How To Spot A Scam
As a self published author, it is your own responsibility to not only find and negotiate opportunities for your work, but to protect your work. And unfortunately, in the realm of authorhood, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you have someone with some expertise or legal knowledge to run situations by that’s all the better, but oftentimes that is not the case. More often than not we need to make our own judgement calls, so I wanted to provide some general tips for calling out a scam.
My first, most obvious, and most important tip is to always, always, always do a Google search. If you are considering working with a company or person, research them. Read their reviews. Check to see if they have a rating on the Better Business Bureau. Ask around on social media to see if anyone else has any experience working with them. And when you are reading testimonials, make sure they are not just the ones on the company’s website- why would they highlight bad reviews of themselves? Also, check multiple other sites for reviews if possible. Sometimes companies purchase positive reviews, so dig around. Look for authenticity in reviews.
My second, also obvious, also very important tip is to trust your gut. If you’re getting a bad vibe or something feels off, even if you can’t put your finger on it or verbalize your discomfort, trust it.
I’d like to point out that not all scams will be all that obvious. Some, like the ones I’m going to discuss below, can even feel very exciting. This has happened to me a few times now, and I’ve seen others complain about it on social media. What happens is, companies will reach out to you claiming to have seen your book somewhere and want to represent you in some way. Again, at first it can be tough not to feel hopeful. The first time it happened to me, I replied right away asking questions about what they do for their authors. And the response that I got gave me the sense that this was not a legitimate company. Sure enough, a little research told me as much. One company claimed to have seen Bewilderments at a festival that I displayed it at, so it seemed probable. I mean, my book was at that festival. But then I realized that I had never provided the phone number that this company called me at, or any phone number for that matter, with my festival application. To this day, I’m not not sure how that company got the phone number to my parents’ house, where I wasn’t even living at the time. On top of that, it was very obvious from the voicemail that they left that they were calling from a call center and not an office- it was very noisy and there was a lot of conversation happening in the background.
When companies seek you out, here are some other red flags to look for:
They call you over and over again - this may sound harsh, but no one legitimate is going to try that hard. If they’re legit, they don’t need to. If a company is repeatedly contacting you, especially if you flat out ignore them and they still continue to call or email you, it is because they want your money. In the publishing industry, it is rare for publishers to reach out to authors unless they already have a large following. Real publishers receive thousands of queries a day, which means that they don’t need to outwardly and actively seek authors.
Weird addressing - I have received both phone calls and emails that have awkwardly been addressed to my full name. It’s one thing for someone to call and say something like, “Hi, is Theresa Sopko available?”. It’s another thing to pick up the phone and here, “Hi, Theresa Sopko” in a monotone or for an email to be addressed, “Dear Theresa Sopko”. It sounds like such a negligible thing at fist, but if you think about the way people address each other, even in a formal setting, it never reads as your full name. In all non-questionable correspondence I’ve partaken in, I’ve been addressed just as Theresa, or as Ms. Sopko.
Typos and errors- if an email is riddled with odd capitalization, grammatical errors, spelling errors, incorrect punctuation, oddly cut lines, or anything of the like, you should be wary. This could mean that bots are being used or scripts are being filled in, which in turn means that these scripts are being mass produced and sent to better the company’s odds of getting a bite. They’re not looking for talent, they’re looking for wallets.
Tons of information on the company - I’ve noticed in emails that I get from these people that at the end they include paragraphs and paragraphs of information about their so-called company, as if they’re trying to prove that they are, in fact, a company. I don’t think it is odd for companies to include beneficial information about themselves in pitches, such as how many other authors they’ve helped or how long they’ve been in business, but for a company to go on and on is desperate and fishy.
Straight up lies & repetition - This is a quote from an email that I received on October 5th (errors and all):
”We have received feedback from our online re seller partners (such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble). That your material has received a number of good customer reviews but as of the moment it is not doing well in sales and in marketing and our in-house reviewer believes that your book needs more exposure to the reading public.”
Later in the email, they repeated this exact paragraph only they included a line about Bewilderments being shown in a festival this year, when Bewilderments was not at any 2018 festivals. Secondly, they tried to manipulate me by telling me that they heard from Amazon (because Amazon frequently chats with random publishing/marketing companies about random indie authors’ sales) that my book is selling poorly compared to how well it’s being received. Even if something like this does apply to your situation, don’t let yourself be convinced. These are all very easy guesses. They named the two biggest distributors of books, the first of which is the first and only choice for most indie authors. They blandly give me credit for “a number” of good reviews, and then take a swing that I’d like to sell some more books. None of this takes any actual knowledge of me or my work.
To read more about scams on writers and to read about specific offenders, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website has a section called Writer Beware that is crazy informative. I highly suggest you check them out, even if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy.
I’d like to add that just because someone is reaching out to you about your work doesn’t mean that they are automatically a scam. I’m sure your writing is amazing and is attracting attention! I would just like to caution you with the warning signs above, and also prepare you for the likelihood that you will be asked to pay for the services being offered by whoever has reached out to you. People with actual businesses and skill sets do reach out to authors, but it is to offer their services. Still, do your research and ensure that those services are worth paying for.
Always put yourself and your art first. Don’t let yourself be pressured or talked into making a decision that only benefits the other party. Ask for advice, including Google’s advice, but make sure you feel good about the situation you are in above anything else. If you feel icky about something, then follow that feeling. If you feel greatly optimistic about something, take a shot at it! Just make sure you are making informed decisions.
Until next time,