Every month we introduce you to a different writer-oriented website. These are sites with which one or more of our team members has had positive experiences. We hope you'll check them out and let us know what you think!
This month on OA Recommends, we are featuring Writer Beware. If you followed our saga on the Twitter scammer last year -
you noted that we included comments from Victoria Strauss, who runs the Writer Beware site and blog. She keeps all of us writers safe by letting us know about scams in the publishing industry.
Let's learn more about Writer Beware!
1- What is the origin story or history of the site?
People often ask me if I got involved with Writer Beware because I was scammed. The answer is no--by and large, my publishing experiences have been relatively positive. But I was fairly ignorant when I began to seek publication, and while scams weren’t anywhere near as common as they are now, it was luck more than anything else that prevented me from falling into questionable hands.
Around the time I first went online, in the mid 1990’s, several major scams were just beginning to implode, in part through writers’ discussion of their experiences on the internet: scam book doctor Edit Ink, fraudulent vanity publishers Northwest Publishing and Commonwealth Publications, and the notorious Deering Literary Agency with its satellite vanity publisher, Sovereign Publications. (There are descriptions of all these scams on the Case Studies page of the Writer Beware website.) I was at first fascinated, and then horrified, by this fraudulent shadow-industry, which I hadn’t known existed. When I saw a call on the website of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) for a volunteer to create an online resource on literary fraud, I jumped at the chance, and began to put together the website that would become Writer Beware.
At the same time, my late colleague and friend Ann Crispin, then SFWA Vice-President, was working on establishing a Committee on Writing Scams, whose mission was to gather information on literary fraud and find a way to disseminate this to writers. Neither of us was aware of what the other was doing until a mutual acquaintance put us in touch. Our efforts seemed to dovetail perfectly, and we decided to join forces.
2- What are some of the biggest changes that Writer Beware has experienced over the years and have your original site goals changed?
When Ann and I started Writer Beware in the late 1990s, we hoped to eventually put ourselves out of business by raising awareness of writing scams. Over 20 years later, Writer Beware is busier than ever, and unfortunately there's no sign that will change anytime soon.
Predatory vanity publishers are as active in 2021 as they ever were (unfortunately), but the other scams that were common when we started out—fee-charging literary agents, editing referral schemes—are much less prevalent now, thanks in large part to the growth of self-publishing and small press options that have provided alternatives to traditional publishing. But as publishing has changed, the scammers have adapted. By far the largest number of schemes and scams these days are aimed at small press and self-published authors--in particular, re-publishing and marketing scams.
These scams try to poach writers away from their publishers and self-pub platforms with offers for hugely expensive and largely worthless re-publishing and marketing services that supposedly will boost sales and audience for their books, transition them to Big 5 publishers, get them a movie deal, and more. Often operating under multiple names, they're incredibly aggressive cold-call solicitors, and highly dishonest in the way they present themselves, even to the point of impersonating reputable agents and publishers. Some do provide the promised services, although seriously overpriced and of substandard quality--but many just take the money and run. I've heard from authors who've lost thousands of dollars to these scams. (See my blog post for an overview: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2019/08/from-philippines-not-with-love-plague.html .)
3- Are there any big events or exciting news coming up for Writer Beware in 2021-2022?
I would love to be able to say "yes"! But no. We'll just keep plugging along, providing warnings and outing predators.
4- With all the websites for writers out there, why should someone take the time to read Writer Beware; what makes Writer Beware unique?
Writer Beware is unique in that it focuses exclusively on schemes, scams, and pitfalls in and around the publishing industry. There are other websites and blogs for writers out there, but I'm not aware of any that have our exclusive focus, or include such a wide range of information (see the next question). Our database of complaints and documentation, compiled over more than 20 years, includes thousands of agents, publishers, editors, contests, marketing services, and others, and is the only one of its kind in the world. We regularly share information from this database with writers who contact us with questions.
5- What types of warnings does Writer Beware feature? [Agents, publishers, contests, etc]
Writer Beware has many faces!
