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General tips about avoiding/dealing with scammers


SimonSays had a good idea (thanks!) and I'm going to enact it here. This is a thread where people can weigh in about how to spot warning signs and how to figure out whether a publisher/agent/etc. is legit or not, AND what you can do if you've already encountered a deadbeat.

I'd particularly like to hear from the following people on this thread: Victoria, Ann, Bobbi, Dave, James, Hapi...

I'll start with an article I wrote for Writer's Digest:

Beating the Deadbeats
By Jenna Glatzer

A watched mailbox never contains a check. That’s why I tried to avert my eyes and act real nonchalant when I happened to dash out to the mailbox three seconds after my friendly postwoman left. I was waiting for a check from a well-known women’s magazine.

The mailbox seemed to taunt me day after day, purposely delivering extra bills instead of my much-belated check. I was pretty sure I heard it snickering as I walked off, deflated.

The Very Important Editor who assigned the piece was not bothering to respond to my e-mails asking when I could expect payment. The Overworked Assistant did respond, but only to assure me that my money was coming. As much as I wanted to believe her, I was living in fear that my neighbors were going to catch me openly weeping next time the mail disappointed me.

I’ve had to hunt down my payments from publications more than a handful of times. But I’ve learned how to succeed, without ever landing in court. Here are your options:

Send an invoice. Be sure to invoice with every article you write. Ask the editor if she prefers invoices to be sent by e-mail, fax, or postal mail. Your invoice should include all of your contact information, your Social Security Number or tax identification number, the title of your article, word count and date you submitted it, assigning editor’s name, and amount owed to you.

Contact the editor. After at least a week’s grace period, call or e-mail and politely explain that payment is late, and ask if she’ll check on it for you. With any luck, the editor will talk to accounting and your check will be sent in the morning. Be aware that the editor may be completely in the dark about what goes on with writer payments, or of the financial situation at the publication. When I worked as the editor of an e-zine, I had no idea that the company was about to go bankrupt and that writers weren’t being paid. I dutifully sent invoices to accounting, and when writers complained of late payments, I was assured that they would be “taken care of.” So if contacting the editor doesn’t work...

Invoice again. After another ten days, it’s time to mail a second invoice, marked “overdue.” On the outside of your envelope, write “Attn: Accounting Department,” or “Attn: Accounts Payable.” Note on your invoice that payment is expected within 10 business days, and send it certified mail. (Keep track of all your correspondence!)

Call the accounting department. If you still don’t get paid, call and ask to speak to someone in accounting, and again, politely but firmly state that you still haven’t received payment. If this person tries to stall by saying you’ll be paid in “the next cycle,” or won’t commit to a date, let him know that if you haven’t received payment in one week, you will file a complaint. You don’t have to be specific; many people cry wolf and threaten lawsuits, but those on the receiving end know how unlikely it is that writers will actually go through with it.

Hold further articles. If you have a deadline coming up for another article for this publication, explain to the editor that you can’t submit your next piece until you’ve been paid for the last one.

Investigate. At the same time, do some digging on the publication:

·&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Post your warning on writers’ message boards and e-mail lists. Ask if other writers have had trouble getting paid by this publisher. If so, did they eventually get paid? (How?) If not, what tactics have they tried and how long has payment been overdue?
·&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Media Post (www.mediapost.com) is full of industry gossip and insider information about changes in the publishing world. You’ll have to register (it’s free), but then you can search their “Media-Knowledge” database to find out what’s been written about the publisher lately.
·&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Media Life Magazine (www.medialifemagazine.com) will also give you the dirt on popular magazines. When Penthouse’s publisher declared bankruptcy, major women’s magazines “took a beating,” and Biography magazine was dramatically scaled back, Media Life splashed it on their website for all to read.
·&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Folio: (www.foliomag.com) is the “magazine for magazine management,” and it reports on magazines that are in trouble in the United States and abroad. If you were writing for U.K.-based Dennis Publishing’s computer magazine division, you would have learned here that they were cutting the number of freelance writers in half.
·&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Wooden Horse Publishing (www.woodenhorsepub.com) e-mails a weekly newsletter to subscribers announcing changes in the magazine world, including shut-downs, staff changes, and frequency changes.

