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Friday, April 11, 2008

Beware of Your Own Culpability: Writers’ Traps and Scams

I wrote this article a long time ago. However, I still spend time with new authors trying to prepare them for the world that awaits them -- whether they publish traditionally, with a subsidy publisher or self publish. I still see people rushing to sites that allow them to vent their frustrations. However, I think folks forget that companies are in business to make money. People work for those companies to take home a paycheck. That doesn't make business the great, monolithic "Evil-doer." Libelous comments, even though they are indicative of frustration, will be a mere ripple in the pond if the complainers are lucky. If they are loud enough -- and nasty enough, they might find themselves facing lawsuits. Whereas it's a free country and we can say what we wish, there are limits and responsibilities associated with free speech that are being tested everyday.

As authors, we have to understand what's involved in publshing and selling a book. Companies like Amazon make decisions based on many issues -- "cheating" publishers using print on demand printers isn't likely to be one of them. Anyway, here is an article I've published several times in several places. I hope you find it useful.

Joyce Faulkner

Beware of Your Own Culpability: Writers’ Traps and Scams

Many folks dream of making it to the top of an enormous pyramid of literary talent where they will rub shoulders with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger. Others fantasize about writing a runaway best seller and becoming the next Stephen King or Dan Brown.

For most, fortune is an elusive pixie that dances just beyond their fingertips. Not everyone with a story is talented enough or persistent enough to finish a book. Not all of those who do end up with a professional, commercially viable product. For the gifted, determined few who complete publishable projects, the industry is a maze of questionable opportunities, u-turns and dead-ends. The odds are against any one writer being at the right place and time with the right book. No wonder many would-be authors end up frustrated and vulnerable.

Impatient with the seemingly endless process, hopeful writers sometimes pay to see their work in print only to feel cheated and embarrassed by the effort later on. It happens so often that bookstores and writers’ sites feature books, websites and magazines filled with advice and warnings. Watch out for fraudulent agents and publishers, they say. Stay clear of anthologies that ask accepted authors to buy several copies. Don’t pay reading fees. Be careful of publisher referrals to editors who expect payment. Don’t write for free. The laundry list goes on and on. Given that so much of the traditional approach is out of the author’s hands, these cautions make non-traditional routes seem all the more treacherous. There are so many ways to slip up, it seems.

Certainly, there are scam artists out there who take advantage of those who dream of being ‘published’. Swindlers rely on their victims to participate in the double-cross which makes the result all the more humiliating. However, not all unhappy endings come from fraud. Some new author grief has to do with unmet expectations. One writer thought that once his book was accepted all he had to do was sit back and wait for the royalties to come rolling in. He learned otherwise when his handsome, well-written novel sold very few copies. Another author paid $500 to a publicist who told her that he’d present her book to the chain bookstore buyers. She imagined dozens of books on the front table at Barnes and Noble. There are no guarantees, she learned. Neither of these writers were duped. They didn’t understand the book business and their decisions were injudicious.

Regardless of which publishing approach an author pursues, here are a few attitudinal perspectives that might make the process less stressful.

· Adjust your expectations. Understand why you are writing and set goals based on that understanding.
· Evaluate your work with an eye to understanding who might be interested in reading it. Creativity is a wonderful thing, but if you aren’t speaking to an audience there will be no one to buy your book. As elementary as that sounds, garages full of unsold volumes abound.
· Understand that regardless of how you publish your book, that’s only one part of the process. You must dedicate yourself to selling it. Don’t expect anyone else to do this for you although larger publishers have more resources to help you than smaller ones.
· Focus on the art of self promotion. People won’t buy your book if they don’t know who you are. There are many books to help with this. One of the best is “The Frugal Book Promoter” by Carolyn Howard-Johnson.
· Network with other writers and learn from their successes and mistakes.
· Have a plan and make tactical decisions that support your strategy. For example, if your goal is to make money from freelance work, don’t give away articles but if your goal is to create audience for your books, writing in exchange for ad space may be a smart move.
· Understand what services you are buying. For example, are you buying results or time? Are you paying for expertise or for a task?
· Understand how you are paying for services. Are you paying by the hour? By the project?
· If someone with a deal that sounds too good to be true approaches you, it probably is. It’s a cliché but it’s true.

Most of us have been disappointed by what we perceived as broken promises. When this is the result of fraud, call a lawyer and take action. Warn others. When it’s the result of misunderstanding, making decisions based on inadequate information, or choosing the wrong service, there are fewer legal or moral recourses. However, assess why the results were less than you expected. Experience is a great teacher. Too bad it’s also a painful one.


  1. The NFL has around 1500 players on roster, I understand, about the same number as the "big-dog" authors who get the giant advances and mega-royalties. So the chances, statistically, of the big breakthrough as a writer are about the same as becoming an NFL player.

    How do they do it? The same way we have to do it. Work!

    I have discovered the front end, the writing, is more fun than work; the back end, marketing, is just plain hard work. But that hard work is required to ever get more than a family friend to read (much less buy) a book. Treat marketing (everything past writing) like a business. Do due diligence, deal with reputable partners. Be skeptical if it sounds to easy. Work, and I'll read.

  2. Great article Joyce ! Let me add a few comments of my own :

    1 - You need to decide in advance why you're writing, or to what market you're trying to reach.

    Who beyond family and friends will buy your book ? A harsh question, but one that you need to answer when talking with a publisher.

    2 - Are you writing a re-cap of the year you spent in Vietnam ? OK, great - but now you need to reach out to as many of your fellow Marines and Soldiers with with whom you served as possible.

    Not only has this just broadened your target market, but now you've got access to more info and picts.

    3 - Editing. Use Spellcheck and grammar check !!! Now use it again!
    If there is a red or green line under a word or sentence then you need to clean up the error.

    It's amazing how many books we at MWSA are asked to review that would graded "C" or lower in a literature class. The self-publishing companies don't care if they print you 200 copies of a lousy book - it's got your name on it, and they're paid up front. So if you want a book of which you can be proud - it's up to YOU to do the work to make it good - or you can pay people like Joyce and myself $ 1.00 / page for editing services...

    Writing a book is a lot of work, and you're all to be commended for the time and dedication you've invested - Good luck !!



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