Saturday, October 23, 2010
One simple rule to avoid SCAMS
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?