Take it to the top. If you discover that a magazine may be going out of business, your best shot is to go straight to the publisher—and fast. If the company declares bankruptcy, even though you may be listed as a creditor, chances are that you’ll never be high enough on the list to get paid. You want to strike before the company gets bankruptcy protection.

Contact writers’ associations. If you’re a member of the National Writer’s Union (www.nwu.org), you can take advantage of their free grievance assistance. Send an e-mail to the grievance division at [email protected], and a volunteer officer will review your case and possibly contact the deadbeat on your behalf. More than once, I’ve gotten paid after simply sending a final demand letter saying that I would be turning the matter over to the National Writer’s Union’s grievance department. If you’re a member of other writers’ associations, ask if they can do anything to intervene.

Contact Writer’s Market staff. If this publication is listed in the Writer’s Market, alert the editors to the problem at [email protected], and they will attempt to contact the publication to resolve the problem. (They may also omit this market from future editions to save other writers from this hassle.)

Consider legal action. It’s rarely financially worth it to sue; you’ll wind up spending money on court fees, lawyers, and travel, and even if you win, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get paid. But it’s up to you if you feel the principle outweighs the financial gamble. Before running out to file your case, contact the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (arts.endow.gov/artforms/M...VLA.html). This is a network of lawyers who have agreed to answer legal questions and provide pro bono assistance to low-income artists (yes, that includes writers). If you’ve dug up other writers who’ve been stiffed, you might look into a class action lawsuit.

Even if you know you won’t sue, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice lawyer-friend send them a letter on your behalf. Some writers keep publishing lawyers on retainer for just this kind of purpose. You could also hire a collection agency, most of which don’t charge you until they collect your debt (they’ll take a percentage of the money).

Get creative. Freelancer Don Vaughn once called directory assistance to get an editor’s home phone number after getting no responses to his invoices. At home, this editor was forthcoming about what was going on behind closed doors, cluing Don in on an important tidbit: The publisher was about to run for Congress. Well! Don headed straight for his fax machine and sent an invoice with a threat to tell the press about how this Congressional candidate was treating poor writers. “It was an extreme measure, but it worked,” he says.

My all-time favorite creative measure to get paid comes from the Net Wits, one of my writing groups. When a member had trouble getting paid by a magazine, each member was asked to send a postcard every day for a month with four words on it: “Please pay Kim Lane.”

Threaten bad publicity. If sweetly pestering doesn’t work, use mild forms of blackmail: “I’d hate to have to post this on AbsoluteWrite.com’s ‘Bewares Board,’” you might write. “73,000 writers subscribe to their newsletter, and if I don’t receive payment within a week, I’ll have to alert them.” No magazine wants bad press.

Keep the editor on your side. Remember that it’s rarely an editor’s fault when you don’t get paid. Sure, every now and then an editor just forgets to submit an invoice or to clear an article for payment, but if you’ve already given her a reminder that you’re waiting for payment, work with the assumption that she’s not to blame. When the e-zine company I worked for quit paying writers, I got a series of nasty letters from writers. It made me feel awful. As soon as I found out what was going on, I stopped making assignments (I couldn’t do it in good conscience until I knew writers were all being paid) and wrote entire issues myself under various bylines, free, just to keep the publication going in the hopes that they’d catch up and pay back the writers they’d stiffed. In the end, the company cheated me out of three months’ salary and left many writers in the lurch.

