Watching Out for Snake Oil
Whether you’ve been working as a full-time author for years or you’ve just decided to make a serious push on your first story, one thing remains constant in the career of a writer: people are always looking to scam you. I’m not sure if we’re common targets because chasing this job requires a certain amount of willful optimism or there’s just so damn many of us it makes scams easy to buckshot, but being a writer means constantly dealing with people and services looking to take advantage of a system that few people outside of it understand.
If I had the rest of my life to write this blog, I couldn’t cover all the various tricks and dupes being used out there, however today I’m going to try and hit a couple of the major ones, as well as provide some general rules to help you know what is and isn’t real. Hopefully, this will help some of you avoid falling into the same traps as those who came before you.
No Real Publisher Charges You
Seriously. I don’t give a shit what yarn this place is spinning about “development costs” or “upfront fees” or whatever fake buzzwords are hot when you’re reading this. A real publisher does not charge an author. They pay an author, although maybe don’t go in expecting advances unless you’ve got a proven track record.
This is the one where I think publishing being an archaic system helps out scammers way too much, so I’m really trying to scream it from the rooftops on this one. Editing, cover design, formatting, all of that stuff is what the publisher should be paying for, that’s the entire reason they get a cut of your royalties. The publisher assumes the fiscal risk of a book; if you’re self-pub that is you, if you’re trad pub that is them. Any business that tries to tell you otherwise is looking to cheat you.
If You Haven’t Heard of Them, They Probably Don’t Work
This one is more guideline than the paying publishers thing. This week alone, I’ve gotten three emails from promotion businesses trying to get me to plug Siege Tactics with them. These particular brands were all Bookbub clones, but you’ll see their type trailing the wake of any successful business. The trouble is, they aren’t Bookbub, or whatever business they’re aping. All they’ve done is create a similar business model to the existing one you’ve heard of. Only this one isn’t so exclusive, in fact they reached out to you. What luck?
An advertiser is only as strong as their reach. While Bookbub might not be what it once was, authors still clamor to use it because it has so many subscribers that ads there still pay back solid returns and get eyes on the pages. These new pop-up clones do not. That’s why I said if you haven’t heard of them, they probably don’t work. If they don’t already have juice of their own, the odds of them passing some onto you are slim.
Now it should be said that if one of these proposed something innovative or interesting, I might have dug into them. New stars rise, and it doesn’t hurt to be on the ground-floor. Still, before I sent so much as an email to anyone like that, I’d do hours of research to make sure it was legit. And honestly, that’s a good policy when you’re about to spend money with anyone.
You Don’t Need Professional Headshots
You just don’t. I have no idea who keeps selling this lie around the internet, but it’s total shit. I’ve been doing this job for years, and talked to tons who also do it, and not one of us has ever had a need for a headshot. Maybe it comes into use for the major players, but you’ll have plenty of time to get one if that becomes the case. Please stop paying for these, unless you just want one, in which case you do you.
Read the Details
At the WebFictionGuide forums, there will occasionally be some new serial site launching and they’ll post a link hoping to draw people over. For the genuine ones, it’s a nice reminder that the industry is growing, and helps some folks find the right homes for their stories. However, the dark-side of serials growing is that they’ve gotten big enough to become scammer targets. Some try and use a pay-wall because a dozen failed attempts at re-creating another country’s serial system apparently aren’t enough cautionary tales, but at least those are just dumb. It was a malicious one that inspired this entry.
We had a platform come in attempting to consolidate a lot of (at the time) new features into a single spot for their authors. From the platform, one could accept donations or Patreon-like subscriptions. Seems great, until you dug into the FAQ page and learned their cut off the top from both of those was twenty-five fucking percent. For reference, at the time Patreon took between 5% - 9% and Paypal took closer to 3%. This company had taken what could have been an actual great business, and turned it into a juicer for authors, and without the fine print it would have been hard to tell the difference until it was too late.
Always check the terms and the details, no matter who you’re dealing with. Maybe you’ll catch an unintentional mistake that could have caused issues down the line. Or maybe you’ll find something worse. Either way, you’ll sleep sounder if you make a habit of due diligence.
Even Genuine Advice is Flawed
This is an admittedly odd choice for a guy putting out an advice book later in the year, yet it needs to be said. Publishing is a rapidly changing industry. In the time I took to write that sentence, three publishers closed and four more opened. Success is a wild, thorny, shifting maze that even long-time explorers can get lost in, and the paths are always changing. Even someone as recent as me can’t tell people to do what I did. Worse, we don’t always even realize that the shifts are happening. What does this all mean?
That it is entirely possible for someone with experience to give you genuine, heartfelt advice that they truly believe will help, and for that advice to also be total bunk. Not out of malice, merely because the paths changed behind them. We are limited to our experiences and the experiences others have shared with us. If there’s a person out there getting enough information to have a true picture of the publishing scene at any given time, I’ve yet to meet them. Until one of us does, best to take even the most sincere advice with a grain of salt.
Except the publisher-payment thing. That one stays constant.