writer will grasp at any carrot in front of them, no matter how far they must reach. Even if your last review was a stinker; your book sales are tanking; your publisher is threatening to drop you, and you're certain you're developing arthritis in the finger you use to type the letter 'e' with – the mere sight of someone reading your book on social media, or a funny comment on your blog, is a sign from above that you’re meant to keep writing. Right?


8. Your customers can be fickle. One day, you’re all they can talk about; the next, you don't exist.


Kids are awful. You spend your life trying to please them. They get all excited about your next visit, only to judge your performance without mercy, and then, BAM! You're yesterday’s news.

Readers are awful. You spend your life trying to please them. They get all excited about your new book, only to judge your performance without mercy, and then, BAM! You’re yesterday’s review. In fact – who are you again?


9. You work as hard as you can, for as long as you can. But in order to really succeed, you're always going to need just a little bit of magic.


Had Saint Nicholas merely delivered gifts and charity to one small village in Turkey in the fourth century, we wouldn't be talking about him now, no matter how hard he toiled. It still took a few miracles to make him what he is today: a saintly harbinger of happiness, with enough supernatural energy to fuel several YA romances.

And so, alas, to writers. Nobody can deny that writers work hard (unless we're talking about certain blockbuster authors, who eventually get to hide out behind an ampersand, eating caviar). Some writers are always telling people how hard they work. Some are even revered for it.

But when it comes to commercial success, there is always an element of the inexplicable. Why did readers love that book, and not this? Why did this book get all the free editorial publicity, and not that? The answer is simple. Luck. And luck is tough.

10. You get little or no thanks for the work you do. But you wouldn't change it for the world.


Santa is Santa, because he is Santa. He couldn't be anything else; he couldn't do anything else. He was born to make other people happy, and has the mythological means to keep doing it. If he wanted thanks, he would be delivering iPhones to Millennials. (Actually, no. He probably wouldn't get thanks for that, either.)

But you just try telling Santa to stop making kids happy, and see how much coal is rained down upon you.

Writers are the same. You write, because the mere idea that someone might like what comes out of your head is the most intense natural high a body can get, once you’re too old to be on Santa’s list anymore. And you love writing, too – or at least, like the old saying, you love having written – because nobody in their right mind would choose to live the writing life.

In fact, anyone who thinks they're going to get rich from writing, or indeed find peace with it, should be installed immediately within the nearest straitjacket, behind glass, underneath a black-and-yellow sign saying “DANGER! SHOCK HAZARD”. Yet still you do it. Still you do it.

Tara Sparling writes fiction and screenplays. Originally from the west of Ireland, she now lives in Dublin. Her blog explores bestselling book statistics and trends, literary and mathematical humour, along with traditional and self-publishing, marketing tips, bizarre success stories, and spectacular failures. In 2014 she won Best Newcomer in the Irish Blog Awards, and her fiction has also been shortlisted in several national competitions. When she's not writing, she has a very prim and proper day job all about numbers, but we don't talk about that. Besides her blog, she can be found hiding (poorly) behind @TaraSparling on Twitter.


by Tara Sparling (@TaraSparling) December 20, 2015


What about you, scriveners? Are you feeling Santa-Clausy at this time of year? What other ways do you think writers are like Santa? Or not like Santa at all?

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

6 More Scams that Target New Writers


by Anne R. Allen



Last week I talked about some of the scams that Ruth and I have heard about recently in my post 5 Scams that Target New Writers.

Sometimes we're contacted by the scammers themselves and sometimes we get questions from readers who aren't sure if they should accept an offer that might look too good to be true.

As I started to list the scams, I realized that the post was getting wayyyy too long, so I figured I'd divide it. Some of the rip-offs listed in today's post have been around a little longer than the ones I listed last week, but they're just as deadly (and heartbreaking) to newbies who haven't heard of them...Anne

6) Companies that Offer to Turn your Self-Published Book into a Screenplay and open Hollywood Doors for You


This is a new one that preys on naive indie authors with Hollywood dreams. I've now heard about it from three people. Some have been approached through LinkedIn, which seems to be the venue of choice for a lot of scammers. These outfits offer to "analyze" your book to see if it can be made into a film and then offer some murky way in which they will get this analysis in front of Hollywood honchos. They charge between $700-$1000 for this service.

