Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dumb Writers (or Gullibles' Travails)

Can someone, anyone, explain to me why would-be writers are so keen to give away their money to someone, anyone, who tells them they have talent?

This scenario is all too common:

W-B Writer opens his email one morning. There is a message there from someone he's never heard of. OMG! It's a publisher! It says so right there in the email! It's Marie and she represents Lee Chew Publishing of Fleece Street! And she's interested in W-B's deathless prose which she heard is brilliant!

All W-B has to do to start his literary ascension is send his first three chapters and a small processing/reading/editorial/gullibility-testing fee and he'll be on his way!

I read about this scenario, or one very much like it, on a near-daily basis. I read about it on writing-related message boards which abound on the net.

Guess what W-B?

That's where Lee Chew Publishing "heard" about you too. You posted about your ambitions and your email is in your profile.

If someone you've never heard of approaches you with promises in exchange for money, do what you'd do if some seedy-looking guy offered you a Gen-U-Wine Rolex for 10 bucks. Walk away. Keep your wallet in your pocket.

Real publishers and agents don't go trolling for talent on bulletin boards. They're far too busy fielding queries and reading manuscripts from writers who realize how the game is played.

It's played without shortcuts. It's played by a fairly well-established set of rules (that can occasionally be bent but rarely broken).

Those rules are:

1- Write something other people will want to read.

2- Research legitimate agents/publishers. Legitimate agents will provide a client list and be happy to talk up their deals. Legitimate publishers have books in bookstores and libraries. Neither will ask you for money to read and assess your book's merits. If accepted, agents (at least 90% of them) won't ask for money until they've sold your book. Then they'll take a percentage. If you deal directly with a publisher, the only money talked about will be your advance and royalties.

3- Draft a dynamic query letter and/or proposal and send it to those agents and/or publishers in batches of five or so. (Doing it in batches allows you to fine-tune the query if the initial one fails to spark interest. That way, you haven't already had a hundred doors closed to you.)

4- As author and writing guru James D. Macdonald wisely recommends - while waiting to hear back, start working on another, better book.

If you simply MUST give someone your money, stuff some in a nearby church's poor box. Don't feed the sharks.


Stace said...

It never fails to astonish me, how easily people fall into these kind of traps.

Did you ever see the scam-baiters? Check http://www.419eater.com/ it's so funny!

Anonymous said...

you heard they took gullible out of the dictionary?

My favourite is the African mining family, that have sadly passed away, but they need an offshore account to hold the funds, as you are a distant (and i stress distant) relative you will recieve a commision.... WHo is really that stupid?

Bernita said...

If you read agent's blogs you will occasionaly see mention of a (very,very) rare/lightning strike instance where an agent/publisher does actually stumble upon a blog or story and contacts the writer.
Such serves to keep the idea alive, though gullibility and ignorance of the publishing world are the main culprits here.

Frank Baron said...

Stace, I've seen that site but not for a long time. Thanks for the reminder. :)

Yeah Aiden, there's a million of 'em. Most tend to play on people's greed. Many of the writing-based scams are more evil, to my mind, because they build up, then shatter, people's dreams.

Yes Bernita, as is often the case, it's the rare exceptions that fuel the (unrealistic) fantasies.

Btw, if I can figure out how (the NEW Blogger is still much of a mystery to me) I'm going to add you folks to my side list thingy. (Apologies, as always, for the techno-geekspeak.)

Crabby McSlacker said...

I know this sounds terrible, because scamsters are the lowest form of life, but I often have a hard time feeling sorry for a lot of their "victims." At least those who are lured in by greed and vanity, and who get fleeced because they're too lazy or stubborn to check things out.

I mean, a lot of us wouldn't mind instant wealth and fame, but most of us eventually figure out that hard work is involved too.

Frank Baron said...

You have company Crabby and I felt much as you do at one time. But I came to realize that not every computer user is net savvy. Many don't have a clue how to conduct serious research. Others are naive in other areas. What we can do is try to counter misinformation and spread the truth about the business. Over and over and over again.

mogie222 said...

I'm sure glad I'm not gullible. :-)

But Frank...why did you charge me $200.00 to read my collection of essays? Why the extra $50.00 handling fee when it got sent directly to your home? By the way, do you have a tracking number for that big publishing contract you said you sent me months ago along with a life-changing amount of money? And how come you never answer my emails anymore?

Frank Baron said...

Um...er...Abby dear...can we go somewhere private and talk about this?


Paprikapink said...

One of the saddest things I ever read (well, a sad thing I read) was a poet describing his experience getting to and being at poetry.com's "award" ceremony. It was really very brave and noble, what he'd written about how vain and greedy he must have been to have fallen for it, and how humiliating the whole experience was. Not to mention the money.

Frank Baron said...

Yeah, pp, that's one of the oldest, and most "successful" cons in the literary world. Not surprising really when you consider so many poets are gentle, trusting souls.

Cons are psychological bullies and I hate 'em.

Bhaswati said...

Great post, Frank. In the process of shortlisting agents myself, I am glad my plan is a carbon copy of the steps you mentioned. Sharks are waiting to fleece people, but they can't really trap us if we keep our eyes open.

Frank Baron said...

I'm sure you're going about it the right way Bhaswati. Good luck. :)

Kappa no He said...

Here here! I have a friend who got taken by the Stylus Literary Agency, gave them money until they could get no more. Then six months later went with The New York Agency (same thing!) and again gave them money for awhile. I kept directing her to AW and Writer Beware sites even printed pages out, but she wouldn't beieve that they were a scam. "But I write so well that they're bound to find me a publisher. I'll be discovered!" It broke my heart.

Frank Baron said...

Yikes kappa! I guess you can lead someone to the truth but can't make them believe.

Anonymous said...

Old tricks, new tricks, it is good to be informed. Not that I think that I can write :-)