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What's Left? => Scams and Scammers => Topic started by: Patrick on June 17, 2007, 12:48:58 PM

Title: How to spot a scam
Post by: Patrick on June 17, 2007, 12:48:58 PM
It's usually quite easy to spot a scam.  You can tell almost immediately because they ask for money.

A real publisher or agent will never ask for money (they pay you). 

Some typical scams are:

Charging a "reading fee"
This is when the agent or publisher tells you they would like to read your manuscript, but will have to charge a "small" fee to cover their time reading it.  Reputable agents and editors do NOT charge reading fees.  In fact, charging a reading fee is against the rules of The Association of Author's Representatives.

Charging printing fees
Some scam publishers will tell you they like your book and want to publish it, but it being a risky business and all, they can't take the chance.  But, the publisher believes so much in your book that, just maybe, he can convince his boss to publish it if someone (the author) would cover the up-front printing costs, therefore minimizing the risks to the publisher.  Of course, the author will be reimbursed this money as soon as the book begins to sell.  It's a LIE.  Don't believe it.  They have no intention of selling the book.

Contests which charge an entry fee should be avoided.

Some contests are free, but are just a way to get you in the door.  For instance, a company can run a contest for poetry or short-stories, then they print all entries into an anthology book and offer to sell the book to you.  There sole intention is to sell those books, and they can care less who wins the contest or why. 

Does this mean you should avoid all contests?  Of course not.  But you should research them first.

Editing Services
Some of these scammer agents will tell you your book has a lot of promise and they would happily take you on as a client, but there are just a few little edits that should be made first.  It just so happens that they have their own editing staff or can refer you to an editor.  Of course this service is not free.  The scam is that they have no intention of selling your book, they are only after the editing fee.

Posting Manuscripts
This one is starting to get more prominent.  An online service which claims that by posting your manuscript on their site that agents will read it.  Sorry, won't happen.  Agents get enough queries without having to go looking for more.  They will not browse websites looking for manuscripts.  Sites that offer this service (especially the ones that charge for it) are not doing a thing for you, and may even be hurting you because there are some agents who refuse to represent works which have been previously published (including online).

So, does the Showcase feature of QueryTracker fit into this category?  No, because you are not displaying the complete work, only samples, and the showcase is not publicly accessible.  Plus, you are not posting in the showcase in hopes that some agent will stumble upon it.  You are still querying agents in the standard manner, the showcase is just a way for the agent to get more information should he/she want it.

Interminable Clause
If you do sign with an agent, check for a "Interminable Clause."  Normally an agent contract will specify that the agent represents your book just for the duration of the contract which he/she negotiates with the publisher.  But the Interminable Clause means that the agent represents the book (and therefore is entitled to a percentage of your royalties) for the life of the book's copyright.  This is another no-no according to the The Association of Author's Representatives.  Do not sign such a contract.

Some good rules to follow http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubwarn.htm (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubwarn.htm)

Here are some good links to scammer lists:

http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/peala.htm (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/peala.htm)

http://sfwa.org/beware/general.html (http://sfwa.org/beware/general.html)

http://www.nwu.org/nwu/index.php?cmd=showPage&page_id= (http://www.nwu.org/nwu/index.php?cmd=showPage&page_id=

Just be careful.

Some pointers from Dave Kuzminski, developer of Preditors and Editors
You might want to create a topic, though, that guides writers through a simple list which many of you can add to since we all tend to overlook simple things that often are done without thinking. For instance, one item might be that writers should never throw away emails from the agents/editor-publishers/editing services they might contact and should always make a copy of their own. A lot of email programs permit stashing those in special folders that should maintain the hidden headers. Then it should be possible for most email programs to have those transferred back to the active inbox for forwarding should a problem emerge.

Same goes for any papers (contracts, for instance) sent through the mail. Make a copy by scanning it. Be sure to use a setting that creates a small file. Don't let it default to BMP as those are often huge. Then if someone at another location needs to refer to something that was on paper, it's a simple matter of attaching the scanned document file to your email.

Unless absolutely necessary, never make decisions about your writing over the phone. Use email as much as possible because it creates a document that will stand up in court. Remember those hidden headers? Now you know one of the several reasons why you want to preserve those. Now this is not to say that all decisions can't be made over the phone. Remember, we're talking about acceptances and pricing decisions. It's quite another thing to discuss the wording in a paragraph prior to sending the proof to printing or other similar non-critical decision problems. Non-critical meaning it doesn't apply to the contract issues that could hurt you.

