Category Archives: Scams

Writers’ Scams: Keep Your Wits about You!

Long, very busy day: No time to mess with coding another book chapter. Nor, if there were any such time, do I have the energy left to do so. Ergo…the next installment in whichever book is coming up will have to wait till tomorrow. Instead, a brief warning to all of us who want to be writers: f’rgodsake, keep your wits about you.

Over at Facebook, writing consultant Barbara Grassey (one of my favorite FB friends) posts a cogent remark:

Ugh. Another $4,000 weekend seminar has come to an end and the attendees are posting pictures of their “book signing” — a staged photo with a mock-up of their book (which is not yet written). My eyes rolled so far back into my head they almost got stuck. Really people… you can hire 20 extras (or really just grab 20 people at the coffee shop or Barnes and Noble), have a friend snap a picture of you with your fake book, buy everyone a coffee and a danish and save yourself $3,900 plus travel expenses.

Got that? One of her followers was nonplussed. Said this benighted soul:

I was not aware this was a thing at conferences.

{sigh} No kidding? B’s response:

I know of this one weekend seminar where people go, they work out the title/subtitle of the book, there are people there who “design” the cover, then they take pics with the mock-ups as if they are doing a book signing. THEN… they put the books up on Kindle/Amazon as a pre-sell, get everyone in the room to buy each other’s books (at $0.99 each) and when the book launches, they have immediate sales, usually enough to get the book to bestseller status. That’s how they guarantee that a book will be a bestseller.

Folks. This is not a joke. Not a fluke. Not an odd one-off thing. It’s impossible to overstate the prevalence and number of scams out there targeting wannabe writers.

And you know…even those of us who are pretty well published (that would include yrs truly) are, all of us, wannabe writers. People who want to write…well, we WANT TO WRITE. We write because we want to write, and because we want to be read. It’s a deep-seated, heart-rending desire.

That craving, that ambition leaves us vulnerable to all sorts of predators.

Me, I started Wanting To Be a Writer when I was a kid. In grade school I’d write little “books” that I’d sew together and “publish” by handing them out to family and friends. (Yes, they did think I was crazy.) In high school, I was the darling of English teachers. In college, I wrote nonstop in and out of class.

Over time, I became a published, paid, “professional” writer…as much by serendipity as by design: first managing to get my dissertation published through a prestigious house, then drifting into public relations and journalism, passing through the editorial staff of the world’s largest regional magazine, publishing two more books, and finally ending up teaching writing and editing to upper-division students.

Over those years, I saw so many wack-sh!t schemes to prune money from would-be writers that we couldn’t even count them. The conferences that will get you nowhere. The online courses that will teach you nothing. The MFA programs guaranteed to render you unemployable (and probably unpublished). The outfits that promise to anthologize your (fill in the blank: article, story, poem, bio) in return for you buying their overpriced “book”. The contests that everyone (who pays) wins. The websites that will make your self-published book famous. The “publishers” that will take your unvetted magnum opus to press — for a hefty fee. Amazon.

Jayzus, but the woods are full of the bastards.

Please be careful. I don’t even know how many ways to tell you not to jump. But I can suggest to you that one excellent resource is Writer Beware. Otherwise: regard everything with a jaundiced eye. If it sounds good, it probably isn’t.

If you want to be a Writer with a Capital W, that’s fine. But just remember: you’re not going to get famous today. Or tomorrow. Or (probably) ever. Successful writers are the products of successful marketing campaigns, not of great writing.

If you want to make a living as a writer, get a job. Go to work on a periodical, in a publishing house, or for a paying website. You can make a living as a journalist (well: sort of a living), as a technical writer (decent pay!), as a public relations writer, as an in-house communications specialist, as an ad copy writer.

Consider: suppose you were a carpenter. What would you do?

Yeah: get a job.

Writing is a craft very much like carpentry. Like carpenters, writers build things. A table, an article; a house, a book: it’s all much of a kind. The carpenter builds skills over the years, meets other carpenters and employers and private customers while building those skills on the job.

Same with a writer. Exactly the same.

Want to be a writer? Get a job.

And remember: You don’t pay people for the privilege of writing. They pay you.


