Victoria Strauss, who runs the valuable Writer Beware blog, has this assessment of what's happening in the world of writing scams:
"Now, in 2012, Writer Beware only rarely hears about brand-new agent scams; even inquiries about well-intentioned amateur agents--which once made up a large percentage of our correspondence--have dwindled to a trickle. By far the most frequent questions and complaints we receive involve small publishers, various flavors of vanity presses, self-publishing services, and marketing or other so-called services aimed at small press and self-published authors."
As they say, one door closes, another door opens--even for scammers. Before you spend your money on any services, I suggest you do the following:
1. Read the fine print. Often there are traps buried in the text of a contract. Things to look for:
* If it's a time-based service of some kind, for how long are you obligated?
* Is there a way for you to cancel the service if you're not happy?
* What's the refund policy?
* Does the copyright stay with you? It should.
2. Do a Google search about the company, the individuals running it, and the products or services they offer. Go past the first page so you get past the fake sites.
For instance, let's say the Fraudentcheat Agency is a scam. They set up a bunch of websites with names like "Fraudentcheat Scam?" or "Fraudencheat Fraud?" These look like legitimate review sites and--surprise!--they conclude that Fraudencheat is a fine company that has been unfairly accused of shady practices.
They use SEO to make sure these sites occupy most of the first page of results. Any legitimate reviews are pushed to the second, third, or fourth page of results, which few people bother to check. Be the one in a hundred who digs deeper.
3. Check with others who have used the service. If possible, go beyond the endorsers who are cited on the web site of the people providing the service. Be aware that testimonials can be fake or can have been sent before things went sour.
I've written in the past about a publicist who ran glowing endorsements from clients--who, when I contacted them later (hindsight in action!) were not happy with his services at all. Later I found out he'd never paid for the big ad that attracted me in the first place.
4. If things that were agreed upon are not delivered, complain immediately and document every contact. By the time I caught on, several thousand pounds had changed hands. When I sued in small claims court I won but the company went bust and I was never able to collect. If you move quickly you may have a chance to get your money back before the house of cards collapses.
Bring in some bigger guns; for instance, mention that unless you get a refund you will notify the Writers Guild and name some other organizations they don't want to have snooping around. It couldn't hurt to mention that you're friends with (name of editor of publication the scammer is most likley to fear). It's not a lie--go to the editor's Facebook page and "friend" him or her...now you're friends!
Be prepared for some return fire from the scammers but don't let them intimidate you. When I named and shamed the publicist he left a message on my answer machine claiming that he'd notified the police that I had sent him death threats! He made the mistake of even making up the name of a detective he'd supposedly talked to and gave a case number. When I phoned the police they told me there was no such detective or case number. They asked me to notify them if he contacted me again so they could investigate him. He didn't call again.
Another common practice is for the scammers to threaten to sue you. Some even go so far as to send fake letters supposedly from their attorneys.
If you get one of these, stay calm. First check whether the law firm on the letterhead even exists. If it does, phone them and ask if they are actually acting on behalf of the person who sent the letter. If they do, all that means is he or she paid them to write the letter, not that there is any serious intention to follow through.
Remember, the scammers don't want to be exposed to the light of day so going public via a court case often is the last thing they want.
5. Let others know about your unhappy experience. Keep it professional and stick to the facts, don't make it personal and don't do any name-calling. It's better to say, "I paid (amount), in exchange for which (name of company) agreed to (specifics of the service). This service was not provided and they have refused to refund my money"--rather than--"(name of company) are bunch of scumbags who cheated me out of (amount of money)!" I know it would feel better to say the latter, but your case will be stronger with the former.
Use the forums of appropriate web sites, your own Twitter feed, your Facebook page, etc. The more you stay factual and avoid personal attacks, the more serously people will take you. You might at least save someone else from being cheated.
