I'm often asked whether it's worth an aspiring writer's money to subscribe to Writer's Digest. The answer I usually give is "maybe."
The features can be helpful (disclosure: Ann and I have written for Writer's Digest)--though principally for beginners--and the interviews can be interesting. However, the articles and filler pieces often seem superficial, the advertising is heavily oriented toward paid "services" including self-publishing services, and the Classifieds section is rife with ads for vanity anthology contests and scam literary agents (a number of whom are on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List). Not exactly helpful for writers are looking to break into the commercial publishing market.
Simply filling its pages with self-publishing advertisements is not enough for Writer's Digest. Its subscriber base, after all, provides a perfect captive audience for direct solicitation. The following was recently received by a WD subscriber who'd signed up for email "updates" from WD (my bolding):
As part of Writer's Digest's commitment to presenting our subscribers with useful information on new products, services, and educational programs for aspiring and professional writers, we want to share the following paid message from one of our advertisers.
It's been an exciting year for Trafford Publishing and 2009 is shaping up to be even better for authors who wish to publish their books independently. Never before have the advantages of Trafford Publishing's print-on-demand publishing service been more obvious: no inventory fees, no costly return credits, and the ability to order and ship just as many copies as are needed are just three of the ways POD is changing the way books are being published now and in the future. Trafford authors own 100% of their copyright and set their own book prices, giving them the freedom they need to target their specific markets. Interested in learning more?
Call us today at 1-888-232-4444 and ask to speak to one of our friendly publishing consultants.
There's more, but you get the picture.
Now, Trafford is a perfectly reliable, if somewhat expensive, print-on-demand self-publishing service. Writer Beware has gotten no recent complaints about it. However, it has in the past used questionable methods to promote its services, such as offering a 15% referral fee to literary agents who sent writers its way. So that it would direct-solicit the WD subscription base isn't really a surprise--nor, given the percentage of WD's advertising that's represented by self-publishing services, is it really surprising that WD would be OK with this. What crosses the line, for me, is WD's introduction, which reads a lot like an endorsement. It's one thing to sell your subscriber list. It's another to lend your name to the resulting solicitation.
Solicitation of writers by scam agents and vanity publishers is nothing new, of course. Long before the Internet and email, they were using not just magazine subscription lists, but information from the US Copyright Office, to lure writers into their clutches. They still are. If you register copyright for your book manuscript, be prepared to be solicited by Dorrance, a hugely expensive vanity publisher that wants to charge you five figures to print a few hundred copies of your book. (This is just one of several reasons not to register copyright for unpublished work.)