Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Writing Scams

In my previous post, I talked about how important validation is for writers. There are many reasons why.

Writing a book, even a bad book, is a big accomplishment. You spend months, or years, creating an entire universe. It's hard work, lonely, egotistical, empowering, magical, mysterious, fulfilling, and depressing. When you finally write THE END, few things in life compare with that feeling.

Naturally, you want others to recognize your efforts. Perhaps even pay you for them.

Most first books aren't very good. Because personal opinion plays a part, it is harder to judge the quality of good writing. Paint an apple that looks like an apple, and you will be considered a decent artist. Play a song on the piano without messing up, and you will be considered a good musician. Finishing a book does not mean you will be considered a good author.

Most first authors don't know this.

Rather than treat publishing like a business (as they should) some authors treat themselves like artists, and then look for a way to legitimize their efforts. Even neophyte writers know this means:
  1. Getting an agent
  2. Getting published

With most artistic endeavors, there is a learning curve. Writing has one as well, but it is harder to see.

I've written at length about how screwed up the publishing business is. But the business is a result of years of evolution and attrition. As problematic as it may be, it has become a way for writers to prove their worthiness as artists. It proves that there are no easy routes to getting an agent, or getting a book deal.

Authors that break in must meet some minimum requirements. They must tell competent, salable stories, based on the opinions of professionals who work within the industry.

It is hard to impress these professionals.

As such, since publishing became big-business, another type of big-business arose--validating the writer through alternative means.

A book is an intensely personal thing. Rejection is hard. Many new writers cannot get validated through the NY publishing scene, so they seek alternative methods.

Here are a few, and why they are bad.

FEE CHARGING AGENTS - An agent is someone who earns 15% of the rights sales she makes on behalf of a writer. Agents need no license, no degree, no training. Anyone can call herself an agent.

Getting a good agent is hard to do, because they have high standards. Even though they work for the writer, they have all of the control at the beginning of the relationship.

Some authors don't think that they have any choice in the matter--they're stuck with whatever agent accepts them. Read the writing tips on my website for more about good and bad agents.

When a cow is slaughtered, there is a lot of blood and extra bits and pieces that are of no use to the slaughterhouse. But this waste has spawned cottage industries that buy the offal and use it in pet food, fertilizer, and many other things.

This is what happened in publishing.

A bad agent can't stay in business--no sales means no money. But even bad agents were swamped by needy writers, begging to be represented. So the bad agents came up with a plan. They would charge the writers a small fee.

A struggling writer craving validation will happily pay $50 a month (supposedly for costs related to running an agency like Xeroxing, phone calls, messenger service) to have an agent.

Do the numbers. If a fee-charging agent has 100 clients, she's making $5000 a month for doing nothing.

How hard is she going to work to sell your book? Not very hard at all.

The bottom line: never pay an agent money. Visit "Preditors and Editors" "Writer Beware" and "Association of Author's Representatives" to find good agents and avoid bad ones.

WRITING CONTESTS - It's hard to publish short stories. There are only so many markets, and they tend to be picky.

Along came the contest. Pay $5, or $10, or $50 for a chance to win $500.

Do the numbers. If a 1000 authos pay $10 each, the person running the contest makes $10,000. They pay $500 to the winner, and pocket the rest.

The legitimate contests don't charge fees. And there's no guarantee winning the contest will do anything for your career. I could put in a query letter "I won the Randolf Award, the Zimmer Prize, and placed second in the Zamboni Fellowship" and the editor won't care.

The story is what matters, not the number of awards the writer has won.

If you have a good story, submit it to a paying market, or a contest that doesn't charge any fees.

PAID ANTHOLOGIES - Here's another quick scam. You submit a poem, and it gets accepted into an upcoming poetry collection. You get excited, tell all your friends and family, and then get a letter in the mail saying that you can purchase the anthology at $40.

Naturally you buy a copy, and so does Mom, and so does Aunt Grace and your best friend Phil. When you get the anthology, you see it is 700 pages long, and your wonderful poem is crammed on a page with seven others.

Do the numbers. If there are 3000 poems in the book, and each writer in the anthology bought at least one copy, the publisher made $120,000.

Poetry.com was infamous for this scam. They'd also invite writers to awards ceremonies, at staggering costs to the gullible writer, to receive a worthless award along with 1000 other 'winners.'

