Friday, June 17, 2016

Ask Frida Pennabook: Hibernating in Haslett

Sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.

Dear Frida,

The more I am on social media, the more I hear about writers getting scammed. Just recently, I heard about a group of writers who were scammed out of hundreds of dollars after they signed up for a fake conference. Seriously?? How does something like that happen? I don’t know whether I should feel sorry for these people because they were naive and got what they deserved, or nervous because there’s such a thing as a fake conference. Makes me think of what my Grandma used to say: You can’t lose your money if you never gamble. Maybe I should stay in my cozy little writing cave and never leave.

Hibernating in Haslett

Dear Hibernating,

The sad truth is that yes, Virginia, there are fake conferences out there, just as there are fake agents, editors, and publishers. Their prey tend to be writers who are relatively new to the industry. For example, one conference I read about promised that everyone who attended would leave with a publishable manuscript. Experienced writers know that you can’t buy a publishable manuscript. Only hard work and lots of time can yield one.

One of the worst examples I’ve seen in recent years involves an author event that was cancelled due to “terrorist threats.” Even though the event organizer promised refunds, she has now disappeared, along with thousands of dollars of other people’s money. Another scammer (a woman pretending to be a publisher) faked her own death.

While it may sound like the plot of a poorly written thriller, these kinds of scams are real. But they can be avoided, if you know what to look for.

Is the organization reputable?
Anyone can buy a domain name and create a website for an event, agency, or publisher. Do your due diligence. Is the conference sponsored by a legitimate organization? Does the agency share clients that you can contact without having to go through their website? Is the event verifiable through the location, that is, if you call the conference venue, can they confirm that the event organizer has signed a contract and paid a deposit?

Is the event sponsor an individual?
This should be a big red flag. Individuals don’t usually carry the kind of clout necessary to attract big names to an event. Nor do they usually have insurance to cover costs of a cancellation.

Have you checked the guest speakers’ credentials?
Take a look at their websites. If it’s a well-known speaker, then the event should appear on his or her website under upcoming appearances (or something similar to that). If in doubt, send an email and ask.

Does the write up for the event make big promises?
If you are guaranteed that attendance at a conference will result in a publishable manuscript, or agent representation, be wary. Legitimate conference organizers don’t make promises like this.  

Has the agent asked for an upfront fee?
Real agents don’t ask for an upfront reading fee, make promises of publication, or offer fee-based editing services. Check out for a list of agents who are registered with the Association of Authors’ Representatives. The member agents agree to operate under strict ethical guidelines. Note that there are plenty of legitimate agents who do not belong to AAR, so this is not the end all be all. But it’s a good place to start.

Has the editor clarified his or her role in your manuscript?
Whether you are hiring a freelance editor to help you with your manuscript before you start submitting, or you have been approached by an editor who wants to publish your manuscript, be sure you understand exactly what the editor’s role will be. Don’t do anything without a contract, and read it very carefully. Consider hiring an agent who simply works with you on ironing out contract details. There are agents who will do this for a flat fee. Avoid a potential conflict of interest by not using an agent suggested to you by the publisher.

Well now, describing these shenanigans has left me a bit hot under the collar. I hope I didn't frighten you. I believe this calls for a pleasant stroll around the lake, and you, my dear, must come out of hibernation. What lake you ask? Take your pick, big or small, this is Michigan after all. Simply follow the resources below to find your way to a safe shore.


Resources for Finding Reputable Events, Agents, Editors, and/or Publishers

Editorial Freelancers Association (Search their list of vetted freelance editors, designers, and ghostwriters)
Writer Beware (This is one of my favorites for researching scams)

Many larger publications (such as Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, Association of Writing Programs, and others) regularly post articles about upcoming events, manuscript wish lists, contests, etc., and are good places to research legitimate events, agents, editors, and publishers.

A few of the reputable conferences in Michigan:
Capital City Writers
Rally of Writers
Detroit Working Writers
Rochester Writers
Michigan Reading Association

Thanks to Frida Pennabook for sharing her wisdom! If you have additional resources, please share in the comments below.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! Patti Richards is gathering your good news so we can celebrate! Email Patti by June 21st to be included.

1 comment:

  1. Phony writers' conferences never crossed my mind! Thanks for enlightening me.