Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Why You Shouldn't Believe Them

Since the sudden birth and equally swift demise of the infamous IILAA, with its ridiculous allegations about "hate sites on the Internet," I've been mulling over the idea of blogging about the accusations and falsehoods leveled at the anti-scam activists by the people and companies we warn about.

Great minds work alike, however, and my friend and fellow scam-hunter Jenna Glatzer beat me to it. Her comments, originally posted at Absolute Write, identify the lies the scammers tell about us, and why you shouldn't believe them. She has kindly given me permission to reproduce them here.

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THE LIES SCAMMERS TELL ABOUT US
by Jenna Glatzer


As you might imagine, there are a number of bad "agents" and "editors" who don't like it when we issue warnings, or allow people to share their experiences. There are many businesses that depend on writers staying in the dark and not learning about what publishing is really like, and what warning signs to watch out for.

There are also victims of these companies who don't realize that they're victims yet, and thus see us as an enemy. ("If you're saying bad things about My Wonderful Agent, you're standing in the way of me getting my book published!" they think. Or, "If you're saying bad things about my publisher, you're the reason why bookstores won't stock my book!")

Anyway, there are a number of us "watchdog" types, and the lies people tell about us tend to fall into a few categories, which I'll try to address here.

1. "They're just jealous of the competition!"


One popular refrain is that we’re worried about the competition from up-and-coming writers. If we were truly worried about competition, we'd gladly allow all writers to get stuck with lousy agents and publishers. That would clear the way for us to be the only ones submitting to legitimate publishers and agents, and thus, making all the sales.

It's really simple to find each of our bios. Google our names, visit our websites, check Amazon. As a group, the "watchdogs" are very successful writers. Unpublished writers are not our competitors. Vanity published writers are not our competitors.

2. “They want to keep new agents down!”

Nope. We love new agents. We love any agent who can actually help writers. We define “helping” as: selling writers’ books to reputable publishers, never lying about kickbacks with editorial services, and never charging upfront fees. Those standards are not very hard to meet. Hundreds of agents manage to meet them with no problem.

If an agent is unproven, that's OK with us. We're likely to point that out, but it's not a slam against the agent. Those who turn out to be successful agents typically don't just show up out of nowhere and decide to start their own agencies, however. Generally, the agent starts out either as an assistant or "junior agent," or works in another area of publishing first (as an editor or assistant editor, usually). They learn the business from others who've been there and done that.

A new agent at an established agency usually gives us more hope than a new agent who starts his/her own agency out of nowhere, with no track record in publishing. "Making it up as you go along" doesn't work with heart surgery, and it doesn't often work with literary agenting, either.

3. “They’re bashers! They’re naysayers! They love negativity!”

Most of us have had to take breaks from this kind of activity from time to time, because it’s depressing. We hate the fact that there are so many schemes and scams out there designed to take advantage of unsuspecting writers, and it’s a downer to have to speak out about them. It’s an even bigger downer to have to burst people’s bubbles when you know that they have their hopes all wrapped up in a bad agent or publisher. They think they’ve found someone who really believes in their talent, and we have to be the ones to say, “Sorry, you’ve been duped.” That stinks.

Then there are the clueless agents and publishers, and there are a huge number of them. These are people who do NOT mean to be scammers… they think they’re being useful. They are often failed writers themselves, and they think publishing is broken and they’re going to fix it. They’re going to give new writers a chance. Almost inevitably, they find out that they can’t actually make any money, though, and someone has to compensate them for this new unpaid hobby of theirs—so they charge writers upfront fees or partner up with an editing service that gives them commissions for each new writer they lure in (often convincing themselves that this is fair, and that other people do it). Or, in the case of POD publishers, they begin pressuring writers to buy their own books, or making them pay for “optional” services.

Believe it or not, even as loudly as we have to denounce them, we often feel bad for these kinds of people. We know they’re clueless, not evil. They may really think that this is The Way and that they’re going to make big sales. Nevertheless, the result for writers will be the same: the clueless people will NOT succeed in getting writers’ books onto bookstore shelves. They’ll spout out misinformation about the publishing industry, convincing writers that real publishing is scary and impossible to break into. They’ll tie up writers’ rights, smash their dreams, and waste their time and money.