VANITY PRESS - In simple terms, a vanity press is a publisher whom the writer pays to get into print. Vanity presses often have contracts that hurt the writer (low royalties, excessive rights,) make false promises about distribution and sales, and deliver an inferior, high-priced product that you have to pay to warehouse and that you can't get into any bookstores.

A traditional press makes money through book sales. A vanity press makes money off the writer.

PRINT ON DEMAND - POD is a type of press that eliminates the warehouse fees by creating single copies of books to order, using a special photocopy/binding machine.

Some call it a technology, which it is. Some call it vanity, which is can be.

If there is a contract between the press and the author which requires the author to pay money and also discusses rights and royalties, it is a vanity press.

POD books are even more expensive that offset printed vanity books. They aren't returnable, and can't be distributed. They don't look, feel, or even smell the same as regular books. Like vanity presses, they aren't edited edited for content, and they publish anyone with enough money. There is no 'weeding out' process like there is in tradional publishing, and so many bad vanity books have been produced that there's a stigma associated with them--and the stigma is well-deserved.

Some well known POD vanity presses include Xlibris, PublishAmerica, iUniverse, and AuthorHouse. Avoid them.

Many writers want to self-publish. If that's your goal, hire a printer and learn about the business. Paying someone else, either POD or Vanity, to publish your work is a very bad idea.

Real publishers don't solicit authors. They don't send spam offering their services. They don't put ads in magazines. They don't mail you brochures. And they NEVER ask for money.

BOOK DOCTORS - After getting many rejections, a writer might begin to think her book isn't as good as she assumes. She'll want to make it better, but is unsure of how to do so.

Enter the freelance editor. Someone who charges a fee between $2 and $10 a page to 'fix' the book.

Some are legitimate, and can be helpful. Some are scammers who charge a few grand and make the book even worse. Like agents, there is no license, experience, or eduaction required to call yourself an editor.

My advice is to learn how to edit yourself. You should be able to do that anyway. But if you need a second opinion, and are willing to pay for it, get references. Know beforehand what you are paying for.

Some unscrupulous agents have worked with book doctors, selling them the addresses of the writers they have rejected. The rejected writer will receive a brochure in the mail, touting the book doctor's expertise.

Some bad agents will also refer writers directly to a book doctor, for a referral fee. Beware anyone asking you for money.

I have published author friends who successfully use freelance editors. I think your time and money are better spent learning the craft on your own. Take a class. Read books about editing. Join a writer's group.

If you really need a freelance editor, ask around. Getrecomendations from your peers. Don't pick one because they have a splashy ad in Writer's Digest.

SELF-PUBLISHING - I think self publishing is an option open to writers, but it involves a lot of time and effort, plus a lot of money. I'll defend self-publishing, but I do not recommend it--even though I know authors who have done it successfully.

Self-publishing is not vanity or POD publishing. A self-published author retains all rights, and doesn't share royalties with their printer. A self-published author creates their own imprint, gets their own ISBN, copyright, and Library of Congress ID, finds their own distributer, allows for returns, and knows up front the cost and effort going into their business.

I believe it is easier to find a traditional publisher than it is to successfully self-publish, and would recommend writing another book before trying to self-publish a book that has been rejected by traditional publishers.

THE BOTTOM LINE - Don't pay anyone any money for anything. If you do, do so knowing the risks involved. Education is your ally. Research is your friend. Ask questions. Seek answers. Trust your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The best things in life are the things that are earned, not handed to you. The harder you work for it, the sweeter success is when it arrives. Keep at it. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Never say die.

NY publishing is flawed. It's fallible. It wants to reject you. But it isn't an impossible nut to crack. Visit and sign up for www.publisherslunch.com and www.pwweekly.com. Each week there are new deals made with first time writers. It happens all the time.

The true secret to getting published is simple: Write a book that a complete stranger will pay $25 for.


Anonymous said...

Joe, you're quickly becoming my hero. I love reading your blog as well as your books. I hope you continue this blog for a long time. Yoda!!

Mark said...

I agree with everything you said Joe. The last line is the key.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I agree with the last line as well. I was poking around in a bookstore and I recomended you, and she said thanks a lot. I watched her and she went up and paid for it.

hopefully you will have another fan in the making....

Nathan Welty

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, this seems to me like very useful information, and I'll make sure to remember it the day I need it. I don't live in the USA, but I happen to write in English as well as in my own language, and who knows, someday, knowing part of the ropes could save me much trouble.

