Sunday, June 11, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 53, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Tonight I am not going to share with you the wisdom of the universe. I'm not even going to tell you how to write better. I'm going to be a crabby person and grump, here on the blog.

You folks may or may not be aware of it, but there are writers out there who don't like us. Not scammers, but fellow writers. Hard to believe, isn't it?

The most common reason people don't like us is that they feel we're too hard on agents and publishers. Some people think we're really mean to the well-intentioned but clueless agents we warn against. They point out, truthfully, that their intent is not criminal. Well...yeah. But if they charge fees and have no sales, their INTENT becomes rather secondary, don't you think?

We also sometimes have people get unhappy with us who have written to ask us if an agent or publisher they've queried is legitimate. When we reply back with info that reflects the data we've gathered on that agent or publisher, and the info we provide is negative, they climb aboard a reed boat and push off into that big river in Northern Africa, "De Nile." "Does this mean I shouldn't sign their publishing/agenting contract?" is a response we receive all too often, I'm afraid. Even worse, they'll say, "Does this mean I shouldn't have signed that contract and paid them X amount?"

(heavy sigh)

Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of people who come to Writer Beware for help are nice folks and quite grateful for our help. Every so often, however, we get nailed on a message board by writers who are just plain not Our Fans. Why?

The most common complaint, as I said, is that we're too tough on agents and publishers. Another complaint we hear from time to time is that we're not "qualified" to be watchdogs because we are not police officers or associated with law enforcement. Or people say we can't know what a scam is because we're not lawyers.

The thing that's ironic about all of this, is that if we WERE your average garden variety police officer, or lawyer, we wouldn't know enough about the publishing field to know when someone is behaving in a suspicious, scammy fashion. Most of the law enforcement officials we've worked with, we've had to explain, in painstaking terms, how a REAL agent functions, or a REAL publisher functions. Then we explain how the scammer in question functions, and point out how writers are being defrauded. The officers and agents we've worked with are smart folks...they catch on quickly. But publishing is an esoteric field, and publishing scams operate a bit differently than your average con.

So...we're not lawyers, but we do have an IP/Copyright attorney who once specialized in prosecuting scammers in his former life, looking over our shoulder. "Jaws" keeps us pretty well aware of the law and how it applies to the scammers we deal with.

I've noticed that Dave Kuzminski has come under fire lately, too. Dave, you've got my sympathy. It's really tough to be out there trying to help people, only to have them turn around and whack you on the shin for your efforts.

As for my report on the iUniverse/B&N publishing and bookstore placement situation, I'm still working on it. One of the things I set out to do in preparing this report requires that I at least skim the 6 books iUniverse sent me so I could see what kinds of books they're talking about for their "Star Program" and "Publishers Choice" placement programs. Even skimming six books takes some time.

-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com

26 comments:

julie said...

What?!?! You have to be a licensed law enforcement officer or attorney in order to be qualified to spot a scam artist?

I just got an e-mail from the widow of a govermnent official in a foreign country. She has $42 million to smuggle out if only the right person will help her. Gosh, what do I do? Clearly, I am not qualified to judge whether or not this e-mail is legitimate. I'm a poor freelance writer, and my share of the booty could come in handy... [/sarcasm]

Who better to spot the scammers than people with experience in the industry? Pardon the careworn phrase, but do keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

You ladies are doing a fine job and I am very happy that you are giving your time to do it.

You can not help the poor people who are determined to be hardheaded.

Thank you and keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Writer in Progress

kbax said...

Ann, Victoria, and Dave,

People will be people, and that's unfortunate, in some cases. Some of them just refuse to take their rose-colored glasses off--although in some cases, I have to wonder if the glasses are super-glued to their head.

But for every one person that thinks you guys are putting your nose in where it doesn't belong, there are 50 who are incredibly grateful. And another 25 on top of that who you've educated and saved from scams. As a writer submitting for the first time, I can't tell you how happy I am to have all these resources at my fingertips. So don't let it getcha down, and keep fighting the good fight.

-kbax

James Goodman said...

It sucks, that you ladies (and you too Dave) come unde fire, but for everyone who complains, how many do you suppose you have saved from the great fleecing

My hat's off to the wonderful service Writer Beware provides.

Holly said...

>>Or people say we can't know what a scam is because we're not lawyers.<<

Oh please. That's like saying you can't recognize a spider unless you're an entomologist. Writer Beware performs a service that isn't duplicated anywhere at any price. Many of us are extremely thankful for it.

Sorry to hear about the shin-whackers, though. I guess they are related in spirit to the battered spouse who calls the police only to turn on the responding officers once they've made the beating stop. Please try not to let them get you down, even though that's easier said than done. As many scammers as there are now, I shudder to think how bad things could get if no one at all was keeping the watch.

BarbJ said...

Grump on; you've earned that right. You know the rest of us are truly grateful, and Virginia, Dave, Jenna and Jaws are included in that gratitude.

