Friday, June 23, 2017

Scams and Gullible Writers by Debra H. Goldstein

Scams and Gullible Writers by Debra H. Goldstein

How many times a week do you answer a phone call or read a news story or friend’s post and immediately know someone has been scammed? How many times do you ask yourself how can anyone be so stupid to fall for the “your computer is reporting a problem,” “You’ve been left a million dollars, but it will take you $5000 in handling fees to receive it,” or “I’ve been stranded in Timbuctoo, would you please send me $1000 to get home?” Most of these seem blatant – things we would never believe, but this weekend I realized the vulnerability associated with being scammed.

I had the privilege of moderating a “Being Published” workshop panel hosted by the Atlanta Sisters in Crime chapter. Our panel, composed of writers published by small and Big 5 traditionally published authors, was quite lively. Besides the technical aspects of writing the best book possible, revising it until it really is the best book possible, pitching and querying, agents, contracts, obligations to a publisher and marketing, we stressed avoiding scams and noted traditional publishers handle things without a financial investment by the author. After the panel, an audience member approached me and related how she wrote a book which was rejected by every agent and publisher she submitted it to except one house that loved it just as it was.

According to this author, the publisher promised, for a flat fee, to copyread it, give it a cover and ISBN, give her a certain number of hardcover and paperback copies, place it online as an e-book, and make it available for purchase from Amazon and other online distribution sources as well as their own catalog. She went with this publisher, but other than the copies purchased by friends and family, the book isn’t setting the world on fire, so she decided to bring more attention to her book by writing some short stories. She entered a few contests without success, but then found some other sources for short stories. Most asked for a hefty fee, but she was fine with that until she paid two fees but never received the promised links to upload her stories. That’s when she realized she might not be dealing with a legit publication.

My comment – “Don’t do those anymore! You’ve been scammed.”

I went on to explain that there may be a legitimate contest fee that is more like an administrative fee, but for regular publications – literary or mystery, there are many places to submit without paying a fee. Most reputable magazines and journals don’t charge. They also specify whether they don’t pay for stories published, pay in copies, or pay only x per word. These legit outlets can be found by networking with your friends to see where they are being published, joining groups that specialize in short stories in the genre you are writing, repeatedly checking free blogs that announce publication calls (My Little Corner - comes to mind), or subscribing to a reliable service like Duotrope.

A few minutes later, another audience member shared his story with me. I was stunned. Both people were educated and intelligent, so how did they fall for very similar scams? Desperation. It is very easy when everyone says “No,” to take the easy way out. Writers want to see their work in print. To feel they have accomplished something. Consequently, many cave in a moment of weakness. In the end, being scammed can hurt in so many ways – financially, a record of poor sales, never being able to claim a first book again, or having a book or story published before it is ready giving you a cloud on your name. We all want success, but getting there means not being gullible. As writers, we are obligated to write the best book or story we can, but we also are obligated to wear a business hat to protect ourselves and our work products.


  1. Debra, this is such a good, needed post! I, too, hear from folks who've been scammed, and I've been able to warn off more than a few friends from the same. A resource I always recommend each writer learn to use is Writer Beware at Sponsored by SFWA and MWA, for decades it's investigated shady agents/publishers and made a list of the worst. There are so many people out there who want to separate writers from their hard-earned money that we need to be on our guard and take reasonable precautions.

  2. When I started querying agents about 10 years ago one offered to take my work but she needed a FEE of $175. to defray office expenses. PS--she had no email , website or phone number at which she could be reached. FRAUDSTER!!!