3 Author Scams to Avoid

Since my novel has gotten a bit of press and recognition, the scammers have come out of the woodwork, so I want to share my experience with you other independent authors out there so you can avoid such pitfalls.

Below are three common, but probably not the only, scams that I have come across:

Screenplay Offers

I’ve had several ‘publishing companies’, often based on the East Coast, cold call me to sell me on how they will adapt my novel to a screenplay and get it in front of ‘their’ industry professionals in Hollywood. For a Fee.

But that’s not how book options work. Productions companies, agents, and writers must pay YOU for a period ($500 up) of time (say 3-6 months) for the rights to try to sell your work to studios and people who could make the movie. Offer them something like those terms and see if they are serious.

I told one company, “Why do I need to pay you–I’m the writer and can adapt the screenplay myself and submit it to contests!” They didn’t like that.

If you do happen to get a legitimate option offer, it’s time to hire a lawyer, manager, or agent. You’ll need an iron-clad contract. Never agree to anything verbally without something in writing.

The blog Writers Beware gives some more information on the history of this scam in a recent post.

Festival Offers

Some ‘publishing’ companies will offer to promote your book at the L.A. Festival or London Festival of the Book. For a fee.

Now, some of these companies seem legit, some don’t. But they are asking a lot of money for something you can get through a) your publisher, even if its a small press, or b) by hiring a PR consultant who works for you. PR professionals maybe be more expensive, but they will also work to place your book

You can also apply to many festivals, such as the San Antonio Book Festival, on your own as a writer. Big book expos, like New York’s, sell slots for authors on their display shelves, and they are much less expensive than what these scammers are offering. Others are geared toward indy authors.

Here’s a comprehensive list on book fairs/festivals from the Center for Book Publishing. Do you own homework and save money!

Advertising Offers

The other day, I got a ridiculous email from “Happy Media” (the name itself is a red flag) trying to sell me ad in Publisher’s Weekly. Now how stupid do they think we are? I don’t need a middleman for that. Why would I not just contact Publisher’s Weekly itself or buy an ad through their PW Selected program or through their indie author site, Booklife?

Many paid review sites, such as Booklife, are legit and a good way to promote your book. Just do research and ask other authors about their experiences first.

Rules of Thumb

There are ways to tell if an offer is legitimate, and the rules are not complicated:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you need to make sure, run the offer by mentors, friends in publishing, or a lawyer (indispensable for an indy author).
  • If they contact you and ask you for money up front, it’s probably not legit. As an author, your intellectual property is valuable, and you should be getting a return on your investment. So make sure that anyone you hire to promote your book has a contractual or fiduciary obligation to do so. Most legit PR professionals will wait for you to seek them out, so do your homework.
  • Trust your gut. If something feels off about the contact or, say, their email timestamps or phone numbers don’t seem to line up with where they say they are based, then it could be a fake foreign company. Be ware.

Have you had any of the same experiences? Leave any questions or advice you may have in the comments below. Thanks!

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