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.


4 thoughts on “Writers’ Scams: Keep Your Wits about You!

    1. funny Post author

      You seem to be right on that count! They seem thrilled to be told nothing more than what you can learn for free by making a trip the the local library and checking out a few Writer’s Digest how-to books.

      That said, I have participated in a few writers’ conferences — having been in demand back in the day when I was a working journalist. My observation was that the best were those put on by universities and or nonprofits that had a substantial workshop component. The best used to be thrown each summer at Santa Fe, but as far as I can tell, it’s not going anymore.

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