Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Reeling in the Kids, Part 2: Operation Teen Author

In a previous post, I highlighted Aultbea Publishing, a (sometimes) vanity press that appears to have a penchant for publishing very young writers.

Aultbea isn't alone in targeting youngsters. Now there's Operation Teen Author.

"From now until May 10th," the OTA website breathlessly announces, "you have the opportunity to apply for one of the 50 places to become a best-selling author this year! Yes, while you are still a teenager!!"

All teens have to do to apply is write a 150-300 word essay explaining such important things as why they should be chosen and what they've done in life so far to demonstrate their creativity (they are advised to "be convincing"). If they're accepted into the seven-month program, they will be assigned a Team Leader who will mentor them through a series of webinars, teleseminars, e-mail exchanges, and online forums. At the end of the process, each teen will have created a 1,500-2,000 word chapter, to be included in a printed anthology called Just Let Me Be Me.

But wait, there's more. Not only will teens become published authors (although how they will become "bestselling" authors isn't exactly explained), they will learn "skills that you can apply throughout your entire life!" These include writing and editing, personal appearance ("This is far more important than you might think!"), personal promotion, how to build and maintain a website, financial responsibility (quite ironic--see below), and publishing and marketing.

Awesome!

You know what I'm going to say next, right? There's a catch.

Way, way down in the fine print at the bottom of the OTA website's index page (and also in the FAQ section), we discover that teens need to consult their parents before applying. Why? Because there's a "one time investment of $2495 for those chosen to participate."

Cha-ching!

Don't be alarmed, though. That big fat chunk of change is actually a bargain. As the FAQ explains, "This first 2008 OTA will be under priced. Programs with similar attention and length are double in price." Uh, really? Teens will also have the opportunity to earn the money back by selling the 100 books they'll receive once the anthology is published (I imagine them going door to door, like Girl Scouts), and by becoming affiliates of Operation Teen Author, which will offer "a possibility for additional income and earning money beyond the initial investment." What possibility, exactly? That isn't said. But OTA is careful to cover its butt by posting an earnings disclaimer statement--the equivalent of those little "Results Not Typical" messages that appear for microseconds at the bottom of your TV screen during diet supplement commercials.

Operation Teen Author is not just weird, it's also kinda creepy. One of the questions teens must answer in their little application essay is "How can you show your willingness to do as your Team Leader instructs you?" Are we talking about a writing course here, or a cult? Well...OTA is the brainchild of Don-Allen Renkow, who has invented something called "COnCEPT Q, a philosophy of life and a Model of Faith [which] was conceived and developed over...2 decades as a result of an inspiration received in 1986." Hmmm.

Renkow is also the founder of SabER Mountain Publishers, which according to the About Us page of the OTA website "was created to publish and promote the literary works of Don-Alan Rekow after having been turned down by various publishers." Mr. Renkow also reveals that the publisher went bust in 2005 due to "under-funding, nervous investors, uncooperative and deceptive banks, poor equipment purchased from shady salesmen, an inexperienced team and finally the unexpected death of a key person," causing one of the investors and a couple of court-appointed officials to show up with a moving team and repossess all the equipment.

Are these the qualifications and business background you want to see in someone to whom you will be entrusting your teenager, never mind more than two thousand dollars of your hard-earned cash?

Parents, don't let your children grow up to be vanity-published authors.

(Thanks to the anonymous commenter in a previous post who alerted me to this bizarre scheme.)

13 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

Run away. Now! Fast!

Marian said...

Regarding the earnings disclaimer, the warning "YOU MUST ACCEPT THE RISK OF NOT DOING AS WELL" is repeated often enough to be a mantra.

At least this part seems honest, though : "YOU COULD EXPERIENCE SIGNIFICANT LOSSES".

Lucy said...

Eewwwwwww!!!!

Kody Boye said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Don't let teenage writers fall into the hands of this. I would be VERY sad... I myself as a teen author have had mild success, and thankfully, I had good people backing me up around it.

THIS kind of website IS NOT how teenage writers should be published. They should be published based on TALENT, not on HOW MUCH SOMEBODY PAYS THEM.

Pam Halter said...

This is totally disgusting and akin to the scams pulled on senior citizens. There's a special place in hell for people who dupe the innocent and helpless.

p.n. elrod said...

So he's got the chance to snag a shade under a quarter million bucks from the next kid who's got a parent with more money than sense.

Moses on a pogo stick, I AM in the wrong business!

Pesky morals.

Sandy said...

It never ceases to amaze me what lengths people will go to, to make money. Just another scam like what you hear on the news every day.

Sandy

Kristi Holl said...

Incredible! How do people like this sleep at night--much less look in the mirror?

sylvia-rachel said...

Good grief! This Renkow guy must leave a trail of slime wherever he goes, like a snail ...

Victoria Strauss said...

Update: Operation Teen Author seems not to have gotten off the ground in 2008, but it's shooting for 2009. The price of the workshop has been dropped from nearly $2,500 to $197.

Oh, and I've been informed that I mis-spelled Don-Alan Rekow's name throughout my post. For that, I apologize.

Don-Alan Rekow said...

Why don't you tell your reader that I was the one who informed you? And that I am the one who dropped the price? And that I am willing to modify things so that critics such as yourself have nothing to complain about. But that I suppose is impossible, no matter what you do you cannot please all the people all of the time. I only wish some one would contact me directly to ask the facts instead of harshly judging and finding faults with what is intended with this program. But as I told you Victoria, thanks for the comments, because it lets me know where to make changes and how to improve what I do.

Andy Cocker said...

I would just like to say how upset at the way in which you had written your post Victoria & some of the other comments on it. I would also like to point out that I have no affiliation with the OTA project, but I do feel that someone needs to step up and if nothing else show that not everyone thinks in the same way as the majority here.

Yes you may have guessed already that I have known Don for a number of years, and have only found him to be one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. And whilst none of my own teenage children have any aspirations to be authors, I would have NO PROBLEM entrusting at least part of their development in this area to Don.

Finally, whilst I am an advocate of free speech and believe Blogging to be an excellent public forum for such, I do believe it only fair to slate a person if you actually know them, or at least have met the person face to face which I doubt that any of you have…

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm sure Mr. Rekow is a very nice person. However, how nice a person is has no bearing on whether a program they are selling is a good idea or not.

For instance, in the course description provided on the intro page of OTA (scroll down about halfway), it appears that just one month of a seven-month course will be devoted to developing writing skills. That seems rather odd, for a program that supposedly is intended to enable teens to become authors.

And this comment, after a description of a typical Teen Author's week: "So you see during that one week you spent 7 hours on becoming a Best-Selling Teen author. And that didn’t seem like much work at all. Only 2 ½ hours was writing." So...these teens are supposedly working to become writers, but the thing they are spending the least amount of time on is...writing?

And I'm afraid I still find this (from the instructions about what teens should include in their application essay) disturbing: "How can you show your willingness to do as your Team Leader instructs you?"

I am glad, though, that OTA is no longer attempting to get teens (or their parents) to pay more than $2,000 for the program.