Anonymous said...

Joe, there are literally hundreds of perfectly legit short story magazine contests which charge fees. There are certainly many, many scams involved as well, and when I was starting out I generally avoided the contests in favor of just submitting to the magazines and journals themselves, but the blanket assertion that they are scams is a bit off base. If you pick up the current issue of Poets & Writers, for instance, you'll find many legitimate awards for short fiction -- and many esteemed ones as well -- which charge a nominal fee.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I would say Zoetrope, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, and Glimmer Train are somewhat legitimate. These are only a few of the hundreds someone else mentioned. I've noticed a lot of blanket statements on this blog that are rather misleading -- and sometimes flat-out wrong, indicating a familiarity with only a small slice of the publishing word -- even though the heart is in the right place.

Anonymous said...

Good info, Joe.

Let's be honest here -- even if it's a legit publication, charging would-be writers $25 to enter their short story in a contest is still pretty damn close to a scam.

Anonymous said...

Who charges $25?

JA Konrath said...

I judge a writing contest for a very popular magazine, where the writer pays to enter.

I stand by my statement. Don't pay to enter writing contests.

I'm familiar with Zoetrope and Glimmer Train. Both are highly respected. Both also accept free submissions. I say, submit when you don't have to pay.

The only contest I highly recommend is the St. Martins 1st Mystery Contest, which awards a substantial prize plus publication. I don't know if they charge a fee.

I also hold a yearly writing contest on my website, which is free to enter.

St. Martins holds the contest to fins\d new authors to publish. I hold the contest to help new writers.

Glimmer Train and Zoetrope hold their contests to make money off of writers. I don't care how well respected they are. Contests feed on writer gullibility.

Writers tend to have an overinflated view of their own talent. New writers, whose skills haven't developed to the point where they could get published tradionally, bemoan the business and get hooked on contests because they feel they'll be given more attention if they fork over the cash.

This is untrue.

As for blanket statements--life is all shades of gray. There are always exceptions, always opposing viewpoints.

My opinion is only that; one guy's opinion. Take it or leave it.

But in this particular case, if every signle writer on the planet followed the advice of "Don't pay to enter cotnests" I think they'd all be better off.

A few publications like Glimmer Train and Zoetrope might go out of business--or they might have to restructure so they can make a profit without resorting to charging writers fees.

If Glimmer Train can't stay afloat without charging fees, what does that say about the marketability of the writing contained within? How is Zoetrope doing writers any favors when it is supporting a type of writing that needs to be subsidized by the untalented?

Anonymous said...

Your points are well-taken. However, I, and several others I know, were found by agents after placing as a finalist in Glimmer Train's and Zoetrope's contests (though the stories were never published). This may not have happened otherwise. Also, bear in mind that some journals don't make as much money as you might think off their contests -- literary journals have a rather precarious existence as it is. I've worked -- or should I say, volunteered -- for several highly reputable journals, some of which did have fee-paying contests. Believe me, we weren't making tens of thousands of dollars off submissions. Plus, most submission fees entitle authors to a year's subscription, or at least a copy of the prize-winner's issue, so it isn't like you're just playing the lottery.

Anonymous said...

I would add long-term writing "workshop/groups" where no output is required of the members (only the weekly fee). I know someone who has been going to a group for years without producing a finished work of their own, only commenting on other's works. The lady who runs it is paying for the space, but based on the headcount the night I visited, she's making a reasonable amount of cash.

And, yes, the group is focused on "supporting" each other in their writing, not producing publishable work.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute, people pay to participate in writing groups? You're kidding. Yet another great scam I'm missing out on!

It never even occurred to me when Paul Guyot and I were soliciting authors for our short story anthology to ask THEM to pay US. I guess that just shows have naive I am.

JA Konrath said...

"However, I, and several others I know, were found by agents after placing as a finalist in Glimmer Train's and Zoetrope's contests (though the stories were never published). This may not have happened otherwise."

That's a good point. I was just on a panel with an author who was discovered through a lit magazine. Agents do read them, and contact authors all the time.

Still, if you've volunteered at lit journals, you've probably read some of the contest submissions. You know the quality of the majority that submit. It ain't good.

If your story was good enough to be a finalist, chances are you could have gotten an agent through traditional means. It may not have happened as quickly, but good writing usually prompts offers from several agents.