I think some writers are so deperate to see their words in print that they refuse to accept any verdict that requires them to think twice, rewrite or - *shudder* - scratch that one and write anew. Publish America has made a fortune from this prideful mind-set. And it is pride; to some, it's easier to sneer at you than doubt their own labor, particularly when some scammer or newbie is assuring them they're wonderful.

I'd rather be published and read - and paid - than merely printed.

As for those who honestly believe - usually without investigation - that you're too hard on the clueless agents, the point is sales. Those same clueless agents are holding the writers' futures in their hands. They need to learn their trade, not just hang out a shingle because it sounds easy. A good, even if fairly inexperienced, agent will learn first. Any other should be avoided. The road to unpublished Hell is paved with good intentions, and writers shouldn't follow blindly. Thank you for looking out for us.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Being a professional writer means that one should familiarize oneself with professional practices in the industry, and that includes what is professional conduct by agents and publishers and what isn't. I'm an editor as well as a writer, and nearly every day I have to educate authors about copyright (and boy, do I have scary stories to tell).

Bad apples give the good-guy agents, those individuals who adhere to the code of conduct of the Assn of Authors' Representatives, an undeserved black eye. Ignorant agents can do as much, if not more, damage as the ones with more deliberate motives, not only to their clients but also to the industry as a whole.

Ann, Victoria, Dave, et al. are the ones in the superhero tights, as far as I am concerned. One small example: An area that Writer Beware warns about is high entry fees for contests. I encountered one that was charging a significant fee per entry and was taking submissions from all over the world; thus, the chances of winning were slim, and most applicants would be out some money. I pointed out to the contest sponsor the Writer Beware recommendations on entry fees. Later, I saw that the entry fee had been cut in half.

And you think you guys don't have an impact?

Lydia said...

I've gotten a LOT of crap for wannabe authors because I tell it like it is in publishing among LEGIT publishers. I've nearly had a lynch mob after me for saying that unless you write erotica with one of a handful of successful e-publishers who have been in the business for a while, you're unlikely to make even $500 on your ebook. I am evil for telling people that the small presses that are open to romances scarcely ever have books that earn out at over $1000, and that some large presses pay--and promote--hugely better than others. This isn't debatable. I have facts and figures to prove it. And yet to say it alloud is mean.

I've also been attacked for saying that RWA's publisher recognition standards are WAY too low, allowing presses to qualify that in no way have ever paid *any* author anything close to a living wage. This isn't about being mean or elitist or snobby--it's about making a career. And yet some people are happiest with their heads up their asses.

After a while, you start to wonder if people like that are the reason that the fraudsters can keep going. They'll believe anything as long as it's NICE and PRETTY.

jill terry said...

I for one, think the service you offer is priceless and ballsy. I only wish you'd had a warning about the literary publicist who took me for 13 thousand and gave me a pretty press kit in return!

Keep doing what you're doing and know that your efforts are very much appreciated.

Sincerely,

Jill Terry

Sminklemeyer said...

You guys are awesome. Don’t you dare beat up on yourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I cross referenced your list with my potential query list. If it weren’t for you all, I’d have paid a fee to Barbara B. or the New York Lit. Agency. Thanks for being my watchdog.

Anonymous said...

I know of at last one writer who slams you on blogs and message boards because he was booted from AW for being a rude, patronizing jerk to all and sundry.

His behavior hasn't improved.

Nikki said...

Speaking as a serial lurker on writing sites, I'd just like to say that you do a very necessary and professional job of spreading the word about scammers, and that a lot of the people who have criticised you and Dave Kuzminski on these sites have done so very unfairly. Keep up the good work, because you are appreciated!

--E said...

You guys rock, okay? Just accept that. :-) The mewlings of the insecure only confirm your position in the pantheon of the Just.

A significant percentage of wannabe writers take up writing as a form of therapy. It is not strange that some of them would be hypersensitive to anything that says, in essence, "You are an idiot."

Because no matter how nicely you phrase it, no matter how many times you say, "Look, these scammers are very, very good at scamming, and that is why you fell for it," people will still feel like fools for getting suckered. They can't help it; we all like to think we're smart and we all get pissed off when we discover that maybe we're not.

Some people are mentally and emotionally strong enough to admit they got suckered, and strong enough to say, "Oh, crap. What can we learn from this so it doesn't happen again?"

And others are not so strong. It is much easier and safer for them to sail that river in Egypt. If they accept what you say as true, then they must admit one or more of the following:

1. They still don't have an agent or publisher.

2. They got schookered.

3. Maybe they're not a very good writer.

4. They've been behaving like a fool for X number of years.

It's hard to admit any of those things. Imagine if you've dug your hole so deep you have to admit all four of them. Lashing out at the people who are showing you the contradictions you've been living by is, sadly, a normal human reaction.

Liam Jackson said...

Ann, I was a cop for more years than I care to remember. Started in the street, did time as an investigator, and eventually ended up in the hot seat as an administrator. Had you approached me ten, or even five years ago, regarding an agenting or publishing scam, I'd have given you one of those 'lost in the headlights' looks and told you to fill out form A.

