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Writers’ alert: Don’t fall for publishing scams

August 19, 2009

Mystery writers are teaming with sci-fi and fantasy scribes to fight the proliferation of unscrupulous operators making a buck off the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers. The result: a terrific website, Writer Beware, dedicated to naming names and exposing “literary fraud and other schemes, scams, and pitfalls that target writers.”

Actually, Writer Beware has been around since 1998, according to Publishers Weekly, founded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Now that Mystery Writers of America has joined the site as co-sponsor, maybe more unsuspecting authors will hear about it.

MWA board member Lee Goldberg told PW, “We are not only showing our support and making Writer Beware stronger, but sending a message to scammers that we won’t stand by and let them take advantage of authors.”

If more aspiring writers knew about Writer Beware, they’d save themselves no end of expense and trouble — and make life better for the world’s book reviewers. When I was books editor at the SunSentinel a significant portion of my day was spent explaining to newly hatched authors why we could not review self-published books.

A growing number of them retorted that their publisher, PublishAmerica, was a royalties-paying house and therefore they qualified for review consideration. I could never confirm this assertion, but PublishAmerica looked, felt and smelled like a self-publishing outfit.

Voila! Writer Beware’s “Alert” on PublishAmerica reveals that while the publisher may not charge writers for publishing their books, its editorial standards are so low that it amounts to little more than a vanity press. Several SFWA writers spent a weekend banging out Atlanta Nights, a “deliberately unpublishable opus.” PublishAmerica accepted it.

That’s one of the problems with vanity presses, ebooks, print-on-demand and other self-publishing operations: No editorial quality control. Sure, commercial and university houses produce no end of wretched books each year, but it’s not because they don’t try.

Writers Beware keeps track not only of vanity presses, but also fee-charging literary agents, shady deals between agents and publishers, Internet “display” sites that charge to post unpublished manuscripts, questionable contests and and editorial services providers. It also maintains a data base of case studies and court documents.

Writers Beware’s chief flaw is that it’s not easily searchable. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Aspiring writers searching the site for items on a particular publisher or practice will get a thorough education in corrupt literary practices. Armed with that knowledge, they can then make good decisions.

That’s particularly important because sometimes self-publishing–even with PublishAmerica– or hiring an editor makes sense. Just know what you’re getting, and what you’re not. Don’t be one of the saps shocked when a book reviewer informs you that no mainstream newspaper or magazine will review your self-published book.

I wish I had a dollar for every would-be writer who said, in a small voice, “My publisher didn’t tell me that.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2009 3:23 pm

    Thanks for this post!

    Just to note, Writer Beware is in the process of migrating to the brand-new SFWA website, and our new URL is http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ . We’re now fully searchable, with a search box in the upper right corner of each page.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    August 20, 2009 11:10 am

    Thanks for the update, Victoria. You’re doing great work and providing a valuable resource to writers everywhere.

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