Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news and commentary, and a focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the publishing world.

September 24, 2013

The Barefoot Writer's Club

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting a lot of questions recently about Paul Hollingshead and the Barefoot Writer's Club (part of American Writers & Artists Inc., which sells courses that promise to help you "Learn How You Can Become a Six-Figure Copywriter"). To be honest, I've been hesitant to write this post, because Barefoot/AWAI advocates are vigilant about responding to discussions of their products, and likely will show up here to extol the virtues of the program (to see what I mean, take a look at this long-running discussion on Writer Beware's Facebook page). But judging by how often writers ask me whether the Club is worthwhile and/or legit, it's pretty active in soliciting members--and I think it merits a caution.

Right on the homepage of The Barefoot Writer, you can see what it's all about. "Discover 9 Ways You Can Make a VERY Good Living as a Writer!" "Making a Living as a Writer Has Never Been Easier!" "Get paid to write and build the freedom-filled life you’ve always wanted!" The promise, in other words, of the ultimate writerly pipe dream:
The Barefoot Writer opens the door to the world of paid writing opportunities. You’ll read about ways to dramatically improve your lifestyle as a writer — for the better. Fascinating projects … luxurious lifestyle … inexpensive ways to get up and running, fast. Rewarding writing exercises. A community of supportive, like-minded writers. Ways to let your imagination and creativity soar.

No, you don’t have to be rich, or even have a degree to enjoy a dream lifestyle as a writer. The Barefoot Writer shows you that all you need is to be pointed in the right direction to appreciate all the writer’s lifestyle has to offer.
To reap these astounding benefits, all you have to do is join the Club. The cost? Just $49 (but hurry! This is a "limited time price offer that may end at any time"). Your payment gets you a subscription to 12 issues of The Barefoot Writer's Magazine...and wait, there's more! You also receive access to several free Special Reports with titles like "The Secret of the 1-Hour Work Week" and "The $500 Email Secret."

So where's the harm, you may be wondering? $49 isn't a huge amount of money. If you're looking to transition to full-time freelance writing, or to supplement your income from your existing job, mightn't The Barefoot Writer help you improve your skills and learn some worthwhile things?

Ah, but what if The Barefoot Writer's Club isn't so much a how-to-write-better club, or a how-to-learn-about-great-writing-opportunities club, as a how-to-get-you-to-buy-more-stuff club?

No sample issues of The Barefoot Writer's Magazine are available online, so I couldn't check it out. But I did download the "FREE Guide to Barefoot Writer Living" advertised on The Barefoot Writer's homepage, and it's little more than an advertorial for AWAI copywriting and other courses. Ditto for The Barefoot Writer blog, where nearly every puff-piece post ends with a pitch for an AWAI workshop, course, or other product (even if the post purports to be about something else). And now that AWAI has my email address, I'm getting a email every couple of days urging me to buy an AWAI product.

Is it a stretch to suppose that the magazine is more of the same?

The Barefoot Writer's Club, in other words, belongs to the category of enterprises that are designed to sell you things under the guise of helping or instructing you. The Internet is rife with such schemes: "experts" offering courses or webinars that are really vehicles for pimping their own products, "authorities" whose only claim to knowledge is that they've written whatever ebook or coursepack they want you to buy. There may or may not be useful information involved--but the information isn't the point. These are commercial enterprises, and their primary goal is to make a profit--from you.

As for the American Writers & Artists copywriting courses, there are mixed reviews online. Many of the positive reviews read a lot like AWAI's own promotional material, which suggests they should be taken with a large grain of salt. Somewhat more critical reviews can also be found, such as this one and this one; and this discussion thread includes a number of comments--both satisfied and not--from people who've actually used some of the courses.

The general consensus seems to be that the course materials are solid overall (though not everyone agrees on this), but that they're aimed at beginners, include some padding, and require a substantial investment of time and energy if you want to get the most out of them. Some users also report being aggressively solicited to buy other AWAI products.

What's lacking in all these discussions and reviews is persuasive evidence that AWAI's florid promises of high income and a leisurely lifestyle actually materialize for the average customer. When you try to pin AWAI boosters down on this issue--as I did in the discussion on Writer Beware's Facebook page--they tend to change the subject or avoid specifics. People who really do write for a living know that it's a hardscrabble life that doesn't allow for a lot of poolside lounging. I don't doubt that there are some people who've parlayed AWAI courses and their own hard work into profitable careers--per many of the testimonials on the AWAI website--but I see nothing to suggest that they are anything but outliers.

If something sounds too good to be probably is.


C.M. Albrecht said...

Same old story: Sounds too good to be true.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme. Even if the course is okay, you need to work hard, not relax and improve your gof score. I have never trusted any of these "make $$$$ in your spare time!" ads, which ave been around forever.

Sue Bursztynski said...

And heavens! This is a course teaching you how to write spam?!?

Lynndee said...

