How to Identify Writers' Scams

by Marg McAlister

 

What is a writer's scam?

Essentially, it is an offer that is designed to get money from a writer without providing any real return. When I say 'real' return I mean something that will advance you in your writing career. Some scams do give you something in return for your money, (such as an over-priced book that includes your poetry).

Correspondence related to a scam will typically tell you that your writing shows promise (whether it does or not). Some of the more recent scams are harder to pick, because at first the correspondence you receive seems to encourage you to get independent reviews of your work. You relax, thinking that anyone who was only after your money would not suggest you go somewhere else. Unfortunately, this is just a ploy to get you to drop your guard. Even if you had sent in a critique from an independent reviewer, your 'agent' would find that your writing needed more work to get it to a publishable level.

SOME KNOWN SCAMS

The International Library of Poetry

Poetry.com is the website behind this. It operates under several different names such as The International Library of Poetry, The National Library of Poetry, and quite a few others.

Many, many writers have been sucked into this one. They prey upon the natural desire of writers to see their poetry published in an anthology. Their main method of finding victims is to advertise free contests - but EVERYONE sending in work is declared a "semi-finalist". Since there is no filter in place to block poor poetry, publication in one of their anthologies will not be regarded as a 'plus' by any other publisher. Finalists are invited to purchase the anthology in which their work will be published, as well as a range of other goods.

The New York Literary Agency

This one SOUNDS prestigious, doesn't it? Don't be fooled. This 'agency' runs ads to entice authors to inquire about representation. When you click on the ad, you are taken to their site at www.newyorklitearyagency.com.

At first glance, it looks okay... as you read on, you find assertions like this: "At the New York Literary Agency, we take pride in finding and developing fresh, new literary talent. We believe that just because you are a new writer does not mean that your work should be excluded from the marketplace, and we work hard to give you a chance at publication. We do not charge reading fees or any other type of fee. We get paid when you get paid." Oh, you think - this can't be a scam! I've heard about writer's scams, and they all want you to pay a fee. Hah! Read on.

When you look at the FAQ on the home page, you'll find this:

Q) What if you find errors or problems with my manuscript? Should I spend time revising now, or later?

A) We receive very few 'ready-to-go' manuscripts. We believe we are unique in that we are willing to work with our authors along the way. Most manuscripts that we receive need some level of polishing before we can submit them to buyers. Some need very little polishing. Some need a lot. Over the years, we've learned that it is worth our time and effort to do what it takes to develop new talent. We've learned that incubating new talent makes good business sense. Of course, if your work is 'ready-to-go', then we will issue you a contract and begin marketing as quickly as possible.

Guess what? Your work will not be 'ready-to-go'. You will need to do more work on it. And although you will be told that you can get an independent critique, they steer you toward using a critique service that they highly recommend. Moreover, they provide links to sample critiques all done by this same service... which is, of course, part of their scam.

When you click on "Submission Instructions" on their site, you are faced with a form to fill in. This ensures that they have all your contact details before you go any further. They say: "Due to the large number of inquiries we receive we ask that you please use this form for our initial contact. By providing us with a thorough explanation of yourself and your work, we can very quickly decide about representation. We do NOT accept 'ideas' or proposals for work. Your work should be at least 1/2 finished." (Of course it needs to be a work in progress - they make their money from 'helping you get your work to publication'!)

Can you contact them? Only after you have given all your contact details. Why? Their thin excuse is revealed in the FAQ:

Q) Why is there no phone number? I want to talk to someone...

A) Quite frankly, we are deluged with submissions. It is our policy to provide a contact number later in the process, assuming we would like to proceed with you.

It's a case of the more you read, the more danger signals start to appear. These are the 'sister' agencies of the New York Literary Agency. They are all scams.

www.childrensliteraryagency.com
www.christianliterary.com
www.newyorkliteraryagency.com
www.poetsliteraryagency.com
www.stylusagency.com
www.thescreenplayagency.com

Other Scams

Most scams are designed to flatter you into parting with your money ("yes, your poetry shows great talent and you are a finalist: your work will appear in this beautiful anthology which you can order...") or to induce you to pay out for further work on your manuscript, as outlined above.

However, ingenious tricksters have found further ways to run off with your hard-earned dollars. Here are some:

Phantom Conferences - you go to a website that looks authentic, advertising a writer's conference - but there isn't one. The perpetrator absconds with your deposit/fee.

Cyber-Squatting - if you have published anything at all, you should register your own name as a domain name RIGHT NOW. Actually, it's so cheap to register a domain name that you should register it whether you've achieved success in publication yet or not. Cyber-squatters (lower than pond scum) register any kind of name that might bring them money later. If you write a runaway best-seller, you don't want to find that some opportunist wants thousands of dollars to let you have your own name back for your website. (Think of all the writer's websites you have accessed by typing in the author's name.)

Currently, I have two domain names registered using my own name. When I first registered, MargaretMcAlister.com was already taken. (That didn't worry me too much: I mostly use "Marg" anyway.) So I registered margmcalister.com. Luckily, when the domain "MargaretMcalister.com" became available, my domain registrar (GoDaddy) let me know. I snapped it up immediately and I now "point" both versions of my name to the Writing4Success.com website. (Try typing www.margaretmcalister.com
into your web browser - you should find that it forwards you to my Writing4Success site.)

If you register your own name, you can do the same: point it to a website you have already established, or create a whole new website based on your name. (Do you HAVE to point your name at a website? No, not at all - you can just leave it 'parked' with the service you used to create it, if you like, until your website is ready.)

The main thing is that you DO grab your own name if it is available. Note: be careful about how much you pay to register your domain name. You will probably pay more to register a country-specific domain (such as .com.au or .co.uk) but at GoDaddy (at the time of writing) it costs only $10 USD to register a .com name for a year. A small price to protect your name!

General Danger Signals

Unscrupulous people will always be coming up with new scams, but here are a few danger signals:

  • No contact phone number given, and an obvious unwillingness to talk in person.
  • An emphasis on how the agency will "work with writers". (Translation: pay us for critiquing your work - or pay our related agency.)
  • An offer to publish your poetry/stories in an anthology which you can purchase.
  • Effusive praise of your work or your 'potential' combined with an offer that means you have to pay out in some way.
  • Efforts to get your name and contact details before you send any work.

Most reputable agents and publishers are snowed under. They take on only writers who show they are of publication standard (or very close to it.) They generally don't advertise - they don't need to.

A Quick Check on New (Or Old) Scams

 If you're not sure whether you're being scammed or not, one of the fastest ways to find out is to type the name of the website or agency into Google along with the word 'scam'. For example, try typing "New York Literary Agency scam" or "International Library of Poetry scam" and see how many links pop up. You'll soon find out what people are saying.

One of the best-known sites on the Internet that exposes writer's scams is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They have a special section, "Writer Beware", devoted to writer's scams. It's worth bookmarking. Here's the direct link: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/

© Marg McAlister

 

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