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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Meanwhile, Back at the Hall of Justice

There's always a person looking to make an easy buck or two off of the innocent, the unaware, and the willfully stupid. This is probably true in most industry and business ventures. Publishing is no different, alas. Writers--especially those uninitiated newbies trying to land an agent or a publishing deal on their first book--fall into this "can be bilked for their children's college fund" category.

Scammers abound, posing as agents, book editors, and publishers. So what's a writer to do? Three things:

Research. The best way to stay on top of who's scamming whom is to check out the various resources available online, free of charge. For example:

Preditors and Editors. Headed by writer and editor Dave Kuzminski, this is one of the best sources available to writers. Not only does it list agents and book publishers, it also mentions those that are "not recommended," which indicates, among other things, businesses that charge upfront fees or have an editing business linked with their agency or publisher (thus a conflict of interest).

Writer Beware, SFWA. Run by A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, this voluntary group is affiliated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, yet is useful for writers of all genres. It lists, among other things, Alerts for Writers, which focuses on specifc scammers and their current activities.

Bewares and Background Check, Absolute Write Water Cooler. The name speaks for itself. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware serves as the moderator of this forum.

And here you thought that homework ended when you tucked your diploma into a drawer. Nuh uh. Do your research, camper. You won't be sorry.

Learn. "I'll never be roped in by a scammer. I'm way too smart for that." I'm sure you are. But keep in mind that scammers prey on those who don't know any better. They secure your trust, gush over your work...and drain your hard-earned money from your banking account. The rule of thumb is that money flows to the writer; if you do business with a so-called literary agent who demands upfront fees, run away. Quickly.

So even if you get a fabulous offer from, say, Publish America or Stylus Literary, do your homework...and take those lessons to heart. You will not be the exception that proves everyone wrong. Your writing career will not flourish under the attentions of a scammer, no matter how sweet the scammer's words.

Speak out. Okay, you didn't listen to Jackie, and you signed on with a known scammer. Here it is, a year later, and the scam agent still hasn't submitted your precious novel, or the scam publisher hasn't done anything with your manuscript other than use it as a booster seat for his toddler. You were screwed out of your money, your time, and your dream. There's nothing left to do now other than drink yourself into a stupor, right?

Wrong. Speak out. Go to sites like those I mention above and share your story of woe. Maybe it's too late for you and that first novel. But it's not too late for others. Karma counts, folks. Spread the word: Writers don't let writers get scammed.

Besides, justice can still occur. Really. Example: Martha Ivery, publisher of Press-TIGE Publishing Co. Inc, also known as Kelly O'Donnell of Kelly O'Donnell Literary Agency Inc. As literary agent O'Donnell, she would tell her author clients that Press-TIGE would publish the book...for extraordinary fees. Shockingly, most books never saw publication, and the money wasn't returned to her clients. But justice prevailed. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, on June 3, Martha Ivery was charged with the following felonies: mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud and fraud in connection with an access device. If convicted, she'll face up to 20 years in prison and will have to pay a $250,000 fine. For details, read the article from today's Times Union. Congratulations, Ann and Victoria. You did good.

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