Scamming Writers for Fun and Profit

As long as there has been money, there have been scammers trying to separate people from their coin while providing nothing in return.  Today I’ll discuss scamming writers, from the scammer’s point of view.  (Note:  I am not encouraging scamming; I’m trying to make a point to budding writers.)

Writer ScamIn general, scams work best when your mark has a strong need for something, but not a lot of knowledge of the world.  You’d think that a rare combination, but there’s enough of them out there for you to get by.

People who want to be writers are particularly susceptible.  Why?  Glad you asked.

1.  New writers without much experience are confused by the process.  After all, it’s not like other businesses, where you get a company-paid training session on Day 1.

2.  Writers can get really, really desperate to be published.  They’re willing to do anything to see their name in print.

3.  Writers work alone, so they’ve got no one to turn to for advice, guidance, or support.

4.  Beginning writers are used to rejection, since they’ve been submitting stories and getting turned down often.  That means you can string them along with vague promises awhile; for them, a half assurance is better than outright rejection.

5.  In a lot of other businesses, you really do have to pay a little money now to make a lot of money later.  Therefore, you can easily convince new writers that writing is the same way.  Newbies don’t know that money should almost always flow to the writer.

6.  The writing biz is just complicated enough so you can set up your scam at almost any point in it.  You can be a scam-editor, a scam-publisher, a scam-agent, or a scam-marketer.  You can offer a scam-writing workshop or scam-conference, run a scam-contest, or dozens of other things.

7.  It’s difficult for new writers to distinguish your scam from a legitimate business.  As long as your website looks professional, how are they going to tell?  There are plenty of editors, agents, publishers, etc. that are legitimate and not scammers but are just bad at their job.  Unlike us, they provide something to the writer, but it’s of low quality.  We’re just one step across the line from them; our task is to give nothing in return for the writer’s money.

8.  There’s no place a beginning writer can go to find out information about us scammers.  Well, okay, there’s Writer Beware, but how many of them know about that?  Besides, our message is positive and enticing (You can be published!  You can have guaranteed sales of your stories!), but “Writer Beware” is just a downer.

I’m done thinking like a scammer.  It felt so wrong and I had to scrub down in the shower for ten minutes just to get the slime off.

You understand my overall point.  The scammers are out there, and they’re after your money.  As a writer, money flows to you, not the other way around.  There are resources out there to help you.  Whether you’ve been scammed or not, whether you’re a scammer or not, I’d love to read any comments you have about this. Remember, it costs you nothing to leave a comment for—

                                           Poseidon’s Scribe

January 12, 2014Permalink

10 Reasons You Really Are Good Enough to Write Fiction

Perhaps you have a story inside you, but you feel too scared or intimidated or inadequate to believe you could ever write fiction.  Here are some ways to banish those feelings.

First, there are at least three levels of fiction-writing.  (1) These days you can write and publish something yourself without an editor, at near zero cost.  (2) You can get your writing accepted by a publisher, but not make enough money to live on.  (3) You can write fiction as your sole means of support.  I’ll limit myself to discussing level (2) today.

Never be a writerTrue, some people aren’t cut out to be writers at all.  My purpose today is to keep you from cutting yourself out of the running at the start.  Let’s look at ways you might think you’re not fit to be a writer:

  1. I just know I could never be a writer.  Where is your resistance to writing coming from?  Do you immediately think “I could never do that” when presented with other opportunities in life?  Maybe this isn’t about writing at all, but your general negativity toward trying new activities.  How many amazing human initiatives haven’t happened because somebody said, “I could never do that,” hmm?
  2. I don’t know anything about writing.  Don’t let this stop you.  That’s the part you can get help with, through critique groups, writing courses, books about writing, writing conferences, etc.
  3. I’d never write as well as [insert your favorite famous author’s name here].  Stop comparing yourself to the great authors.  You can’t know today how you’ll stack up against them one day.  So what if you’re not quite as good?  You can still get published and win over some readers.
  4. I’m unknown, and people only read books by known authors.  Think about it; all published authors started off unknown.  What if your favorite author had talked herself or himself out of writing?
  5. No editor will read my stories because I’m unpublished.  Not true.  Consider that latching on to a new, undiscovered top talent is every publisher’s dream.  All they need is one (you?) to make their career.
  6. Novels seem so hard to write.  No need to begin with a novel.  Try a novella, a short story, flash fiction.  Do blog posts for a while.
  7. My teacher told me I’d never be a writer.  Is one long-ago English or Language Arts teacher still in your head criticizing you?  Keep that teacher in your mind, but dedicate yourself to showing how wrong he or she was; sweet revenge will be yours one day.
  8. My story idea seems trite, or already used, etc.  At this point your idea is just a story concept; it might match hundreds of already-published stories.  Once you flesh it out and write it down, it becomes uniquely yours, different from all others, and possibly publishable.
  9. It takes too long to write a story.  True, writing takes time.  But, of all the skills and abilities you’ve developed in life, how many did you master in a day?  Let the strength of your story idea sustain you.  If it’s truly grabbed you, you’ll persevere until you write it all down.
  10. I couldn’t stand being rejected or getting a bad review.  That does stink, no denying it.  Any creative endeavor requires a thick skin.  Look at editor’s rejections as permissions to send your story elsewhere.  As for bad reviews, remember it’s far easier to be the critic.  At the worst, the reviewer may actually have a valid point you can use to improve your writing for the next story.