Speaking of Scams for Wannabe Authors…

ScamAlert Depositphotos_80149964_m-2015The ever-engaging New Zealand Muse draws our attention to this spot of light from Laura Jane Williams over at The Financial Diet. She shares some straight talk about the financial facts of life enjoyed by a #1 best-selling author — that would be one published through a real publisher (yea verily, a Big Four publisher) that pays a real advance. Without going into detail, let’s just note that she’s trying to support herself as a part-time nanny.

Now and again, I’ve held forth here about the multilfarious scams to which would-be writers are subject. One could argue that, for most authors, the whole publishing industry is a bit of a scam, at least for those who don’t understand their real occupation will not be “author” but “ad copy hack and self-employed marketer.” That’s most egregiously true for people who style themselves “indie authors” and self-publish on Amazon.

Very few writers ever make earn a living at their craft. Publisher’s Weekly, the sine qua non of trade journals for the publishing industry, reports that most authors’ earnings fall below the poverty line, and what is more, author income has been dropping since 2008. reports optimistically that 1,340 writers earn over $100,000 a year, and half of those are indies. This revelation is extracted from a mind-numbing aggregation of data gleaned from Amazon. AE claims, probably correctly, that the share of the market for books sold on Amazon is increasingly going to independent (i.e., self-) publishers. This is no doubt true: “publishing” on Amazon is the hot new thing to do. But that you are in a market does not mean you’re making any money in the market.

1340 people: let’s think about that. It’s not very many, when you consider that Amazon has 14 million books online. If half of those six-figure writers are indies, then only 670 self-publishing writers in the whole world are making a credibly good living at their trade.

Amazon sold 22 million copies of Kindle books alone in 2010. How many authors are required to produce 22 million sales?

Amazon itself deems only 40 self-published authors “successful.”

Between Amazon’s price-fixing practices and the enormous saturation of the book market, independent publishers and authors face daunting challenges. Getting a self-published book on the shelves of a real, physical store is not easy. The other day I learned that the pre-eminent independent bookstore in Arizona charges indie authors $300 for shelf space — and I can assure you, your chance of selling $300 worth of books there is almost nil. The sources through which real-world bookstores order their stock do not carry self-published books. You can get access through IndieReader and Ingram Spark…assuming you can afford to pay for it. Additionally, attracting media coverage from recognized mainstream newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters is extremely difficult: indie authors just don’t get no respect.

I’m often told that instead of clinging to my pessimistic view of life — the one in which one is never disappointed — I should try to be an optimist.

The optimist, then, would say about those 40 “successful” authors, Why shouldn’t I be one of those?

But I can’t get past the realist’s challenge: Why should you?

Image: DepositPhoto: © Aleutie

Scams for Every Writer…

It turns out there are scams for every writerPlus ça change… When I was a young journalist and book author often invited to speak at writers’ conferences, I observed that people who yearned more than anything on this earth to be Writers with a Capital W were subject to the most astonishing scams. In those days, it was harder to get yourself published. But if you couldn’t persuade a publishing house to take you on, you could pay a vanity press to print up your golden words, which would make you feel entitled to go around calling yourself a Writer. The fee was hefty. There were various fake literary agencies, too. Here a scam, there a scam, everywhere another scam.

But now, when anyone can “publish” by posting whatever they please on Amazon, publishing itself is a kind of scam. And it breeds scamlets like cats breed kittens. The entire book industry is overrun with scams.

At lunch the other day, a dear and talented friend, self-publisher of an urban fantasy that’s been getting good reviews and selling reasonably well, reported that she’d found a place where you could sign up to get free reviews. And hallelujah, sister! You could enter your gilded book in a CONTEST! For a small fee… Reader’s Favorite, said she: one of her friends won first place in his book’s category. So worth it!

The entire book industry is overrun with scams. Writing scams to watch out for.

ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding…. The old scam alarm went off inside the head. Where had I heard about WRITER’S CONTESTS with BIG PRIZES and PRESTIGE that cost just a few bucks to enter your book? Yeah…that one is old as the hills.

A little snooping around on Google, that treasure chest for cynics, brought up this rumination from Writers Beware, one of  my favorite no-bullshit sites. As you might expect from a hustle that’s been around for so many years, there’s now a vast panoply of “contests” that will put you in the running for “awards,” in exchange for fees. Once you’ve won a Reader’s Favorite “award,” you get to spend more money flying to Florida, home of and grist for the mill of the inimitable Carl Hiassen, and you’ll have even more opportunities to spend money on any number of bits and pieces of merchandise.