All of this is totally bogus. Their "analysis" means nothing and they have no power to get your book to anybody of importance in the film industry. As veteran screenwriter David Congalton says, "People, NEVER GIVE A DIME to anyone in Hollywood unless you're taking a class. These are all scams, preying on the dreams of the innocents."
The tip-off:

This is not how Hollywood works. According to the Raindance Festival website, "at least 50,000 scripts are written every year. Yet only a few hundred are bought and made." These are screenplays that have already been written. The chances of somebody wanting to go to the trouble to turn your book into a screenplay are pretty slim unless the book is already a bestseller.

And any book can be made into a screenplay if there's enough demand. (After all they made a film of Tristram Shandy!) If Hollywood wants your book, they will approach you. And don't hold your breath.

7) Rights grabs by Magazines, Contests and Anthologies


Most legit publications and contests only ask for first serial rights. But some contests ask for all rights of the winning pieces. Some even ask for rights of all submissions. This isn't exactly a scam, but it sure isn't good for the author.

Unless the prize or payment is really big, you do not ever want to sign away all rights to a story or poem (or book!)

Greeting card companies are an exception. They usually buy all rights, so you should expect that--but they often pay really well for a short poem. I got $400 once for a sentimental greeting card verse. They were welcome to my rights.

Many online publications will ask that you not republish something online for six months to a year—and that's fine—but after that you can publish again and again. Stories can live forever in anthologies and story collections. Don't give that away that right without a good reason (like a lotta cash!)

I have let some contests slip through here that ask for all rights to winning entries (many thanks to readers who pointed that out) but I'm careful to check them now.
The tip-off:

Read the fine print! I always include a link to the website of contests and journals I list in the Opportunity Alerts. I vet them, but some weeks I don't have time to read everything. So always read the details of a contest before submitting.

8) Submission Services


These have been around for ages, but the electronic age has brought some new twists.

Note: there are perfectly legitimate submission services. The service "Submittible" which electronically submits manuscripts to journals is widely used by journals to take their online submissions. The journals, not the authors, pay fees to them.

But what you want to stay away from are the outfits that play on your fantasy of being an author who "just writes" (ain't no such animal!) and offer to get you published with no effort on your part.

These companies tell you they'll save you from the hassle of getting your hands dirty with boring stuff like writing query letters. They are there to write them for you! For a huge fee! Here's a link to one that got written up at Writer Beware.

Like the phony publishers, they may pretend to be very selective and put you through a "vetting" process. If you're "accepted" they will write a query letter for you, submit it to agents (they may claim to have an "expansive network" of agents on speed dial) and they'll even copyright your book for you!

Problem is: agents are not morons. They can spot a query service letter at 50 paces. The queries will be auto-rejected, no matter how many agents get the mass-mailing. And agents do not take phoned-in pitches, so anybody who offers to do this is totally bogus.

Anybody can copyright their own book for $35. Don't pay somebody to do it for you. And you may not even need to. More on this on my post Do You Need to Copyright your Manuscript?
The tip-off:

Anybody who claims to be able to get you an agent is lying. A relationship with an agent is like a marriage. You two have to click personally. No third party can do it for you. It would be like paying somebody to go on dates for you.

9) Predatory Publishing Contracts


Some vanity presses tie up your copyright for seven years. Some even demand ALL rights—including electronic, audio, film, and foreign—even though they have no plans of producing your book in those formats. More on bad vanity press contracts from Joel Friedlander: Is Your Book Held Hostage by a Subsidy Publisher?

And here's a quote from the State Bar of Wisconsin "A scam contract usually will assign all rights to the publisher, whether specifically granted or not. Absent compelling reasons, such as the publisher's ability to actually make foreign, book club, or movie sales, there is no reason to give a publisher anything but the right to actually publish the book in book form and perhaps some very limited ancillary rights, such as the granting of permission to quote from the book, to make administering book sales easier."

BUT: not all bad contracts come from vanity publishers and overt scammers. The Big 5 can offer onerous contracts these days as well.

Now that we have "forever" books and infinite bookshelves, contracts are much more fraught with dangers than they were in the pre-ebook days.