See?  You are good enough to at least try being a writer.  Shake off those negative emotions.  Let your imagination soar.  Allow yourself to try it out.  Someday, when you’re a famous author, be sure and give partial credit to—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

November 17, 2013Permalink

When Authors Speak

When you’ve had a few stories published, you may be asked to speak at a conference.  It may be a chance to speak alone about a topic, to speak on a panel, or to read some samples of your writing.

I’ve had that honor twice.  In February 2010, I read a portion of my story “Within Victorian Mists” to an audience at the Crossroads Writing Conference in Macon, GA.  I was with a group of other steampunk writers (Emilie P. Bush, Kathryn Hinds, Alexander White, Lainey Welsch, Dwayne DeBardelaben, and Austin Sirkin), and here’s a picture from that event.  In November 2011, I served on a panel with some steampunk experts (Mark P. Donnelly, Elektra Hammond, and Kevin Houghton) at the DarkoverCon in Timonium, MD.

For both conference speaker and conference attender, there are likely to be some unmet expectations.  I fear that conference attenders who hope to be authors someday think they will learn the hidden secrets of great writing and be handed the golden keys to fortune and fame.  In some cases, conference speakers may expect to earn flocks of new fans, all captivated by the speaker’s charm or wit and eager to part with their cash in exchange for the author’s books.

So if you’re the writer who’s given a chance to speak, what should you expect?  Perhaps one or more audience members will feel moved to purchase something on the spot.  Others may think about it and investigate your presence online later, before deciding to buy and read one of your books.

Those attending your panel, or lecture, or reading, must lower their expectations as well.  After all, it’s not like you have surplus fortune-and-fame keys to hand out.  The most they’ll receive are a few nuggets of wisdom about becoming an author, or reminders and reinforcements of previously learned knowledge.

As the speaker, then, your purposes are clear.  (1) Present yourself as an engaging, interesting personality.  (2) Convey some useable advice or recommendations about getting published. (3) Inform the audience about your books without being pushy.  In this way both speaker and audience can leave knowing they’ve received something of value.

Trouble is, the skills you developed while becoming a published author differ from those needed for speaking at a conference.  Public speaking scares most people at first, and only practice and experience lessen that fear.

If you’re the sole speaker during your session, I suggest you come prepared with an outline, so your talk doesn’t ramble.  Remember too, even a lecture is an interactive event, never the same twice.  Watch your audience members for their body language and facial reactions; you’ll know when you’ve said something controversial or provocative, etc.  Be gracious and attentive during the question-and-answer period.

When serving on a discussion panel, now group dynamics enter the picture.  Don’t monopolize the panel; that turns audiences off.  Don’t sit there saying little; you won’t entice future readers that way either.  If you must disagree with another panelist, do so with respect and consideration.  Never get drawn into an argument; that runs counter to your purposes.

If reading from one of your stories, select an engaging passage.  Project your voice.  Enunciate your words.  Modulate as you speak, stressing for emphasis and altering your timbre or accent for different characters in dialogue.

Was this advice helpful?  Let me know with a comment.  Remember, readers love to meet and engage with authors, especially those they find intriguing.  So get out there and be intriguing.  Soon you’ll be winning fans, including–

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

Your Writer Infestation

Usually I dedicate my blog entries to beginning writers.  Today I want to address those who put up with writers–spouses, children, parents, co-workers, and friends.

Before we discuss what to do about your writer infestation, let’s explore how to recognize you have one.  At first glance, this may seem difficult to determine.   After all, writers look just like normal people, for the most part.  Writers have a wide distribution, having been seen on every continent, in every country.  They live wherever people live, often in houses or apartments right alongside normal people.

However, writers have certain characteristics that give themselves away as a completely different species.  First, they engage in the “writing” behavior, often for many hours on end.  This is a solitary activity which does not usually annoy others.  They may go without food or drink while writing, or may consume these in great quantities.  This characteristic has been shown to vary from writer to writer.