And I'm somewhat confused here--you say your story wasn't published, but you landed an agent just by being mentioned as a finalist? Surely the agent read your story before taking you as a client?

Anonymous said...

"And I'm somewhat confused here--you say your story wasn't published, but you landed an agent just by being mentioned as a finalist? Surely the agent read your story before taking you as a client?"

Well, of course, but the initial contact was made through the mention of being a finalist.

I suppose that what it comes down to is one's opinion of the worth of literary journals. Unfortunately, many journals have such meager budgets that they need contests, not just for the capital, but for the exposure that a contest can give a journal. This is the point of submitters getting a subscription with the entry fee.

You are right, many of the contests do end up getting a lot of bad submissions -- but in my opinion that shouldn't stop good writers from entering them. But submitting willy-nilly to every place that calls itself a "review" is silly.

Contest or otherwise, only submit to journals you like, respect, and wish to keep publishing the kind of fiction you want to read and write. This is one way we can keep literature (whatever your genre) alive in this country.

Jeff Savage said...

Why would you think that someone who had the talent to win a contest would never have found an agent any other way?

I found a great agent who I love, after having several read my entire manuscripts. If you are a good writer and have a sellable work, you can definitely find an agent without contests.

Critique groups are a tricky bunch. I know some people who have had lousy luck with them, while I keep going to my group after three of the seven of us have published novels and the others have published short stories and/or articles.

If you find the right group at the right level they can definitely help keep you sharp.

JA Konrath said...

Lots of good stuff in this thread.

One of the things I mentioned about freelance editors is that if you want to find one, get a recommendation from a pro and then ask for references.

There are some good ones out there. In fact, I asked Susan for her opinion of a book I'm going out with under a pseudonym, and her suggestions were invaluable. She's a pro all the way.

Would I recommend her to someone looking for a freelance editor? Yes--if the writer was already a professional and wanted a professional opinion.

I'm often asked by writers to critique their manuscripts. I do so--freely--when I have time. Some newbies have offered me money to do so. I've always declined.

Do I think I'm a good enough editor to help someone improve their book? Absolutely. But what if the book is lousy? What if I knew this writer hadn't honed her craft enough to be ready to submit, even with my suggestions?

On one hand, whatever help I gave her would be important and would make her improve as a writer. On the other hand, someone is paying me money and will still be rejected by agents and editors because it just isn't good enough.

There's a difference between being a good writer and needing another pair of professional eyes to judge your work, and using a freelance editor as a way to break into the business.

The former I recommend. The latter I simply don't.

I consider both freelance and in-house editing a way to make something publishable even better, not a way to make something unpublishable publishable.

As for contests, one of the things I constantly repeat is: never submit to a publication that you don't read.

I still contend that if you have a story, go for a market that pays, not one that you pay.

Here's the problem I have; would a 1st Prize contest story have been published if submitted to them without payment?

If yes, then why enter the contest? If no, then the story isn't good enough by the magazine's own standards.

I think that contests can inspire writers to write, which is a good thing. I understand that some highly influencial journals need contests. I know that good can come from winning, and from even entering them.

I still say don't bother.

When I blogged about the cottage industry that had sprung up around giving hope to rejected writers, I did so to warn people away from scams. But I wanted to do more than that.

It's very easy to get discouraged and disheartened when the rejections start coming in. You begin to wonder if there is some big conspiracy keeping you out of the business. You question your talent. You look for alternative ways to get validated.

Paying money to anyone is not a way to get validated.

Paying money to anyone is not a way to get published.

Paying money to anyone won't guarantee anything.

You can do it on your own. All you have to do is keep writing.

You want a pro's opinion? Submit to agents until one sends you a personal note rather than a form letter.

You want to be discovered in a magazine? Submit to the magazine, don't eneter their contests.

You want editing help? Read McFee's "Story", The Chicago Manual of Style, and any of Larry Block's writing books. I have more lsited on my website.

You want critiques? Form a writer's group at your local library or bookstore, download my crit sheets for free on my website, and start helping yourself and other writers.

Prior to WHIKSEY SOUR, I never entered a contest, never hired an editor, never took an adult ed class, never was in a writer's group, never knew any professional writers, and never sold a short story. And I still made it.

There are no quick fixes. Just hard work.

RebMel said...

The other side of the coin.

I run a literary service and a small publishing company.

