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. 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.

September 16, 2014

COLOR SONG Release Day!

We don't often do self-promotion here at Writer Beware--but I have a new book out!

Today is publication day for my young adult historical novel, Color Song. A tale of art, intrigue, and romance set in glorious 15th century Venice, it's a followup to my previous YA historical, Passion Blue, but can be read as a standalone.

I'm incredibly excited to have Color Song out in the world at last, and for the wonderful reviews it has been receiving on Goodreads and elsewhere. It's published for the older teen market, but there's plenty of crossover appeal for adults.

I've got a virtual book tour scheduled for the next few weeks, with interviews, reviews, and more. The full schedule is posted here and on my personal website; I'll be tweeting and Facebooking tour stops as they happen.

There's also a HUGE giveaway, with Kindle Paperwhites in custom covers, signed books, and swag.You can enter here. Feel free to tweet about the giveaway, feature it on your blog, tell your friends, or all of the above! Thanks so much.

Color Song
Skyscape (Amazon Children's Publishing)

Hardcover: $17.99
Paperback: $9.99
Ebook: $3.99

Order from Amazon
Order from Barnes & Noble
Order from IndieBound

By the author of the acclaimed Passion Blue, a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2012 and “a rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion,” comes a fascinating companion novel.

Artistically brilliant, Giulia is blessed – or cursed – with a spirit’s gift: she can hear the mysterious singing of the colors she creates in the convent workshop of Maestra Humilità. It’s here that Giulia, forced into the convent against her will, has found unexpected happiness, and rekindled her passion to become a painter – an impossible dream for any woman in 15th century Italy.

But when a dying Humilità bequeaths Giulia her most prized possession – the secret formula for the luminously beautiful paint called Passion blue – Giulia realizes she’s in danger from those who have long coveted the famous color for themselves. Faced with the prospect of lifelong imprisonment in the convent, forever barred from painting as a punishment for keeping Humilita’s secret, Giulia is struck by a desperate idea: What if she disguises herself as a boy? Could she make her way to Venice and find work as an artist’s apprentice?

Along with the truth of who she is, Giulia carries more dangerous secrets: the exquisite voices of her paint colors and the formula for Humilità’s precious blue. And Venice, with its graceful gondolas and twisting canals, its gilded palazzi and masked balls, has secrets of its own. Trapped in her false identity in this dream-like place where reality and reflection are easily confused, where art and ambition, love and deception hover like dense fog, can Giulia find her way?

This compelling novel explores timeless themes of love and illusion, gender and identity as it asks the question: what does it mean to risk everything to follow your true passion?

The combination of page-ripping plot and insight into the creative process is as rare and luminous as the color Strauss imagines.
- Kirkus – 

September 15, 2014

Alert: Trouble at Ellora's Cave

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

One of the original digital pioneers, erotic romance publisher Ellora's Cave has reportedly had financial and other problems for some years. But in 2014, things seem to be coming to a head. In May, news surfaced of late royalty payments (though this was not news to EC authors), which EC's CEO blamed on faulty software. Then, in August, EC announced that it was laying off the majority of its staff, attributing this to a precipitous decline in ebook sales via Amazon.

Since then, rumors have been swirling, and authors have started to go public with complaints.* Update 9/17: Managing editor Whitney Mihalik and COO Susan Edwards have reportedly resigned.

I'm on vacation at the moment and not doing much Writer Beware work, so this isn't my usual detailed post. But I wanted to feature a warning--since what's happening at EC is ominously reminiscent of events that have preceded the demise of other independent presses. Below is a roundup of links to articles and posts that provide a picture of the current situation.

Meanwhile, Ellora's Cave is still accepting submissions. In Writer Beware's opinion, authors should not approach this publisher until it's clear what the resolution of the current situation will be.

* Writer Beware has heard from only a handful of EC authors, but their complaints are similar to those reported by Dear Author, Cat Grant, and Avril Ashton. I've also heard from an EC editor, who says that the volume of manuscripts she's being asked to work on has increased (likely due to the staff layoffs) and that editors are now being asked to do light copy editing only.

September 5, 2014

Guest Blog Post: Author-Editor Compatibility: The Crucial Element for a Successful Editing Experience

Independent editors. What do they do? When do you need them? How do you find them--and, most crucial, how do you determine whether they're qualified to be doing what they're doing? These very important questions are addressed on the Editors page of the Writer Beware website.

Just as important, however, is a question that arises after you've determined your editing needs (and budget) and done your due diligence: are you and your chosen editor compatible? To get the most out of the editing experience, you must feel comfortable with your editor and be able to communicate openly with him or her.

