True Crime Thursday – Scams That Target Writers

Public domain, Winsor McCay, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, 1909

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Like mosquitos in summer, scammers keep buzzing in with new tricks to suck the blood from writers. Here are three that recently hit my radar:

Scam #1 – We Pay You to Write!

A couple of months ago, several members of the Authors Guild received emails from individuals claiming to need articles or workbooks written for an upcoming seminar. The bait is a substantial fee and a promise of wider recognition through their organization. They may claim to have a disability, with the inference that if you write for them, you also enjoy the satisfaction of helping. Or…if you don’t write for their worthy cause, you should feel guilty. Con artists are masters at manipulation.

Here’s a sample invitation from “Paula Smith”:

Hello, My name is Paula, an academic consultant. I have a speech distorting condition called Apraxia. I got your contact details online and I need your service. Can you write an article on a specific topic for an upcoming workshop? The article is to be given as a handbook to the attendees of the workshop. I have a title for the article and have drafted an outline to guide you. Please get back to me for more information

(442) 278-5255

Paula

Fortunately, the author who received the solicitation investigated a little deeper and discovered “Paula’s” phone number had numerous complaints against it for fraud. A helpful resource to check out questionable phone numbers is callername.com.

More writers added their suspicions to the Authors Guild discussion group but weren’t sure how the scam worked.

Then AG member and travel writer Lan Sluder offered the following enlightening explanation:

This is a scam that is well known in the hospitality (lodging) industry. The target is usually smaller inns, hotels and B&Bs. Someone makes what seems a legitimate reservation, often for several rooms, and pays by check or credit card. There are various versions, but typically the inn owner is overpaid or part of the reservation is cancelled or changed and the scammer wants a refund. Much later, the original credit or check payment is found to be invalid, and the inn owner is out hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some of these scammers are pretty clever, and it’s not always easy to tell an authentic reservation from a fake one. Occasionally, hotel owners or reservations offices are fooled into thinking it is an actual guest reservation.

I’ve written a number of travel guides and other travel books that review hotels so I get a lot of these scam emails due to mistakes by the less sophisticated scammers.

A similar scam exists targeting attorneys, CPAs and small businesses of all kinds. I guess now the scammers are starting to target writers.

——————————
Lan Sluder
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Another AG poster who’s a member of the American Translators Association added that their members have also been targeted and shared the story of one victim. The scammer “overpaid” then asked the translator to wire money for the refund. Unfortunately, she did, shortly before the scam check bounced and she was out $2000.

Ouch!

Scam #2 – Fake Marketing Offers

These scammers keep reinventing themselves with different aliases and websites. Be wary of anyone who calls out of the blue or sends an email with wording similar to this:

Dear Author,

Our expert book scouts discovered your fabulous novel and we are excited to offer you an amazing opportunity. Because we believe so strongly in the bestseller potential of your book, we want to invest [fill in outrageous amount of money] in your marketing and publicity at absolutely no cost to you. We will reserve a place of honor for your book at the upcoming [fill in prestigious book fair or festival]. Your success will be our reward.

Sincerely,

A Company That Believes in Your Fantastic Talent (smirking)

After a few more flattering emails, they swoop in for the kill shot:

We reaffirm you do not have to pay one penny for our fabulous marketing package because our faith in you is so strong. To be fair, we know you’ll want to contribute your part by paying the bargain registration fee of only [fill in hundreds to thousands of dollars].

Here’s a post from YA author Khristina Chess who was contacted by Readers Magnet. Interestingly, they claim to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau as of 2019. However this BBB link shows multiple complaints against them.

Here’s a list of companies that engage in practices that may technically be within the law but slide into slimy.

 

 

 

Before you engage any writing-related services, check them out on Writer Beware  whose mission is:  “Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.”

A big thank you to Writer Beware for watching out for writers!

Scam #3 – Impersonating Agents and Editors

Earlier this year, intrepid Victoria Strauss covered cases of scammers who assume the identity of legitimate agents or editors then contact unsuspecting authors. Of course, struggling writers are understandably thrilled to have a big-name agent contact them. Just be sure the person is who they claim to be. Here’s Victoria’s post.

On July 16, agent Victoria Marini @LitAgentMarini tweeted the following warning after learning someone had co-opted her name:

“It has come to my attention that someone is impersonating me online, likely in an attempt to scam writers. I am not associated with WritersDesk LLC, nor do I sell videos, materials, editorial work, or any other good or service. Many thanks to @victoriastrauss.”

 

Protect yourself from true crimes against writers. Always verify the source.

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TKZers: Have you been solicited by questionable people or companies regarding your writing? Please share your experience and outcome.

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Check out a devious scam with a unique twist in Debbie Burke’s thriller, Stalking Midas, available at this link.

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Mystery Publishing News – Recent Shakeups

Adrian Midgley captures “Pekoe” defying gravity to catch that $&#% dot.

