Scams—The Part of Writing You Don’t See Coming

About nine years ago, I’d just finished my first manuscript, copyrighted it, and already had some interest in it from a publisher. Back then, I was still submitting via snail mail, so I waited every day with baited breath for the postman to come. After several months, an official-looking envelope arrived for me, but it wasn’t from the publishing company I’d queried. It was from a record company, who said they’d like to record my song. But there was one snag…

I’d never written a song.

“I’ve always wanted to, though,” my twenty-one-year-old mind thought. “Why not seize the day? They believe in me.”

Don’t worry, I wasn’t foolish enough to go through with it. Before I sat down to compose my apparent masterpiece, I looked the company up online. Sure, they’d record your song, but not to earn you a Grammy nomination. I found reports of people who’d been approached just like me for a song they hadn’t written. Some learned the hard way the scheme was a waste of time and lots of money. Exit the red carpet, enter the red digits on your checking account.

At that point, it was fairly easy to figure out who sold my information, but far be it from me to throw out accusations. In truth, it doesn’t take long for your pursuit of writing to be discovered and exploited by money grabbers. A simple web search for tips or publishers can set you up for a barrage of emails and ads to come across your screen, just like with any other product or service you research.

Does that mean it isn’t worth the risk? No, it means you need to develop and keep your “web smarts.” The first tip I can share is to pay attention to the way the sender addresses you and your work. In my experiences, they may—but usually don’t—use my name, but they almost never name the title of your book. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve received two emails from someone who claimed to have had his eyes on my “book” and wanted to put me on the radio, as well as invite me to some big convention across the country. But to which of my books is he referring? If he’d really been so impressed by it, don’t you think he’d include the title?

Perhaps the braver among you feel that a chance like that is worth the gamble. “So what if it’s not exactly as it was presented?” While I admire your courage, think of the lasting consequences. Long after you’ve paid off whatever it ended up costing and had a great time, the con-artist behind it is charging more for less than he offered you and possibly to those who are less fortunate than you. To boot, he’s even using the testimonial you wrote to prove he’s a good guy. In the writing community, we’re always asking one another for advice and past experiences, so we have to make sure we know where we’re steering fellow authors.

Another bit of advice I recently appreciated was that, in an industry as flooded as the publishing world is, a reputable agent/editor isn’t going to seek you out. We all know how many times we’re rejected or don’t even receive a response, so does it stand to reason that one needs to query you? Thus, don’t trust any who do appear in your inbox, and be wary of services that companies supposedly use to amass submissions. I once employed the latter and received an acceptance letter from a company who didn’t have the best track record.

Just like everything else, the writing world has its dark alleys and mysterious creatures, but with logic and experience, you’ll learn how to avoid them. A good rule of thumb is to thoroughly research any company with whom you’re going to enter an agreement. Scammers target desperation, as we’re seeing today with the Covid-19 hoaxes. Hence, don’t be desperate about your dreams. Believe in your talent, and one day, you’ll convince the right agent/publisher of it, too.


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