Thursday, April 26, 2012

Avoiding Writing Scams by Jacqueline Seewald

Note: If you're looking for the "W" post for the A to Z Challenge, scroll on down the page and you'll find it. First, however, especially if you're a writer, you might want to check out Jacqueline Seewald's post about writing scams to avoid.

Multiple award-winning author Jacqueline Seewald has taught creative, expository and technical writing at the university level as well as high school English. She also worked as an academic librarian and an educational media specialist.

Eleven of her books of fiction have been published. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications. Her latest romantic mystery thriller entitled Death Legacy has been published by Five Star/Gale this month. It’s available from Amazon, B&N online, and can be requested at libraries everywhere.


Avoiding Writing Scams by Jacqueline Seewald

I've sold a lot of writing over the years, both fiction and nonfiction, plays, poems and book reviews, and I've been cheated occasionally by individuals who have not fulfilled their contracts. I discovered that I could still be cheated if I wasn't careful. There are some smooth operators out there. Their scams are likely not illegal, but they are still to your detriment as a freelance writer. Here are several scams that look good on the surface but aren't:

Writing Contests:

Most writing contests these days cost money to enter. Some of them ask quite a lot of money. So naturally, we're all on the look-out for free ones. Some are poetry contests that promise to put your work in an anthology. All you have to do is buy the anthology. Some of the poetry and short story contests on the web offer a prize for the best work. The catch? They reserve the right to archive your work in perpetuity regardless of whether or not you have won the contest. So you will never be able to sell that story or poem for first rights. And chances are no one will accept it even as a reprint since it's now out there for free on the Internet. This kind of contest is just a scam for a site to obtain free content—your content! So read those rules carefully before you decide to submit your work.


When you sell articles to online publications, be aware that you need a statement as to how long the site intends to archive your work. Again, if it's in perpetuity, you are out the reprints. And reprints can be quite lucrative. Even print publications may insist on internet rights and display your work for all to see. Make certain archiving rights are limited and that you have it in writing!

Short Stories:

With so many publications out there, try to submit your work to ones that have been established for several years. So many publications come and go, often folding before you receive payment for your work.


Book contracts are really tricky. The publishers demand all sorts of rights. Try to limit what you give away. If you can afford it, have a lawyer familiar with intellectual property rights look the contract over for you. The best thing is to have a literary agent represent you, but the reputable ones are often harder to obtain than publishers. The key here is to make certain that money is coming to you, not the other way around. Never, ever pay an agent or publisher a cent! Legitimate agents take a percentage, usually 10 to 15 percent of what you will earn

I once signed a book contract that looked perfectly straightforward and legitimate. The publisher claimed to be a "traditional" publisher, promised ten free copies of my novel, offered a decent royalty, but claimed because they were a small publisher, they could not afford to offer authors an advance. When all was said and done, I had a lovely book that I hadn't invested any money in getting published. The catch? The publisher wouldn't send out any ARCs to reviewers. The publisher expected authors to purchase a large number of copies and send them out themselves. The key reviewing publications basically ignored POD. So for all intents and purposes, my novel was dead before it was born. I’ve never signed with a publisher who didn’t offer at least a small royalty since then.

My advice--when negotiating a book contract always insist on getting an advance against royalties, even if it isn't a large one. This shows good faith. If you don't get the advance, then don't accept the contract. The advance demonstrates that your book is valued and that likely the legitimate publisher will put some time, effort and money into marketing it. Always remember that money must come to you as the author and not the other way!

Another thing to check for, make certain that there is a time limit as to how long the publisher can hold the book without publishing it. After two years without publication, you want the rights to revert back to you. Also true if the book goes out of print. After seven years (the standard) you want return of your rights. If the book is remaindered, ask for return of rights at that time.

Of course a lot has changed since digital publishing has come on the scene and so many writers are self-publishing. In many ways, this can benefit writers.
The following websites provide warnings or discussion of ways in which writers may be scammed:

SFWA's Writer Beware:
Preditors & Editors:


Jacqueline, thanks so much for being here today and sharing this excellent advice about scams. Beginning writers often don't have this information when they need it most.

You can find out more about Jacqueline and her books at the L&L Dreamspell website. She can also be found on Facebook.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Jacqueline.

