Friday, June 22, 2012

More Money-Wasting "Opportunities" For Writers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Following on my last post about how authors can waste money on promotional strategies, here are some more cash-sucking "opportunities."

Book Your Trip to Hollywood, from Outskirts Press

Self-publishing service Outskirts Press--home of some of the sillier "book marketing" services--is taking advantage of one of writers' most fevered pipe dreams with its new Book Your Trip to Hollywood service. Of course, the press release doesn't put it that way:
These services solve a real problem for many authors who dream of making it big in Hollywood. In fact, just getting Hollywood's attention is nearly impossible, but with the Book Your Trip to Hollywood suite of services from Outskirts Press, authors receive turn-key, full-service assistance with the push of a button. And with each option, authors receive the feedback and/or participation of a real Hollywood producer and production company; the final results are added to a Hollywood database that is perused by industry professionals for new projects; and exclusive efforts to option the author's book are immediately set into motion. The author doesn't have to lift a finger.
Except to pull out his or her credit card.

The first of the "suite of services," the Hollywood Book-to-Movie Treatment, costs a cool $3,299. For that, you get a 7-10 page "creative adaptation" of your book written by a screenwriter. Which screenwriter? What are his/her credits? Sorry, that info is not available.

You also get an evaluation and a 3-year optioning effort from a Hollywood production company. Which company? What films has it produced? What further compensation might be due if it does manage to get someone to option your treatment? Oh dear--Outskirts isn't telling you that, either. (The disclaimer that authors have to sign in order to buy the service mentions a "partner production company" with the initials "VM"; that's too little information even for Writer Beware's sleuthing superpowers.)

The second service, the Complete Hollywood Screenplay, has a sticker price of $1,999. Hmmm, you might be thinking; why does an entire screenplay cost less than a 7-10 page treatment? Because the $1,999 is only a downpayment, you big silly! It puts you in touch with a screenwriter (once again, no info on identities or credits) to "discuss additional details"; if you want to proceed, you'll owe an extra $9,940. (What happens if you don't want to proceed? Can you get your downpayment back? No word on that from Outskirts.)

Since buying the treatment service is a pre-requisite to buying the screenplay service, the total bill for your Hollywood pipe dream comes to $15,239. Outskirts can even claim that this is a bargain: the very similar services offered by Author Solutions will set you back over $18,000.

It hurts my heart, and my brain, to think that authors might actually shell out this kind of money for services that would likely net them zero results even if performed by skilled professionals at reasonable prices. Selling a book to Hollywood is one of the most fervent writerly ambitions; it's also one of the most unattainable. And as much as you may roll your eyes and think, "Surely no one would fall for a scheme like this," the fact is that people do--or the schemes wouldn't exist.

Living Now Book Awards, from Jenkins Group

I've written extensively on this blog about money-sucking awards programs whose principal purpose is to create income for the sponsors, rather than recognition for the entrants. Here's another one: the Living Now Book Awards.

According to its website, the Living Now Book Awards are "designed to bring increased recognition to the year's very best lifestyle books and their creators." However, they bear all the hallmarks of an income-producing awards program: a high entry fee (currently $95, increased from $75 for earlier entries; you also have to send two books), a laundry list of entry categories (30 in all); minimal prizes (winners and runners-up get a medal, plus some stickers and "awards marketing material"); and the opportunity to purchase additional merchandise (more stickers, extra medals, duplicate certificates).

The awards sponsor, Jenkins Group (an expensive publishing service provider), also conducts the Axiom Awards for business books, the IPPY Awards for general fiction and nonfiction, the eLit Awards for ebooks, and the Moonbeam Awards for children's books. Between them, these awards represent over 240 categories, with an average entry fee of $85.

If there were just 25 entrants in each category (and it's likely that the actual averages are higher: this year's IPPYs, for example, received over 5,000 entries, averaging 50 entries per category), Jenkins would gross more than $500,000...and that's not counting the purchase of extra merchandise. Explaining the entry fees, Jenkins notes that "it costs about $50K to run a good awards program." Assuming that really is the case, Jenkins is spending around $250,000 total for its awards. Even with my lowball income estimate, that's a pretty nice profit.

For tips on how to evaluate contests and awards programs, and hopefully avoid the less savory ones, see my 2010 blog post.

23 comments:

Richard Gibson said...

Wow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for dedicating your time to warning authors about scams. We too get frequent offers from Jenkins Group (nearly daily)needless to say they never get read and are forwarded to spam folder as soon as they arrive - the saddest part is that this Email address was only provided to Bowker in order to supply as with ISBN. Not only has Bowker a near monopoly on selling ISBN's but evidently they have no shame at all when it comes to selling their client list. How appalling...

Jamie Rosen said...

Jeez. Maybe I'm in the wrong line of work.

Jillian Nicole said...

It's amazing what you really find out when you dig a little bit below the surface. This blog really gives me food for thought and makes me aware that there are a lot of questionable organizations. Thanks for the head's up.
Jillian

Dennis Latham said...

As a satrical slam against all these awards that cost entry fees, I created the Guilford Walnut Award. It was for a "novel written by a writer who has had a frontal lobotomy during in-patient psychiatric care." It didn't cost anything to enter, but your brain had to be no bigger than a walnut. Since I was the only entry, I gave the award to myself, and it is about as useful as any award you have to pay for.

Morgen said...

Thanks for pointing out all these scams. You do a great service for us out here in writing-land....

Frances Grimble said...

Someone I know was taken for $60K by a scam similar to the "Trip to Hollywood" scam. This was not for a book, but for a decidedly amateurish music CD she sang on (her first and apparently last vocal endeavor), together with a slightly more experienced but still amateur band. She wanted to use the CD to market another business entirely (didn't make much sense to me), and she and the band only sold a few copies. They all thought fine, they didn't spend much to record or produce the CDs, which they were only copying on demand.