Another reason for email is most people will not send an email with a deliberate insult in it that might be used against them in court. So email tends to protect you by discouraging you from putting down something that you know could come back to haunt you. Yes, I know that some folks aren't discouraged by anything.

Also, there are some known scammers out there who want to conduct business over the phone for several reasons. Phone calls avoid creating documentation. They can use any phone recordings against you because there are states that prohibit recording conversations without giving notice to both parties. You might win in court, but you could lose everything you gained by having the state fine you and possibly even incarcerate you.

Anyway, this is a start. More will occur to me later. I'm sure others can add onto this list so that a well-balanced guide of how to protect yourself against later problems will be available to writers.


Never let anyone rush you. If they state they need a decision right then, odds are they're trying to stampede you into a wrong decision for your interests. That's another reason why scammers like to talk to you on the phone. Many of them are confidence men (or women) whose voices just exude a feeling of being on your side. When they're restricted to email, they lose one of their weapons of persuasion. Also, it's easier for you to notice when they're avoiding your questions when their answers are written down.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Chelc on August 12, 2007, 08:36:11 PM
Thank god for this...I have zero business smarts, so I'd no doubt accidentally query to a whole bunch of scammers  >:(
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Cole Gibsen on August 12, 2007, 08:38:45 PM
At the conference I was at last weekend they had a lawyer who spoke on a panel about scams. He used to work for the publishers who were doing the scamming so he knew the ins and outs. Basically he stated, "Money should always flow to the author, never under any circumstance should it flow away."  :$:
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Chelc on August 12, 2007, 08:46:02 PM
That a wonderful quote.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: lrobertson0207 on October 21, 2007, 09:39:45 PM
So having a small part of the novel online will not be considered being published?
I am new at this please help!

Lisa :clap:
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on October 23, 2007, 09:58:44 PM
So having a small part of the novel online will not be considered being published?
I am new at this please help!

Lisa :clap:

Generally up to three chapters won't hurt you unless they comprise the entire novel. When in doubt, figure out whether you're giving away more than about ten percent, but that's only a guide. Sometimes you have to judge these things on gut feeling. I've noticed that some publishers put a chapter out free on their sites while others display only the first few pages. There is no set rule, but if it's not published yet, why take a chance? Keep it off any open pages (except those that are controlled, usually by a password) so you won't scare off any publishers.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: LeahClifford on October 23, 2007, 10:05:22 PM
I believe the ones on this site are by password so they're safe...
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Patrick on October 23, 2007, 10:09:25 PM
Yes, GG, the showcase here is password protected and only intended for a few chapters so you're safe with it.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: LeahClifford on October 23, 2007, 10:17:59 PM
I thought so...good to clarify out in the open just in case anyone had doubts though!  :up:
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on November 10, 2007, 10:14:46 PM
Another thing that occurred to me is that scammers frequently attempt to make it appear they're operating on the side of the law, that their activities are strictly legal. For this reason, almost every scam agency offers a written contract. In fact, I don't know of a single scam agent that doesn't. On the opposite side of the coin, there are a significant number of legitimate, reputable agents who still operate on the handshake principle. They know what's expected and do so to the best of their skills and experience. They rely upon the publishing contract they obtain from selling the author's manuscript to protect everyone. And it works.

But back to scammers. Keep it in mind that they will attempt to use the law as a weapon. For instance, PublishAmerica has sent cops around to the doors of some authors in order to intimidate them. No one is certain whether those were real or fake cops because none left any business cards or showed any credentials, that I know of.

Scammers frequently point to provisions of their contract and freely interpret those in their favor when differences appear between them and the authors. Furthermore, they'll frequently threaten to take the author to court in order to get the author to back down. This is because they know many authors simply don't have the funds to sustain a legal fight.

Scammers will also threaten to blackball an author so that no one in the industry will touch the author's work. This is one of their nastiest threats because many writers believe that can happen. It has a touch of realism brought to it by inaccurate movies and stories by writers who wanted to dramatize their own work so it would sound like something the reader believed existed. With the exception of publicized plagiarism accounts, there really is no blacklist. That's because there are simply too many publishers coming into operation each year for anyone to keep track of. Consequently, anyone could easily beat such a black list and many would probably dismiss it as politics. So the only individuals who could even conceivably be considered blacklisted would be those who make the headlines for plagiarism. Why would a scammer make this threat? To keep a writer from revealing the truth about the scammer. By doing their best to make it sound like what they're doing is business as usual within the publishing industry, they further their own efforts to operate their scam.