Thanks for this post! I've been wondering about these AWI people. I signed up for their mailing list at some point but I've never spent money on them. I just get emails from them every few days that always sound about the same and never give me any actual info. Like you said, it's just all fluff that reads like one of those get rich quick scam pages. Sure it sounds glamorous and beautiful and who wouldn't want that... but it's got way too many red flags.

Gdub said...

Keep up the great work. Please.

Anonymous said...

What happened to real journalism? Why not pay the $49 and write a real review.

Anonymous said...

And if I call in the next 30 minutes, I will receive two, that's right, TWO subscriptions for the price of ONE! They'll even throw in a free shower head valued at $19.95! But wait--that's not all. As a special introductory offer, they will provide me with a 1,000 page email list that I can use to spam unsuspecting people with the hypnotic power of my newly-acquired copywriting genius! If that's not a deal, I don't know what is.

On second thought, it might be easier to just take a blunt blow to the head.

John Smith said...

Any subscription only worth when it provide some knowledge and some latest stuff which is practical and easy to implement.

Raani York said...

I remember someone recommended me to them - the moment I saw I needed to pay first I was gone... no matter how often I unsubscribed, their mails still got in - by now they just keep bouncing off and disappear within the unlimited space of my virtual trash can.
Thanks for sharing this post and your great work!!

Anonymous said...

I do not want to buy any of your books or Ann Crispin's books either! Remove my name from your list.

Anonymous said...

" . . . they tend to change the subject or avoid specifics." Really? That's so hilarious coming from Victoria Strauss. Ad Hominem is ok for Strauss & Co. but not when they want answers. Simply amazing. That's exactly how Strauss & Co. responded to this issue:

Victoria Strauss said...

Hello, anonymi, or should I say The Write Agenda! Long time no see, at least on this blog.

Marcia Yudkin said...

I have seen three AWAI products on copywriting or freelancing. Two I purchased (for competitive research purposes) and one I was asked by AWAI to review (they said they just wanted my feedback). One of the courses I purchased was overpriced but contained decent and reliable information. The other course I purchased was so flimsy that I returned it for a refund. The course I was asked to review - their flagship course on copywriting - was very solid and worth the money.

So all in all I would not call this organization or their products a scam. I agree they make some unrealistic promises, but the content of their programs would in at least some instances benefit those who want to become working copywriters.

(This post was accidentally submitted as anonymous so I am reposting it.)

Char Brian said...

I'll take credit for the first Anonymous post. I just get so sick and tired of these bloggers (now you) writing crap. If you're going to write a review -- then review dang it. How can you call yourself a writer? Maybe I'll write a review about YOUR book. I'm not going to read it, mind you. I'm just going to assume that if you put this much research into your post, that's what I can expect in your book.

carolynlawrence said...

Okay, what's really going on here? Are we honestly critiquing the AWAI or are we hashing out some old vendetta? What's on your mind anonymous? Is there something about the author of this blog that you would like to share with the rest of us?

Anonymous said...

There is only ONE way to be a profitable writer--have talent, wow a publisher. Get your education in the field of writing from reliable educators, work, work at it until you have a WOW piece. Now go out there and WOW one!
There is NO way, as I see it, that some snake oil salesman on the internet can make YOU a writer.

Anne Lane said...

Thanks for the post and warning. Guess we know who you will be popular with don't we?

Anonymous said...

A friend sent me the link to this review because I told her that I considered joining the club. I suppose I told her about it so that she would do her usual research and tell me what she found and spare me some grief. Upon hearing the club's initial presentation it disturbed me that their testimonial was given by a person who holds an official title with their company, some kind of executive editor. That was a big red flag for me. I won't join for several reasons namely because contributing in any way to the production of the junk mail that I despise receiving is against my strong environmental protection values. I have always gotten my jobs and I acquired all my income on my own merit, never paying anyone for leads or tips or anything, rather I get paid for honest work done and my living is very modest but living with great integrity is priceless. I really wouldn't want to talk to those people who claim they are friends and writers together in the club because I wouldn't have anything in common with them anyway, they sure do come across as very shallow and materialistic people. Well adjusted people don't need to pay to have friends.

David Gaughran said...

FYI: Writers Digest was spamming its email subscribers with links to this last year.

Here's the email:

Dear Writer’s Digest Subscriber,

Do you know what most writers regret?

When I found out, I was surprised. Especially because it really struck home—yet wasn’t what I would have guessed.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I found a way to avoid those regrets, and live a satisfying, well-paid life as a writer.

You can, too. Click here* to learn how.

To life without regret,

Mindy McHorse, Barefoot Writer


*Link goes here:

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks for the post, Victoria. You are always a great go to blogger when you are researching agents, publishers, and all other related writing things.

Anonymous said...