The majority of the manuscripts we publish come through the literary service, where we test market them on the web with anyone who wants to read them and report on them.

We charge a fee through the literary service for two reasons:

1). When we allowed free submissions, we were so overwhelmed by submissions that we could not even go through them all. Ninety percent of them were painfully bad. Now, with a fee, we get much fewer submissions, which allows us to truly 'read' them, not just skim them, and the quality of the writing has gone up ten-fold. Evidently, people are not as blind to their writing's worth as we generally believe, because if they're asked to put some money behind it, they are not as convinced as they were a moment ago that they have the next best-seller.

2). Test marketing takes time (setting up the ms, tracking the reader demographics and the reader reports) and money. The fee charged in no way makes a profit. We make our profit from book sales (hence, why we test market. We want to know we have a winner).

Double Edge Press/Cutting Edge Literary Services

JA Konrath said...

I did a little Googling and visited http://cuttingedgeliterary.com

I encourage all of my readers to visit the site and to post your comments on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Cutting edge looks a little sketchy to me, Joe.

Not ready to say "Scam" today, but I'll probably be ready to say it tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Yuck. These sorts of sites repeatedly have been shown to not work. Publishing houses and agents do their own market research for the kinds of books they represent and publish -- they don't need some fly-by-night operation providing some half-assed, general service. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they're clueless, but if they're taking writers' money, I can't defend them too much.

Anonymous said...

Any agent that charges a reading fee is disreputable. They will not help your career. They will only take your money.

There is no two ways about it.

Jim said...

Joe: Your advice to "never pay an agent money" should have a footnote. It is customary in the business for agents to require reimbursement of hard costs expended on the author, such as manuscript xeroxing, long distance telephone, mailing, etc. A reputable agent will submit itemized billings. Otherwise, right on.

emeraldcite said...

The authors with manuscripts on cuttingedge have given up their electronic publishing rights for free. That's quite sad. A waste of time.

emeraldcite said...

PS. the FAQ is particularly funny. I like the bold bit about publication, yet they fail to highlight the very next sentence:

Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public

Since the copies on the site do not constitute the originals, then the "work" is not on "display" or being "performed." In other words, they are providing copies for free on the web.

It is sad to note that sites like these prey on the insecurities of beginning writers who do not have a trustworthy circle of readers for feedback. They desparately seek out affirmation that they are writing something good.

Anonymous said...

How can you defend self-publishing but not recommend it? That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

It's either a viable option or it isn't.

JA Konrath said...

"How can you defend self-publishing but not recommend it?"

I believe that self publishing can be done successfully, but I wouldn't do it personally or suggest it to anyone.

I can also understand why some people get plastic surgery, but I wouldn't ever do it myself.

RebMel said...

Nearly forgot I posted here today. I originally rode in on a link from Faith in Fiction, and it was only seeing the topic again that reminded me.

Yes. I've been called a scam artist. Some people get the concept. Some people don't, and that is okay.

As far as the category 2 comment, you're not required to use our editing services-which I think is pretty clear. We have links to other editors that have been tested by us, but that are totally self-contained. They don't pay to be on site, nor do we get a percentage of their fees, nor do we have any input into their pricing.

We're a new site, we're putting out our first book November 15th. We've got it into a lot of smaller markets: Christian book stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, with an eye toward the bigger markets: Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble/B.Dalton/Waldon. It will be on Amazon.

It's a new concept of letting readers have input into what we publish, it will either take off and shake up the entire industry, or fade away into the background to be just yet another small, struggling publishing company.

I'm not trying to convince anyone to go with it or not. I merely wished to point out that sometimes the fees act as a brake on an overwhelming flood of submissions from writers that have a long way to go in their learning curve as much as for any other reason.

If five years down the road, we can afford the staff to wade through every ms that is submitted, we'll do away with the fees, but until then, I would rather put that money into marketing books then into paying people to tell writers that they're not ready yet, especially when, apparently, most of them already know it.

For ye cynics: blast away, I'm used to it.

For those of you withholding judgment: thanks. Keep watching. A couple prayers and good lucks would be nice too. It's a tough industry to break into.

Stacey Cochran said...

"How can you defend self-publishing but not recommend it?"

I believe that self publishing can be done successfully, but I wouldn't do it personally or suggest it to anyone.


Didn't you self-publish a .pdf version of one of your early novels on your website just a couple months ago?


JA Konrath said...