So, the important thing to remember is that some scammers will threaten you to keep you quiet. It doesn't matter how they threaten you, the point is that some will. A few have tried death threats, but were fortunately convicted for that. Others have tried direct extortion, smear tactics, and attempted to block online availability for critic sites.

And the surest way to defeat those attempts to silence you is to report them to the authorities and to other writers by whatever means are available.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: audal on November 10, 2007, 10:25:56 PM
So I suppose that to simplify, you're saying that if you're feeling at all bullied, you're dealing with the wrong people and it's best to run far, far away?

I've never looked into finding a publisher directly, mostly because I believe that it's easier to find a reputable agent than a reputable publisher.  You get the right agent in your corner, and it takes a lot of uncertainty out of the equation, I think.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Patrick on November 11, 2007, 10:46:13 AM
Thanks Dave, for the great advice.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on November 11, 2007, 04:09:18 PM
More techniques on how to spot scammers and their near-cousins, clueless wannabes*:

Scam agents have frequently in the past posted book titles that were published by reputable publishers. What they don't point out is they didn't represent the book to that publisher. In fact, if you know when the book was published and when the agency was established, discrepancies will often appear. Such as? Oh, the agency came about five years after the book was published or the agency that repped it is no longer in business or has a very similar name.

Other discrepancies are deliberate misspellings. Who knew that there were two "Gon with the Winds"? Or that they're claiming to have repped a book that's in public domain and they actually published it themselves using a publishing name similar to the actual first publisher?

How else could this be accomplished? Easy. Take credit for a book published by an author they actually represent, but only mention the book so that the casual writer-visitor will conveniently think they represented that book even though the book came out well before they started repping the author. This happens often with clueless wannabes also known as gormless agents. They can't stand the idea of having a bare webpage, so they list what they or their authors had previously published. Nothing wrong with that, but many forget to point out that the agency didn't have anything to do with those titles. They'll typically list them as books by our authors. They leave it to the visitor to come up with the wrong impression.

Gormless publishers will also use this technique in a similar manner. They'll actually publish a public domain classic. Doesn't matter that they sold only one copy (we hope at least that) so long as their catalogue isn't bare that it frightens away authors.

* Clueless or gormless wannabes are generally individuals who enter the publishing industry without any background experience within the industry. In most instances, they don't realize how expensive it can be to operate an agency while trying to make that first sale just to break even with the costs. When the truth rears its head, some fold but others retreat to an upfront fee placing them on the slippery slope to becoming a full-fledged scam operation.

Similarly, they don't recognize how expensive it is to publish because of the need to have sales and marketing teams to get one's books into retail stores. It doesn't take long for the gormless publisher to begin asking the authors to help support the publishing house by paying copyright registration fees and going out to help with marketing and paying for books. It doesn't take long for such an operation to become a vanity publisher.

In the case of those who believe they know enough based upon passing fifth-grade English class and deciding they're smarter than a fifth-grader, real damage can be done to the writer because this is one area within the publishing industry where it is typical for the service to charge some of the cost up front to avoid being stiffed for the fee. How they harm writers occurs in both the pocketbook and in the writing because they can convince a writer to do something in a way the service believes is right when it is not. Likewise, they typically do not add to or increase the odds that a writer's manuscript will be seen by a legitimate agency or publishing house. Very few such editing services can boast that their work has not only resulted in sales, but has been used by publishing houses to augment their own staffs.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on November 22, 2007, 06:08:19 PM
Another tactic or trick used by scams is the fake resource site. I've encountered several. Some are ridiculously easy to penetrate because they put their names on it such as the site that PA created called the Author's Market at URL http://www.authorsmarket.net/. Until a visitor reached the very last page, it looked like it was an independent site, but on the last page, it admitted it was sponsored by PublishAmerica. So much for its unbiased comments about individuals who were critics of PA.

That's not the first and it won't be the last, but it's effective when it comes time to mollify the believers into continuing their support by giving them a site that appears to be unbiased and gives its blessings to the scam that's in trouble.

Of course, there's another in operation now called Literary Agent News at URL http://literaryagentnews.blogspot.com that appears to be operated by Michele Glance Rooney. Why is she suspected? Because she lacks a track record of legitimate sales to commercial trade publishers and is listed in at least five top agent lists on the site within the October 2007 archive. Some of the other agents might seem suspicious because they don't deal with some of the categories they were placed in, but most of them didn't appear on five top agent lists. Besides, most of them also possess track records of verified sales. They lack a motive for creating a fake resource site, especially one with an anonymous blogger operating it.