We’ve seen enough of these cases to recognize the warning signs by now, so we feel responsible for making those signs as tall and bright as possible so newer writers can spot them. Even if that makes it look to some like we're being mean.

What I’m saying is: We don’t want to do what we do. We just feel we have to do what we do. If no one were going to get hurt, we could keep our mouths shut.

4. “They want to make money off you!”

Preditors and Editors won’t take donations. I know this because I tried, and Dave would not take my money.

Writer Beware is a nonprofit organization funded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Writer Beware won’t take your donations, either.

Absolute Write takes donations. Here’s a rough breakdown of our main expenses: $406 per month for website hosting fees, $3000 per month for salaries (NOT mine) and payments to writers for articles and columns, $105 per month for newsletter hosting, $15 a month for backup space, plus fees for the forum software, domain registration, post office box, etc. The contributions that people make toward the site cover part of our hosting fees each month. I think it’s probably obvious that we don’t get anywhere near our totals in donations each month. We received approximately $120 in donations last month. The bulk of our expenses is paid by Google ads and advertisers in our newsletters. In earlier times, I paid all the site expenses out of pocket. My job is writing. Absolute Write has always been my labor of love, and I’ve been happy that it’s usually paid its own expenses.

5. “They’re in cahoots with the big agents and publishers!”

Sometimes people accuse us of being funded by established agencies or publishers. That’s… well, that’s weird. Real agents and publishers don’t need us to stick up for them. They do fine. No one’s paying us to say bad things about anyone.

6. “They’re all working together!”

Yes and no. We are all separate entities, and do not make any decisions for each other. Dave has his rules for Preditors and Editors, Ann and Victoria do their thing with Writer Beware, I run Absolute Write (with Jim and Victoria moderating the Bewares and Background Check board), Miss Snark runs her blog, Teresa and Patrick run Making Light, and so on—but we all respect each other’s work, and many of us are friends. (Mostly, we got to know each other because of this shared interest in scam-fighting.)

We don’t have secret meetings, and we don’t work for the same organization.

7. “People get paid to post at Absolute Write!”

How cool. I wish that were true. I’ve posted more than 7,000 times. That could be a big check…

I have no idea how to even respond to that one, because it just doesn’t make sense. Why would I (or anyone) need to pay people to post here? Sometimes I want to pay people to stop posting here, but that’s another story…

8. “They don’t want people to revolutionize the industry!”

Sure we do. It’s just that we already know what doesn’t work. We’ve watched people who think they’re being pioneers crash and burn again and again with ideas such as: (a) starting a bookstore just for self-published books, (b) websites to display manuscripts to agents and publishers, (c) mass-mailing services, (d) start-up publishers with no distribution who are going to specialize in “new writers,” (e) e-book and print-on-demand book publishers who think they’re going to compete with Simon & Schuster, (f) publishers who invent creative “returns” policies for bookstores, (g) vanity radio shows, (h) pay-per-click websites… the list goes on and on.

We’re all for innovation in publishing. We just don’t want writers to be sucked into the “great new thing” that’s already failed several times before.

9. "They were probably rejected by the company they warn against!"

Between us, we've been published by HarperCollins, Tor, Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill, Penguin, Baen, and bunches of others. Do you really think vanity presses and fee-charging agents are turning us down? In nearly all cases, we've never submitted anything to the companies we warn others about. We just find out about them from people who have submitted their work. Those people wind up writing to us to ask if the companies are legit (so we do some legwork to find out), or to tell us about their bad experiences.

10. "The naysayers expected to get rich and famous, and when they didn't, they blamed the publisher!"

This one's not usually directed at us, but rather, at people who come forward about their bad experiences with scammers. In either case, it's bunk. Very few people expect to get rich and famous with their writing. Normally, people's goals are much more humble. They want to see their book on real bookstore shelves. They want strangers to read it. They want a few reviews.

