Four Scams One Writer Fell For (So You Don’t Have To!)

November 19, 2021 § 5 Comments

By Melanie Gall

For new authors, navigating the publishing process can be difficult. What’s a useful way to spend funds and what’s just a money-grab? Even diligent internet searching turns up conflicting information, from inspiring success stories to vehement warnings. How can you judge who to believe?

First-time author Mohan Ranga Rao wanted professional help to polish and revise his memoir Inner Trek: A Reluctant Pilgrim in the Himalayas. A former businessman located in India, Mohan turned to the Internet. “Since I had no idea about traditional and self-publishing, I Googled ‘agents and publishers for first time authors’ and sent out emails to fifteen search results. All of them responded.”

Many of the emails promised a bestseller, claiming Mohan’s unedited manuscript was a work of genius; “an honor to read”; and would garner “thousands of dollars in passive income” through book sales.

Luckily, Mohan took these with a grain of salt, and contracted with a pair of reputable editors (full disclosure: that’s myself and Brevity’s Allison K Williams) who provided guidance about what was useful and what was essentially a cash-grab. But every aspiring author wants their book to be loved and it can be a challenge to see past the compliments and promises.

Here are four common writer scams, poor business practices, and useless products Mohan was offered—by no means a comprehensive list. Please do add your own experiences in the comments.

Literary Schmagents

An agent claiming to represent multiple bestsellers asked for $200 to review the manuscript. After the review, the agent assured Mohan he would get a publisher…and it would only cost $1,500 for “advice.” In an expensive consultation call, the agent shared the “exciting” news that Inner Trek was ready for copyediting.

Mohan figured out that the “agent” would indefinitely draw out their interaction, charging more and more money. Genuine agents never charge their clients money to review their manuscripts. And they don’t make big promises. Assurances that they’ll “definitely” find you a publisher are a huge red flag.

Vanity Publishing

Brevity has blogged before about the pros and cons of self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrids. But apart from those are vanity presses. Mohan approached Partridge Publishing in India, believing they were a wing of Big-Five publisher Penguin Random House. After sending a writing sample, the company said they’d review his manuscript for $1,500. After paying the fee, a representative told Mohan that his memoir needed very little editing. “I was shocked,” Mohan said, “since I myself was not happy with my manuscript. This was when I realized the trap of my own vanity—the prospect of getting a book published was leading me as an author to trust promises I would never have taken seriously as a businessman.”

Legitimate publishers—even hybrid presses—do not charge reading fees. Enlisting trusted, smart friends to “beta read” your book and give honest feedback, or sharing pages with a writing group, can help you be self-aware and pragmatic about how close to finished your book really is.

Buying Followers

Mohan paid a service $25.00/month to grow his Facebook author page quickly from just a few followers to several hundred. However, his engagement rate didn’t change, likely because these new followers were bots or phony accounts—not real people. Yes, a large social-media following with genuine interactions can help secure representation or a publishing contract, but for actual book sales—particularly when one is self-publishing—thousands of fake followers are useless.

Promoting individual posts and getting help with social-media strategy can be worthwhile, but growing an active, interested group willing to “cheerlead” on your behalf (and who may actually purchase the book) takes time. Online audiences must be built through the creation of regular, compelling content: articles, blog posts, videos, funny Tweets, beautiful images. Any service that doesn’t detail the work you (or they) will be doing for content creation—not just likes, views or follows—is unlikely to build your audience of human readers.

Book Trailers

Promoting an upcoming release can include placing related essays and articles, using your mailing list, buying Amazon or Goodreads ads, or promoting social posts. One type of shareable content to show off your book is a “book trailer,” a 45–90-second video commercial for the book.

For Inner Trek, Mohan was approached by a local company that made promotional videos. They sent a proposal for an overpriced video almost four minutes long, wordy and with visuals of random sand art—nothing to do with the memoirist’s journey from having his life threatened by gangsters, vowing to complete a holy Hindu pilgrimage, and climbing a sacred mountain. Where were the selling points that would interest the book’s target audience?

If you’re considering a book trailer, clarify for yourself: does my audience regularly consume short-form video content? Where will I display this video? What about my book will most fascinate the readers who will buy it?

Mohan came away from these interactions with a new plan: building his genuine audience by blogging about his trek; researching best promotional practices; and putting in the time and talent his story deserved. As an author, it’s exciting to think that someone wants your book and believes in your talent, but don’t stop being realistic and business-savvy. If something sounds too good to be true…it probably is.

___________

Melanie Gall is a writer, editor, and professional musician and music historian who tours the world performing. She has sung at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York and Royal Albert Hall in London, and two of her plays have been performed off-Broadway. Her upcoming biography, Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood will be released in May, 2022.

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§ 5 Responses to Four Scams One Writer Fell For (So You Don’t Have To!)

  • Given that most writers are eager for an enthusiastic audience, it’s understandable that we might fall for such scams from a reader who expresses enthusiasm for our writing.

    The only time I have “wasted money” it might not have been a waste. I spent $500 for a reading by a smart writer who came with recommendations from someone I trusted. Unfortunately, she only read and commented on the first pages of my manuscript and wanted it rewritten from seven related characters to one character’s POV. Did I need two daughters? Could I cut most of my characters and focus on one?

    She wrote YA herself, and her advice was probably solid if that’s what I’d wanted to write. I read over the notes, allowed some time to pass and reread them. I even tried to follow her suggestions, which lost my original vision. I eventually concluded that I was not a strong enough writer to accomplish my goal of weaving the voices to reveal similar struggles playing out over five generations of women in one family. I put that manuscript in a box and moved on.

  • I was approached by phone by a company promising to put my newly published books on bookshelves. The company left several messages. I googled them, confirmed the scam, and that was the end of that.

  • The Indian writer might have done better to invest in some good writers’ Festivals and Conferences which are now often accessible online. They feature visiting agents, where for a not to steep fee he could submit part of his manuscript for a consultation and partake of other business panels as well as memoir classes. He could have then talked to other writers . Some of the teachers of the memoir classes might have read his manuscript for a fee, as well. If he even read a bunch of other memoirs he could read the acknowledgements and learned what other writers did .

  • kjboldon says:

    Early in my submission journey, I entered a writing contest linked on Submittable, and thus assumed was reputable. The website had such a generic name that by the time I thought to check their credentials, I found them impossible to pin down. The entry fee was about $15, not a lot, but more than the usual $3 Submittable fee. The judges weren’t named. I became suspicious when the site’s owner sent me an email thanking me personally for entering, asking how I’d heard about the contest, and urging me to buy their award-winning books. This was not what I’d experienced at other lit sites and contests. Next, I got an email complimenting me on the writing in the form of feedback, suggesting I look at the workshops offered on the site, and informing me I was a finalist and in the top 11%, which seemed a strange number. At this point, I Googled the writer, not the site, and found their publishers and awards were named on the site Writer Beware, not on the list of ones to avoid, but mentioned more than once as questionable. I decided that I didnt want my work published on that site and withdrew my submission, eating the entry fee and losing the chance at a financial prize. After I withdrew, I received an email with the judges’ comments. They were not sophisticated or insightful, confirming my instinct to withdraw. Sorry for the long post, but I put the details in to show that there were never any red flags, but there were a lot of yellow ones. After that, I did better due diligence when I’ve submitted for contests and publication, and not had such a sketchy experience since.

  • Thank you for this important heads-up. The search for services in this industry is really fraught with pitfalls like you’ve described, and that’s one reason I’ve appreciated the community around Brevity for its support, helpfulness, and integrity.

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