You'll find more questions and answers about how to avoid being ripped off, in this case by people who steal your material, here: http://timetowrite.com/protecting-your-material/
Jonah Lehrer is the author of the very successful book, "Imagine: How Creativity Works." It turns out he was a little too creative in his own book. It has been revealed that he fabricated quotes attributed to Bob Dylan. When he was called on it by another writer he repeatedly lied over a period of three weeks.
Finally he confessed and apologized and resigned from his position as a staff writer with the New Yorker.
Houghton Mifflin, the publisher, took the e-book version off sale and stopped shipping physical copies. They haven't yet decided what to do about the copies already in stores.
It's not the only time Lehrer has been in trouble lately. Last month it was revealed that for his New Yorker work he had recycled his own blog posts and parts of essays he'd written for the Wall Street Journal. There's no problem with recycling as long as your employer knows what you're doing, which the New Yorker didn't.
Of course there's a big question of ethics in all this, particularly in relation to making up quotes. But even leaving that aside, how can somebody who is very tied in to new media not understand that these days fabrication and plagiarism are easy to discover thanks to the power of the internet? (I'm not suggesting that Lehrer plagiarized anybody other than himself, but there have been several high profile cases of it exposed recently.)
TIP: if you want to see whether anybody has plagiarized your work online, find an unusual phrase or sentence from what you wrote and search for it via Google. Put quotes on either side of the phrase or sentence so that the search engine looks for it as a complete unit, not the individual words by themselves. If somebody has copied (or quoted) that phrase or sentence, it will show up.
(My book, "Creativity Now," is guaranteed not to contain any made-up quotes! You can get it from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller. I'm not lying.)
Thanks the excellent Writer Beware Blog for a heads-up about Undead Press. Writer Mandy DeGuit submitted a story to an anthology published by Undead Press and when she got her copy she was astonished to find they had made big changes including giving the main character a memory of animal abuse and adding a suggestion of rape at the end.
When she wrote to the publisher to complain, here is what he answered:
"it clearly says publisher has the right to EDIT work. you signed it. are you saying you are a dishonest and immoral person and will now try to deny you signed the contract? well i have a copy right here and as for the story. the editor had a hard time with it, it was very rough and he did alot (sic) to make it readable. despite what you think, your writing has a long way to go before its worthy of being printed professionally. we did what we had to do to make the story printable. you should be thankful, not complaining. ah, the ungrateful writer, gotta love it"
Hmm, if a story is not ready to be printed, how about rejecting it?
Apparently other authors have had similar issues.
I wouldn't be caught dead submitting anything to a publisher with the attitude of Anthony Giangregorio of Undead Presss. How about you?
(What does Chekhov advise about showing rather than telling? You'll find out in my newest book, "Your Creative Writing Masterclass," published by Nicholas Brealey and available now from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
I've just listened to a marketing guy who is selling people a program on how to make money by writing a summary of a successful book and publishing it as an ebook.
His advice is to pick books that are longer than three hundred pages, for which the publisher sets the price. Also not to use too many actual excerpts to avoid violating copyright, and keep your summary under 50 pages.
Is it legal? Seems to be. Is it ethical? Hmmm...yes, maybe reading a summary might drive a few people to buy the full book, but probably it will cannabilize sales more than it increases it.Frankly, I'd feel sleazy using this tactic.
In fact, I wonder how the marketing guy would feel if I bought his course and then published my summary of it for $49 instead of his price of $97?
My suggestion: if you think your book might be a target, beat them to the punch. Create your own digest version; if people have the chance to buy a summary from the original author or from a stranger, they'll go for the author every time.
(For more respectable approaches to creating and marketing your work, see my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other book sellers.)
The Society of Authors reports that Ticktock Books and Ticktock Direct and Ticktock Media have all gone into voluntary liquidation last year, but Ticktock Entertainment continues with a publishing imprint called Wise Walrus.
The Society suggest you get in touch with them before signing any deals with Wise Walrus or any company run by Managing Director John Twiggs.
I have no personal experience with these companies, but I have known of other companies that take your money, go into liquidation or bankruptcy, and then promptly start up again under a different name.
