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Beware the Sharks!

July 9th, 2015

writer-beware-blogFirst, thanks to Megan for last week’s blog. She talks to students on a regular basis, hearing their problems and their successes. So, she’s in an ideal position to offer advice on how to get the most from your course and the time you spend studying with us.

As well as keeping tabs on what is happening with students, I also talk to our tutors to see what they’re picking up from student comments. Are there any particular issues? Are there any new opportunities or perceived threats?

One thing that seems to have come to the fore again recently is ‘vanity publishing’.  When the Writers Bureau started offering courses back in 1989 it was all very straightforward. If you were given a book contract by a publisher you expected to be paid an advance and then receive royalties for your books. A few people considered self-publishing, but it wasn’t really the ‘done thing’.  And if someone offered to publish your book but asked you to make a contribution towards costs you ran for the hills – they were vanity publishers and were trying to exploit you!

But everything has changed. It’s now perfectly acceptable to prepare your own book so that it appears on Amazon using Createspace and on other platforms using Smashwords  –  and there is plenty of free information on their sites telling you how to do it.

The problem can arise when authors need a bit of ‘hand holding’. There are companies advertising in writing magazines and on the internet offering all kinds of services – at a price. I glanced through a recent edition of Writers News Magazine and there were advertisers offering so many different models that it can seem very confusing.

With some you can simply pay for what you need, be it editing, design or marketing. They are clear about charging for the services on offer, so I don’t see any problem with this.

With others they offer to do the whole thing for you – whether as an e-book or as a short run print book. Again, they make it clear that they are not choosing your work on merit, they are just providing a service which you pay for. Again, no problem (though you could probably do it yourself more cheaply).

So where does ‘vanity publishing’ come into all this? There are a number of companies advertising in such a way that they make themselves sound like conventional publishers. There is no mention of payment in their adverts – they just ask to see a synopsis and the first few chapters. I’ll say this now – loud and clear – no reputable publisher or agent needs to advertise for authors. They’re usually inundated! The first mention of money you’ll get is when they tell you how good your work is but…  Guess what? They need a contribution towards costs. And this probably won’t be a small amount – £2000 or £3000.

Then there are the companies who say that they publish some books in the normal way (free of charge to the author) but they ask for a contribution from other writers. I’ve no figures to back this up but it might be interested to ask them what percentage of their books fit into each category. I bet there’s a lot more in the latter one!

I should point out, though, that some legitimate small publishing companies may ask you for a contribution towards costs if they publish your book – but you’ll probably have approached them with your work, after seeing a profile in Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or Freelance Market News. You won’t find them through paid advertising in magazines or the internet.

So, how can you safeguard yourself? Take adverts asking for new authors with a big pinch of salt. Use your common sense and search the company’s name on the internet. If they’re taking advantage of people there will be scam reports popping up. Also, use writers’ websites to check them out.  I can’t do better than advise you to visit Writers Beware and read everything they have to say about the subject. It covers it in much more depth then I can here. And DO follow the link to their ‘Thumbs Down Publishing List’ to see which companies you should definitely avoid.

But, the most important thing is not to get neurotic about the sharks and to keep writing and sending out your work.’

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