With "in perpetuity" contracts, you may end up signing away the rights to your book and characters for a lifetime—and even your children's lifetimes. You also don't want to sign a contract with an agent who asks for "right of first refusal" for ALL the books you will ever write. Yeah, they do that.
The tip-off:

Always run a contract by a legal professional. Contracts are complex and wording can be purposely misleading. Do not give a publisher rights to anything but the book unless they have concrete plans for audiobooks, translation, etc. And make sure there is a mechanism for reversion of rights when the book goes out of print.

10) Bogus Anthologies


This one has been around for nearly a century—but new writers are still falling for it. One of my neighbors got duped just last month.

The scam works like this: There's a call for submissions to a poetry or inspirational essay anthology often with cash prizes and fancy certificates.

But here's the problem: every submission is accepted. When the "editors" have enough poems or essays to fill a book, they print it up and offer the unvetted dreck to all the contributors for a steep price. (Sometimes pre-purchase is required or sometimes authors like my neighbor are enticed by a "pre-publication discount" bringing the price down from extortionate to merely outrageous.) But the newbie, proud to be "a published poet" buys many volumes to give to family and friends.

Their "win" of the "contest" may include a certificate declaring you the winner of a bogus prize. You can sometimes buy this nicely framed certificate for an over-inflated fee.

I have to admit I didn't burst my neighbor's bubble. She was so elated and had already pre-paid for the phony book. The damage was done. I figured she deserved to ride that high for a bit longer.

Unfortunately, some newbies are so excited by their "publication" or "prize" they send out news releases. This happened to a local poet very early in her career. It took her several decades to live it down.

Real anthologies like the Chicken Soup books pay the authors, not the other way around.

Note: there are great charity anthologies and promotional anthologies that don't pay, but offer exposure for the writer. But the good ones are not high-priced and they'll be very open about what they're about. Often several "name" authors will be attached, which is great for raising the profile of a newbie author. You'll be paid in prestige and advertising, so you're not "giving your work away" if you're included in a good charity anthology.
The tip-off:

Look at the people they've published or former "winners" of their big prize. Google them. Have they ever been published elsewhere? Where are the books sold? If it's only from the anthology's website, it's likely a scam. These days they may be on Amazon too, but check the sales rank.

11) Fee-Charging Literary Agents


I thought these guys had disappeared in the age of the ebook, but I've seen them resurfacing now that self-publishing has lost its new-car smell.

Any agent who charges clients for services is not part of the legitimate publishing community, which has a strict code of ethics.

This means they do NOT have access to editors at publishing houses, so they can't sell your book to a legitimate publisher. They may sell your book to a vanity publishing house (one that charges fees to publish your book) or a small press that they themselves own. They may also have kickback deals with freelance editors or offer "editing services" themselves.

These people cannot sell your book to a real publisher. You are wasting time and money dealing with them. Real agents ONLY make money as a commission for selling your book to a publisher. And yes, that means real agents often work months or years with no pay at all when they're starting out. Most agents start as unpaid interns reading slush for large agencies.

NOTE: Not all "reading fees" are scams. Some literary magazines are now charging a nominal reading fee for submissions (usually only a few dollars) as was reported in The Atlantic in October. You can usually get around the fees by sending hard copy or subscribing to the magazine. This isn't making authors very happy, but it's not considered unethical. Because electronic submissions are so easy these days, their submission numbers keep going up while their readership goes down. This is one of the ways they stay afloat.
The tip-off:

Any request for money by a literary agency, whether it's a reading fee, mailing expenses, editing, inclusion in a book fair or catalogue, website building, etc, is a major red flag. Run very fast in the opposite direction. For more about this venerable scam, see Writer Beware.

What about you, scriveners? Have you ever fallen for any of these scams? Have you seen other writers getting scammed? Any other scams to add to the list?

posted by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) December 13, 2015


Anne R. Allen is the author of ten books, including the bestselling CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIES and HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, co-written with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.


BOOK OF THE WEEK


The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is available at all the AmazonsiTunesKobo, and Nook



Who shot rock diva Morgan Le Fay? Only her childhood friend Dodie, owner of a seedy small-town diner, can find the culprit before the would-be assassin comes back to finish the job

Boomers, this one's for you. And for younger people if you want to know what your parents and grandparents were really up to in the days of Woodstock and that old fashioned rock and roll. Plus there's a little Grail mythology for the literary fiction fans.