As a general guideline, always do a Google search of any company you are thinking of signing with. Be sure to go past the first page or two of search results because sometimes unscrupulous companies populate those with phoney blogs and websites.
(For more on how to take your idea all the way to a finished book and avoid the dangers waiting for unwary writers, get my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other booksellers.)
The Galleycat bulletin reports that author James Crawford, who published his book using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, was delighted to discover one day that there had been a huge increase in downloads—more than 5000. He was not so delighted when he saw that Amazon had decreased the price of his book from $5.99 to zero.
The Amazon policy is to match the lowest price of any books they carry, and they thought that Crawford’s book was being offered free at the Barnes & Noble site. In fact, that site was offering only a few sample chapters free, not the whole book.
Crawford asked Amazon to pay him the royalties for those 5,104 books. Their reply: “We’re sorry, we’re unable to pay royalties for your sales when your title was listed at $0 on our website. As per our KDP Terms and Conditions, we retain discretion over the retail price of a Kindle book.”
Of course Crawford hasn’t really lost the royalties from 5000 books because he never would have sold that many at the full price. However, as a good faith gesture Amazon could have offered to pay the royalty on however many books were downloaded at the full price during a comparable period. It would probably have been a small amount and worth it for PR value.
On the plus side, Crawford now has 5100 people familiar with his work and who may be more likely to buy his next book at full price.
(Self-publishing is one of the many topics covered in Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other book sellers. It's a friendly guide to getting from the idea through to publication.)
No, print is not dead, but the pace of change has surprised almost everyone. People are moving over to ebooks and online news sites at a very fast clip.
“So what?” some people say. “It’s just a different delivery system. Content will always be king.”
I wonder if they’ve been paying attention to the music business: About 95 percent of music downloads in 2010 were unlicensed and illegal, with no money flowing back to artists, songwriters or record producers, according to a spokesman for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
But what about that guy who sold a million copies of his novels on Kindle? And that young woman who writes Twilight type novels, she’s made a small fortune, too. There’s gold in digital!
Yep, and they’ve done it by selling massive quantities at a very low price—99 cents to $1.99. Have you looked at the Kindle offerings lately? Almost everybody except the already well-known writers has jumped on that 99 cent price point.
How many of them do you think are going to sell a million copies and how many do you think are going to sell 100 copies and take home $100?
In the meantime, we’re training readers to expect new digital books to cost 99 cents.
At the news and feature story end of things, Arianna Huffington sold her huge site, The Huffington Post, to AOL for $315 million…and the contributing bloggers got…nothing.
One of the bloggers has initiated a class action lawsuit asking for $105 million to go to the bloggers, but Huffington says the internet has changed the way writers work and that “Free content — shared by people who want to connect, share their passions, and have their opinions heard — fuels much of what appears on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Flickr and YouTube.”
Whether or not this suit has legal merit, the point is that everything is trending toward free. It’s not yet clear whether publications fighting that with a paywall will succeed.
It may sound like I’m complaining about all this, but I’m not.
It is what it is.
If you try to fight reality, you lose.
My point is that we writers had better be paying attention.
If we are happy writing for free, fine; but if we want to make a living from it, we’d better apply our creativity to figuring out how to get ahead of that wave instead of finding ourselves carried along behind it—with empty pockets. How can we ply our trade in a different way, one that people are happy to pay for?
I wish I had the answers; all I have are a few clues that might help us figure it out.
One is the Grateful Dead model. The band didn’t just allow people at their concerts to make bootleg recordings, they actually encouraged it and made their money from concerts and merchandise. Is there a way that writers can give away part of what they do but create a more exclusive experience for those willing to pay?
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the current music scene—which bands or artists are finding new ways to earn income and how are they doing it?
Actually, I've just run across an example: Unbound Books uses a crowdfunding model (where people pledge a certain amount of money toward the production of a book, with rewards that escalate as the size of the pledge increases). Typically a small pledge gets you a signed copy of the book, a bit more might get you some exclusive videos of the author talking about the book's background, and so on.
