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Five Common Writer Scams — Explained! [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Lila from PopularSoda.

Most authors want to make a profit on their books. Unfortunately, some people don’t care about books and simply want to make a profit from the authors. Here are five of the most common scams. We’re recreating their pitches, exposing the truth behind the con, and offering questions to help you avoid these fraudsters out in the wild.

The Agent

She’s a big-name hotshot from New York City. Her website is flashy, her resume is filled with books you (think you might) have heard of, and she’s open for submissions right now, so send in your cover letter and manuscript before Dan Brown calls her about his new book.

What They’re Not Telling You:

When you send your manuscript, you’ll need to include a small reading fee. And is this your first draft? It’s going to need lots of editing. She’ll recommend one of her “professional connections” to edit your novel for only a few hundred (or thousand!) dollars. The promises will keep getting bigger as your bank account gets smaller. Every week, there will be some new service absolutely crucial to preparing your manuscript for submission to the Big Six publishers. In the best-case scenario, these people might do some decent work. More likely, they will lead you on a merry chase and disappear once the check clears.

Question Toolbox:

  • Is she looking to make money with you, or first take money from you?
  • Does she allow you to pick your services and providers, or does she force hers upon you? For example, can you pick your own editor, or does she demand you use the recommended editor if you want to keep her as an agent?
  • If she’s an in-demand agent powerhouse, how does she have time to accept online submissions from strangers?

The Marketing Guru

This publicist must be a social media superstar! He promises Twitter followers, mentions on a dozen blogs, a well-publicized interview, press releases, and genuine Amazon reviews. It’s really expensive, but with coverage like this, you should make back your money in no time.

What  They’re Not Telling You:

Bear with us. There are a few parts to this one:

Short of actual sales, many marketing results can be faked or inflated. Any publicist can claim to increase your Twitter followers by a thousand. It will cost about $14. But it’s not actual, meaningful engagement. And those dozen blogs? They might be paid for their positive (or scripted) reviews. Check the Klout scores of any publicist before paying. Klout isn’t a perfect measure of engagement, but you’ll see if those thousands of followers are more than empty profiles.

Besides faking data, some marketers will charge for free services. Now, if you’re technologically challenged, there’s nothing wrong with paying a few dollars for someone to set up your accounts for you, if you know you can get it for free. But setting up a Twitter hashtag, posting a press release to free databases, these things shouldn’t be hidden behind fancy doublespeak. Don’t be afraid to ask about specifics.

Lastly, who is the target audience? It doesn’t make sense to promote your book to hundreds of other selfpub hopefuls. They’re in the same boat. They might buy a copy of your book, but they’re far from the ideal audience. And you can’t make any money selling to sock puppets, empty accounts, or other broke authors.

Question Toolbox:

  • What’s his Klout score?
  • Who makes up his audience? Does he have industry connections or is he simply tweeting your links to other hopeful selfpub authors?
  • Is he tailoring his efforts to best suit your book or churning out the same formulaic marketing strategy?
  • Is he charging for free services?

The Lit Mag or Anthology

Congratulations! Your submission has been accepted into the latest, most prestigious volume of this literary publication. You can choose to pay to have a biography included, but they’ll still include your work if you don’t. You better pick up a copy fast— this volume is sure to sell out. And don’t worry about the paperwork— just sign on this line and you’ll be a published author!

What They Aren’t Telling You:

Your work was accepted. Pretty much everyone’s work was accepted. The latest volume is only the most exclusive because they’ve gotten better software to weed out spammers. You may be a published author, but in the most basic sense: someone has put your work in a hard-copy format. And, in some cases, you might be required to sign over all rights to your work in order to be included in these self-important publications. Those “prestigious” anthologies make their money by selling the collection back to the writers (and friends and family), not to the general market. Similarly, lit mags may have audiences comprised solely of the accepted authors and their enthusiastic relatives. It has the feel of a legitimate business, but it’s just a big roundrobin: everyone gets a turn to be published.

Question Toolbox:

  • Did you actively submit to this publication?
  • Is it considered a reputable publication by independent sources? Or is it only mentioned in the blogs of other hopeful authors?
  • Is the payout worth it? Does it make sense to sign over first (or all) rights to this publication? Or would you be better off submitting the text to a better-known, paying publication?

The Editor

Like The Agent, his resume shines with brand-name schools and stints at respected publications. Unlike The Agent, his rates are listed on the site. Flat, cheap per-page rates are lit up like neon (and conveniently located next to the PayPal button). He’ll definitely edit your work for cheaper than the competition, and he might even give it a go for free!

What He’s Not Telling You:

We’ve covered bad editors in our own post, but we’ll give a run-down of the typical unqualified editor:

Though he attended a big-name school and worked at some major publications, he rarely worked in an editing capacity. He may have majored in Creative Writing  and taken a job in the IT department of that publisher. Those are great things, but they don’t qualify him to be an editor. Setting up a freelance editing business is great training for business majors, but it’s not great training to become an editor. It’s like watching a football game. As a fan, he could probably call the major fouls. But the trained editors, like the referees, have a copy of the rulebook and the experience to know when to throw it out.

Question Toolbox:

  • Does he give an accurate cost estimate after seeing the work, or is he willing to take on any project sight unseen?
  • Does he have previous editing experience (not just publishing-related experience)?
  • Are there multiple or major grammatical mistakes on his page?

The What?

You’ve never heard of this technology, but it’s totally the next thing in publishing. It’s big, and you’re going to want to be a part of it. You’ll never be successful at selling your book unless you purchase this ebook/tutoring package/webinar series.

What They’re Not Telling You:

Anything! They’re throwing out a lot of big promises, vague wording, and heartful testimonials from Brian G. in Arkansas.

Question Toolbox:

  • Have you ever heard of it?
  • Has anyone had success with it?
  • Are they even going to explain what it is?

Now that you’ve seen the patterns, we hope you’ll be able to identify and avoid these scams. At the very least, certain behaviors should raise red flags and get you to investigate further. Good luck out there!

Popular Soda believes ebooks can and should be held to higher standards. We are committed to rewarding and encouraging professionalism in self-published ebooks. Our motto: Write with your heart. Publish with your head.


  • DG Sandru

    Good points. Everyone should remember this:
    Invest Your Time Before You Invest Your Money

  • I work with marketing and author assistant work but I never make promises for things I haven’t done. It should always be about doing what is best for the author first :)