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.

January 6, 2015

2014 in Review: The Best of Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Welcome to 2015! It's time again for our annual look back at the year just past, to remind you of our most important, helpful, or amusing posts.

Here goes.


Scribd's Ebook Subscription Service: A look at Scribd's ebook subscription service--which in January 2014 was brand-new--and the related concerns raised by the rampant piracy on the site. Says Writer Beware's Michael Capobianco: "[B]eneath all the new things, the old Scribd--offering not-necessarily-legal user uploads of copyrighted works--is still there."(Scribd later responded, stating that it's concerned about illegal uploads and working to prevent them.)


Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent: What are the right questions to ask when you receive The Call? How can you be sure if the agent is really right for you--if his plan for your manuscript matches your goals, if her style is a good fit for your needs? This post provides a big list of resources to help you formulate the right questions--and to assess the answers you receive.

PublishAmerica Is Now America Star Books: A name change does not a new company make--but it can sometimes create the appearance of one. Notorious PublishAmerica took the name change plunge in early 2014, re-christening itself America Star Books.

Alert: Jane Dowary Agency: I love the weird stories, and this is one of the weirdest--an "agent" who appeared under three different aliases, and then cluelessly outed herself while adopting a fourth.


The Short Life and Strange Death of Entranced Publishing: The cautionary tale of a small press that started too big, got into trouble, and went bust in less than a year. A good example of why it's smart to avoid new publishers for at least a year post-startup.

Rights Concerns: The Amtrak Residency Program: This new program from Amtrak promised "to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel" to write while experiencing round-trip train journeys along Amtrak's most scenic routes. The response from writers was huge--but so were concerns about the Grant of Rights to which authors had to agree.


Take the Money and Run: the saga of Kerry Jacobson, faux book publicist, who solicited thousands of dollars from self-published authors for publicity campaigns that never happened.


Robert Fletcher of SBPRA Required to Pay Author Resititution: At long last, the Florida Attorney General's civil lawsuit against Robert Fletcher and his companies (see Writer Beware's Alert for a full catalog of the many names under which this business has operated) drew to a close, with a settlement that did not require Fletcher to admit guilt but did require him to submit to a number of conditions and to pay $125,000 in author restitution (an amount that increased to $135,000 when Fletcher missed the payment deadline).


Bait and Switch for Self-Published Authors: In which apparently helpful feedback from readers turns into a sales pitch.


Self-Publishing and Author-Agent Agreements: The Need for Change: You don't sign with an agent unless you're planning to pursue traditional publishing--but even so, your author-agent agreement should include language addressing self-publishing. Unfortunately, most don't. This post explores why that can become a problem, and suggests questions about self-publishing that your new agent should be willing to answer.

Time to Bury the Hachette: Michael Capobianco takes a look at what was maybe last year's biggest publishing news--the standoff between Amazon and Hachette over sales terms--and suggests a role for author advocacy groups in resolving such disputes.


Haters Gonna Hate: The Smear Campaign Against Absolute Write: A look at the ugly troll campaign to discredit one of the Internet's better writers' resources. The post that got me doxxed.

Writer Beware's Self-Publishing Page Renovated and Updated: Our completely overhauled Self-Publishing page includes an overview of how technology has transformed self-publishing, pointers on making the decision to self-publish (or not), an expanded list of cautions for self-publishers (including common scams), and many new links to articles, experts, and statistics.


Author-Editor Compatibility: If you're thinking of hiring an independent editor, don't miss this excellent guest post from editor Katherine Pickett on a crucial, but often overlooked, element of the author-editor relationship.


How to Request Rights Reversion From Your Publisher: A primer on requesting your rights back from your publisher--even in difficult or adversarial circumstances.

Kindle Scout: The Pros and Cons: A detailed look at Amazon's new crowdsourced publishing venture, which I feel occupies an uneasy middle ground between publishing and self-publishing, embracing characteristics of both while offering the benefits of neither.


Scam Warnings for Freelancers: Two scams--one common, one not--against which freelance writers should be on their guard. 


Wrong Ways to Try and Escape Your Deadbeat Publisher:  If your deadbeat publisher won't let you go (and I hear almost daily from writers who are in this situation), you may be considering ways to get around your contract and re-publish on your own. This post details some common ideas on how to do this--and why they won't work.

Evaluating Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May be Sabotaging Yourself: Should you believe your publisher if it promises that a nasty contract clause will never be enforced? Or trust it if it tells you that contract language doesn't mean what you think it means? This post explores how these and other assumptions could come back to bite you. Never forget that in the author-publisher relationship, the exact wording of the contract--not the publisher's assurances--is the bottom line.

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