Rupert Isaacson (author of"The Horse Boy") is taking it a step further by offering one radomly selected person who has pledged at any level for his new book the chance to spend half a day trail riding with him through the countryside that's the setting for his Unbound historical novel.
Another interesting development is the growth of interactive and site-specific theater. It’s not that the audience determines the plot but in some cases they mingle with the actors at a location where the drama plays out. Is there an equivalent for writers?
Another is the Banksy phenomenon, of art appearing unpredictably and gaining value from a sense of mystery. Again, could there be a counterpart for authors?
Finally, I’ve noticed more situations in which musicians and writers, especially poets, collaborate to create interesting products and events. Who else could authors collaborate with and what could they create together that people would pay for?
Another example from Unbound is a live event they're having on Sept. 12 at which ten authors will pitch their new projects and there will be a trapeze act and a band as well as a special surprise guest. TV crews from Channel 4 News, the BBC and Sky Arts will be filming at the event. The organizers are charging £20, which includes a £10 voucher to pledge to any of the ten authors on the night.
If you have any ideas, please add them here in a comment, or email me directly at jurgenwolff(at)gmail.com and I’ll feature them in a future post.
(One thing for sure is that we also have to get smarter about marketing our work. You may find two of my books helpful for that: "Do Something Different," published by Virgin Books with a foreword by Sir Richard Branson, and "Marketing for Entrepreneurs," published by Pearson. Both are available from Amazon and other online and offline book sellers.)
Today, an unashamed plug for the Author’s Guild (no, I don’t get a commission). If you're a writer you should be a member. Why? Here’s one point, directly from the AG:
“Ask any experienced author: book contracts can be riddled with traps for unwary writers. Authors Guild attorneys have more than 45 years of experience with media contracts. We'll review your book contract before you sign, let you know whether it meets industry standards, and tell you how it can be improved. Have an agent? Excellent. Consider us another resource in getting the best deal possible.
Contract reviews are free for members. Dues are $90 for the first year – after that, dues vary according to writing income, but most authors continue to pay $90.
Join 8,000 of your colleagues now, before you lay pen to contract. Visit www.authorsguild.org to apply.”
Having them review one book contract for you is worth more than a year’s dues. Bargain! At their web site they also have a blog, accessible to you whether or not you're a member, on which they chronicle the major legal issues and cases relating to writing.
(Of course another useful tool is my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other online and offline booksellers--it's also Brealey's number one Kindle title.)
The answer is not only yes, it's YES!
What can go wrong? Well:
One of you could have a breakdown (there's the Charlie Sheen connection...)
One of you could die.
One of you could lose interest or get too busy with something else and want to quit the project halfway through.
One of you could decide the other isn't doing their share of the work.
I know it can be awkward to bring this up with a friend. It's a bit like a prenuptual contract. And it may never actually be needed but in case things go wrong you will be very happy you made the effort at the start. I'm not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice but I recommend that you write a simple document that includes:
* The names and addresses of the collaborators
* The name and a brief description of the project on which you are collaborating
* A brief description of what each of you will do on the project
* The terms of the collaboration in terms of the share of profits (usually 50/50, but if, for instance, it's a screenplay based on a book one of you had already written, it might be different)
* A provision for what happens if there is a dispute you cannot settle (for instance, "In case of a dispute, we agree to arbitration by a third party acceptable to both of us and agree to be bound by the recommendations of that party")
* A provision for what happens if one party no longer wants to or is able to participate (can the other person buy that one out? On what terms?)
That doesn't cover every possible development but it does address the main things that can go wrong. If you can afford it, consult an attorney to draft the agreement--ask him or her to keep it simple or else you'll end up with a fifty page monster. Get it witnessed and put it somewhere safe.
If things go well, you'll never need to look at it again. If not, it'll be there to help.
(If you want support setting and achieving a writing goal--like finally writing that book or screenplay you have in mind--sign up for my Writing Breakthrough Strategy Program. Find full details at http://www.jurgenwolff.com.