Jacqueline - What excellent advice! I wish I'd had some of it before I started writing, but we won't talk about that. Folks pay attention to what Jacqueline says!

Lynn Proctor said...

this was good stuff--wonderful free information--thanks so much

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I'm so glad you found this information useful.

lizy-expat-writer said...

In the hope that I will be published one day, I shall copy this excellent advice. Thank you both.

Stacey said...

Good information, Jacqueline, but I'd like to remind authors (especially newbies) that negotiating an advance in a contract is not always possible, especially with a small press - and small presses are becoming more and more attractive to many authors because of the many benefits. Legitimate small presses generally do not offer advances, but they do offer royalties paid on a quarterly basis and other benefits that traditional big-time publishers do not offer. Not being able to offer an advance against royalties does not mean a small publisher is not legitimate or that it does not value an a author's work. And most authors (if not all) these days must put their own time, effort and even money into marketing, whether we're published by big or small presses.

Glynis said...

Very useful information, thank you!

Pauline B Jones said...

I'd had to ditto what Stacey said. If a small press gets behind because of paying advances to authors who don't promote (so no one earns back!) then they risk being under funded and going out of business. Don't get me wrong, I love getting money up front, but a small business needs a business plan that keeps them stable or they risk going under. IF they declare bankruptcy, your rights can get caught in the mess, too. I look at a company's business model and business practices, because a stable company means we'll both win. I also am ALWAYS aware that what I do and say can impact MY business (me) and my publisher. I can't tell you how many authors I've seen diss their publisher (not about being cheated or anything serious, just whining complaints). I'm left thinking, wow, but you chose to publish with them, so that makes you....And I always READ and honor my contract UNLESS the publisher fails to honor their contractual obligations.

Betty Gordon said...

jacquie, I agree with Stacey and Pauline. I just finished participating in a small press panel discussion during a conference and the pre-published authors are hungray for advice. It was interesting, however, that even after explaining in a fair amount of detail re various forms of publication, they ended up saying they really wanted an agent.

Your advice is timely and informative.

Susan Spann said...

Great post Jacqueline - and big thanks to Pat for hosting this today. This is splendid advice, and as a publishing attorney I'm so glad to see others spreading the word about scams and how to avoid them.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Jacquie will be checking in later to read all these great comments, but she's under the weather today. I sent her off to get some chicken soup and rest.

Many of you are making such great points. Not all small publishers who don't give an advance are operating a scam, but I interpreted Jacquie's comments a little differently. I thought she was talking about small publishers who do nothing for the author except print the book and then charge for all author copies. This might be an effective business model for the publisher, but not a wise choice for most authors.

In that case, you're not only getting no advance, you're also getting no royalties. Your income will be the direct result of your willingness to travel around selling books out of the trunk of your car. It happens.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pat,

Took antibiotics and Tylenol and am back to say hello and comment.
I knew my opinion about advances would stir controversey. I realize that the current trend with e-publishing is to offer no advances to writers. Maybe that will work out for some writers. Pat is correct though. There are many publishers who will expect you as author to act as salesmen. We all want to publicize our books and get known. However, it's important to deal with a publisher who puts some effort into selling your work. It's not likely to happen if they have virtually no financial investment in your work. That's why I say there ought to be some advance money even if it's not a whole lot. It's a sign of good faith.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great advice!

Been burned more than once myself.

Good luck & God's blessings to All!

Alice Duncan said...

I absolutely agree with your advice, Jacquie. I know small presses sometimes struggle, but I also know that the good ones DO pay their authors advances. Besides, in today's world, with self-publishing gaining such popularity, if you have a following, or even a semi-following, why not publish the books yourself? I know a couple of big names who are now eschewing (gesundheit) regular publishers and going it alone. Mind you, my own work doesn't have a big-enough following to make that profitable, but I'm still thinking about doing it. But no matter where you choose to publish or how, you need to LEARN YOUR CRAFT. I've been reading some free Kindle books lately that REALLY needed to be edited. But that's off the topic. Sorry.

Pauline B Jones said...

What I look at is distribution. What digital outlets does the publisher use? I need my digital books to be in as many places as possible. Print books are at the bottom of my business model, so the image of driving around selling them out of the truck? Buying author copies? Nope. LOL!

