6 More Scams that Target New Writers

by Anne R. Allen

Last week I talked about some of the scams that Ruth and I have heard about recently in my post 5 Scams that Target New Writers.

Sometimes we're contacted by the scammers themselves and sometimes we get questions from readers who aren't sure if they should accept an offer that might look too good to be true.

As I started to list the scams, I realized that the post was getting wayyyy too long, so I figured I'd divide it. Some of the rip-offs listed in today's post have been around a little longer than the ones I listed last week, but they're just as deadly (and heartbreaking) to newbies who haven't heard of them...Anne

6) Companies that Offer to Turn your Self-Published Book into a Screenplay and open Hollywood Doors for You

This is a new one that preys on naive indie authors with Hollywood dreams. I've now heard about it from three people. Some have been approached through LinkedIn, which seems to be the venue of choice for a lot of scammers. These outfits offer to "analyze" your book to see if it can be made into a film and then offer some murky way in which they will get this analysis in front of Hollywood honchos. They charge between $700-$1000 for this service.

All of this is totally bogus. Their "analysis" means nothing and they have no power to get your book to anybody of importance in the film industry. As veteran screenwriter David Congalton says, "People, NEVER GIVE A DIME to anyone in Hollywood unless you're taking a class. These are all scams, preying on the dreams of the innocents."
The tip-off:

This is not how Hollywood works. According to the Raindance Festival website, "at least 50,000 scripts are written every year. Yet only a few hundred are bought and made." These are screenplays that have already been written. The chances of somebody wanting to go to the trouble to turn your book into a screenplay are pretty slim unless the book is already a bestseller.

And any book can be made into a screenplay if there's enough demand. (After all they made a film of Tristram Shandy!) If Hollywood wants your book, they will approach you. And don't hold your breath.

7) Rights grabs by Magazines, Contests and Anthologies

Most legit publications and contests only ask for first serial rights. But some contests ask for all rights of the winning pieces. Some even ask for rights of all submissions. This isn't exactly a scam, but it sure isn't good for the author.

Unless the prize or payment is really big, you do not ever want to sign away all rights to a story or poem (or book!)

Greeting card companies are an exception. They usually buy all rights, so you should expect that--but they often pay really well for a short poem. I got $400 once for a sentimental greeting card verse. They were welcome to my rights.

Many online publications will ask that you not republish something online for six months to a year—and that's fine—but after that you can publish again and again. Stories can live forever in anthologies and story collections. Don't give that away that right without a good reason (like a lotta cash!)

I have let some contests slip through here that ask for all rights to winning entries (many thanks to readers who pointed that out) but I'm careful to check them now.
The tip-off:

Read the fine print! I always include a link to the website of contests and journals I list in the Opportunity Alerts. I vet them, but some weeks I don't have time to read everything. So always read the details of a contest before submitting.

8) Submission Services

These have been around for ages, but the electronic age has brought some new twists.

Note: there are perfectly legitimate submission services. The service "Submittible" which electronically submits manuscripts to journals is widely used by journals to take their online submissions. The journals, not the authors, pay fees to them.

But what you want to stay away from are the outfits that play on your fantasy of being an author who "just writes" (ain't no such animal!) and offer to get you published with no effort on your part.

These companies tell you they'll save you from the hassle of getting your hands dirty with boring stuff like writing query letters. They are there to write them for you! For a huge fee! Here's a link to one that got written up at Writer Beware.

Like the phony publishers, they may pretend to be very selective and put you through a "vetting" process. If you're "accepted" they will write a query letter for you, submit it to agents (they may claim to have an "expansive network" of agents on speed dial) and they'll even copyright your book for you!

Problem is: agents are not morons. They can spot a query service letter at 50 paces. The queries will be auto-rejected, no matter how many agents get the mass-mailing. And agents do not take phoned-in pitches, so anybody who offers to do this is totally bogus.

Anybody can copyright their own book for $35. Don't pay somebody to do it for you. And you may not even need to. More on this on my post Do You Need to Copyright your Manuscript?
The tip-off:

Anybody who claims to be able to get you an agent is lying. A relationship with an agent is like a marriage. You two have to click personally. No third party can do it for you. It would be like paying somebody to go on dates for you.

9) Predatory Publishing Contracts

Some vanity presses tie up your copyright for seven years. Some even demand ALL rights—including electronic, audio, film, and foreign—even though they have no plans of producing your book in those formats. More on bad vanity press contracts from Joel Friedlander: Is Your Book Held Hostage by a Subsidy Publisher?