You don’t want any editor to remember you as the nasty writer. Editors hop from one publication to another with surprising frequency, so even if you’ve already decided you’ll never work for Magazine X again, don’t burn bridges by telling off your editor. She may very well wind up at Magazine Y next month, and she’ll remember. And beyond that, editors talk to other editors. Chandra Czape, deputy articles editor at Ladies’ Home Journal, says that her seven best friends all work at women’s magazines. Do they talk about writers? You bet. Think carefully about your correspondence and if you’d be proud to have your editor talk about it.

Don’t give up. Working for a deadbeat publisher opened my eyes. Those who kept after them without losing their tempers often did get paid, while those who kicked and screamed or said nothing got left in the dust. Hang in there, and don’t let anyone get away with breaking a promise to you.


Avoiding Potential Deadbeats

There are many warning signs that a publication may be in trouble, such as:

1. Other writers have complained about them. Check websites such as Absolute Write’s Bewares Board (pub43.ezboard.com/fabsolutewritefrm11), Writer Beware (www.sfwa.org/beware), Preditors and Editors (www.anotherealm.com/prededitors), and Writers Weekly (www.writersweekly.com/war...ings.html) to find out if there have been complaints against an editor or publisher.

2. There have been major layoffs or high turnover at the company. Suddenly, top editors are gone and their former assistants are in their places.

3. The pay rates have decreased: You’ve been offered significantly less than the rates you’ve seen in writer’s guidelines or the Writer’s Market.

4. The magazine is being published less frequently—going from a monthly to a bimonthly format, for example.

5. They’ve switched from a “pay on acceptance” to a “pay on publication” policy.

6. They don’t offer you a written contract.

7. They ask for your work on spec.

8. They offer a percentage of their ad revenue, a pittance each time someone clicks on your article on a website, or any other such non-guaranteed payment.

9. It’s a start-up publication. Consider all magazines risky business until they’ve been around at least a year; most new magazines go out of business before the year is up.

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General Tips

Thanks Jenna -

I'll wait until the experts chime in and then see if I have anything to add that was overlooked.

Knowing what to expect from the legit agencies and publishers will make it that much easier to detect the scammers.


Postcard idea

I must admit, I liked that creative idea about other writers sending a postcard suggesting that a publisher pay for what was published.

This is not meant to create business or profits for me. In fact, the items featuring the P&E logo at CafePress are listed at their base price with no profit added for myself or P&E. That said, you might want to get some of the postcards with the P&E logo on the back for that idea. It could imply where you might complain next.

Right now, the link to the store is buried, but I'm going to place that link on a more prominent page so it can be found.

Jenna, if you don't have a free CafePress store, you might want to consider opening one.


How to spot scaming pubs

A huge warning bell goes off inside my head when the pub's writer's guidelines contain speling arrors. 8o


Traditional publishers accept returned books

A traditional publishing house works through a reputable distributor and places books in bookstores throughout the country. The books are physically in the bookstore not just available to be ordered through the bookstore.

Ask what the publisher's return policy is. If the books are nonreturnable by the bookstore, the publisher is not a traditional publisher. Bookstores, both the chains and the independent bookstores require books to be returnable to the publisher.

Go to your local Barnes and Noble and ask for a title of the publisher that you are considering. If it's not on the shelf, ask why. Go to your local independent bookstore and do the same thing.



Will your book have a Library of Congress catalog descrip..

Traditional publishers obtain both a copyright and a Library of Congress catalog description for their books. The copyright remains in the author's name but is paid for by the publisher. It is important to have a Library of Congress (LOC) catalog description to sell books to libraries. Libraries buy thousands and thousands of books.

Why wouldn't a publisher obtain and LOC description? Either they are considered a POD, Publish on Demand house - The Library of Congress doesn't allow POD books to have a LOC catalog description because POD books are not meant for wide national distribution OR the publisher doesn't want to send the Library of Congress the mandatory two copies of the book.

Think about it, Publish America for example, publishes about 5000 books a year, that would be 10,000 books just for the Library of Congress. PublishAmerica (with only two exceptions I know of and I looked through the LOC database) does not request a Library of Congress description for their books, and they require the author to pay for the copyright.

