Many are the scams that have afflicted aspiring writers. The pseudo-agent that charges you a fee, rather than earning his living by marketing your books, is well known among us. So also is the old-style vanity press that will manufacture your books for a handsome price, but will never approach a distributor or a retailer with them. There’s also the free-lance “editor” who never “edits:” to persuade him that you are worthy of his attention, you must first send him a brief sample of your manuscript and an “application fee.” He’ll reliably reject your sample on nebulous grounds...while keeping the “application fee,” of course.
Now that eBooks outsell physical volumes and anyone with a computer and a word processor can aspire to “publication,” we have the fake promotional website. Such a website will claim that its services are “free to all writers.” In most cases, the “free membership” comes with nothing but your “registration” in “our database of published authors;” to get anything more requires up-front payment of a fee. In a few cases, the website is a front that promotes “writers’ services:” editors, pseudo-agents, publicity mills, and vanity presses, each of which has a subsidiary agreement – the discreet term for paying a kickback – with the website. Of course, the website will promote those “services” to the writer relentlessly via email. It can be a lucrative racket, while it lasts.
Writers tend to be optimistic sorts, more trusting and hopeful than is generally good for us. Which is why the following is set in very large font:
There’s a corollary that should be respected:
Very few persons will put their painstakingly honed skills at your service for no compensation beyond the warm glow from having done a good deed. Serious craftsmen expect to be paid for their craft. Accordingly, as a matter of policy you should beware anyone who purports to offer you a “free” service, whether analog, digital, physical, virtual, animal, vegetable, mineral, or spiritual.
No, I’m not about to “name names.” My negative experiences have educated me in the folly of merely providing a tabulation of malefactors; there’s always some new scamster riding into town. So take the above – please! – as a general guideline. For lagniappe, have a snippet from Robert Sheckley, who appears to have understood the principle down to its root:
“I don’t want any.”
“Yes you do,” a voice from the other side of the door replied.
“I’ve got all the encyclopedias, brushes, and waterless cookery I need,” Edelstein called back wearily. “Whatever you’ve got, I’ve got it already.”
“Look,” the voice said, “I’m not selling anything. I want to give you something.”
Edelstein smiled the thin, sour smile of the New Yorker who knows that if someone made him a gift of a package of genuine, unmarked $20 bills, he’d still somehow end up having to pay for it.
“If it’s free,” he said, “then I definitely can’t afford it.”
[Robert Sheckley, “The Same To You Doubled.”]