"Didn't you self-publish a .pdf version of one of your early novels on your website just a couple months ago?"

No. I gave away a free pdf download. I have many free story downloads on my website (www.jakonrath.com/record2.html)

I've flirted with the idea of doing a pay/download type of thing, and am going to do so for the new Amazon Shorts program (people can buy short stories for 49 cents.)

I often get questions about e-publishing, and if it is considered first rights if you put your work online.

I say that it isn't, and stand by that.

Closer to self-publishing would be the chapbooks I print up and pass out at conferences. I give those away.

A few people have asked to buy them, so I put them on my website. If anyone buys them, I wind up sending them the chapbook and a few magazines. It's not to make a profit, just to spread word-of-mouth.

My definition of self publishing encompasses paying a printer, getting an ISBN, finding a distributer, and starting a business.

Lots of work, and hard to make back your investment.

I would not equate the crap I give away with self-publishing.

JA Konrath said...

"If five years down the road, we can afford the staff to wade through every ms that is submitted, we'll do away with the fees."

You'll never be legitimate if you charge fees.

How about if you only accept submissions from respected literary agents? Then you wouldn't have to wade through all the bad stuff--an agents would do that for you.

COntact agencies and tell them you're a new small press specializing in Christain lit, and if they have any clients to send them your way.

Then you only get the best of the best, and no one will consider you dishonest.

And BTW--the reader rating system has been done many times before, to no success. Visit http://www.bookner.com. No success stories have arisen from the venture, as far as I know. And there are no fees that I know of.

RebMel said...


Thanks for constructive criticism.

I checked out the bookner link and this is what I found: In the Bookner Peer Review, raw manuscripts are reviewed by other writers to determine the saleability of a manuscript.

Similar, but not the same, and exactly what we're trying to steer away from.

First, it's our theory that writers, editors and publishers read differently than your average reader. Like fellow magicians, we know all the tricks, we know where the rabbit comes from, how the cards went up the sleeve, etc. In short, it's not magic to us anymore, it's business. We don't have that wide-eyed, wow! feeling when we read. We understand, and judge, the mechanics until we wouldn't know what the reading public deems a good book even if it bit us on the butt.

Second, we want the reading public to have direct, interactive input into what we publish. We don't want 'experts' to tell them what they should be reading, we want them to come in and tell us, this is what we want.

We could go to agents and ask them to send us ms.'s, but I doubt they would be real keen on the test marketing. They want a sale for their client, not a gauntlet that their client's work has to complete successfully. Also, now we're having another 'expert' between the ms.'s and the readers, judging what is worthy and what isn't.

April, about your comments on editing. You're not the first to criticize that aspect of the site. If we do away with anything, it will be the editing option. It was placed on there primarily as a resource for writers. We didn't want those that were rejected to walk away thinking, "what do I do now?" It may be better to simply refer them to outside editors and avoid that instant feel of impropriety it seems to generate.

The works on site now are all, with the exception of one, posted without being edited. They are not perfect, but they were readable and understandable, and in all the reader comments we have had on them, none of the readers nit-picked the grammer, spelling, or other nuts and bolts (as I said, they read differently than industry people do. They're actually interested in the story more than the presentation).

The one exception is Kimberly's Cross by Melissa Steeves. That one is a Work in Progress, and I personally edited it for free to help get a writer that I believe is very talented to the next level. If you want to nit-pick my personal editing skills, that would be the one you want to check out. The rest are as the writers submitted them.

The whole site/concept is very much a work in progress. Your input, constructive or otherwise is helpful. Maybe the 'otherwise' the most, simply because it gives a real 'gut-reaction' that points out to us what we are doing wrong.

RebMel said...


See, and you thought no one ever listened to you (wink).

Okay, now I have to get back to my real job, which is marketing books.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

Your comment 'POD books are even more expensive that offset printed vanity books. They aren't returnable, and can't be distributed.' isn't quite accurate. Perhaps vanity presses will not take back their POD-produced books, but legitimate (non-vanity) small presses will, POD or not. They are also distributed through the same distributors as mass-market books. The problem is that the term 'POD' sometimes refers to the technology and sometimes refers to the business model (although 'vanity' is more accurate). It's an important distinction to make.

emeraldcite said...

Glad to see you over at Absolutewrite! It's a great community and your experience is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

It's very easy to make shotgun remarks about competitions, about anything really, and these can be highly misleading and hurt writers.

