This is not something that I’ve felt the need to write about before. For me, scams have a hard time sinking their hooks in. I’m naturally skeptical. I’ve never fallen for a ‘phishing’ email, even when it purported to come from my own actual bank. I’ve never sent my account information to Nigeria. I don’t even vote (that’s a joke, folks).

However, there are many websites out there talking about scams, and I decided I might as well mention it myself. It’s really quite simple, as an aspiring writer, to avoid most writing scams. It can be summed up in one sentence.


That’s right. As a writer, you NEVER need to pay someone to publish, edit, or read your work. Publishers or agents who charge any kind of reading fee, or offer editing services, are frequently scams and at their best, unnecessary. If you are hopeless with grammar and punctuation, you can probably find a local English teacher who is willing to help you, especially if your writing has talent.

Now, let’s talk about a few common forms of scamming.

Self or vanity publishing is the biggest and most-debated one. Self-publishing means that nobody with experience in editing and publishing has chosen your work; any writing, however bad, can be self-published–all it takes is money. Some say that a traditional publisher will actually be LESS likely to want to buy your work if you’ve self-published. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m sure it varies from publisher to publisher, but it makes logical sense to me.

However, if you just want some copies of your book, with the main intention being to give it away to friends and family, it’s definitely a good option. They look very professional, especially if you put in a lot of proofreading work yourself, and there are print-on-demand publishers that can make it a fairly cost-effective solution. But if you intend a career in writing fiction, I can’t recommend it as a starting option or as a way to make any money.

Other scams involve so-called editors, publishers and agents sending out mail or advertising on websites, claiming that for a small reading fee they’ll tell you what your writing needs and how you can become publishable and make big bucks. Here’s what to look out for: did the person contact you? Most true agents and publishers don’t go out and look for new writers. They don’t have to, they receive a thousand manuscripts a month. Does the offer sound too good to be true? It probably is. Above all, are they charging anything, or advertising specific editing services for money? If so, they are probably connected with the services and getting a kickback.

The bottom line is, publishers pay you. Agents get their money from commissions (you are their employer, but you don’t pay until they do the work). Anyone offering a different sort of deal is probably suspect.

Sometimes word of a writing course or retreat or training session will reach you. Now here is where you have to be very careful and intelligent. There are many legit writing courses and retreats and workshops. Lots. And many of them you do need to pay for. (As Kristine Katherine Rusch points out, you wouldn’t expect to become a lawyer without paying for law school; some things are a necessary investment.) The question to ask yourself here is: who is giving the workshop–is it a genuine author, publisher, editor, etc? And how much am I paying–does it seem to cover expenses for those running it, or is it a ridiculous amount? And what are they promising–anyone who promises to make you a rich and famous author, or a published one in a hurry, is almost certainly scamming you. Yes, it costs money to go to cons and workshops. But look at it as training and networking, not as a magic bullet, and you will better understand how to go on. Don’t spend more than you can afford.

What all these people prey on is the misconceptions of aspiring authors. Learn to undo the misconceptions and you will undo the scams. Here they are:

– Misconception: Writing is an easy way to get rich. (There is NO easy way to get rich, and writing is hard work and daily work.)

– Misconception: I can quit my day job and become a writer and reduce the amount of stress in my life. (Don’t, for heaven’s sake, quit your day job to become a writer until you have several big-time contracts, plans for more, and a cushion of money that will hold you up for at least two years. That’s just a function of how uncertain the business is; talent and skill and excellent writing will not keep you selling–part of it is luck and who you know. Sorry.)

– Misconception: I can get rich and famous writing books! Why not, Stephen King did! (For every Stephen King there are millions… literally millions of people trying to sell stories and books. Thousands of them do, don’t get me wrong. They do it by hard work, persistence, patience, and luck. But don’t go into this hoping to become rich or famous. It’s easier to become a rich and famous movie star, no matter what you look like. And that ain’t easy.)

If you have a more realistic outlook on what the business of writing is (a profession like any other, requiring energy, talent, patience, persistence, followup, promotion, production, and more patience… and a deal more risk than the average ditch digger) then you will avoid most of the scams right there. When you see an ad or get an offer, ask yourself where it’s coming from and whether it’s fair and sensible. Don’t let your desires to take the quick, easy, cheap road get in the way of your common sense–there isn’t a quick, easy, cheap road.

Here are some useful websites about this subject:

Preditors and Editors – a great site with warnings about scams and bad-business publishers

Writer Beware – Hosted by SFWA, a very helpful advocate for speculative fiction writers

How to Sniff Out Literary Scams – Excellent advice

Good luck and good common sense to all!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Books and Magazines Blog » Archive » Scams

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