Top Ten Clues You May Be Dealing with a Scammer

Nearly every writer I know has been taken at some time or another (usually when he/she's first getting started) by one of those unscrupulous bloodsuckers who live by sucking the juices from other people's dreams. (Let's not sugarcoat it, Colleen. Tell us how you *really* feel.) Sometimes the parasite calls itself an agent. Other times it claims to be a publisher/editor, a book doctor, or a publicist. While I've worked with wonderful, legitimate people in every one of those capacities, scammers have proliferated, thanks to both the Internet and the never-diminishing abundance of people with big dreams (or as I call them, the best people).

So how do you know who's the real deal and who's out to separate you from your hard-earned rubles? Here are a few red flags to alert you that you may be dealing with a scammer.

1. Money flows the wrong way. It is not cool to pay an industry pro a reading fee to consider your material. It's so not cool that the Association of Author's Representatives won't recognize any agent who requires it. Likewise, the publisher is supposed to be paying the author for the privilege of selling her work and making everybody money. If the publisher wants your money, run the other way.

2. The agent tries to sell you on the services of a particular book doctor (who may, for all you know, turn out to be her sister) with the implied promise that if you spend anything from a few hundred to a few thousand getting the book doctored, you'll gain representation -- and RREEEAAALLLYYY BBBIIGGG BBBUUCCCKKKSSS (almost) guaranteed!

3. This person has done business in the industry under multiple names. Maybe in multiple states, too, as he/she stays one step ahead of the law or civil judgments.

4. The name (or one of his/her names) appears on Writer Beware's 20 Worst Agents list or you find multiple negative comments on writer-oriented sites such as Preditors & Editors.

5. You can't find the publisher's books at any bookstore and no one's ever heard of them. Or you can't find any record of any sales to legitimate publishers by this agent or his/her agency. (Many agents post their sales at Publishers Marketplace.) A new agent may not have a long track record, but if he/she is with a good agency, mentoring by experienced agents will occur -- which could end up working out for you.

6. You're promised stardom, but only if you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. The bigger the promises, the more wary you should be.

7. The person you're dealing with has no past or present connections to the New York publishing establishment. Lots of legitimate industry players live outside of New York, but usually they've done some kind of "apprenticeship" working with a more established entity.

8. You've seen other books this person was affiliated with and they look very amateurish. (Misspellings, blank or misprinted pages, cover art that might have been done by a fifth grader.) These books also often cost most than the average books, have not been reviewed by the more persnickety reviews, and can't be found in bookstores or with mainstream online retailers.

9. No author you've heard of will vouch for this person. You suspect the glowing reference you're given may have hidden connections to the person you're checking out.

10. You're being pushed to make a quick decision. When you express doubts or ask questions, the push becomes a shove.

There are many legitimate, hardworking people in the publishing industry. Terrific agents, editors, publicists and book doctors who not only deserve the writer's support but can help her take the next step in achieving her dreams. So do yourself a favor and look before you leap. Check with writer-friendly sites, authors' organizations, and ask around on loops that published authors frequent. If your gut urges you to slow down, listen. Because your gut's the part of the human body where the parasite-detectors were installed.


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