My day job consists of telling people, “No, the FBI is not going to call you up and demand money be wired to China” and “I don’t care what they told you, no one is down the street with a car for you, waiting on you give them your credit card number for ‘taxes’. You didn’t win a car. It’s a scam, I promise.”
What does this have to do with writing? Actually, a lot. Scamming happens in the writer’s world just as much as anywhere else. And if you’re a writer, especially an indie writer, you can’t afford to lose your cash to scammers.
So, here’s a Top list of scams to watch for:
This type of scam is almost as old as writing itself. The most common are the “poetry contests” that you enter with a nominal fee ($2-$10), but then the author gets a letter in the mail that their poem has won a place in the first few pages, and if they would like a copy of the book, along with a certificate it will cost $20-$30 dollars or more. Per book. Usually, they encourage you to buy a few to share with friends and family as well. Before the internet, these were ads in the back of magazines. Who knows, maybe they still are.
How to Avoid this Scam:
There are many, many legitimate writing contests out there. If the contest is a good one, it will tell you who is sponsoring, what the prizes are upfront, and where the winning works will be published. Check to see if there are previous circulations of the publication hosting the contest, or other ways to get copies other than through them. If not, that might be a red flag. Another red flag? If the contest doesn’t have a deadline, I’d reconsider.
Vanity presses are similar to contest scams, yet a bit different. These are companies that advertise publishing books for authors without “jumping through the hoops” of trad-pubbers. They usually demand an exuberant amount of cash upfront and require authors to purchase a large amount of their own work at a very high price. I Googled “vanity press scams” and got hits on these companies: Booktango, Inkubook, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Wordclay, AuthorHive, Pallbrio, Author Solutions, and Hollywood Pitch. I’m sure this is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start.
How to avoid this scam:
But Emma, you’re an indie author! Doesn’t that mean you use a vanity press? Erm, no. I use Amazon and Smashwords for my eBooks, neither which collected money when I uploaded my novel. And I use a print on demand publisher for my paperback, which means that they take a percentage of every book purchased, as it’s purchased. I can buy my own copies at cost, plus shipping.
That doesn’t mean that every indie publisher is a scam artist. In fact, there are probably just as many reputable independent publishers as there are scams out there. Authors just need to do their due diligence. Be wary of any publishing company that requires a large sum of money upfront, doesn’t have any type of distribution plan, and can’t provide samples of their work.
Everyone knows that good editing can make or break a work. Or at least they should. There are many ways to get quality editing, but for every editor out there willing to edit your work (for a price, of course) there are scammers willing to take your money.
How to avoid this scam:
Look at the editor’s website. Is it full of grammatical errors or awkward formatting? If so, do you really want them editing your work? What about their testimonials? Can you find works by the authors listed? How does their work look? Do they promise things not usually associated with editing, such as guaranteeing an agent or that your work will land on the desk of a big publisher? Make sure you ask questions like these when looking for an editor.
Actually, I recently got one of these in my email. It went to the tune of “I checked out your eBook and think it’s really special. I’d like to promote your work on one of my sites.” And then it lists prices for things like tweets, likes of reviews, more than one five star ratings “from several different IP addresses”, even a full fledged 5 star review. They never once mentioned my name, the title of my book, or where they saw my work.
How to avoid this scam:
Most advertisers don’t have to phish to get customers to purchase advertising from them. There are plenty of authors looking for advertising. Also, reputable advertisers don’t offer to do questionable things, like fake ratings. There are plenty of reasonable advertisers out there, and if you’re not sure where to start, join an author’s group and ask. Most are willing to give their advice. I have used Ask David before, and I use Copromote for free re-tweets. If I want Facebook followers, I volunteer to host parties on Facebook. They’re fun, and most people playing will like your page.
The Bottom Line
I know I didn’t cover all the scams that could plague a writer, but I’m writing a blog post, not a book. 😉 The bottom line is, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If you’re not sure about a certain company or website, ask someone or post a question in a place where authors “hang out”. I’ve asked more than my fair share of questions and have always gotten valuable feedback. Never once have I felt shamed for asking for advice.