Today's guest post, from experienced editor Katherine Pickett, addresses the issue of author-editor compatibility (which she calls "workability") and how to determine whether you and your chosen editor will be able to work well together.


Author-Editor Workability: The Crucial Element for a Successful Editing Experience

With all the people out there calling themselves editors, finding a qualified, reputable editor for your book can be a challenge. Finding the right editor for you adds another dimension to the task.

To locate a reputable editor, conventional wisdom tells you that you must track down the names of editors, research each of them, contact those who seem qualified to edit your book, and then ask for a cost estimate. Some authors are tempted to stop right there and make their judgment based on the cost estimate alone. However, there is one more crucial element to be assessed. You must evaluate your ability to work well with this person—what I call your potential editor’s “workability.”

When it comes to the author-editor relationship, workability encompasses many things, including agreement on writing and editing styles, availability to meet your editing needs, and personal compatibility. Each of these has a significant impact on the quality of your editing experience.

Editing Styles Vary from Editor to Editor

Each editor you interview will have different strengths and weaknesses as well as a different approach to the editing process. These make up that editor’s style.

To learn your potential editor’s style, ask for a sample edit when you request the cost estimate. With a sample edit, your potential editor takes a few pages from your manuscript and edits them as she would the full book. Review this sample carefully to see how it compares with your own expectations and goals. As you go through the sample, ask yourself a few key questions: Are you comfortable with your editor’s approach to the rules of grammar? Is your voice intact? Are the editor’s queries to you clear and on target? Has she uncovered problems you didn’t know were there? Do you feel she gets what you are trying to accomplish?

If you went into the editing process thinking you needed a light copy edit and you came out of it with a completely rewritten piece, you have to determine if your editor was correct in making those changes or if you want to find someone who will tread more lightly. Similarly, if you wanted help with big-picture items and your sample was returned with punctuation and grammar corrected but nothing else, you may decide you need someone else.

Ultimately, the changes you find in the sample edit should make you confident that this editor will support you and help you achieve your vision for the book. When you have that, you know you are close to finding the right editor for you.

Availability Means More than Space on the Calendar

Let’s assume you really like the sample you received and you think this editor might be the one. Now what?

Now you have to check her availability. On a very basic level, your editor has to have room on her calendar. It’s possible she is unable to start on your project for a few weeks. You will then have to decide if you can wait until she is free or if you need to move on.

A more important question, however, is whether she is able to commit the necessary time to your project to fully meet your needs. Many editors carry three or four projects at once. Although they can do high-quality work this way, they don’t always have the time to answer long lists of questions or explain the publishing process. If this is your editor, you will need to be fairly self-sufficient in the review of the editing, asking specific questions rather than asking her to explain each change. This describes most author-editor relationships and it often works very well.

However, if you prefer someone who is available to go through each page of the manuscript with you or help you with more than just editing—for example, you would like to discuss which publishing option is best for you, how to increase the marketability of your book, or how best to research your competition—let your potential editor know that. That way she can tell you up front if she can give you and your project the attention you are looking for. You will likely pay extra for these services, but this help is available to you.

Compatible Personalities Make for Better Communication

The final piece to the workability picture is having compatible personalities.

This is hugely important during the editing process because editing can be a painful time. The manuscript that you have worked long and hard to craft is being judged and manipulated by someone else. You may feel defensive, vulnerable, and deflated when you see your editor’s suggested changes. You may experience this regardless of who edits your book, but it will sting a little less if you have someone you trust and respect doing the work.

The best way to know if you are compatible with your editor is to speak with her on the phone. When two people have compatible personalities, they tend to communicate well, and that is key to making your manuscript the best it can be. If you don’t communicate well—you make a joke and your editor doesn’t laugh, or you can’t tell when she is being sarcastic or supportive—you will have a difficult time taking criticism in the best possible light. When you can make a connection, you will know that she understands your vision and has your best interests in mind as she edits your manuscript, and that is when the editing process is the most rewarding.


Your editor doesn’t have to be your best friend, and she doesn’t have to be a teammate. However, you do have to work well with each other, and that includes professional and personal characteristics.

With the right author-editor combination, the editing process is not drudgery. It is challenging and emotional but also invigorating and exciting as you see your work transformed into something even better than you thought possible.


Katherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, LLC, and the author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro. Through POP she offers copyediting, proofreading, and developmental editing to authors and publishers across the country. She has been involved in the publishing industry since 1999, including five years as an in-house production editor with McGraw-Hill and two years with Elsevier Inc.

Throughout her career Katherine has edited more than 300 books in a wide range of topics and genres. She is an active member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the St. Louis Publishers Association and is president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. She is also a polished speaker and workshop leader, educating writers and indie publishers about the book publishing industry since 2008. You can find her blog here.
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