On those occasions when writers are not writing, and instead interact with people, their behavior is unique to their species.  Often, for example, a writer will appear to be attentive and interested in a discussion, but in fact is merely observing and noting ideas about language and gestures for some future story.  The writer may not be hearing the person at all.  Many people have noted writers who seem lost in thought as if they inhabit a world of their own creation.  In conversation, writers may express thoughts similar to the following:

  • “That’s a good idea. I can use that in my next story.”
  • “I have a character just like her in one of my novels.”
  • “Let me read something to you; tell me honestly what you think.”
  • “The script for that TV show (or movie, or TV ad, or radio ad) is terrible.  I could do better.”

You may have had some bad experiences while dealing with one of these writers in your life.  You might have tried interrupting the writer in the act of writing, with unfortunate results.  You’ve probably been bored on many occasions when the writer talked to you about some aspect of writing.  You might even have been interested at one point about this writing behavior, but experience has taught you not to ask or show any curiosity.  You may have developed a fear that the writer might make you a character in a story.  You may have wondered why the writer occasionally seeks out the company of other writers, at such events as “conferences,” “critique groups,” or “writing courses.”

These are all normal reactions that occur when interacting with writers.  So far none have been shown to have long-term negative effects on people.  Your exposure to a writer should not prevent you from living a nearly normal life.

What should you do if you find yourself in the company of a writer?  Escape may not be possible, particularly if you have made a marital promise to the writer, or the writer is one of your parents or children.  My advice in such cases is to focus on the positive–look for the good or endearing qualities of the writer (if any) and cherish those.  It’s usually best not to express any curiosity about the writer’s stories; instead encourage the writer to seek the company of other writers.  Only another writer can truly understand a writer.

As mentioned above, try to avoid interrupting a writer engaged in writing.  Writers can be angry and aggressive when aroused; they exhibit typical territorial behaviors.  Sometimes such interruptions cannot be avoided however, such as when a person needs a writer to perform some non-writing domestic duty–taking out garbage, making a meal, cleaning a room, mowing a lawn, etc.  At such times, if you know the writer’s favorite author, you can state that “Even [insert Great Author] didn’t write all the time.  Please take a little time to [insert necessary non-writing activity.]”  Alternatively, you can suggest that it’s time the writer does some real-world research. You might have to get creative with that one because after the first time even a writer will not view mowing the lawn as research.

It’s my hope that you can manage to tolerate or even enjoy the relationship with the writer in your life, despite the difficulties and differences.  Even today, science has much to learn about this rare and fascinating species.  If you have encountered one and observed traits not mentioned here, please leave a comment.  It’s in the interest of science.  Always interested in scientific advancement, I’m —

                                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

October 23, 2011Permalink

It’s Not the Critic Who Counts…

So begins the famous and stirring quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which goes on to praise “the doer of deeds” over the one who “points out where the strong man stumbles.”  I certainly agree with TR when it comes to uninvited criticism, but what about the case when you seek it out?

In a writing critique group, Teddy, everyone intentionally takes turns being the doer of deeds and pointing out where he stumbles.   More than any other method I’ve used to improve my writing, participation in a critique group has been the most effective.  I’ve subscribed to writing magazines, attended writing conferences, read books about writing, and gone to writing classes.  Note that each of those other venues features a writing professional, an expert with some stature as an author.  How is it that a critique group formed spontaneously from a group of rank amateurs, without any money changing hands, can be superior to the other methods?

I don’t know that answer, and it may not be true for you.  Certainly one can have a bad experience with a critique group and get soured on the whole idea.  But if you live in a populated area, or are willing to travel to one, it can be easy to start up another group.  Perhaps that new one will suit you better.

In a later post I’ll discuss various critique group arrangements and rules, but for now I’d like to concentrate on what you bring to it and what you get out of it.  What you bring to it are: (1) your written stories or chapters, (2) an open mind and a thick skin willing to receive well-meaning criticism about your work, and (3) a willingness to provide good critiques of other people’s work.

Notice I didn’t say anything about bringing money.  Most critique groups are free, or nearly so.  I’m amazed at what you can get people to do for free.  Among fellow amateur writers, if you’re willing to critique their work, they’re willing to critique yours.  It’s said you get what you pay for, so maybe each individual critique is not as comprehensive or as accurate as if a professional had done it, but you’ll be getting more than one—generally you’ll get critiqued by every other member of the group.  The combined thoughts of the group (even when some thoughts contradict) will come close to the quality of a professional’s critique.

