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scam city
there's a writer born every minute
by joe procopio (@jproco)

Have you ever thought about the book that's inside of you? Have you ever sat at your PC and typed a page or two just to see where it would go? Have you ever wasted half a tree printing out 300 pages of your most clever and fascinating work and thought, what now?

The most rewarding and confusing aspect of the art of writing is that, in order to be a writer, all you have to do is write. There's simply no other meaningful designation of writer beyond the label "professional," and even that only signifies that someone else has traded you either money or goods for words. It says nothing about what kind of judge the publisher is and thus, really says nothing about how good of a writer the writer is. Honestly, the only mitigating factor is whether or not you've sold a million copies of something. Which means there's about a dozen really wonderful writers, one of whom is Paul Reiser, and then everybody else.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of us who have sat down and begun to write the bestseller we have brewing inside of us. Unfortunately, there are also literally hundreds of thousands of us who have sat down and begun to write that horrible piece of tripe we have brewing inside of us.

Harsh? Sure. True? Even more so.

For every Catch 22 there is an ode to something or other that nobody really cares about. I know this. My first novel is about my first particularly ugly breakup (but, I mean, it's really good though - she was a model and I became an alcoholic and... never mind). Furthermore, for every sentence that's written sparklingly well, there's two that ain't.

Everyone has something to say, it seems, and there just aren't enough outlets. I find this unfortunate, but very real.

Stay with me.

Fact: Back in the day (yeah, 1993, that was the day), the proliferation of personal "vanity" websites was simply astounding. This was good, in that it eventually evolved into the establishment of ideal-driven communities, much like the ideal-driven community you are, at this very moment, spending your precious time with.

Have I thanked you lately?

Fact: Along with this virtual rodeo of personal expression came a marked spike in the number of submissions to book publishers. Because of the web? Probably not directly, but indirectly for sure. Result? A market that had always been glutted with supply and starved for demand was now flooded and rendered immobile with content.

Fact: There is not a more archaic, backward, and retarded process than that of getting one's book published. Publishing houses are the last great bastions on the front against modern communication technology. In their world, the Internet is just now coming into acceptance of any sort, far from wide. And although you can purchase nearly any book ever printed and receive it the very next day, rest assured that the author of said book will not receive royalties for anywhere from three months to a year.

Fact: It is an obvious truth of contemporary society that anywhere you find vanity, in any form, you will find those willing to prey upon it. The literary world has always been rife with hucksters, promising recognition and adulation for, almost always, a fee. Add to the mix the fact that the keepers of the keys in the publishing world are tech-illiterate and the sharks are tech-savvy, and you wind up with an epidemic of a con game.

Proof: Scam city.


The con takes many forms, but mostly a variation on the old Hollywood shuffle. Girl gets off bus from Iowa. Girl meets seedy "agent" at bus stop snack bar. "Agent" promises girl prominent parts in movies. Girl agrees to sleep with "agent." Girl winds up broke and broken, making ends meet by taking a prominent role in Crocodile Blondee.

Writers, while sharing the same sense of ambition and desire for recognition as our farm girl, have two particular blessings in our favor: One, we're smarter. Two, we're a lot less attractive.

However, it's not enough to keep us from sticking limbs into the snare, assuming that we're cleverer, more world weary than most of the victims we've heard about. It's only when we're snapped up into the air, a few dollars poorer and a few shreds of dignity lighter, that we spot the obvious catch in the free (well, it's never free) lunch.

I'm not going to deconstruct the most popular scams or start naming names. I'm not even going to hit you with the personal anecdote. There are plenty of books that have already been published that delve deeper into the game.

I will tell you to watch out, no matter what your genre or discipline. There's no set of rules to being an artist. Anyone can join. Nearly everyone does. So make sure you want to be an artist for the right reasons. Take the long road.

Because if you think it can't happen to you, you're already halfway suckered.

From CNN - Dec. 23: Couple claimed to be literary agents, bilked writers out of $1.5 million

A couple admitted that they cheated eager writers out of nearly $1.5 million by claiming to be literary agents who would publish the authors' manuscripts.

Charles Deering, 52, and Dorothy Deering, 55, ...ran national advertisements offering to publish manuscripts for fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

"They did so much more than milk money from hopeful writers. They played with their emotions, their hopes and their dreams," said Glenda Ivey, 57, of Jacksonville, Florida, who had sent the Deerings manuscripts titled "Sarah's Revenge" and "A Woman's Worth," paying fees of about $800.

The couple hired several people to edit manuscripts and send helpful criticism to the authors. However, the Deerings often lied to writers about their employees' qualifications, saying they had Ivy League degrees and prestigious teaching positions at the University of Kentucky.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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