I have been a wannabe beginner, freshly published, a five times novelist (shortlisted for The Anthony Award) and have won ten competitions and placed in so many I've forgotten.

First, from the writer's POV.

Excluding my novels and payment for teaching writing, I have earned more from entering short-stories in competitions than I have for selling short-stories to magazines even though I've been published by Atlantic monthly Unbound, Mississippi Review, Blue Moon Review, The New Welsh Review, Raconteur, World Wide Writers etc.

I've probably spent $1,000 in entry fees over the years but I've earned ten times that.

Even something as prestigious as Atlantic Monthly Unbound paid me just $250

Second, entering good comps is a way of deadlining yourself, getting motivated, turning out new stuff, moving ever onward. I teach writing on line and push my students to enter as many comps as they can (avoiding scams) as well as subbing by other routes.

Third, I disagree that a strong resume has no effect. I have edited one anthology and been an editor of one short-story magazine and currently edit Seventh Quark Magazine. While it is true that in the end it's the story that matters I am far happier reading a story from someone with a track record and probably a little more forgiving of errors on the first page. editors EXPECT shit all the time and get very jaded (99% of subs are total crap). They can miss stuff but a good cv means they READ it.

Winning comps can get you noticed. I've twice placed $2,000 second in The UK's Bridport Prize (4,000 entries) and had enquiries from agents because of that fact. I have also subbed and got notes from editors saying "I saw your prize-winning story in X"

It DOES make a difference.


First, you make a sweeping statement about all comps as if all comps do X and Y and Z.

It just ain't so.

Seventh Quark pays out AT LEAST 50% of all received prize money and we publish a list of entries, prizes and surplus on the 7Q web site.

Most literary magazines lose money.

One very sensible way to fund the magazine is to run competitions. The impression given in the blog is there are all these money-grubbing editors just creaming entry fees from suckers. I'm sure there ARE some competitions like that but it's unfair to class them all as if they are all the same.

I entered Geist's Postcard Comp last year $25 but for that I got a year's subscription. Further entries were $5 so in fact I spent $35 in all. As it happened I placed, got $50, a few goodies, a year's subscription, three copies of the magazine. When you factor in what it must cost them to send from Canada to the UK, that's a good deal.

Missouri review (sheer class magazine) again charges something like $25 but again you get a year's subscription. It works out cheaper for me to do it that way than just buy a subscription!

Night Train $10 entry but you get a quality copy of the magazine with the winning entries.

Where do people think prizes come from? The clouds? Who pays the judges? Who pays postage?

From an Editor's POV

I've already said that most submissions are not very good. When a colleague began editing Cadenza, a UK magazine he was INUNDATED with submissions and 99% were appalling. But each one has to be read.

So they eventually switched to taking new work via two competitions per year. That effectively "pays a reading fee". It also focuses the writer.

In comps too, many stories are bad, but the top few are usually BETTER than the better straight submissions.

In the year that I've been running Seventh Quark I can't remember an unsolicited submission being good enough to publish, but usually the top 3-10 in a comp are OK.


Is the only measure of quality, the only measure of WORTH, whether the dumb public will buy it?

I see you say "Oh big deal some literary journals will go out of business."

MOST literary journals lose money and are kept afloat by a growing debt, or patrons, or by reading fees, or by comps.

When people have actively worked as editors or publishers or owners of smaller magazines they will be staggered buy the sheer amount of work involved, the pain and the cost.

Many great authors started out in the small magazines (Raymond Carver, for example).

Before the growth of MAs this was the USUAL route to being noticed.

We need the small magazines.

Jim Crace sent a note to Seventh Quark which said:

(Annie) was published in New Review" which also broke Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. (cut)

Anyway within weeks of the story coming out, I was showered with invitations to meet agents and publishers and was being offered contracts and advances to write a novel.


I have a gut feeling that without Annie my writing career would never have started, let alone flourished.

Magazines can and should make a difference.


New Review folded, probably due to lack of money and obviously "it wasn't popular enough".



JA Konrath said...


There are always exceptions. Nothing in life is really clear cut black and white. It's all shades of gray.

I stand by my original statement, and don't think writers should pay to enter competitions.

Though some writers will win, and it obviously will help them if they do, I maintain that submitting to a magazine is preferable to entering a paid contest.

"Is the only measure of quality, the only measure of WORTH, whether the dumb public will buy it?"