"A page turning, easily readable, arrestingly honest novel which will keep you laughing at yourself."...Kathleen Keena

"I borrowed this book free with my Amazon Prime membership, but I enjoyed it so much that I don't want to give it up. I'm buying a copy to keep."...Linda A. Lange

"In The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, nothing is sacred, nothing is profane. And yet, in the end, love does conquer all. If you're of an age to remember Woodstock and the Moonwalk, don't miss it. If you're not, well, you won't find a better introduction." ...Deborah Eve of the Later Bloomer



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Sunday, December 6, 2015

5 Scams that Target New Writers and How to Spot Them

by Anne R. Allen

12/6/2015

Because we have a high-profile blog, a lot of people contact us because they want us to promote their services to our readers, usually through contests or deals.

Sometimes these services are great, so I always try to make time to check them out. But often they aren't. We have some pretty strict guidelines, but even so, I'm afraid I've let some things get through that shouldn't have, like contests that ask for all rights instead of first serial rights. (Always read that fine print before submitting.)

But some offers are recognizable as scams right away. Here are a few general tips for vetting author services:
  • Any website that's full of testimonials from writers who have not successfully published anything is likely a scam.
  • Agents who tout their services. Real agents are inundated with queries. They don't need to advertise.
  • Ditto real publishers.
  • Google is your friend. If anything sounds too good to be true, Google the website name with the words "scam" and "complaints", "rip-off" and/or "lawsuit".
  • Do a search of the company at Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors.

Here are some of the scams I'm seeing lately that target new writers, with notes on the red-flags that can tip you off to the scam.


1) Editorial Services that Promise Bestsellers or Agent Representation


These people sometimes contact writing clubs and organizations as well as writing bloggers, and they may even troll the US Copyright Office records looking for prey.

If they manage to get your email address, they'll write saying stuff like, "I've got an agent who is looking for a (whatever-you-write) book. Contact me right away."

Or, "I have connections with agents and traditional publishers. If you have a manuscript to sell in any of these categories, please contact me immediately!"

Or "We are going to be at the Frankfurt/London/whatever book fair. We can pitch your book to agents and editors."

Thing is: agents don't take submissions or pitches from editing services. They only take queries from authors. Any third party query gets deleted.

All these services can give you is a high-priced edit or help in writing a book proposal.

If you need an editor, by all means hire one (and if you self-publish, you absolutely DO need one.) You can find professional editors through the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) or a vetted listing service like Reedsy, or ask a successful indie author who they use for editing.

If you write nonfiction, yes, you need to submit a book proposal, but you don't need an expensive service to write it for you. Buy a book on the subject, or Google "how to write a book proposal" and read advice from reputable agents. Here's a great post on book proposals from former Writer's Digest editor Jane Friedman. The bible for nonfiction book proposals is agent Michael Larson's How to Write a Book Proposal now in its fourth edition.

Agent Jeff Herman's Write the Perfect Book Proposal is another old favorite, too. You can buy used paperbacks of either of them for under $12.

If you can write a book, you can write your own book proposal. Remember you're going to have to know what's in it when that agent contacts you!

And if you're looking for an agent or publisher, use AgentQuery , QueryTracker (both free) or subscribe to The Writer's Market for $5.99 a month. Don't ever pay anybody to submit your query for you.

The tip-off:


Their websites will be full of hard-sell tactics and wild promises. They'll hype their services as if they were something more than editors and ghostwriters.

Good editors show off their editing skills by showcasing successful clients. Editor Jodie Renner has an excellent website if you want to see what a professional editor's website looks like.

I'm not going to link to any scammy ones, but they will be loud and flashy and full of hype. These outfits are all (very expensive) sizzle and no steak.


2) Vanity Publishers Masquerading as Traditional Publishing Houses


"Vanity" or subsidized publishing is not always a scam, so I'm not going to say nobody should ever use a subsidized press. Those can be fine for memoirs, poetry collections, or books by authors with only one book and no plans to write another. (Although you should never pay for the overpriced and mostly worthless publicity packages vanity presses try to push on clients. See #5 below.)

