Information and Advice
Scams & Cons – Publishing For Money
The accepted procedure in the publishing world is that writers should be paid for the work that they do. For books this can mean anything from a flat fee to a royalty based on a percentage of financial returns on copies sold. For magazine appearances it can mean payment per word contributed or a straight sum. Payment is sometimes made in advance but more usually on actual publication. In the cases of small presses (and in particular with small poetry magazines) payment is often in the form of a free subscription or even simply a complimentary contributor’s copy of the relevant issue. Small Press books are often published on the same basis. What should not happen, of course, is for money to travel in the opposite direction. Writers should not be asked to help pay publisher’s costs. If someone asks you for help in this way, as a loan, an investment or to "help defray rising printing costs" then be suspicious. Don’t pay. Check the deal carefully. This will more than likely turn out to be a vanity scam of some description. Turn it down.
There are unscrupulous publishers out there who take money from unsuspecting writers by offering to either include their work in anthologies or to bring out whole volumes. They will charge the earth for their services and their final productions will be hardly worth the paper they will be printed on. These are the vanity presses. Their productions are reviled by newspaper editors, critics and booksellers alike. No one reads their productions. The largest set I ever saw in public was in a skip outside Cardiff central library. Do not be convinced by their silver tongued approaches. Say no.
Luckily for us all the Vanity Press in its purest form is in retreat. The advertisements they often ran in the newspapers (some often embedded in articles apparently written by staff journalists who would know better) are today seen less than they once were. But take care. No one out there needs to advertise for contributions. If you see someone who is then be suspicious.
Other Poetry Scams and Cons
With poetry overpopulated as it is by participants it is not surprising that the con artist should make an appearance. There are plenty of people out there taking money off beginner writers and offering very little in return. Faced with legal action the traditional vanity anthology, once the staple of the trickster, is now in retreat. Nonetheless variations and embellishments on the approach resurface steadily. These include offers to put your poetry to music setting you off on the road to stardom, readings of your verse by actors with deep voices to help you break into the local radio market (there isn’t one) and further requests for cash to have entries on you appear in leather-bound directories of world poets. Everyone appears, including your uncle. There are bogus competitions where entry fees bear no relation to final prize money (or such prize money turns out never to be forthcoming) and the advertised ’publication of winners in anthology form’ often means shelling out more for what will turn out to be a badly printed abomination crammed full of weak work. Poets should look very carefully at anything which offers framed certificates, scrolls or engraved wall hangings. They should also be wary of suggestions that they have come high in the State of Florida’s Laureateship Contest (or some such like) and have been awarded a calligraphed testimonial. Presentation usually occurs at a three-day festival held in one of states most expensive hotels. To get your bit of paper you need to stay for all three days and it is you who has to settle the bill. If you try your luck at a no-entry-fee, advertised in the Sunday papers international competition don’t be too surprised to find you’ve made it through round one - that happens to everyone. The scam starts with round two when they start to ask you for money.
How do you spot the tricksters? They change their names and addresses at will. They bill themselves as Foundations, Societies, Libraries, National Associations, Guilds. They sound so plausible. If you have the slightest suspicion then check with Literature Wales. We are not infallible but we can suggest some difficulties best avoided. Some of the scams operated in the poetry competition field have a warning web site devoted to exposing them. Check windpub.org/literary.scams/ilp.htm for a full view. In the poetry world genuine advertisements for contributions are rare. And if anyone asks you for money then forget it. It is not the way things should be done.
Part of this item appeared earlier in Peter Finch’s contribution to Macmillan’s annual The Writer’s Handbook, edited by Barry Turner. Palgrave Macmillan ceased publication of The Writer's Handbook. The final print edition was in published in 2011.