I've never seen a complaint that says, "I hate this publisher because I was planning on being rich and famous and it didn't happen!" What I do see are complaints that say things like, "I worked my butt off for six months promoting my book, and found out that bookstores won't stock it because my 'publisher' has terrible policies and no editorial standards, so booksellers see it as a vanity press even though they claim not to be one." Or, "The only people who have bought my book are my relatives and my next-door neighbor." Or, "I had no idea my book would be so overpriced, and full of typos."

This is closely tied in to the "they didn't read their contract!" argument, which is silly. It doesn't say in anyone's contract, "We're going to insert typos into your book, overprice it, and make sure that we make it as unattractive as possible to bookstores so they will not ever stock it."

11. “They’re elitists!”

That's easy to decide for yourself, if you hang around for just a few days. Consider this: If we were actually opposed to new writers in any way, why would we spend so much time with them? Look at the thread “Learn Writing with Uncle Jim” on the Novels board. Look at the decade of service Victoria, Ann, and Dave have each given freely to steer writers away from trouble. Look at the time and attention Miss Snark gives to critiquing writers’ work and Teresa Nielsen Hayden gives to detailing the publishing process.

We are thrilled when new writers succeed. That’s why we do what we do.

(I should also mention something—above, I’ve named the names I think of most often when I think about scamhunters, but there are lots of other sites and people who are rarely mentioned even though they’ve acted as scamhunters, too, or at least supported our efforts—Mindsight Series, Speculations, Authors Guild, C. E. Petit, John Scalzi, Charlie Hughes of Wind Publications, Kristen Nelson, Cathy Clamp, PODdy Mouth, Lauri Berkenkamp, Jim Fisher, and bunches of others.)

11 comments:

michaelc said...

Great post. Very comprehensive. My only quibble is that Writer Beware is not a non-profit corporation, but a volunteer-run committee of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is a non-profit corporation.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Sadly, I have seena lot of people complain about not getting rich and famous from their book. It's usually couched in terms like "but this publisher is RWA Recognized. Why am I not Nora Roberts? Someone should have warned me!"

Bernita said...

Well and clearly said.

Anonymous said...

I would have given up if not for you, Virginia - so thanks for your hard work thanks to Jenna for her post, and thanks to the internet for making it easier to check scams and scammers!

Jennifer

Amy said...

You scam-buster people rock. Every single one of you. You really, really do.

THANK YOU!

barbj said...

Brava! Bravo! And thank you all!

Dave Kuzminski said...

There's a post on AW where a writer has pointed to her book being reprinted by another company. Problem is, PA reverted the rights and she didn't sell reprint rights to that company. So, how did the publisher get her book? After all, only Lightning Source and PublishAmerica had access to the original manuscript. Since we know that Lightning Source has many customers and would be jeopardizing its very source of business if it sold something it was only authorized to print, then it sounds like PA has found a way to plumb even deeper depths in its chicanery since they're the only ones left who could have sold those rights.

Now I can't help but wonder how many other rights were sold off by PA?

Camilla said...

Thanks to all of you who do this valuable work. I've learned a great deal since I first came across the anti-scam community. I pass it all on to my writer friends too. The better informed we all are, the less chance the scammers have of succeeding!

Keep up the great work.

Camilla
:)

Anonymous said...

I too would have thrown in the towel if not for Victoria and her horde of nay-sayers!
Thank you for being the "Gary Coopers" of the writers "Hign Noon"
Not sure what any of that means, except thank you for doing what I couldn't.

The Rat

Anonymous said...

Writer Beware is a nonprofit corporations funded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Writer Beware won’t take your donations, either.
That's interesting.

Victoria Strauss said...

Writer Beware is a nonprofit corporations funded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Correction: Writer Beware is a project of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. SFWA is a not-for-profit organization. Writer Beware has no separate status.

The reason Writer Beware doesn't accept donations is to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest. Given the sorts of schemes we warn about, we consider this especially important. If people want to donate, we suggest they consider one of SFWA's Benevolent Funds.