Know what kind of publisher you're getting - ask questions.



Real literary agents don't charge upfront fees, period

A legitimate literary agent or agency, doesn't charge the writer any upfront fees, not for packaging, reading the manuscript, making copies, postage, faxes, or for putting up a web page on their site to 'market' the author. No upfront fees, nada, zilch, zippo, ever.

Literary agents earn their money - and they do earn it - by selling the work to a publisher. When the author signs the contract with the publishing house, then and only then does the agent get paid.

And it's directly by the publishing house. The publisher sends the check for the entire advance to the agent. The agent subtracts their fee which is usually 15% and then cuts a check for the remaining amount and sends it to the author.

A reliable, ethical, agent is critical.

If they need an upfront fee to represent you, you don't need them.

Dee Power

AC Crispin

Avoiding Scammers - A List

I have a pretty good list of basic rules on how to avoid scam artists on my website, under the title, "Excuse Me - How Much Did it Cost You?"

My old computer and Aol won't let me copy and paste that list into here, but if some kind soul would do it for me, I would be grateful. If not, I will go and type an abbreviated form of the list into here.

-Ann C. Crispin


Re: Avoiding Scammers - A List

Here you go, Ann.

The following is an excerpt from: sfwa.org/writing/anti-scam.htm

“…(F)or those who are new to writing, I offer the following guidelines. Feel free to copy them and pass them along. If you follow them, you are unlikely to be rooked:

1. If an agent charges a fee, they are highly suspect. I don't care what they call it: reading fee, processing fee, contract fee, whatever...any kind of fee is bad. If an agent charges more than $50.00, I suggest you run away. Agents who charge fees in the hundreds of dollars make their money off charging writers, not by selling their manuscripts to publishers. It's very likely that after you pay the large fee, the agent will never even submit your manuscript to a real publisher.

2. If an agent refers you to a "book doctor" be very wary. Any agent that says your ms. needs editing should provide you with a list of a number of independent editors, and then allow you to pick the one you want to use. There should be NO financial connection whatsoever between the agent and the independent editor.

3. If an agent refers you to a co-op or subsidy press, run away. No reputable agent will do that.

4. If an agent you've never heard of solicits your work, that's not a good sign. Real literary agents have to fight off clients, not go out looking for them. If an agent advertises via direct mail, the internet, or in writers' magazines, back off!

5. If an agent has an office in some out-of-the-way place like Bumpass, West Virginia, be very suspicious. Most real agents operate out of New York or California. There are exceptions, particularly on the east coast; but if Agent X from Bent Fork North Dakota writes to you and begs to see your ms., chances are excellent he's a crook. Be smart!

6. Any reputable agent should be willing to provide you with a list of sales and clients. Go to a bookstore and verify that these books and authors exist. Check references. If an agent claims to be an AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) member, go to the AAR site and look him/her up. Fake agents have lied about this before.

7. If an agent tells you you're brilliant, and your book is sure to be a bestseller, be wary. Real agents don't make statements like that -- at least not to unknown authors.

8. Never pay a vanity press or subsidy publisher to publish your book. This includes "co-op" publishers. If you must get your book published and have exhausted all professional, commercial avenues, check into self-publishing with a reputable printing company. Many poets, for example, self-publish their books. Your money will go a lot further that way. Go to your local bookstore and get a book on self-publishing. Check a printer's references before you sign any contracts. You will not receive the distribution and other services normally expected of a publisher, but you will get the books -- after they are printed they will be shipped to you. Be aware that most bookstores will not stock self-published books.

9. Having a poor agent is frequently worse than having no agent at all. If you can't find a reputable agent to submit your manuscript, go ahead and submit it yourself. Most sf and fantasy publishers will still read unagented manuscripts these days. Check out the market reports in the SFWA Bulletin or Speculations. Even the ones who say they won't may still read manuscripts from writers who impress them with a well-crafted, dynamic query letter.

