Spotting the Scam

Spotting the Scam

Long before encountering the potential hazards of vanity publishing, actually, at the tender age of eight, my “scam-dar” (radar for scams) was activated. I had gone with my friend and family to the Royal Adelaide Show.

My friend pointed to the laughing clowns. ‘Look, Lee-Anne, everyone wins a prize.’

I rolled my eyes as the clowns’ heads swayed from side to side. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, everyone wins a prize,’ the vendor with a weathered face said.

‘Okay,’ I replied and parted with my hard-earned pocket money to have a go.

I fed the ping pong balls into the wide red mouth of one clown and watched them roll down and settle into various numbered slots down below the laughing clown’s chest.

The vendor tallied up the numbers, fetched a plastic figure and passed it over to me. I examined the item with horror and disappointment. Toys offered at the bottom of a cereal packet were better value than this piece of junk.

‘Hey,’ I retorted, holding up the cheaply made foreign-made trifle, ‘this is a rip-off!’

The vendor grinned. ‘Every player wins a prize.’

As we walked away from the laughing clowns, I told my friend, ‘That’s the last time I’m playing any side show alley game. It’s a rip off.’

From then on, I was cautious in how I spent my time and money. Making sure I got value for my money. After all, my family was not flush with money. I had learnt to be frugal, do my research and if all else failed, ask mum and dad for sound fiscal advice.

By the time I had grown up, my “scam-dar” was well-established. However, even these days I have the occasional lapse from which I can still learn.

So, what’s some advice I can pass onto those of you out there who are still unsure and navigating the ever-growing sneakiness of scammers? In the world of publishing, the tricks scammers use are the same.

  • First, the old premise: If it’s too good to be true, it is. I remember how my husband was drawn in by cold call about a holiday offer. Oh, wow, if we go to the event, we’ll win a travel bag. (Every player wins a prize bid.) So, off we go and discover it’s all about Time Share Accommodation. Huh! We studied the form we had to fill and considered the conditions (research). We both agreed that the disadvantages and cost outweighed the benefits, so we declined the offer. The pushy salesman was so disappointed, but we collected the bag and left. At least the bag was good quality.
  • Cold Call: I figure, that if a business has to cold call, then they are desperate for customers and there must be some reason that they are not doing well. Avoid like the plague. Read what happened to one of our friends from such a cold call in “The Perils of Vanity Publishing”.
  • Check Reviews: On the flip side, a good and ethical business (that includes publishing companies) will thrive on word of mouth, and these days, good reviews online. Again, not all good reviews are equal. Some businesses will stack their five-star reviews from friends, family and publicity specialists. So, what I do when checking out the quality of a product or service, is examine the one-star reviews and comments. Then the truth is revealed. Another means of checking how good a company is, is by seeing what users on social media platforms such as Facebook, and Whirlpool have to say about them. Hence, one reason, after research, I opted to publish my books through Amazon.
  • Those Emails: Every so often, my mother beckons me, ‘I just want you to have a look at this email.’ So, I look. At the email. Bad grammar and spelling are a give-away as a scam. Then I check out where the email comes from. If it’s a scam it usually shows up some totally unrelated email address. Even if the email is legitimate, handle with caution if they have contacted you first. This is especially true of publishing companies. The legitimate traditional publishing companies are way too busy to be contacting novice aspiring writers. I mean, even if you send a manuscript to a traditional publishing company, you may never get a reply, as they are inundated with manuscripts from aspiring writers. Also, publishing companies are interested in how well you can market yourself and your product, your book, that is. Therefore, they are waiting for you to contact them, often having set timeframes when they are accepting unpublished manuscripts from new authors.
  • Keep Safe: If you haven’t yet, join a writer’s group or fellowship where you can benefit from the wisdom of more experienced writers. Some writer’s groups, such as my own, have published a group anthology. In this way the new writer learns to navigate the journey of publishing with others, avoiding the pitfalls of vanity press while reaping the rewards of having their work published.

Here above, then are a few points which have helped me keep the scamming sharks from consuming my hard-earned money and time. Perhaps some of you fellow readers have tips you would like to share in our comments section. We would most welcome you to share your wisdom or experiences.

© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2023

Feature Photo: Laughing clowns ©

The Perils of Vanity Publishing

A Cautionary Tale

We have just discovered that a writer friend of ours has been taken in by a couple of publishers.  She has lost a lot of money (nearly $30,000), is confused upset and angry.  All she’s got out of it is one single copy of the book she was so proud of.

“She must be pretty thick” I hear you saying.

Not so.  Not at all.  She’s vibrant, intelligent, educated; a businesswoman all her working life and still, in her retirement, involved in theatre.  But she’s been conned by experts.  It could happen to any of us which is why we feel it is important to fill you in.

Let me tell you how it happened.

Long ago writing became an interest for her but only as a sideline, an enjoyable hobby.  For a long time she operated on a “lone wolf” basis but a few years ago she joined our writing group.  Occasionally she referred to a book she had written and the publisher she was dealing with.  We never took her up on any of the details; our group concentrates on works in progress and critiquing each other’s efforts.  That book of hers was done and dusted – on to the next level so beyond our current concerns.

However, a couple of days ago she made another comment and was obviously unhappy about things.  We’d finished our readings and given our feedback early so this time took her up on it: who was the publisher, what was going on…  And, eventually, how on earth did this happen?

Very easily as it turned out.

Publishing was a totally foreign field to her so she did what most of us do these days – she went on the internet.  Not very long after her internet search she began getting phone calls.  There were people in the USA who were interested in her work; keen to look at it; keen to publish!!

She was thrilled, sent her stuff to them – it was a children’s story illustrated with her own delightful artwork.  They rang and talked terms, explained the “situation” and were enthusiastic about possibilities.  The world opened up; she was thrilled, excited.

But she was an innocent abroad, abroad in a world of which she knew nothing; nothing at all.  She sent them money as requested (Pay Pal is a wonderful innovation when dealing with those who are far away!) and waited expectantly.  There were phone calls relating progress.  She paid more money.

Things dragged on.  The months became years.  She began to have concerns; to worry.  But reassuring phone calls, explanations, progress reports allied her fears.  She received a single copy of her book.

She was told it was in bookshops in the UK; bookshops that were part of a large chain with stores all over the country and that it was selling well.  But she was getting paid only a few cents very occasionally.  She wondered and began to worry again.

With friends and family in the UK, she asked them to go to a few of these bookshops and check them out.  No sign of any copies of her book anywhere.  Then she somehow found out that Amazon was supposed to be involved – she’d had no contact with Amazon; none at all.

At no time throughout this saga had she been offered a contract; at no time had she been asked to sign anything.  All she’d ever had was phone contact.  So she asked for them to communicate with her in writing.  Despite repeated requests, they never have.

She realised there was something seriously wrong; that she had been conned.  She was hugely embarrassed and loath to admit to what she saw as her own stupidity.  We keep telling her that action coming from lack of knowledge can never be classified as stupidity.  She’s finding that hard to accept though and still feels dreadful about the whole thing.

Sadly, there are many out there operating this way; skilled in taking advantage of the uninformed; the unwary; those of us with dreams.  In the world of publishing they are labelled “Vanity Publishers”.  It is doubtful if what they do is illegal – they’d be very sure it wasn’t!!  But it is certainly immoral.  All they will ever do is flatter you; con you; extort money from you.  In short, use you then spit you out,

So, “caveat emptor” – Buyer Beware.

© Mary McDee 2023

Feature Photo: Vanity Scarecrow © L.M. Kling 2017

Further note: If you or someone you know have had a similar experience, we would love you to share your story in our comment section.