The Writer Beware website (https://www.writerbeware.com/) provides detailed warnings about common schemes, scams, and pitfalls, advice on how to recognize and avoid them, and links to helpful online resources. There are sections on literary agents, vanity publishers, vanity anthologies, editors and editing, contests and awards, self-publishing, small presses, and copyright, as well as a page of writers’ alerts, a series of case studies of actual scams, a resource on possible legal recourse for writers who've been scammed, and our famous Thumbs Down Agent and Publisher Lists.
To complement the website's general warnings, the Writer Beware blog (https://accrispin.blogspot.com/) provides up-to-the-minute info on the latest schemes and scams, along with advice for writers, industry news and commentary, and a special focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the writing world.
Writer Beware's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WriterBeware ) features news, scam warnings, and info about the writing world, and provides a forum for discussion. Ditto for my personal Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/victoriastrauss ).
Last but definitely not least is Writer Beware's free research and advice service (our email is beware [at] sfwa.org ). Writers can contact us with questions about agents, publishers, etc., and we'll check our database to see if we've gotten any complaints or have gathered any negative information--or, if we haven't, research the issue and offer an opinion (we aren't lawyers, so we can't provide legal commentary or advice).
6- How does someone contact Writer Beware with information or questions about a possible problem entity? What types of information does Writer Beware seek? Is the identity of the person who contacted you confidential?
The main way to contact us is via email: beware [at] sfwa.org. Writers can also message me on the WB Facebook page, or ping me on Twitter. We can't accept anonymous complaints, and must hear directly from the affected person (not from someone on their behalf), but identities are absolutely kept confidential. We never share names or unique identifying information unless we're given express permission.
There's more info about who we are, how to contact us, and how we gather information at the Writer Beware website: https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/about/
7- How do you choose what to feature on Writer Beware?
The WB website is intended to be an informational and reference resource, so although it's regularly updated, it otherwise doesn't change much.
For the WB blog, where I post more or less weekly, it's a judgment call, depending on the number of complaints (I need enough to indicate a pattern, rather than an isolated incident), the amount of documentation (if I'm going to write about a bad contract, for instance, I need the actual contract in hand), and the urgency (for instance, if a publisher is on the verge of going out of business or has suddenly adopted a predatory business practice, or if there's evidence of a new trend in scams, such as the overseas publishing and marketing scammers I mention above). I also write about important issues of general interest to writers (for instance, the Internet Archive's unpermissioned scanning of in-copyright print books), and I have a special affection for the seriously weird, which is more common in and around the publishing industry than you might think (such as my post last year on insanely prolific internet troll Gary Kadet).
8- Are there other ways for authors to network to prevent being scammed by fake agents, publishers, contests, etc?
Following reputable agents, publishers, and self-publishing experts on social media can help, primarily because such people offer reliable info about the workings of the publishing world. One of the best ways to avoid being scammed is knowing how things actually work in publishing and self-publishing: if you know what's reputable and/or effective, it's easier to recognize what's suspicious or scammy. Writers' groups and forums can also be helpful--though you do need to be careful, because people who know nothing are as willing to give opinions or advice as people who know something, and there are a lot of people who know nothing on the internet.
Most important: be an educated writer. Learn about the publishing/self-publishing industry—and do it BEFORE you start trying to get published. Attempting to learn as you go or on the fly is the best way to get entrapped by scams, or sidelined by bad advice. In the quest for publication, knowledge is your greatest ally and your best defense.
9- Would you please list the links and ways people can find Writer Beware website, blog, social media.
Writer Beware website: https://www.writerbeware.com/
Writer Beware blog: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/
Writer Beware Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WriterBeware
Victoria's Twitter: https://twitter.com/victoriastrauss
Writer Beware email: beware [at] sfwa.org
Victoria Strauss is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the WAY OF ARATA duology (THE BURNING LAND and THE AWAKENED CITY), and a historical duology for teens, PASSION BLUE and COLOR SONG. She has written hundreds of book reviews for magazines and ezines, including SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer's Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.
Victoria is co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers. She maintains the popular Writer Beware website and blog, for which she was a 2012 winner of an Independent Book Blogger Award. She was honored with the SFWA Service Award in 2009.
Visit her at her website: http://www.victoriastrauss.com/
Thank you Victoria for sharing with us about Writer Beware!