So, to all you prospective writers out there...Never forget. If you're paying anyone to agent, publish, or edit your work, the money's going in the wrong direction, and, quite likely, you've fallen for a scam….”

There’s a lot of other useful info in this article, so check out the original. Heck, brew a pot or crack a cold one and spend a weekend reading the whole SFWA site. It’ll be a good investment of your time. :clap


Jenna, thanks for the article and this thread.

I've been having problems getting paid by a magazine and I just may start using some of those tips if I'm not paid by Monday (the second date they gave to me).

I've also been having problems with a paper I write for. First they changed their policy to "pays on publication" AFTER I signed the contract then they kept bumping my articles. One article I turned in for May probably won't get into print until next month. We'll see. But I'll definitely hold off on submitting anything more until they pay me. (Big surprise: they also still owe me $50 for a photo.)

I'm definitely keeping those tips in mind. The way some people treat writers is ridiculous!!


If a scammer threatens to blacklist you within the publishing industry in order to keep you from talking to others about them, it's a bluff.

James D Macdonald

Dave's right. There isn't anyone who can blacklist you in the publishing industry.

Okay, as rules go, there's my own "Yog's Law" -- Money flows toward the writer.

And speaking of Cafe Press, get your Yog's Law Tee Shirt. (Profits go to the Martha's Vineyard Science Fiction Association, a worthy group.)


A real publishing company never implies that they're doing you a favor by publishing your book just as it is, without benefit of thorough editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

An "agent" who tells you that no reputable publishing company will look at a manuscript that hasn't been "professionally edited" is a scammer.

A publishing house that lets the authors write all their own cover copy and other promotional materials is not the real thing.

More on this anon.

James D Macdonald

A useful agent has sold books that you've heard of.

A useful publisher has books that you've seen with your own eyes on the shelves of random bookstores.


Re: General tips about real publishers

A real publisher does not ask for a list for family and friends to send solicitation letters to - only phone companies and mail order brokers do that.

A real publisher does not have hidden affiliation websites out here on the net touting their benefits exclusively.

A real publisher does not have a moderated author's forum open to the world that only allows posts to stay up that shill their work to the world.

A real publisher has editors with last names.

A real publisher does not accuse published authors of fomenting an underground conspiracy against them.

A real publisher promptly responds to review requests from respected reviewers with a copy of the work. A real publisher never asks for postage from said reviewer.

A real publisher knows the bona fides of their authors, and does not intermix biographies.

A real publisher understands the difference between poetry, social commentary, and copy writing.

A real publisher does not seed online “review” sites with its’ own tame in-house authors to generously review its’ own works.

A real publisher does not encourage, aid, and abet flame wars on its’ forums that attempt to abrogate the efforts of others to shed light on its’ business model.

A real publisher does not offer to stock books on a semi-returnable policy contingent on their achieving a certain sales quantity and esoteric value.

A real publisher doesn’t print books unless it thinks they will sell enough to make a profit, it does not just plan to recoup the initial investment off the author’s family.

A real publisher counts their stable based on quality, not quantity. A real publisher does not aspire to get into the Guinness Book of World Records unless it is for their name printed on the publishing information line, or for the most copies of an edition sold.


Re: General tips about real publishers

Well, I avoid any mags/publishers that offer to pay me in "exposure." Don't they know people die from exposure?? :)

Heck, Family Circle gives me lots of exposure - but that doesn't stop them from also cutting me a nice check.

And of course I also avoid 982 Press or similar outfits.

I'm also very skeptical of start-up mags. I'm amazed at the number of people who decide to start a magazine without any idea how they'll fund it or where they will get the money to pay writers. Often, these people are totally clueless about how the editorial process works, as well, so they don't know anything about rights, contracts, etc.

As far as collection methods, I've kind of developed a reputation as the "Queen of Collections" and have pretty much gotten it down to a science. We owned a construction company for 10 years, and believe me we heard all the excuses. The worst thing is, it was the big contractors (worth millions of dollars) who would be the biggest deadbeats.