Keep in mind that anonymity isn't a bad thing provided the information given can be independently verified as was the case with Miss Snark. Her site was anonymous, but the facts were verifiable. She didn't endorse scams and scam agents. Literary Agent News, on the other hand, contains numerous inaccurate facts that can be easily shown to anyone visiting the links given in the blog. For instance, Randi Murray does not handle science fiction, yet he's listed as a top agent for science fiction. There are other inaccuracies, so this isn't an isolated mistake. This site was put up quickly, and it shows. Was it produced in order to list someone as a top agent who doesn't have the sales record to back up the claims? Visit the blog and make up your own mind.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on November 24, 2007, 11:41:26 AM
Writers should also watch out for new publishers who don't ask for a payment to publish the books, but instead asks for a loan or offers the writer the opportunity to become a part owner with nothing to do but write. Eventually, the operation goes bust. Then the writer discovers the funds aren't going to be repaid or that the writer owns nothing because the books never got published and, in addition to that, the publishing rights are tied up because the publisher can no longer be contacted.

So never invest anything you can't afford to lose. The money might be replaceable, but the book often isn't. Judging by how many writers are dirt poor, I'd say in most instances the money isn't easily replaceable, either.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on November 30, 2007, 09:24:27 PM
In addition to what was stated above about contests, writers should read carefully the rules. In many, there are sometimes allusions that aren't what writers expect. One contest not too long ago promised publication with a major publishing company. When the announcement was made, turned out that publication would actually be by a small publisher with several conflicts of interest. In fact, it was the publisher conducting the contest, so that right there was at the very least a misstatement of facts and a conflict in addition to an entry fee. Another conflict was that there was a financial relationship between the winner and the judges.

So always look for statements of fact that can be verified. If publication by a major publisher is promised, the major publisher should be named. The judges should be named ahead of time and individuals who have dealt financially with the judges concerning literary work for editing, reviews, or other services should be ineligible.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on December 03, 2007, 06:20:33 PM
As always, your spidey sense should go off whenever you see an ad for a publisher or literary agency. Almost always, they have a fee hidden in their services. And it doesn't matter if you see the ad in a publication you trust such as Writers Digest (WD). Many writers trust it, but the ads are not backed by WD. Those ads pay the bills beyond what WD brings in from counter sales and subscriptions. In fact, if you read enough of their articles, which are generally good, you'll quickly discover that they're telling you what the red flags are that you should watch out for in order to avoid becoming the victim of a scam.

So, ads on Google pages are paid for by the business hoping to rope more writers in. Ads on the margins of various sites are again paid for by those businesses. Ads in Writers Digest are intended to rope in the newbies who were smart enough to get hold of a publication telling the ins and outs of publishing.

So, what about the others that advertise, such as editing services and promotion businesses? Again, look for the red flags. Do they point to any published books that they claim they edited or promoted? Can you contact the author to obtain verification? Or has some trustworthy source verified that already? If their efforts can't be verified, then those red flags should be waving you off.

Remember, never trust any ads without verification of their claims. Regardless of what they're selling. And remember that the majority can't provide any verification. So keep your running shoes on when you view those ads so you can vacate the premises promptly.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on December 30, 2007, 10:09:57 PM
Another flag to watch out for is overly busy sites with lots of whole pages and articles from recent postings on other sites. Besides making certain that the postings are attributed, there should be a statement to the effect that the posting was copied with permission. After all, if the site doesn't abide by copyright restrictions for property belonging to others, particularly professionals and businesses, then how can you be certain that anything you write and share with them will be respected? When in doubt, visit the site where you know the material came from and ask if it was copied and posted with permission. Also, make certain that it's no longer protected by copyright if it's the whole work. Written work from the 19th Century and before is almost certain to be in public domain. Work written after approximately 1923 should be researched carefully. It could still be copyright protected.

HOWEVER, keep in mind that excerpts are different. Small quotes can be copied particularly when it's for fair use purposes. You can determine fair use by looking at how the quote was used. Was it to show how to critique work, educate writers, or show an example of something? If so, then it's probably fair use.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on March 21, 2008, 12:56:22 PM
"On Thursday, March 20th, 2008 Irene Watson and Victor R. Volkman spoke with  Dave Kuzminski, creator and manager of Predators [sic] and Editors, the infamous website where scammers and companies with a record of complaints are recorded. Dave helped us distinguish the dark side of book promotion, agents, and publishing by covering such thorny topics as: the difference between a bad business deal and a scam, the evolution of a scam and what types of people are running them, how to avoid a scam, and what to do if you think you’ve been had."

