Saturday, October 23, 2010

One simple rule to avoid SCAMS

Here's one simple rule I follow that allows me to avoid scams, not just in writing, but in general life.

See, as a writer, we are bombarded with scams. I can't and won't list them all out, and not all of them are scams as such -- they are unscrupulous, but they are legal -- but I'll mention a couple.

Many writing contests charge an entry fee. While some writing contests are considered legitimate, and offer respected prizes, I lump most of them in the not-to-do list. There are a few I might consider entering, but not many, and to date I have entered none at all that charged a reading fee.

I won't say that vanity press is a scam, but I'll say be careful who you choose, if you choose to go vanity press. Do your homework and make a smart business decision.

Both contests and vanity presses are legal ways to get published, but they're both often listed in the scam category, and that brings me to how I came about my one rule for avoiding scams of all sorts.

Let's go back to Eric when he was in college. I grew up in a small Southeast Texas town on the Gulf Coast. In 1989, I drove to Austin, Texas, to attend The University of Texas, and unloaded my stuff into a dormitory that housed three times more people than my hometown, (2.78 times more people, to be precise).

I ordered pizza like they did in the movies. That was neat and I did this a lot afterwards.

I ordered Chinese food, which I never believed came in that little white box that opened on the top -- Chinese food boxes with chopsticks were a myth to me as much as trolls and fairies are to you.

I rode in a taxicab, and on a city bus, and hit those buttons at the crosswalk that changed the stoplight, and saw my first beggar right there on campus. He chased me into the dollar theater when I wouldn't give him money, and for a minute I thought I was going to have to fight him and his buddy to get them off me.

Come on, Captain, you got some money, he kept saying, his buddy hobbling behind him and both reeking of the street and beer, me all alone because I was the only person I knew. Come on, Captain.

A cop took my hunting knife, said I couldn't carry that in my truck (she didn't take the machete or hatchet I had behind the seat, God help me if she'd found that or the other shit I had tucked here-and-there), and the officer laughed at my girlfriend (I met her after the bum-thing) when she told the officers that I was from a small town and didn't know any better.

What's this knife for? the cop says. She shows it to the other officers and almost hits me when I reach for it.

I was gonna show her what I use it for.

Cutting rope, I said. I had rope in the back of the truck -- I always had rope, don't you always have rope?

She said I could claim it at the station, but she took it home and I never did get that knife back, dangit, and I loved that knife. It was a bone-handled full-tang Kabar my brother gave me for my sixteenth birthday, and the high school principle back home once saw it in the parking lot, opened the truck door and took it out and called me to the office and said that I should put it under the seat so nobody would steal it.

Anyway. I guess he was right.

One evening I'm in my dorm room and the phone rings. You've won one thousand dollars in prizes! the guy says.

What the hell are you talking about? I say.

He goes on, and I don't believe him, but he says he is right outside with my prizes, all I have to do is come down to the lobby, pick em up, and that would be it, and I said, All right, then.

Just bring forty-five dollars, he says, and I'll give you a thousand dollars in prizes! Congratulations!

I'm expecting him to have a dolly and maybe a truck full of shit to offload, and I'm wondering where I'm going to put it all.

In walks this pothead in frayed khaki shorts. He says something. I say something. He takes the money and hands me a book of Austin City Limit Coupons and is gone like a fart in a hurricane.

It wasn't illegal what he did, not really. I later discovered that the local whack-heads sold coupon books to the freshmen each fall, that it was a regular deal and about as illegal as selling those roses on 6th street, but that night cemented into my mind the one simple to avoid scams, and it is this:

Money only flows one way!

This applies to jobs, businesses, sales, and yes, to publication in writing.

Let's go through the logic here.

If someone says you are working for them -- or that they are giving you money in the form of a prize (spare me) or inheritance from a distant relative -- then the money flows from them to you, right? That's how my paycheck works at my day job. I never pay them unless I receive a specific service (such as gym membership or health care or some such).

Otherwise, I provide a service and my company pays me for the service. The money is flowing from them to me.

Now, if the money is flowing from you to them, you are NOT working for them, nor are you receiving money from them. NO! You are paying them.

Do you see what I'm saying, about the direction of the flow of money?

So if someone offers to publish your book for you, or hires you as an author, or says they will represent you, and in turn asks for money from you, then the money is flowing in the wrong damned direction, and boys and girls, what is Eric's one rule to avoid scams?

Say it together:

Money only flows one way!

I'm not saying don't pay someone to professionally edit your book, nor am I saying you shouldn't submit your work to publishers who charge a reading fee.

I'm just saying that if you choose to pay someone to look at your work, do so knowingly and with some common sense.

Oh, which brings up another rule of mine, which is this:

Don't call me, I'll call you.

I'm immediately suspicious of anyone who calls me offering money or ways to make money. In other words, be wary of any agent or publisher who contacts you without your solicitation. I'm even wary of headhunters in my day job who solicit me for engineering positions.