Yes. That's the whole point of this blog.

Anonymous said...

i need a publisher for dark, satirical poems. Any advice?


Author John said...

Brilliant post - good enough to post again. I agree with everything you said Joe. The last line is the real key.

Anonymous said...

great advice. I've been writing my whole life, and have only recently thought about publishing. It seems it has turned in to yet another corporate controlled empire, just like every other medium known to man. Thank you very much for the advice.

Roomy Naqvy said...

I liked your comment. I'm normally skeptical of the contests but what would you like to say about submitting a story free to Glimmer Train? Or what would you like to say about joining the Zoetrope Studio www.zoetrope.com for free and asking other writers to review your work? That's ok, isn't it?

Roomy Naqvy


Assistant Professor of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India

Unknown said...

You make some good points, however I don't feel charging a "reading fee," like the Glimmer Train does, is such a great transgression. Time is money, and it probably takes both of those women a lot of time to get through mountains of manuscripts submitted. Also, you get a great bio and like 10 copies of the issue. To me that's worth it. Many university anthologies/journals are great portals for new authors. And self-publishing is hard work, granted, but the E-book and E-publishing has really become the future, despite what old school writers like myself believe. I have a library in my home and LOVE paper!!!


MsQuestion said...

Here's the thing. You have written a book. It is a book that you truly believe can make some money (of course as a newbie, you know better than to even attempt to go the NY publishing route). However, in order to get your manuscript formatted properly for a Kindle E-reader, you need a professional to format it for you...someone who charges around, say, $200.00...because you know that an ill-formatted book will be the death of you! So in that case, isn't spending the $200 worth it?

jamo said...

Thought folks might appreciate this, and gleam some info that might be helpful.

My friend and I, years ago, wrote a book, our first novel, together. Published in 2007 A Rose So That it May Rain is now recognized as the best fiction book in its genre/genres, is listed on FACEBOOK's Must Read Classics Page, and has sold in 18 countries worldwide. We chose Dog's Ear publishing rather than fight the houses for recognition an longer, in 2007. Dog's Ear never sent either of one sales report, year after year, has kept hidden the majority of actual sales and allows the author's 6.2% as profit/book.

Recently I found Smashwords.com and authors it looks like an amazing break through. I am going full throttle and begin a series of releases with them. They are a distributor, YOU are the publisher. Good stuff, had to happen.

Anyway, it never gets boring. In 2010 I paid a Japanese artists to create a website for my pseudonym. I didn't use the site immediately in fact only now again did I look it up to see if I must re boot it. I found Momoko Sudo had her business up on my website! I use a pseudonym, Jamo Lorswal, has a pseudonym ever been Identity thefted??

I immediately took legal action and she dropped control of the site, so the nightmare's over but.. wow. Nasty on her part, shady! and I do wonder.. has a pseudonym ever been stolen in history? I am researching and getting a neat short story out of it. All well that ends...

great to have ya'll out here, Jamo

jamo said...

Fun tales in the writer's world

Ms. Question. of course it is. The thing is get the work done with a down pay, then final at job's completion. That way you do not lose the entire pie.

In 2010 I paid a Japanese artist to create a website for me. In 2016 I discovered Smashwords.com, a distributor that will distribute your book and name you the Publisher. Folks check this breakthrough out, had to happen and it did.

Anyway, I went back to reconnect with my website so I can spruce it up, www.jamolorswal.com (which should only be about me!) is hosting Momoko Sudo's Interior Design business. I immediately initiated legal defense and she swept it down. What was that about? Attempt to extort? Yeah, shout out to corrupt criminals Momoko!

So yes, be wary and savvy in business. God knows I've paid editors, etc. it's not like we can do everything ourselves.
But gaining more and more control over your own affairs, having trusted relationships, is key at the end of the day.

ps. wondering if anybody's pseudonym has ever been ID thefted before like mine was for a weekend??

Unknown said...

Thanks for Sharing about writing scams........

OnlineGatha - Book Publisher in India

Unknown said...

RE: "The true secret to getting published is simple: Write a book that a complete stranger will pay $25 for."

Dangling prep---no, no, no. Yes, I know that this rule has been softened, to avoid the clutter and awkwardness of proper English; however, coming from one who is telling the rest of us how to write? Be a better model. Some editors may still like cluttered and awkward English. (Could change to: ...a book that a complete stranger can buy for $25.)