Listen to the f-ree podcast at http://authorsaccess.com/archives/100
RSS podcast feed: http://authorsaccess.com/feed

Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on June 17, 2008, 07:17:44 PM
More and more vanity and self-publishing companies are using trade imprints to lure writers to their sites with the writers hoping that their work will be wanted in the trade imprint at no cost to them. However (and you knew this was coming), the vanity and self-publishing companies are using this as a form of bait and switch. Sure, they might even actually print one or more books with their trade imprint as an investment to give it credibility, but the odds are those have already been published. Odds are they don't really care if their investment books were carried by any brick and mortar bookstores because they've accomplished their goal. They've got a Judas goat to lead other writers into their den. Once the writer is led in, they read over the manuscript, then state it's just not quite good enough for their trade imprint. But it's a good manuscript and they think it could do well as a self-published or vanity published book. At that point, the writer has heard "IT'S A GOOD BOOK." They said so. Not great, but good, so why not invest in the book just to show them that it can sell and make back the money? After all, they said it's good and they're publishers who are careful about what they invest in publishing.

It's faulty logic, but it works because it ignores reality by not mentioning details like distribution, marketing, promotion, and sales to retailers. So please don't fall for this. Don't let your friends be taken, either. Point out that if it's not good enough for trade publishing (which means no investment of money, whatsoever, by the author), then maybe the manuscript needs more polishing and craft before it's truly ready or the niche it falls into simply isn't large enough to produce the profits needed to justify publication.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Nina Kaytel on June 17, 2008, 07:49:40 PM
Excuse me for being dumb - vanity publishing??
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: DaveKuzminski on June 18, 2008, 06:13:55 PM
Vanity publishing is where authors pay a company to publish their books. These companies have been in existence for decades, so they're not anything new that came along with the Internet. Only the number of them expanded with the availability of the Internet. One of the more well known vanity publishers is Vantage. Besides being known as vanity publishers, they're also called co-op and subsidy publishers.

What happens is most writers get desperate when they're turned down by trade publishers who pay the writers to publish their works. Those desperate writers turn to vanity publishers so they can get their work published in the mistaken belief that they can get their book distributed and into book stores once it's published because then it will be equal to other books. Stores know the difference because they know that vanity publishers do not select manuscripts on what they believe will sell in the marketplace. Vanity publishers select manuscripts based only on whether the author is willing to pay them.

And for the uninitiated, PublishAmerica is a hybrid vanity publisher. Their management has admitted in legal arbitration testimony that PublishAmerica's market target is their own authors. Also, their management stated in an interview with The Washington Post that they call PublishAmerica a "traditional" publisher in order to set it apart from vanity publishers. (In the publishing industry, traditional is not considered a proper term for describing publishers. The terms used to describe publishers are trade or commercial, university press, vanity, and self-published.) PublishAmerica is considered a hybrid vanity publisher because it gets money from its authors by inflating the cost of the books it publishes and placing obstacles between their books and retailers so that the authors find themselves forced to intercede on behalf of their books by purchasing them in bulk to keep their work from dying without finding an audience. Because the price is hidden in the cost of the books, many new writers fail to recognize PublishAmerica for what it truly is. In other words, they're still paying but it's after the fact.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: sarahjen on June 19, 2008, 11:06:23 PM
Dave, thanks for looking after us! You're the best!
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: InBetween on January 29, 2010, 07:47:45 PM

Thanks a lot for your advice! Very helpful!

I would like to ask you a question about a specific contest.
Actually, I have a few concerns about ABNA (Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award).

First, they ask to register with CreateSpece.com, a site mostly focused on self-publishing. Next, they ask for a 300 words pitch, 3000  to 5000 words sample, and at the end for the full manuscript!

Actually, what worries me is this last step, but also the "self-publishing" aspect of the site. Considering the high number of entries, I don't think it is realistic to expect the judges to read the full manuscripts. So why do they need to have the novel in full? Plus, they mention that the first round elimination is solely based on the 300 words pitches.   
I've spent 3 years working on my first novel, and I've already been looking for a literary agent. My work is copyrighted but still, I have my doubts!
I wonder whether I should participate in the contest or not.

Any idea?
I would truly appreciate any thought about it.
Title: Re: How to spot a scam
Post by: Magic_Seeker on January 29, 2010, 11:26:27 PM
Hmmm.  I have similar concerns.  I've 95% decided against entering.

Here is the site:  http://www.amazon.com/b?node=332264011 (http://www.amazon.com/b?node=332264011)

Does anyone else have an opinion?