Vanity presses charge high prices for their services and the books themselves are expensive, so you don't want to use them if you hope to turn a profit or you're aiming for a career as a professional author. Generally bookstores won't carry vanity press books and people in the industry look down on them. (These are not to be confused with self-publishing services like CreateSpace or LightningSource, Bookbaby or Lulu.)

For one-book hobbyist writers without tech skills (and believe me, I know how challenging tech can be!), a full-service self-publishing company can be a viable way to publish. (Although I'd recommend using the competitively-priced full-service packages at BookBaby or Lulu over the higher-priced vanity presses.)

But the vanity publishers you NEVER want to get near are the ones that pretend to be traditional publisher and don't tell you until after your book is "accepted" that you'll be expected to "contribute" to your publishing fees (generally much higher than what a legit self-publishing company will charge.)

These people play on a newbie's dreams of being traditionally published. By pretending to be selective, they con an author into thinking they have passed a gatekeeper test and they've been validated as "real authors." But the books are not really published; they are simply being printed by an expensive vanity press. These people often provide no distribution at all, while places like BookBaby are also distributors. You'll end up with a carton of expensive books to sell out of the trunk of your car.

Some of these outfits are very slick and have even bamboozled real agents into submitting to them--as recently as last month--so be very, very careful.

The tip-off


These "publishers'" websites will not mention anything about charging writers to publish their work, but they have lots of testimonials from "satisfied customers" about the quality of the paper or the "niceness" of the office staff through the process of publication.

Real publishing houses do not need testimonials from authors. Their customers are readers, not authors.


3) Phony Contests


There are a lot of iffy contests out there, especially for self-published books. You want to look further into any contest that charges a hefty fee. The outfit may simply be a moneymaking proposition for the organizers and the prize may be small and/or not carry much prestige. I draw the line at $25 for an entry fee. Anything over that is worthwhile only if there's a critique or subscription included or it's got a major name.

There are also contests that are simply trolling for free content. This is especially true for essay or other non-fiction contests.

Selling college papers to students who would rather cheat than learn is big business these days. As The Atlantic reports, "These days, students can hire online companies to do all their coursework, from papers to final exams."

According The Atlantic, some of the people who write these papers are underpaid adjunct professors or graduate students with big student debt. At $30 a page, it can be an appealing sideline for academics having trouble making ends meet.

Except for the little ethical problem, of course.

But recently cheaper competitors have sprung up in Central Europe and Asia, charging as little as $3-$5 a page.

Most universities consider passing somebody else's work off as your own to be plagiarism, pure and simple. Getting caught buying these things can get the student an "F" and even expulsion. College professors can usually spot phony papers because the work is wildly different from what the student usually hands in.

But this doesn't stop students from buying these things. What they don't realize is the authors of the papers may not be the ones getting paid. The papers may be lifted off the Internet or they may be submissions to a contest.

I'd heard rumors about this kind of contest scam a few years ago, but I only recently saw one up close and personal. I got an emailed notice of an essay contest the sender wanted me to post on a specific blogpost from three years ago.

(That's always a red flag: if somebody asks me to include a contest in the Opportunity Alerts, that lets me know they've at least looked at the blog. But people who ask us to rewrite old blogposts to tout their products show very little knowledge of how blogging works.)

I don't know for sure that this particular outfit planned to sell contest entries, but I've heard of ones that do. And the person who contacted me had a very poor command of English, so writing essays would have been tough for him. I'd be willing to bet this was one of those scams.

If you enter their "contest," your essay may be sold over and over to some party-hearty frat boys who think paying somebody else to do their homework is a good way to prepare for a career.


The tip-off:


These guys wave a lot of red flags. Poor English skills are a biggie. One email said, "We hardly appreciate your help in sharing the info about the contest on the Internet!"

Yeah, well I hardly fell for their scam. They said their goal was "to make life easier for students".

By selling them stolen essays to pass off as their own.

Selling college papers under any circumstances is unethical. But giving the scammers your work for free is just dumb. Always vet contests and make sure the people who are running them aren't going to steal your work.


4) For-Sale Fake Reviews


Anybody who tells you that you need to pay for "professional" Amazon reviews is scamming you. There are a lot of outfits out there who do. Some even use the Amazon logo (illegally).