What I know of scams I've learned from you, Victoria, Dave and a handful of others. In fact, a years ago, I was on the verge of contacting a certain publisher about my first novel. I also had a list of agents I intended to contact. Fortunately, someone steered me to Writer Beware, and P&E. You both saved me from a lot of grief. And now, some few years later, both I and my bank account thank you.

Forge ahead.

Agent Kristin said...

Ann,

Stay tough and tell us what we can do to support you and the work Writer Beware does.

Remember, folks had to be told they've been taken for a fool so they'd rather redirect the blame to other than where it belongs.
Kristin

Pixel Faerie said...

Most police officers don't know a situation is going down unless someone actually tells them about it. It is not like they are spying on people to figure out if you're scamming or not.

When I was 17, I signed up at Writers.Net as an agent. I had thought about becoming an agent. I'd like to be an agent, but I was of course dillusional and didn't understand anything about publishing.

Now that I'm a little older, I realize my 'agent' listing is still there and that is just plain funny. I don't think I've ever had anyone email me or mail me material. (Good for you all!) Not that I would have done anything with it. But that just shows you any idiot can call herself an agent.

Anyways, it would have been nice to read this blog when I was 17 to figure out exactly what agents do. A little elbow in the ribs from Victoria or Ann would probably have been welcomed. I could have used the advice, in any snarky way but hopefully with an education behind it. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think you do a great job. I'm a serial lurker on your Blog and even though I live in the 51st State, a lot of the tips you give out have helped me spot similar scammers and inept agents/publishers in the UK. It's a shame that some people want to shoot the messenger when they find out that they've been suckered, but please don't let that stop you.

- Lurking Anon

Thomma Lyn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomma Lyn said...

I'm sorry about the deleted comment above - that was mine, and I messed up. Still getting used to Blogger here! :)

Anyway, here's my comment:

To tweak an old bromide, you can't please all of the writers all of the time, but you and Victoria and Dave do wonderful, much-needed work.

Let's see... wise, unselfish, freely giving of your time, your knowledge, your resources...

Yup, you guys are heroes in my book.

Thanks for all you do.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Don't let anyone deter you from the job you're doing. It is a real service to the writing community.

That goes for Dave K, too...in case he drops by to comment!

Anonymous said...

Not to be patently unkind:

Writing is a CRAFT.
Most 'in the dark - would be authors' refuse to accept this. YES, writing is an artistic expression of creativity. YES, one must have a certain level of mastery of language and grammar to write well. HOWEVER, in order to create a truly strong, cohesive story, one must understand the CRAFT.

Far too many artsy-fartsy, would be 'famous' novelists refuse to accept this, and, in so doing, refuse to learn the craft. This results in the massive slush piles tossed into trash bins next to agents' & editors' desks.

We're not ALL publishable.

Some people would prefer to live out their fantasy via scam artists who tell them how wonderful their 'ART' is rather than take the time to truly learn the CRAFT & actually BECOME as good as they already BELIEVE they are.

Dave Kuzminski said...

anonymous #4, it's not a matter of craft that we're dealing with here. It's the sheer fact that there are scammers out there taking advantage of all writers. Even professional writers have been taken advantage of. In many instances, it wasn't worth their time or money to retaliate against those scammers or it was simply too embarrassing.

Plain and simple, just how are the words from a scammer much different from a legitimate agent when pronouncing that he likes what the writer has to offer? Sure the scammer and the legitimate agents both do, but only because stating that will bring in money. However, where legitimate agents are concerned, they actually go about selling that manuscript that they actually feel is good to a legitimate publisher. The scammer rarely even tries regardless of whether the manuscript is good or bad.

Face up to facts. Literary scams are not within the normal focus of authorities because they simply lack the knowledge and many of the scams involve too little for poorly funded government agencies to police. Besides, putting a literary scammer into jail just doesn't garner the same kinds of headlines worthy of winning an election that one would obtain for putting murderers away.

So, let's keep the focus on what we're dealing with. It has nothing to do with talent.

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't for the warnings you and your fellow co-workers gave, I would have found myself scammed. I really want to get published and someone could have used my dream against me, taking money I don't have towards dreams they won't be helping me achieve. You all are doing wonderful work!

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous #4, I agree with you--we are not all publishable. No question about that. And many writers sign up with scammers and amateurs out of ignorance, vanity, or desperation. For Writer Beware, though, that's all irrelevant. We don't care if you're the next Faulkner, or if you can't put three words together without mis-spelling one of them. We don't care if you've queried a bad agent because you haven't done the research or because you're so frustrated you're ready to consider anything, even a really bad idea. We don't believe you should be cheated, humiliated, or ripped off. No matter what.

Victoria Strauss said...

P.S. Thanks to everyone for these wonderful, supportive comments. It means a lot to both of us!

A. C. Crispin said...

Echoing Victoria's words of thanks for all the outpouring of support. It means a lot!

-Ann C. Crispin