I’ve listed the things you bring to the group.  What do you get out of it?  (1) Taken in combination, you get well-meaning written reactions from a group of readers to your work.  Some of these criticisms will sting, but remember that these people are criticizing your work, not you.  Their only interest is in helping you get published.  Wouldn’t you rather hear the sad truth from a group of friends than realize it later after enduring many dozens of rejections?  (2) You get the supportive urging of a group to write more.  It’s strange how the looming date of the next critique group meeting can serve as the prompting force making you churn out some text.  (3) You get the benefit of learning from others about the business side of writing.  Depending on the expertise of the group and the time available, talk often turns to experiences they’ve had with agents, editors, submitting stories, their website, the conference or workshop someone just attended, etc.  (4) You get the invigorating and energizing atmosphere of just being among fellow writers, people going through the same private agonies and ecstasies, people who get it.  Most of us don’t enjoy that atmosphere at home, unless you happen to live with a group of writers.  (5) Over time, you’ll find you grow as a writer, and as a critic of other people’s writing.  While editing your own work in preparation for the group meeting, you’ll find yourself making corrections you just know the critique group would have recommended.

When I first joined a critique group, I thought the objective was to wean myself of the need to be in the group.  After all, I imagined, the world’s greatest writers aren’t in critique groups, are they?  Now I’m not so sure.  It’s hard for me to imagine being a writer and not being in a critique group.

One final thought.  There’s an aspect of critique groups that I find intellectually appealing. These groups form spontaneously; they are essentially self-generating.  Order emerges somehow from what were, at one time, several writers working in isolation.  Out of nothing at all comes shared wisdom and shared growth.  That creative magic of critique groups is, to me, akin to the writing process itself.  Maybe, President Roosevelt, it is the critic who counts, too.

Tell me what you think about writing critique groups.  In the meantime, with limitless gratitude to my own group, I remain—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Shortcut to Greatness?

When we watch magicians perform, we’re smart enough to know there’s no real magic involved.  We know there’s a perfectly logical trick.  In fact, we’re sure if that magician would only reveal the trick to us, we could do the act too.  Magicians guard each trick with great care so that knowledge of how they do it doesn’t spoil the show.

Think it’s the same with writing?  What if we could beseech a great author to teach us his tricks, reveal the secrets she’s been concealing?  “Make me a best-selling author, too,” we’d say, “I don’t care if it takes all day!”

I’m not a best-selling author (yet), so for all I know they are withholding the secrets from us, hoarding their tricks and special knowledge, unwilling to spill the beans and open themselves up to a little more competition.

If those no-good, stuck-up top shelf authors really are keeping secrets from us, then they’re not only guilty of that, but of lying as well.  Writer after writer has claimed there are no secrets, other than hours and hours of practice.  Writers as diverse as Isaac Asimov, Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, and Tom Clancy all say there are no shortcuts, no simple tricks, and no keyboard sleight-of-hand moves that will make you a great writer.  W. Somerset Maugham said, “there are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  Apparently the number of rules is three, though, so that’s progress.

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell claims the secret to genius-level greatness in any field is a combination of luck and a lot of time spent practicing.  How much time?  Gladwell says around ten thousand hours.  Yes, ten thousand. That’s a lot more than the solid afternoon we were hoping to devote to it.  More like fourteen months, continuously, without sleeping.  If all you can spare is two hours a day for your writing, then you’ll need nearly fourteen years to achieve greatness.

At this point, you may be yearning for some easier path.  What about writing courses, writing conferences, workshops, how-to books, critique groups, and the online versions of these?  I’ll give my perspective, having tried many of them.  I think all of these aids have value, some more than others.  In particular, I believe critique groups have been the most beneficial for me.  However, it’s important to embark on each one with the right attitude, the correct level of expectation.

If you pay for a conference, a how-to book, etc. thinking you’ll emerge out the other end as a pro market author, I suggest you ratchet down your hopes a few settings.  Each of these venues is fine to partake on an occasional basis to learn different viewpoints, refresh knowledge you might have forgotten, etc.  But make you a superstar author?  Doubtful.  Not impossible, just improbable.

There are expenses involved with each of the venues, too.  On the other hand, the long hours of lonely practice are nearly free, except for the amount of time spent.  I urge you not to fall into the trap of thinking that just because the last writing course (or workshop, etc.) you took didn’t result in instant success, surely the next one will.  Now that I think of it, I’ve never heard of a Great Author attributing his or her achievements to a how-to book or a conference, or any of those things.  Many of them do talk about reading a lot, especially reading the classics.  But they all say there is no substitute for writing, writing all the time, writing constantly.

So maybe one day some successful author will take you down a winding staircase into a hidden hideaway, enter the little-known combination into the locks, swing wide the series of creaking vault doors, and open the chest containing the secrets to easy writing greatness.  If you know those secrets, e-mail me here.  Until that day, I suggest practice.  But what do I know?  I’m just…

Poseidon’s Scribe