I also look at the packaging, ie interior and exterior design and editing. If my product has a best foot to put forward, then my job is easier.

The other thing to keep in mind, is YOUR business model. Which publisher offers what YOU need. If you need/require an advance, you should not submit where there isn't one. That is your business model.

I've had a few small presses fail under me, so I worry a lot about capitalization and longevity. I want my publisher to do the things I can't, or don't want to do. Since I mostly promote digital editions, then I want the digital distribution--which DOES cost a publisher to use/maintain.

One thing I've learned, there are outright scams and there are disappointed expectations. Beauty can be in the eye of the beholder. I know authors totally happy with publishers I consider a total rip off. Their expectations are different from mine. I've had friends, etc totally unhappy with a pub where I am perfectly content.

It is one crazy business, no doubt about that!

Pauline B Jones said...

Okay, my last comment, i promise! One thing that authors sometimes underestimate is the value of the TIME that a publisher invests in a project, too. I've seen some publisher work hard on a project, only to have the author pull the plug for various reasons.

The one time I had to pull a project (long, sad story LOL! The cover artist was really ticked at me because she'd worked hard and would receive no payment because her payment depended on sales. I felt bad, but some people think there is no investment w/o an advance. And that can be the case with some. But you can usually tell if you look at a publisher. I chose my current publisher because I fell for their packaging. Beautiful interior design, a lot of really nice cover art (and I can tell you from LONG experience that sometimes the less than wonderful cover art has more to do with author input that a publisher fail), and a real business plan. I was lucky to get to know them prior to submitting.

At the time I went with them, they did not do advances. Now, over five years later, they do offer small advances, depending on the project. But publishers put a lot of time and money into a book long before the money starts flowing back to them. An advance is one indicator of their commitment to your book. IMHO. And I will stop now because I need to write. LOL!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Jacquie, you obviously picked a great topic for today's post. I love the discussion and all the additional information we're getting through the comments. Thanks to everyone for your input.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

All the comments have added greatly to this discussion. So I'll say thank you to everyone!

Pauline, I should point out is a very successful writer as is Alice Duncan. They're both modest, but take their comments to heart.

Beth Stilborn said...

Thank you for this. Both the post and the comments have provided excellent information.

Dean K Miller said...

It is so helpful to be able to follow other's footprints and paths. Thank you both for providing important information, insight and advice.

With our focus so intent on getting "published", we often forget to keep them open to everything surrounding that "big moment"!

Anita Page said...

Jacquie, excellent advice. I agree with the point you make about getting an advance, and also about avoiding contests that have entry fees.

Linda Lovely said...

I agree with most of your advice, Jacquie. However, whether or not a small press pays an advance isn't my biggest concern. I contact authors (at least three) who have published the company and ask about the editing, cover design, distribution and exchange of information on sales. Those are key concerns for me.

Maryann Miller said...

Good points to consider all around. Thanks Jacquie for starting the discussion. I agree with those who have said that they would forgo the advance from a small publisher if the publisher is putting some money into creating the book, establishing the company via a top-notch website, and have authors that are really happy working with them.

Carole Price said...

Jacqueline, your excellent article is a keeper, as are all the comments following it. Food for thought, as I ponder where to go with a short story I'm about to write.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Jacqueline,

Publishing is such a thick forest that we can't see anything for all the trees. I think your advice is spot on. You have to know what you're getting into before you take that publishing leap, otherwise you end up in a mud hole.

Not all small presses offer advances and some houses do better than others. Authors need to remember that no matter what house they sign with promotion begins and ends with the author.You want readers? Go out and them.


Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Excellent post. Great advice. Thanks for sharing.


Nancy Means Wright said...

A thoughtful, comprehensible essay, Jacquie, on the perils of contracts and other publishing scams. If at all feasible, I'd advise writers to join the Authors' Guild. It will go to bat for you if you find yourself in a losing game with a greedy publisher.I got caught up once myself with a bad contract and unreceived royalties. I've since pulled myself out of that hole, but still have unpaid royalties due.Even my agent gave up on the fight. All writers should read this blog. Thanks for it.

T.W. Fendley said...

Enjoyed the post, Jacquie!

You made some excellent points across the board, but one thing I haven't seen much about is the "rights" issue for contests. That's certainly something I'll be paying more attention to now.