Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

September 26, 2014

A Hand in Your Pocket: Monetizing the Business of Writing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

There is a natural law in writing and publishing (as elsewhere): where need and desire are greatest, moneymaking enterprises follow.

Vanity publishers are an easy (and long-standing) example of this law, presenting themselves as a way around the bottleneck of traditional publishing--as long as the writer is willing to "invest" in his/her work. Ditto for literary agent "middleman" services, in which an individual or company offers to "represent" writers to agents, supposedly to increase their chances of snagging a super-busy agent's attention.

More recently, there's the huge variety of services that have sprung up around self-publishing--some worthwhile, some distinctly not. In some cases, these are new services, addressing (or purporting to address) needs created by new technology. In others, they're an attempt to monetize what was formerly free.

I've one of each to talk about today.

First up: Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding platforms) promotion services. I've encountered two of these in the past couple of weeks--both soliciting authors with spam-style approaches--and I'm sure there are more. "specializes in launching targeted Facebook promotions to drive the most lucrative crowd to your live crowdfunding campaign." Packages range from $199 to $450. offers to create press releases, social media campaigns, and more, all "designed to help any crowdfunding project get more visibility to radically increase the chances of reaching a crowdfunding goal." Costs are between $149 and $349.

Now, I'm not saying that these services are disreputable or dishonest. Both offer success stories, and apart from the solicitations, I'm not aware of any complaints. But it's interesting to see the ripple effect of successful technology. Crowdfunding has become so popular, and the crowdfunding sphere so competitive, that it has spawned opportunities for monetization via ancillary services promising to help authors stand out from the crowd. Worth the money? Open question. But if you decide yes", it's yet another expense to add to your crowdfunding budget.

Second up: paid beta readers. Yes, you read that right. A writerly function that by its very definition is non-professional, and thus not fee-based, is being extensively monetized. I'm not addressing competence or honesty in this post, so I don't want to call out any particular individual(s), but if you Google "beta reading service" you'll see what I mean (and here's a link to one that seems more spammish than the rest). Sample costs: $1.05 per page, $0.003 per word (with a $10 minimum), $55 for a book of more than 250 pages, $199 for an entire manuscript.

In actual fact, what these services are selling is not really beta reading, but a paid critique. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the provider is competent (a whole other question). But associating a term that already has an established meaning with a moneymaking service is going to confuse a lot of people. Evidence of this: the two writers who've contacted me in the past month asking me to suggest a good and not too expensive "beta reading service".

If you want to buy a critique, buy a critique (but check the critiquer's credentials first). If you want a beta reader, find someone who won't ask you to haul out your credit card.

Writers, there is a second natural law in writing and publishing: through changing paradigms, through shifting technology, through opportunity and roadblocks, there will always be someone waiting to put a hand into your pocket.


Patrick said...

For the cost of some of these beta reading services, couldn't you be in the neighborhood of hiring a reputable developmental editor? Am I missing something here?

Joe said...

In my experience, the best beta readers are the writer-friends I've made through SCBWI. Nothing beats really knowing those critiquing your work.

Anne Violette said...

I agree, and savvy writers can actually do these things without the need for third party intervention. All it takes is a little bit of know-how on Google. If you are good at researching, you can find a lot of cheaper solutions to spread the word about your project. There are some valid projects I have seen on crowdsourcing, but some are so ridiculous that I would never care to contribute. They should go through a more selective process, I think. Like a "make the cut" system or voting, etc.

I've enjoyed your cause, warning authors of scammers to "beware" of is a great service. Let's face it, no matter what type of industry you are in these days, there is a con-artist with his hand out around every corner!

Anne Violette

Sue Bursztynski said...

A lot of perfectly competent people decide on crowd funding. I only chip in when it's someone I know already, such as Sophie Masson, a children's writer who started up the Christmas Press with a crowd funding campaign. But I can see that there are going to be con artists out there making money out of it and anything else they can.

As for charging 3 cents a ord to beta read - eek, a friend of mine, a freelance editor, only charges a cent a word to EDIT the thing! The cheek of some people!

But in this age, when anyone, ANYONE, can become a published author if they don't mind paying, there are would-be published authors who don't know any better and assume you have to pay for everything.

Holly Vance said...

This is why I find a writer's group essential to my writing development. But, in addition to getting feedback from craftmasters, feedback from sample of my would-be audience is also invalueable. Whoever enjoys reading--writer or no--can offer insight to your work.

Nevertheless, this is a wonderfully informative post. Thank you so much!

The Unkind Editor said...

@Patrick - depends on the beta reading service and the editor. Generally, developmental editors are running in the $30-60/hour range, depending on their professional level and the difficulty/depth of the edit.

I do 500-1000 words an hour on a tough edit, and up to 3000 words an hour on a clean-copy, mostly-there edit. So I'd quote $1100-3000 for a developmental edit, and I'm in line with other members of the Editorial Freelancers Association (Their rate card, BTW, is a great guide to what pros are charging -

I went pro a year ago after editing for friends for a number of years. Now that I actually track everything I edit with a timer, it's astonishing to me both how long it takes and the intensity of brain involvement while it's happening!

I guess what I'd want to know about beta-readers is what are their qualifications? What books have they given feedback on before? How are they able to separate their taste from the needs of the book?

I think unless you're ready to sign up for a professional edit (not something every writer needs, but if you're going self-pub it's very valuable), there's no need to blow money on a "professional beta-reader." The best way to get feedback is to join a community of writers--in person or online--and give feedback until you've racked up enough personal connections to ask for feedback for yourself. It takes most writers 2-3 drafts with good feedback before they're ready to shell out money and have it not be a waste.

Christine Tripp said...

Just saw a self published Author advertising she will give "feedback" on your manuscript for $150. REALLY????
Now, she hasn't any credentials I can see, she has put out a few of her books that I can't believe sell. She fancies herself a "publisher" but it's a royalty only thing basically self publish through me and give me half and... well no, the books on the site haven't a chance. The real craziness is, the poor quality vector type images of pic book covers, aimed at about the age of 3, sit on the home page along side female erotica & bondage. OK, what "Publisher" would do that and why isn't that a clue for these new writers that this same person should not be contacted for feedback for FREE let alone for money! But, sadly, I am sure there are those few new writers who know nothing about this industry that have paid for her "advice" and that is exactly the aim of this person, to fleece the flock.

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