Beware Authors: Sharks Patrol These Waters

We spend untold hours crafting a book, but that’s just the beginning, isn’t it? Then, the rewrites, the editing, proofreading, and the searching for an agent and/or a publisher begins. Sometimes, the miracles happen, and that elusive agent you enchanted sells your baby to one of the major five/four and now you’re in the big time. However, more often than not, you get tired of the merry-go-round after endless queries and go with a small publisher, some of whom are great with advertising and publicity and some who are not, but still if you want the book to sell you have to do your part because most of them have no budget for PR. Sometimes though, nobody bites at all and you find yourself publishing it yourself. Here we step into unknown territory and here is where you need to do some research. @TWRobinson has a guide for you, (How to Self Publish your Book and not Get Conned) and it’s pretty good, on Amazon and free if you ask him on Facebook. There’s more, however. There’s a lot of alligators in the water and this dismal swamp is what I want to caution you about. Buckle up, because I’m going to name names here. It’s way past time somebody did.

We’re a hopeful and yearning bunch, us writers. We love what we do and what we’ve accomplished, we want people to acknowledge our work, review it and make sure it gets read. There’s a lot of ways to do that, but it takes work. A lot of work. But, voila! There’s plenty of people out there who will take your money on the magical promise they’ll do it all for you and make you famous, and I’ve seen way too many good writers fall for it.

Back when I taught writing, I investigated a lot of this for my students, and the habit of watching out for you all like I did for them hasn’t left me. Some of them wanted to publish, and were having a tough time finding an agent or getting into the publishing arena. It was beyond informative. Pretty much, joints like Authors House and Lulu and the worst of them have been rightly condemned, places where you can spend up to $20,000 to see your work in print. They’ve been replaced by many more, however, that sound relatively legit, but really are not. They pop up like poison mushrooms in the spring. Bookbaby is popular, but they will take you for the financial ride of your life on formatting, editing, covers, distribution and especially PR if you buy into it, for one example. Then there’s SheWrites, a hybrid vanity publisher whose rates start somewhere around $8,000 and up. Sounds legit, but I hope you have a trust fund because you’ll need it by the time they’re done with you if you buy in. Think first about how many books you’ll have to sell to pay for their services before you sign up. For many of these, you’ll end up with boxes in your garage full of unsold books and a good-sized dent in your bank account, rather than profits. Legitimate small publishers never charge the author to publish their work.

Review sites abound, like Kirkus, Book Commentary and Publishers Weekly, which are respected, but they’re somewhat costly and truthfully don’t pander, even though they’re happy to offer you very expensive packages to promote your work, but you don’t have to do it. There’s so many more supposed review sites or people who tell you they’ll get hundreds of reviews for you without any ethics at all, that prey upon you and your literary dreams, so caution again.

Then there’s the contests. Oh, don’t these sound good? Many of them aren’t. Do not fall for these, and they’re rampant, many emailing you with solicitations. Fact: Any outfit that wants to charge you from $50 to $150 per entry to put your work up for consideration, many with some 50 different categories, judged by God knows who, is a scam. Some even take your literary rights, if you’re not careful reading the fine print. There are so many, but I will name a few, even though they have great PR flacks to try and convince you to buy in. They are predators, and their favorite chickens are independently or hybrid published authors, and those who’ve published with a small press. There’s a classic one that has many admirers in the indie publishing community but I’ll never be one, (chickens?) and so many more — American West, Festigious, the list is truly endless. I recommend Writer Beware or googling for many more. It’s out there. People know, believe me.

Instead, if you want to submit to a contest, I urge you to join or investigate a writer’s group (and for most they don’t care if you’re a member or not), that represents your genre or literary style, and look at the annual contests they offer, such as Western Writers of America, Western Fictioneers, Will Rogers, Eric Hoffer, Thriller Writers, Horror Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, state, university, and historical societies, hundreds more that are legit and respected and many more that have writing contests with either a nominal fee or no fee at all to enter. These competitions are judged by your peers and colleagues, professors of history and writing and writers who’ve proven themselves and that is who you want to judge your work, not a pack of corporate shills and office assistants, from which you’ll take nothing away but stickers for your cover and regret.

This is very true of screenwriting and short movie competitions as well, especially some obscure local outfit that loves to take your money and likely only gets three entries or less, usually hosted and run by some very local celebrities that nobody outside their county has ever heard of. Instead, really look for a media agent to help you out. If your work is good, it’ll be known.

The plain fact of it is, my friends, most people and certainly the publishing industry, know the corporate awards contest scams are bought and paid for, and of no value to you as a writer, or to any potential readers and sales you might make. It makes me sad that they’ve taken your money and promised you anything. You’ll never see a best-selling or respected author or screenwriter entering any of them. The much missed old Preditors and Editors site used to detail all of the scammers out there, and rate the rest. They do have a Facebook site up now, and it’s worth checking out.

Instead, be proactive and promote your work on the outlets you have – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Booktok. Create ads for Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Bookbub, and others, while you work on your blurbs, make a video, try Youtube. Canva, Bookbrush and others have great and easy to use advertising formats, some of them free. Many publicists are very good, from small to big, depending on your budget. It’s money well spent, rather than on some of the things I’ve mentioned. Check them out and get recommendations from friends. If you need help, it’s out there, many times for free or close to it: Fiver, Reedsy, Jane Friedman, Dave Glardon, many others that won’t take you to the cleaners. You can find great cover designers and editors for a fraction of the price the book aggregators charge, and excellent inexpensive formatters, from Vellum or Draft to Digital, to even Amazon’s Kindle, which does it free. You do not need anyone to charge you for this, especially not those still promoting Adobe Indesign, which is quickly becoming an elephant in the world of cheetahs.

I care about you all, and I hate to see anyone fall for these expensive and useless scams, whether it’s publishing, advertising, contests or needless extras promoted by those who only exist to make a profit from your talent and hard work. I hope I’ve not offended anyone because my intention is only to help and support fellow writers. I’m more than happy to discuss or answer questions if you have any.

Keep writing, keep following your heart, and your dreams. Write on, and believe in yourself. You’re worth it.


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