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Your Scam, My Scam

On the weekend, my sister sent me a message, asking me if I'd like to get some cash for proof reading. She only really calls when there's money to be made.

I figured that it wouldn't be such a bad way to make some cash before Xmas, so I asked her what it was. I figured it was something technical, nothing too stressful, but it turned out that it was someone at her work, who wanted to be a writer. He had a collection of short fiction he wanted to pay me to read--something that came about, from what I understand, after my sister said I was a writer. Yeah, it's been a quiet year, but those kind of things happen--I still put in the time, do the work, and all of that. Anyhow, this guy was offering a chunk of cash, and even with the holidays coming up, I turned it down. I told her that she ought to tell him to find a writing group, submit to things, and just keep pushing away at the publication angle, and not to pay money to anyone to get an opinion on their work.

There's a lot of scams going round for new writers. The Harlequin Romance a week back was the big company scam, but that doesn't mean there aren't little versions of it going around, wherein you pay an author or an editor to read your work and give you feed back. Some of the people who do that are pretty decent authors and editors, too, but it doesn't really change the fact that they're scamming you. They're taking your money, reading your stuff, giving you an opinion, and then that's it. Nothing anyone says--for money or otherwise--is going to get you published, or will put you on some quick route to getting to the success and fame side. You could argue that there's really not much difference to teaching than it is to proof reading, and perhaps there's not, except for the mindset that you get into it. Of course, teaching is a scam, too, and the truth of it is, all you do is sit round, help people understand things, and then send them off to work--the difference, of course, is I don't charge seven hundred and fifty dollars for that particular experience, and I tell you, up at the front, that you're here to learn shit. You learn your syllabus, you learn a canon, you learn how to use whatever correct. In addition, teaching is aimed to get you marks, and despite what High School English teachers like to say, there is a right and a wrong in the subject, and it isn't too difficult to get good marks. But being a writer and paying someone to proof read, go through your shit, and 'mentor' you?

You're being scammed.

Write, meet people, join writing groups, don't give money to people, no matter who they are. Well, okay, if you want to give money away, do it, but don't expect anything out of it. There's a million different opinions on what's good, what's bad, what sells, what doesn't, and what makes good and bad writing. I can tell you my opinion of it, but I'll tell you for free if I like you, or I'll charge you an hourly rate if you want to be a student, but at the end of the day, a lot of really bad literature makes a lot of very real money, and I would never have published it.

(crossposted)

Comments

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nick_kaufmann
Nov. 30th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
Nothing anyone says--for money or otherwise--is going to get you published, or will put you on some quick route to getting to the success and fame side.

Good post, and the above line is very true. That's why in my work as a ghostwriter and freelance editor I make sure people understand--through very clear language in the contract--that my involvement does not guarantee representation, publication, or publication, should it happen, for any particular amount of advance payment. So far I've got a good track record of books I've worked on getting published or picked up for representation by major agencies, but that obviously can't last, so I feel it's important that people know the risks up front.
benpeek
Dec. 1st, 2009 12:05 am (UTC)
yeah, very much so.

of course, at least with ghost writing, in your later years you can say, 'i was responsible for that hugh grant autobiography without the prostitutes.'
cassiphone
Nov. 30th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
I can't help thinking that the reason writing scams work is because so many people want them to work - because the results (even if it's just a tidy letter giving an 'opinion' of the work) are tangible and easier to purchase than actually stepping in the messy, complicated world of "find a writing group, submit to things, and just keep pushing away at the publication angle."

There's so much work in writing that is actually not connected to the writing part, and funnily enough, that's the part that so many people want to skip - everything in between first draft and publication.

Over the years I was teaching (I quit finally because I felt that going over and over the beginning stages of writing advice was adversely affecting my own writing and my ability to take creative risks) I saw some students who were so keen to work and improve and so on that I knew they'd get to publication, some who were really only interested in writing one thing as a hobby and wanted their hand held, and quite a lot who were serial writing-class junkies because it was easier to pay money each term than to, you know, get on with the business of writing, submitting, etc.

I started to feel like the gym instructor whose only role is to keep the client honest and guilt them into doing some work each week! I would often try to pack content into classes, trying to give them their money's worth, only to discover they'd be happier just to do some writing with me sitting there and giving them feedback every now and then - something that I was very uncomfortable being paid to do! It's a service like any other, I suppose, but... yeah.
benpeek
Dec. 1st, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
yeah, i do agree in that i think the scams work because they're so much more tangible than anything else--and lets face it, author who are starting out are the treated pretty badly by editors and agents of all stripes.

my teaching is pretty much limited to high school students these days, which is alright. it's only the time i spend teaching that gets in the way of writing (and the business of writing that gets in the way of writing, too)
cassiphone
Dec. 1st, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
Heh well when it comes down to it, having all day to "just write" can get in the way of writing too...

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