You know everyone markets like this now. Yes I am sick of it too. But a lot of them charge a lot more than $49 They say they will give you a refund. Some don't even do that. So I am going to try it and see what I can learn. I love literature I mean real books with real literary devices. I had looked into teaching ESL but that is more expensive and much more difficult. All ESL courses push is how wonderful it will be to live in another country. That isn't a good reason to teach ESL if you ask me. Plus it doesn't pay much and besides, what is wrong with this country? I am screening different opportunities to work from home. This is one of them. I project that I will get $49 worth of value from it.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the heads up but I'm wondering how you were able to investigate as much as you did. I also am receiving e mails dailey but receive an error message everytime I respond to their link. perhaps thisis a blessing in disguise but thought I would mention it since you have undoubtably saved a few folks a lot of time agravation and money. thank you

Ava Fails said...

Steal content much?

For those of you asking more about this investigation, perhaps you should ask the original writer.

I found the information I was looking for about The Barefoot Writer's Club, but it seems to me that as mentioned before, Writer Beware should have paid the 49 bucks and conducted their own ORIGINAL research. Shame on you.

Ava Fails said...

Please disregard my previous comment.

Victoria Strauss said...

Ava Fails, I guess you figured out that the article you thought I plagiarized is actually a syndication of this article.

B A Patton said...

Thanks for this information. I keep getting this spam from The Writer's Digest (which often feels like spam itself) I find myself intrigued enough to vaguely consider it but quickly back down when I feel it may be too good to be true. Which it appears it just might.

Anonymous said...

I have spoken with active copywriters and programs of good reputation both in the U.S and over seas. I have asked them how they compare to AWAI's Six figure program. None have been derogatory or overly critical of AWAI. They just point out the differences. If AWAI is the trash, as these non-users report, I don't think all would have been so cordial.

Amy Livingston said...

I, too, have been getting spam about this program from Writer's Digest. I tried clicking on "Manage Subscriptions" and unsubscribing from the "Writing Community Partners" newsletter. I'm hoping this will put a stop to the spam. If I'd known I was going to get this much of it, I would have just bought a printed copy of Writer's Market instead of subscribing to the online service.

Anonymous said...

What i want to know is, "who are all these people writing the testimonials?" None of them seem to have written anything except the testimonial their name is attached to....

starrdusk said...

The idea really is to go into this as though it is sourcebook that offers good advice and how to, which you can find anywhere of course;
I have done the get rich schemes and have discovered that they are all literally taught to lie in the name of truth by with holding material and information, many of them with the name of Jesus behind them!

I have also ordered the types of books and information that they offer here at Barefoot Writers. I was not ready for it then, over twenty years ago, but said that when I was I might give these a go. The way I saw it then and still do is like buying textbooks that offer the information in a cohesive whole; I know already that there will be other costs for speciality classes, but more than anything I know that it is I who will have to do the work; I who will have to market myself. IF you know this upfront, read it all again, slowly and see if it does not make a difference to you.

I am not a member, but if it helps, I will let you know how it works after I am. I am one of the first who will get on my high horse if they are flat out lying. But again, I know what I am going into here and it is really only the title that gives the sound of the get rich quick. There is a reason for this especially in this growing technological age of having to beat the best at everything.
Well, like I said I will let you know; so.... here goes. PS> But, up front, I am already willing to go sell the spam if it is the courses themselves at all.So.... beg breath,
Take the plunge.d

Laila Yamini said...

Seems many of the posters in this blog thread are looking for magic bullets! Shame on you. Life simply doesn't work that way! But because a lot of people (even educated ones as I'm sure a lot of you are) don't realize that, a ton of advertising is directed to making you think that success can happen "overnight". However, that doesn't necessarily mean that what is being offered doesn't have some substance to it. So, I agree with Stardusk. If you really have an interest in copy writing and in making a decent living doing it (not an exorbitant life - but an improved one), then invest the 49.00 and take the best of the offering and leave the rest. I have a feeling from reading these posts (which are varied in perspective) that there is something of value in their product (sans the extraneous promises). Which with dedication to my craft as a writer and my (hard) work ethic, I believe, will produce some type of enhanced results from what I have now. I certainly think it's worth a try and will report back my experience later to this group - positive and/or negative.

Steve Sherrick said...

I've written for Broadcast Radio for over 30 years [ news, sports, commercials] and am now having to take care of elderly parents. I already have PROVEN talent in the industry but would love to fast-track the conversion to other writing venues. It could really help me provide for/spend more time taking care of the folks. Are the leads really turning into jobs? Can't afford to waste the noney

Perry Rose said...

AWAI is pretty much of a joke.

Unfortunately, the naïve, and the ones who don't do their homework on AWAI get sucked in.

I have lost count the number of business owners I have written for who got burned after hiring "copywriters" through AWAI.

The stories I could tell you about this place.

Just the way AWAI advertises themselves should tell anyone with a half a brain that they are not good at copywriting.

Their lame articles alone should tell you plenty.

Buyer beware.

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