These profiteering “contests” are only one of many types of grift aimed at wannabe writers. Really, e-book publishing itself is exactly that: a form of vanity press that is free. Back in the Day, my feeling was that if you couldn’t persuade someone else to publish a book, it wasn’t worth publishing. Never in a zillion years would I have paid somebody to publish something I wrote: people paid me to write, not the other way around.

That, you see, is the definition of a professional writer.

Today the landscape has changed — publishing has been “disrupted,” we’re told. But how much it’s changed…well. That still remains to be seen, IMHO.

Out of curiosity, I’ve decided to try self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints. It’s free, after all. In a way.

But it’s not free, because marketing, when you get right down to it, is marketing. Advertising costs money. Navigating the shoals of the intricate and by and large opaque social media platforms requires a professional. Professional social media marketers cost money. If you have half a brain and no real-world publications experience, you will hire an editor to advise on the book’s quality and to copyedit, and you’ll hire a graphic artist to design your cover. Graphic artists cost money. If you’re not very techie and your book contains even slightly more complexity than a table of contents and a few chapter headings, you will need to hire an e-book formatter. E-book formatting costs money. If you wish to publish your book in print, you will need the graphic artist to redesign your cover to accommodate a back cover and spine. Graphic artists cost money…again. And you will need a graphic artist or a template to lay out the interior content. Graphic artists cost money…again. Alternatively, book layout templates cost money. Then you will need to print the thing. Printers cost money.

Writers beware: There are plenty of scams out there that will part you from your money. What to watch out for as a writer.So it goes, our brave new world of publishing. It is a huge, profitable scam, and Amazon has effectively opened that scam to everyone on earth, by hobbling the gatekeepers and making it seem easy and cheap to go around them.

So I was curious to see if an ordinary Joe or Jane could make money a-publishing on Amazon. The answer? Probably not.

Well. I’m making a few dollars. But certainly not enough to add up to a net profit. Far from enough to break even.

Not for lack of quality: FireRider has five-star reviews. Not for lack of interest: 30 Pounds sold 12 copies in just 15 minutes one evening. Not for lack of popular appeal: pornography of the sort we’re emitting through Camptown Races Press is eternally popular — and, if you believe the sites that claim to list pirated works that you can peruse for a “subscription fee” (w00t! a NEW scam!) — it’s going great guns among those who share stolen copy for free.

And bear in mind, in the past I’ve written one of William Morrow’s top best-sellers, and I still get the occasional royalty, 20+ years later, from my textbook. I do know how to write a salable book.

So…yeah. If what you want is a hobby, then by all means publish your scribblings on Amazon and Smashwords. But that’s how you need to look at it: as a hobby. If you make some money on it, bully for you. But you probably won’t, and you should absolutely keep that probability foremost in your mind.

And beware the frumious bandersnatch, my friends: the scammer that inhabits the Internet in legions. As Chris Symes says over at Writers Beware, there are a few legitimate services and vendors that truly can help you — and Chris lists them. But most of it? Snake oil.

Watch your back, little wannabe writer…

Image: DepositPhotos © Nicolae

Intellectual Property Theft Scam

So if you happen to google your book titles and come across a site like this one offering to give your ebooks away for free to folks who subscribe to a modestly paid “membership,” a) don’t panic, and b) DON’T sign up by way of getting a closer look at what the bastards are doing.

What they’re NOT doing is scraping your books from online retailers and giving them away for free. They’re not giving anything away, because they don’t have anything. It’s all fake. The whole idea of these sites is to get you to “subscribe” so they can capture credit card data, which they then use to empty your pockets.

On their pages, you’ll see Amazon’s details copied and pasted, word for word along with the cover image you uploaded, to which spurious “download” figures have been added. Often these figures change every time you refresh the page — and the number of alleged downloads can drop as well as rise. Evidently they use random number generators to come up with these silly figures.

We’re told there are a number of similar sites, some of which pretend to steal video and audio content as well as those that pretend to steal e-books. The one my friends and I found yesterday is based in Hong Kong (though registered with GoDaddy). We think they’re probably all over the world.

I’m not going to rehearse the whole adventure here, because I described it at Funny about Money this morning. So go there to read all about it!

Meanwhile, I’ve been working since 6:45 this morning, it’s ten after 11 p.m. now. And so, in the immortal words of Mr. Pepys, to bed.