So all was well, until she was approached by a well-known Hollywood music company. She had no idea why, but their interest seemed sincere. She flew to Hollywood at their urging, where they flattered her like crazy and introduced her to someone they asserted was very important. They were willing to sign on her CD, they were willing to market it very hard, and they promised her a great percentage of royalties of copies sold. If only she paid them a nonreturnable $60K for marketing, which they asserted would be recouped in no time.

She fell for it. She bought out the band members' rights so she could get all the profits. No CDs sold, she lost the $60K, and she had to file for bankruptcy.

Frances Grimble said...

About my friend--the entertainment industry can be forgiving of people who aren't very good, as long as they are gorgeous. But she was middle-aged and not even pretty. She said she would have been suspicious of this company if she had never heard of them before, but they really are a major music company. The very improbability of their approaching her made her think the offer was real, that they would not make it unless there was something in it for them. And there was: an easy, no-risk $60K.

Something to think about when you see major publishers starting vanity press divisions.

Steven O'Connor said...

Just dropped in to say thanks for all of your great posts and how much I love the title of this one: 'More Money-Wasting "Opportunities" For Writers'. Perfect.

Diana said...

The entertainment industry works the same as the book publishing industry. You don't pay for representation. You don't pay to audition. You don't pay for anything. The legitimate producers, directors, agents, music producers, et al pay you. If you're asked to pay for something, run the other way.

And here's a little factoid about selling your story to Hollywood: IF a producer options your story, the probability that it will actually go into production is something like 5-10%. Of those stories that go into production, the probability that it will be finished is 5-10%. Of those that get finished, only 5-10% will get released to the big screen, the others will go straight to video.

In other words, the probability that your story will ever get made and shown in your local theater is almost zero.

If you go with one of these services where you have to pay money, your chance is less than zero that it will ever see the light of day in Hollywood.

The big producers will not even look at a screenplay or treatment unless it comes through a legitimate Hollywood agent because they don't want to get sued for copyright infringement.

Another thing to consider: Janet Evanovich sold the film rights to Hollywood for One for the Money back in 1992 or somewhere there abouts. It just got released this past winter almost twenty years after she sold the film rights.

Nick Tang said...

I definitely can sympathize with this. I've recently finished a book. I started sending query letters. One of the agents expressed strong interest, but she also wants me to by her Mastermind program that mentors first-time writers. It stinks of scam to me, so I didn't buy it. I'm still waiting to here if she'll represent my proposal. http://teachingjournals.blogspot.com

Stephen said...

I'd take the manuscript and turn it into a screenplay for $3-6,000 and of course a percentage of studio deal. The studio will (partially or totally) re-write the screenplay anyway... and there's no scam here, just honest screenplay work without promises.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Wait a minute, $14k to Book Your Trip To Hollywood and you don't even get a trip to Hollywood? I was expecting, like, hotel accommodations.

Neon18 said...

Have you heard anything about the I-universe groups that have exotic retreats writing in Paris?

Thomas Derry said...

So glad self-publishing has come along and given writers opportunities to get their stuff out. Of course that area has its scams as well, but nothing as egregious as what you described. Thanks for the alert.

Christine Tripp said...

Sadly Thomas, these scams are exactly the sort self publishers enter into. If your an Author with a Publisher, they would never allow a book of theirs to be submitted to anything of this sort.
Of course, this does not mean that only self publishing Authors are dupped, certainly even Authors that have one book with a publisher may think they have a winning manuscript just waiting to be turned into the next box office hit.
From "Whimpy Kid", to "Harry Potter" and "Hunger Games", there are so few movies that have NOT been based on an already sucessful novel or series of novels, with a huge following. The movie industry takes even fewer chances then the Publishing Industry.

BuffySquirrel said...

*shifty look*

I'm a just leaving this link here.

http://www.shadesofday.com/VMP/

Not saying it has anything to do with the discussion.

*sidles away*

Victoria Strauss said...

Thomas--these two "opportunities" are both run by self-publishing companies. And in fact, self-publishers are the new frontier, scam-wise. I'm seeing more scams aimed at self-pubbers than at would-be trad pubbers these days.

Doug Brunell said...

I must admit, I don't dream of Hollywood optioning my book. I just never see it happening. I don't write anything Hollywood would want to produce into a film. Now, I did have an indie film producer/director want to do it at one time. That cost me nothing, and it was satisfying even though the film is up in the air.

B. Radom said...

It can be harder to spot a writer scam than a traditional scam...

So many people have told me that books are different from music, in particular (i.e. charging for services being a red flag). This is a very interesting comments section, and post.

Willy D said...

Great info, my man. Great info!!!

Anonymous said...

how exactly is any of this a scheme? i don't see you proposing any better way to get your book to hollywood. Obviously the chances are slim, but the chances are slim no matter who you go through unless you have a personal friend in the industry who makes decisions. All you're doing is reminding people that the chances are slim...telling them that the price is high (well duh) and concluding that it's a scam. I don't see how any of that adds up to "scam" at all? elaborate? sure you can't tho...

A to Zee Across America said...

Hi, I am in the UK and paid full price for the Hollywood Treatment. It is a HUGE waste of money and I have contacted my lawyers because it feels like I have been scammed.

I bought the treatment provided all the information they needed. The screenplay they wrote was awful, it took 6 months and constant chasing. In the end I ended-up writing most of it.

Eventually they claim to have approved it and it was going the database for Hollywood studios to view.

I have friends in the film industry and asked some of them to contact Thru-line to get the information on the book and screenplay.

They had no clue about my project and never rang my Film Director friend back to discuss the project.

It is a big rip-off so learn from my lesson and save your money.