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Summary: Writers are prime targets for scammers. Here's how to avoid most common scams.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Angela Booth
People who want to write form a huge market. According to Writer's Digest magazine, ten per cent of US population want to be writers, and I assume that numbers are similar in other countries.
And where there's a market, there are scams. All over world, you can see vultures' eyeballs light up with dollar signs, can't you?
If you're an aspiring writer, you can avoid becoming fodder for vultures very easily. All you need to remember is: *writers get paid to write*.
Let's look at some of most common scams.
=> The "We're Looking For New Writers" Scam
Professional hard-working agents and editors don't need to look for new writers. Ever. They don't have time, because as soon as they hang out their shingle, writers find them. This applies to book and screenplay agents, and magazine, book, and Web site editors. Once writers find them, there aren't enough hours in day to read, advise, and make deals for writers on their lists.
So when you read "we're looking for new writers" a big warning light should go for you. This is your signal to run as fast as you can in opposite direction.
If person displaying "we're looking for new writers" purports to be agent, it means that there's a rip-off involved. Usually so-called agent will ask you for money. Perhaps to edit your book, or to send your manuscript to editors, or some other silly reason. Remember Writers Get Paid To Write.
A legitimate agent may ask you to cover out of pocket expenses, like photocopying and messenger fees before she signs a deal for you. I don't approve, to be honest. Fees like this are just cost of doing business, and if agent wants to represent you, she should cover them. (Ask yourself whether you really want an agent who can't cover her own office fees.) However, some legit agents do ask new clients who aren't earning to cover these charges. I'd recommend that if you're asked, you tell agent to take them out of first deal she makes for you. Up to $100 in expenses is reasonable.
If a magazine or a Web site displays "we're looking for new writers", come on. This is publication's way of getting free content. If you're an established, published writer, and you're using this venue to promote yourself, then you may want to use venue in a quid quo pro fashion. I send out free articles almost daily to Web sites so that I get a higher profile on Web, and to promote Digital-e.
But if you're a new writer what "we're looking for new writers" means at a magazine or Web site is: "we don't pay money". Of course you need clips, but write for venues which pay. Your clips will mean more. If you're a new writer, you can't afford to write for free --- you won't learn anything. And you can't afford to write for promotion, because you have nothing to promote.
=> The "Contest Entry Free" Scam
Stay away from contests run by people and organizations you've never heard of.
Not all contests are scams. Some writer's organizations run contest for their members, and charge a small entry fee, and these are legitimate. If you're a member of a large writer's organization, or buy a writer's magazine, and they're running a contest, relax, enter, have fun with it, and good luck.
One proviso: make sure that you get something out of your entry. Will an editor from a large publishing house request a submission from you if you win? Will you win money? (Remember: *writers get paid to write*.)