 

An author in search of a publisher often feels like a cat trying to catch a laser pointer. The target moves up the wall, down the stairs, sideways, backwards, and spins you around in circles. Even when you’re lucky enough to catch one (either a laser dot or a publisher), it can vanish without warning.

What’s a cat—or an author—supposed to do to keep up to speed?

In a constantly changing market, below are several recent developments affecting mystery presses:

Midnight Ink – The October, 2018 announcement that Midnight Ink would shut down came as a big shock to authors and employees alike. The respected crime fiction imprint was established in 2005. According to a Publisher’s Weekly article in November, 2018, the Minnesota-based publisher Llewellyn withdrew from the fiction market to concentrate on nonfiction, leaving MI out in the cold.

Spokesperson Kat Sanborn said:

“We had good reviews, but the sales just weren’t there for [Midnight Ink],” Sanborn said, noting that the 250 backlist titles will remain in print, and that frontlist will be marketed and promoted as usual. “We’re just not accepting new manuscripts,” she said.

Twenty titles that were already in progress will be rolled out during spring/summer 2019.

Three MI editors were laid off, including Terri Bischoff, who didn’t stay unemployed for long, landing on her feet with a new gig at Crooked Lane Books. She is now Senior Editor at CLB, a crime fiction publisher founded in 2014.

Several orphaned MI authors have found new homes at Crooked Lane, Severn River Publishing, and Seventh Street Books.

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Seventh Street Books – SSB is undergoing changes as well with a new owner. Formerly owned by Prometheus Books, in November, 2018 SSB was bought by Start Publishing. Dan Mayer remains as Editorial Director.

Publisher’s Weekly reported:

“Prometheus Books sold its two genre imprints to Start Publishing. Publisher Jonathan Kurtz explained the sale by saying he wanted to return the publisher to its nonfiction roots. Prometheus expanded into fiction in 2005 with the launch of Pyr, which focuses on science fiction and fantasy novels. In 2011, it added the crime fiction imprint Seventh Street Books. Pyr has a backlist of 170 titles, and Seventh Street’s backlist stands at about 90.”

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Poisoned Pen PressIn December, 2018, Publisher’s Weekly announced the acquisition of PP by Sourcebooks:

“Sourcebooks has announced that it has acquired most of the assets of Poisoned Pen Press and that the award-winning crime and mystery publisher will become Sourcebooks’ mystery imprint.”

The staff, including PP’s founder Robert Rosenwald and Editor-in-Chief Barbara Peters, will reportedly stay on and become Sourcebook employees. The offices remain in Scottsdale, AZ.

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Kindle Press – The Amazon imprint stopped accepting new submissions in spring of 2018, leaving me and a hundred or so other authors orphaned.

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I’ve been looking for a new house since then and have received offers from several well-known publishers like Fly-By-Night Press and No-Advances-R-Us, LLC.

Which raises the question: how does an author find a reputable house that’s likely to be in business for longer than it takes the ink to dry on the contract?

The answer is research. Vetting publishers sounds daunting but here are three shortcuts:

#1  Mystery Writers of America – MWA regularly updates their list of approved publishers. To be included on that list, a press must adhere to “professional standards of good business practice and fair treatment of authors.”

Here’s a partial list of qualifications:

  • Must be in business for at least two years;
  • Must have paid a minimum of $1000 within the past two years to at least five authors who are not owners of the company;
  • Must have published at least two works of crime-related fiction or nonfiction in the past two years;
  • Must meet other standards outlined in MWA’s Approved Publishers Guidelines.

#2  Writer Beware – a great watchdog website that alerts writers to scams, cons, questionable business practices, and outright fraud. Although affiliated with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), their investigations and warnings cover all genres. Writer Beware is the first place I research a publisher.

#3  Ask other authors – Gone are the days when an author stayed with the same house for his/her entire career. In the past couple of years, Big Five houses decided to focus on blockbusters, pretty much to the exclusion of mid-list authors. As a result, many popular authors were dropped even though they had successful series.

Fellow writers/orphans are often willing to share their war stories about publishers.

Some authors have gone on to work with smaller presses. I know a few who now have contracts with several different houses at the same time.

Others decided to indie-publish or go hybrid.

The Authors Guild features a Back-in-Print program for previously published books where the author has gotten the rights back. For a fee, AG will assist in converting to new formatting for re-release as ebooks and/or print on demand (POD) hard copies. They also help with distribution.

When a publisher makes you an offer, the legal department of the Authors Guild will review and analyze the publishing contract. That single service makes their $125 membership fee worthwhile. Fly-By-Night and No-Advances-R-Us offered me contracts which I sent to AG’s attorneys. They helped me make the informed decision to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go chase that little red dot that just flickered across the ceiling . . . . . . . .

 

TKZers, do you have a favorite news source that keeps you up to date on the publishing industry?

 

 

Even though Debbie Burke is an orphan, her thriller Instrument of the Devil is still available here.

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