Amazon does not allow paid reviews, as wrote last month. Amazon defines "payment" as anything besides a copy of the actual book (and even that must be disclosed in your review). This means a gift card, payment for a blog tour, or even a review exchange.

Any of these can get your review removed and may get you banned from selling on Amazon.

The paid review problem has been all over the headlines recently. In October, Amazon sued a thousand people who were selling fake reviews on Fivrr.

Last spring, they sued several US companies that were selling reviews. I wrote about it in my post on Why You Should Never Pay for Amazon Reader Reviews. Even if the company claims the review is "fair" if you pay for it, it's not eligible to be posted on Amazon. Do not fall for these people. Many are still in operation. Some even use the Amazon logo so they look legit.

But if you get caught using them, your reviews will be removed, and often legit reviews will disappear with them. It's been happening to many, many writers recently. For more on this, see my post Disappearing Amazon Reviews.


The tip-off:


Paid reviews are strictly forbidden on Amazon, even an "honest review." Amazon's Terms of Service state clearly that they will not accept any paid reviews. Anybody who tells you this isn't true or you won't get caught because "everybody does it" is lying.

The only reviews you can pay for are editorial reviews on blogs or magazines like Kirkus. But you're not allowed to post those reviews in full on Amazon or other retail sites. You can only quote one or two sentences in the "editorial review" section.


5) Overpriced Marketing Plans for Self-Publishers


Some vanity publishers have discovered there's much more money to be made selling fake Twitter followers and useless booths at book fairs than in selling publishing services to self-publishers.

Their salespeople can be pushy and shameless. The publicity campaigns, which mostly consist of sending robo-tweets to fake Twitter followers and "buy my book" ads to bogus Facebook friends, pretty useless in generating sales.

Even more insidious are the booths at book fairs which can cost thousands of dollars (not to mention your travel and hotel expenses.) Nobody's going to buy your book from a vanity press booth at a book fair where traditional publishers are giving away great swag for free.

Whenever you're contemplating attending a book fair or author festival, look at your bottom line. If it costs $500 for the booth, and you sell 10 books (pretty high for a book festival), is the prestige of the fair worth the $450 or so you're paying to be standing in that booth for a few hours? If you're in there with a bunch of other self-published authors with the same vanity press, you could be stuck in a ghetto for suckers that everybody will avoid. If you put the same amount into an ad in a top bargain book newsletter like BookBub or Ereader News Today, you'd sell thousands.

If you're going to the book fair to network and meet people, you might find you get more done if you're not standing in a booth anyway.


The tip-off:


Hard sell tactics give them away. These companies have teams of salespeople whose one job is to pressure authors into paying for useless marketing campaigns. I know one author who published a memoir with a vanity press and salesmen started phoning her at all hours of the day and night trying to pressure her—first telling her the obviously niche book would become a bestseller with their promotional schemes, then with insults and harassment. She said it became a nightmare.

For information on book marketing that actually works, follow book marketing experts like Penny Sansevieri, Chris Syme and Frances Caballo for practical advice.

posted by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) December 6, 2015

Anne R. Allen is the author of ten books, including the bestselling CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIES and HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, co-written with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.

You can read more about writing scams at "6 More Scams That Target New Writers"

What about you, scriveners? Have you ever fallen for any of these scams? Have you seen other writers getting scammed? Any other scams to add to the list? (I'll be listing more next week.) And feel free to comment on the new blog as well. As I said, it's a work in progress. Moving a blog is like moving to a new house. If anything can go wrong, it will.

NEWS: You can read my piece "Why I Write" at Warren Adler's Writers of the World this week.




BOOK OF THE WEEK

Food of Love: a Comedy about Friendship, Chocolate, and a Small Nuclear Bomb.




Food of Love is available in ebook on all the Amazons, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Scribd and Page Foundry (Inktera).



"I loved everything about this novel, the quirky humor and larger than life characters above all. The plot took me in unexpected directions and I could not guess what would happen next. This is a delightful surprise package skillfully bound by the author's immaculate writing. And like all stories involving a princess, it has a happy ending. HIGHLY recommended"
...The Bookkeeper

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