Do you have any rules to avoid scams? Have you ever been scammed? Did you learn anything from your scam? Has a cop ever laughed at you, or taken your favorite knife, or have you ever been attacked by zombie-bums?

- Eric


Unknown said...

Hmmm.. I have people supposedly from another country saying they are stranded and would I send money so they could get home...

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I hate that about your knife. I had a Colt King Cobra revolver stolen from the dashbox of my car one night.

I miss that Colt. You never can tell when Sasquatch might attack you! No, really, it was a great target pistol. I used .38's instead of the .357 magnum shells. Less money, less recoil.

Scams are out there. If it sounds too good to be true, there's a reason. It ain't true.

If you have the time, come check out my entry in Roh Morgon's MONSTER MASH BLOGFEST. It's the very short prologue to my WIP, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH.

I usually don't like prologues and may not use this one. Come and see if it should be ditched. Thanks, Roland

Wine and Words said...

Yep. Got scammed, but realized it just in the nick of time. My lesson. Do not buy cars off Craigslist that require a wire transfer.

dolorah said...

I signed a one year contract to ensure a good long scam.

Well, the Agency wasn't a scam, per se; they did tell me THE WHOLE STORY. I just didn't know how to understand what they were telling me.

Not too expensive a writing lesson.

I love your number one rule Eric:
Money only flows one way.

Excellent point.


Jai Joshi said...

The key is always caution and vigilance. As Mad Eye Moody would say, "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"


Candyland said...

This is great. It's so easy to get scammed. I pretty much can sniff out scammers and do my best vanishing act impression once I'm suspect. BTW, totally bowing (your name).

Stephanie Lorée said...

I grew up in small town Ohio, later moved to small city Ohio where I live now. Here are some simple lessons I learned:

1) Trust your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

2) Don't take crap from anyone. Put your foot down immediately. The longer you let crap go on, the worse it will get.

3) Don't pay others for your work. Somehow, artists get this idea that they should work for meals, favors, or other non-cash payments. Remember you set the value of your work. (This is espeically true from my cover band experience. If we work for one bar for cheap, they ALL expect it. Dumb. We don't do it anymore. Standard fees only or they can take a hike.)

Eric W. Trant said...

Carole: I've had that scam, about people from other countries. I have a business that does sales overseas and we are VERY careful about those sales.

Roland: Sorry about the Colt. Mine was cheaper, at least! Dug your blogfests, by the way. As always.

Annie: Ouch. That sounds painful. I haven't bought anything off Craig's yet. I still like to trade money-for-product real-time, in real life, face-to-face. But when I do purchase something online, I let the charge clear and then immediately report that card stolen and receive a newly issued card number.

Lesson-learned on that one, too... I don't even order pizza online anymore.

Donna: Contracts! GAD! I hate contracts. I go month-to-month always, even if it's more expensive.

I have a book contract coming up soon, though... scary. I should get a lawyer to at least look it over, eh.

Jai: Constant vigilance helps. They get you when you're not looking, though. They're sneaky like that. I don't rely on vigilance so much as my few rules and then I don't have to think so much.

Candy: Thank you for the bow, all the sweeter from you.

Mes: So true about fees! I have an online company with my brother, and we reset our fees in May. GOD what a hard time it's been getting people to pay the increased -- and market-aligned -- fees. They still want that discount.

- Eric

Jennifer Lane said...

Hey Eric, thanks for stopping by my blog and for looking out for us authors.


Money only flows one way!

(But it's sure taking its sweet time to flow MY way!) ;)

Julie Musil said...

I am extremely suspicious of scams! I believe that old saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Maybe I've missed becoming an instant millionaire with this attitude. What do you think?

Eric W. Trant said...

Jennifer: Thanks for stopping in. Glad you like the chant. Keep chanting, hopefully the money will flow your way soon!

Julie: Too good to be true. I see that all the time, too, but oh the temptation!

- Eric

Phoenix said...

I am very wary of scams and haven't fallen for any that I can remember, but then I'm deeply suspicious of people who offer me "money" or prizes. I'm not sure if what the cop did to you was a scam per se, but what a crock of B.S. anyways. I lost one of my favorite knives at the airport because it was just after 9/11 and I had forgotten that knives were now forbidden. I didn't have time to mail it home, so I lost it.

Was that a scam? Not really. Unless you count the whole system being set up to scam us honest folks... which most days, I half believe.

Google "Asset forfeiture" some time. It's not a scam, it's completely legal... but it's a system designed to screw over the general population. (note the part that says: "a property owner need not be found guilty of any crime in order for the state to seize his or her property...")

Tara said...

Love your story. And your point:

Money only flows one way.

So true.

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Eric, I've been scammed once or twice. Mostly little stuff, but still. Your hometown sounds a little like mine. Only you'd never know it now. All those places have moved in to the neighborhood.

Great post, I've missed being around, that rebel, Olivia

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm so suspicious of every Facebook link, e-mail from a stranger, and almost all phone calls that it's hard to fool me these days. I was pretty gullible when I was younger, though. I even once paid an editor/book doctor suggested by an unscrupulous pretend agent. We live and learn.