And here's a quote from the State Bar of Wisconsin "A scam contract usually will assign all rights to the publisher, whether specifically granted or not. Absent compelling reasons, such as the publisher's ability to actually make foreign, book club, or movie sales, there is no reason to give a publisher anything but the right to actually publish the book in book form and perhaps some very limited ancillary rights, such as the granting of permission to quote from the book, to make administering book sales easier."

BUT: not all bad contracts come from vanity publishers and overt scammers. The Big 5 can offer onerous contracts these days as well.

Now that we have "forever" books and infinite bookshelves, contracts are much more fraught with dangers than they were in the pre-ebook days.

With "in perpetuity" contracts, you may end up signing away the rights to your book and characters for a lifetime—and even your children's lifetimes. You also don't want to sign a contract with an agent who asks for "right of first refusal" for ALL the books you will ever write. Yeah, they do that.
The tip-off:

Always run a contract by a legal professional. Contracts are complex and wording can be purposely misleading. Do not give a publisher rights to anything but the book unless they have concrete plans for audiobooks, translation, etc. And make sure there is a mechanism for reversion of rights when the book goes out of print.

10) Bogus Anthologies

This one has been around for nearly a century—but new writers are still falling for it. One of my neighbors got duped just last month.

The scam works like this: There's a call for submissions to a poetry or inspirational essay anthology often with cash prizes and fancy certificates.

But here's the problem: every submission is accepted. When the "editors" have enough poems or essays to fill a book, they print it up and offer the unvetted dreck to all the contributors for a steep price. (Sometimes pre-purchase is required or sometimes authors like my neighbor are enticed by a "pre-publication discount" bringing the price down from extortionate to merely outrageous.) But the newbie, proud to be "a published poet" buys many volumes to give to family and friends.

Their "win" of the "contest" may include a certificate declaring you the winner of a bogus prize. You can sometimes buy this nicely framed certificate for an over-inflated fee.

I have to admit I didn't burst my neighbor's bubble. She was so elated and had already pre-paid for the phony book. The damage was done. I figured she deserved to ride that high for a bit longer.

Unfortunately, some newbies are so excited by their "publication" or "prize" they send out news releases. This happened to a local poet very early in her career. It took her several decades to live it down.

Real anthologies like the Chicken Soup books pay the authors, not the other way around.

Note: there are great charity anthologies and promotional anthologies that don't pay, but offer exposure for the writer. But the good ones are not high-priced and they'll be very open about what they're about. Often several "name" authors will be attached, which is great for raising the profile of a newbie author. You'll be paid in prestige and advertising, so you're not "giving your work away" if you're included in a good charity anthology.
The tip-off:

Look at the people they've published or former "winners" of their big prize. Google them. Have they ever been published elsewhere? Where are the books sold? If it's only from the anthology's website, it's likely a scam. These days they may be on Amazon too, but check the sales rank.

11) Fee-Charging Literary Agents

I thought these guys had disappeared in the age of the ebook, but I've seen them resurfacing now that self-publishing has lost its new-car smell.

Any agent who charges clients for services is not part of the legitimate publishing community, which has a strict code of ethics.

This means they do NOT have access to editors at publishing houses, so they can't sell your book to a legitimate publisher. They may sell your book to a vanity publishing house (one that charges fees to publish your book) or a small press that they themselves own. They may also have kickback deals with freelance editors or offer "editing services" themselves.

These people cannot sell your book to a real publisher. You are wasting time and money dealing with them. Real agents ONLY make money as a commission for selling your book to a publisher. And yes, that means real agents often work months or years with no pay at all when they're starting out. Most agents start as unpaid interns reading slush for large agencies.

NOTE: Not all "reading fees" are scams. Some literary magazines are now charging a nominal reading fee for submissions (usually only a few dollars) as was reported in The Atlantic in October. You can usually get around the fees by sending hard copy or subscribing to the magazine. This isn't making authors very happy, but it's not considered unethical. Because electronic submissions are so easy these days, their submission numbers keep going up while their readership goes down. This is one of the ways they stay afloat.
The tip-off:

Any request for money by a literary agency, whether it's a reading fee, mailing expenses, editing, inclusion in a book fair or catalogue, website building, etc, is a major red flag. Run very fast in the opposite direction. For more about this venerable scam, see Writer Beware.

What about you, scriveners? Have you ever fallen for any of these scams? Have you seen other writers getting scammed? Any other scams to add to the list?

posted by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) December 13, 2015

Anne R. Allen is the author of ten books, including the bestselling CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIES and HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, co-written with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.


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