My husband actually took his crew and began removing a foundation they'd installed several weeks before (and still hadn't gotten paid for). Trust me, the contractor coughed up some cash pretty quickly at that point.

My favorite technique involved taking my three kids (who were toddlers then) on a "field trip" to a deadbeat contractor's office. I'd load the kids up with soda and candy (to ensure they were plenty hyper) and inform the secretary that we weren't leaving until I had a check in my hand. General, a few minutes of 3 caffeine-fueled toddlers was about all it took.


James D Macdonald


You know those old saws (so called because they make their way into wooden heads)? Well, there's a reason your granny keeps quoting them.

"If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."

"A fool and his money are soon parted."

"The easy way is always mined."

"There's a sucker born every minute."

"If you can't tell who's the chump, it's you."

"Trust but verify."

"Follow the money."


Re: Aphorisms

This is a very rough rule of thumb:

A real trade publishing house ("trade" = "publishes books that are sold in general-interest bookstores") will publish between five and fifteen new titles per employee per year. A third to a half of those employees will be doing some variety of sales & marketing/advertising & promotion/publicity work. Another substantial segment of the house's personnel will be doing production work -- making books out of manuscripts, putting covers on them, et cetera.

Three caveats on circumstances which can influence your calculations: First, watch for outsourcing. It can affect the count. But even if the house outsources some of their sales or production or editorial work, they'll still have to have experienced in-house employees covering those areas. Second, a real trade publisher can be putting a lot of effort into selling their backlist. That'll affect the count too. However, if that's what they're doing, you'll unquestionably be able to find evidence of it. Third, there are some very respectable reprint houses. Use your common sense and look at overall patterns.

If you're looking at significantly more than ten or fifteen titles a year per employee; if the house seems to consist entirely of editorial, acquisitions, and cover art production; and if you can't find evidence of a lot of professional-quality sales & marketing going on; then you may assume that being published by that house is unlikely to result in your books hitting the shelves at your local bookstore, and is even more unlikely to yield a non-trivial number of sales.

James D Macdonald

Where to check for straight word on publishers/agents

Right here, of course. Plus:

<a href="http://www.speculations.com/rumormill/" target="_new">Speculations.com Rumormill</a>, Caveat Scribner section.

<a href="http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=xover&group=sff.publishing.scams&from=-10" target="_new">Publishing Scams</a>

<a href="http://www.sfwa.org/beware/" target="_new">Writer Beware</a>

<a href="http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/" target="_new">Preditors & Editors</a>

James D Macdonald

Don't get scammed

Research potential agents and publishers before you send them your material.


If you suspect that you're being taken, don't throw good money after bad.


Re: Don't get scammed

If you do send material to them before you check them out, make sure it was only a copy. Don't send your originals.

Then if you decide they're not for you because they're not on the up and up, at least you kept their hands out of your pockets and someone else's while they looked over your work.

James D Macdonald

Re: Don't get scammed

Remember these words of wisdom from Alexander Pope:

Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.


-- Alexander Pope <A HREF="http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem1635.html" target="_new">(Essay on Criticism)</A>

James D Macdonald

Re: Don't get scammed

Everyone -- first time authors and old pros -- go get a copy of <A HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0809325756/ref=nosim/madhousemanor" target="_new">Ten Percent of Nothing</a> by Jim Fisher.

You owe it to yourself to see the story behind the Dorothy Deering Agency and Sovereign Publications.

Ed Williams 3

Jim, I just put my order in....

...for "Ten Percent of Nothing." What's really wild is that a writer friend of mine was among those scammed and mentioned in the book, which just points out to me that it can happen to anybody. Makes me even more glad that I participate and learn from a site like Absolute Write.


Re: Jim, I just put my order in....

Hey Ed, we're pretty darn glad you participate here, too. :kiss

Jim, ordering my copy...