Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Avoid Publishing Scams

Scams that prey on unpublished writers' desire to see print have always amazed me in their success. They obviously involve things not within the range of legitimate publishing. Huge reading fees to enter contests, or to have an editor or agent consider your work--these are not part of legitimate publishing. The people behind them aren't what they say they are, and can't deliver what they seem to promise. (I say "seem to promise" because if you go through such offers with a clear mind, you find that they don't really promise anything. They are crafted so as to allow the prospective writer to infer all sorts of things, and hence use the victim's own desires and emotions to scam her or him. Just like the "found wallet" and other cons.)

I first encountered these scams in the 1970s, when I wanted to badly to be published that some of the "get published the easy way" offers were tempting. But I was able to throttle my enthusiasm and resist all the empty promises because most of the scams stood out from legitimate offers like weeds on a putting green. In that pre-Web era, scammers had to put up money for advertising and printing to look like legitimate outfits. Most could not. They bought two-line classifieds and mailed out photocopied pitches. Many were tied to physical addresses that were easy to track down. (With a little effort you might learn that the "offices of the company" were in someone's dining room). Plus, reputable magazines acted as watchdogs--willing and able to censor the content of their advertising. (All that aside, I was in touch with a number of published writers who, I observed, weren't paying to get published.)

Online, it's tougher for new writers to weed out the dreck. There's more of it; scamming is almost free of cost, and anyone can have a Web site that looks like Simon & Schuster's. The virtual nature of online existence makes it easy to hide. Nobody acts as Web gatekeeper, so there is no way to block false advertising. (Not that scams didn't make it into print before the Web; but magazines who wanted to keep readers did keep scams to a minimum. Today, however, the incentive to enable online scams is greater than the incentive to block them.)

So the scams keep on coming. Those that succeed do so because their victims are blinded by the blaze of their desire to get into print. They wouldn't succeed if would-be writers followed two simple guidelines:
One, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it is.
Two, writers don't pay; writers are paid.

Seriously, it's that simple. But I know some people will want to believe the offers of the fame and fortune and film deals equal to those of of Colleen McCullough or Tom Clancy. When that happens, at least check them out. There are bulletin boards/forums/blogs that monitor scams. Like this one: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/
and this one: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22
and yet another: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/

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