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Writing Scams and Schemes

by Durant Imboden

The writing industry is filled with entrepreneurs who exploit new authors.

Even the more legimate businesses often have their dark side. Writer's Digest, for example, carries advertising for vanity presses and questionable literary agents. And I recently received an e-mail pitch for a long-established online writers' business that now offers online vanity publishing for a minimum fee of $349.

Many new writers fall for suspect schemes and outright scams. Why? Mostly because they don't understand how the publishing industry works, and they let vanity get in the way of common sense. Don't be one of the victims--instead, just say "No" to these businesses that profit from the gullibility of aspiring writers:

Agents who charge big fees

Many reputable literary agents charge nominal handling fees for manuscript submissions. Because the vast majority of submissions by new writers are unlikely to be publishable, agents can justify passing their clerical and postage expenses along to aspiring authors. (And from the new writer's viewpoint, paying a handling fee is better than not being able to submit material at all.)

The problem comes when agents charge $75, $150, or more to read a manuscript. In such cases, it becomes fairly obvious that the agents are making bigger profits from reading than from selling. This is especially true if an agent is willing to read (and charge for) short stories, articles, poetry, columns, and other material that's unlikely to earn substantial commissions.

To make matters worse, some so-called agents charge "editorial" or "revision" fees that generate even more revenue. And the greediest agents may tack on a "marketing" or "submission" fee when they allegedly show the manuscript to publishers.

How do you avoid such charatans? First, by avoiding agents who advertise. And second, by demanding that your submission be returned the minute an agent asks for hundreds of dollars up front.

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