A Writer’s Beware… The Big Bamboozle

I don’t like to address this part of the writing biz, because I don’t look at writing (or any art I produce) as a business, but perhaps we as writers should. My cautionary tale today deals with the Big Bamboozle, or how people and companies can make money off your art, leaving you with pennies for your effort. And getting pennies is the positive scenario. There’s also outright plagiarism and broken promises and contracts. Several web sites and email blasts I’ve received this week deal with this problem. I also attended a Greater Detroit Area Romance Writers meeting on Tuesday, and many of the members addressed the issue.

Let me preface this by saying only that a writer should be aware, much like the adage ‘buyer beware.’ I should also say I know nothing from nothing, only whispers and reports. No decent writer wants to slam anyone, be it another writer, an agent, an agency, a publisher (either e-pub or traditional), because, let’s face it, we might not want to burn a bridge we may need later. But with the economy being tenuous at best and the publishing world now a cyber as well as a brick and mortar experience, the likelihood of getting scammed increases exponentially.

I am excited to write. I love it. I like creating a world that started out residing in my head and ends up living in an actual document. I like learning, too. Writing as an art is a learning experience. However, I’m kind of fuzzy on the mechanics of the business. Who wants to bean count anyway? Keeping track of sales is boring. And if you’re like me, you trust in the judgment of others, especially in names that are big, or purport to be big.

I self-e-pubbed my first book, because after a year of querying, I knew it would never be traditionally published because of a lack of narrow genre. It’s not a romance, but has romantic elements. There’s a mystery component, but it’s not a suspense. Chick lit? Well, maybe, if the chicks are old enough to have grandchildren. It’s definitely not literary fiction. It’s a beachy read. There were too many characters. Ya-da, ya-da. There was also the element of being based on the Internet, and the Internet was changing with every keystroke. I also have a sequel in the works, where I’ve updated the technology, but this is a losing battle, as anyone who has bought an i-Anything can tell you. You walk out of the store and *poof* it’s already an antique. So you see how this paragraph alone is enough to send most agents scurrying into the netherlands.

I’ve lately heard a lot of negative press about a lot of presses. This concerns me greatly. I actually spoke with the CEO of one of these firms, several times in person, during the course of several writers conferences. He seems very down to earth, very honest, very helpful, promised to do a good job, yet how could his company garner warning articles all over the Internet? Of not paying on time, not paying at all, providing false documentation as to how many books were sold, etc.?

I will not include links to these articles, on the off-chance that the reviews are specious sour grapes from disgruntled customers; however, I will say this, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. First of all, Google (or Bing-that’s my favorite) “writers beware.” What will happen is TONS of web sites will pop up. Peruse them, study them, keep them as bookmarks for later searches.

Secondly, if you know any writers, ask them if they’ve heard anything about a particular agent/publisher. Published authors have the inside scoop. They won’t want to tell you anything negative, at least the ones I know. Take their comments with a grain of salt, but investigate.

Third, if you’re considering any form of publishing, whether agented or not, read the contract. Understand the terms. If doing so leaves you with a sour pit in your stomach, at least walk away and investigate further.

With the proliferation of do-it-yourself and indie operations online and off, it’s a buyer beware world. It’s heady to see your name in print, but you don’t want to give it away, or worse yet, have it stolen. Don’t slip into the Big Bamboozle.