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Scammers Can Target Writers

When writers begin their careers, they are often desperate to find an agent, a publisher or people to review their book. Be aware that there are people using the Internet who are trying to take advantage of your desires.

After attending conferences, entering contests or declaring that you are writing, intend to write, or have written a book on social media, you may begin to receive Emails from people offering their services and see advertisements on your social media accounts that will claim to publish your book, review it, or assist you in selling it. I strongly advise you to be cautious with these propositions.

Here are some examples of Email letters I have received from people offering to review my books.
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Subject: Review your book
Hi,
I am . I organize book review tours. My tours are specifically focused on getting you the maximum number of reviews possible regardless of your genre. My network consists of around 16K book reviewers and 2K+ book bloggers. If you are looking for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I can help. You can contact me regarding the above on one condition: you consider yourself a SERIOUS author.

(NOTE: Inflated claims always raise a question in my mind, as does pandering to my ego by saying that I must be a SERIOUS author. Of course I am, or at least that’s what I tell myself.)
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Subject: Book reviews
Hi,
If you are looking for a reviewer who has professional expertise and experience in reviewing books, you may connect with me. I also offer professional editing and beta reading services.

(NOTE: Experience is the participation in events such that someone accumulates knowledge and skills. If someone has experience in a subject, they have expertise in that subject. There is no need to state both. The phase, "you may contact with me" should have been written, "you may contact me." Poor grammar and misspellings are often signs that the Email is from a scammer)
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Subject: I offer 40 GARANTEED book reviews
Hi,
I am of the opinion that an author’s time is best spent on writing books rather than marketing them. If you agree with me, feel free to contact me for my GUARANTEED review service for Amazon, wherein I do all the hard work of getting you up to 40 reviews while you focus on writing your next bestseller! Under my service, if you don’t get a review, you will get your money back for sure.

(NOTE: Guarantees of results is a red flag because no one can grantee outcomes or sales in the publishing world. Amazon only wants true reviews by people who have read a book and give more weight to reviews from those who bought the book from Amazon. A large number of reviews from people who obtained a book elsewhere, especially five star reviews, could result in those reviews being deleted on the Amazon site.)
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Subject: I'm an Amazon book reviewer
Hi,
My name is . Right now, I am studying English literature in college and love reading good quality books in my spare time. I am accepting book review requests. I read and review books from all genres. If you want an honest book review, you can contact me.

(NOTE: Saying that someone loves good books is an attempt to stroke the egos of writers. Trying to associate one’s self with a large company such as Amazon is an old marketing trick to claim legitimacy. I don’t know of many serious college students who have a lot of spare time between attending classes and studying.)
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Subject: Accepting book review requests
Hi,
I am studying English literature in college and love reading good quality books. I am accepting book review requests now. I enjoy ALL genres equally. If you want an honest book review, you can contact me.

(NOTE: People who capitalize words like ALL in an Email tend to demonstrate that they are either not studying English literature or that they have not studied enough.)
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Subject: Want a book reviewer/editor?
Hi,
If you are looking for a reviewer who has professional expertise and experience in reviewing books, you may connect with me. I also offer professional editing and beta reading services.

(NOTE: This is the same text as is used in another Email shown above that has a different subject line and sending address. Why should I be suspicious that this is a mass mailing? Hmm.)
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The samples presented above are all signed with only a first name and no contact information other than the sender's Email address. There will sometimes be a first and last name shown in the sending Email address, however I have received the same text of some Emails that use different names and addresses. They often come from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and other online public accounts. Anyone can create an Email address on these platforms. Replying to an Email confirms that your addresses is active. The sender can add your Email address to their own mailing list and sell it to others. Selling private information is one of the largest revenue streams on the Internet.

There are many reviewers and bloggers who cover books. Their schedules are usually filled and it can take months before one of them may or may not accept your work. This long lead time and the possibility that a reviewer could reject your book creates a ready market for scammers who offer instant gratification.

I have also received Emails from purported literary agents offering to represent my book. Sometimes these will say how great a writer I am. They often contain vague praise that could apply to any book while saying nothing specific about mine.

It is tempting for writers who are starting out to give one of these reviewers or agents a try without asking the question, “How do they know of me out of the hundreds of thousands of other writers?” Praise and hope are powerful enticements that are used by scammers. The odds are heavily in favor that they have never heard of you and the letter you received was sent to thousands of others.

There are people who offer honest reviews for a fee. These reviews can be glowing or they can slam a book, the same as with reviews that are not paid for. There is a debate in the writing community as to whether or not paid reviews are worth the money. Some can cost several hundred dollars.

Assume that a paperback book sells for fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents. If the publisher pays the standard eight percent royalty for paperbacks, the author receives one dollar and forty-four cents per copy sold. If a review costs five hundred dollars, three-hundred and forty-eight books would have to be sold just to pay for the review before the author makes any profit.

No reputable literary agent will ever charge you a fee for reading, photocopying, postage or anything else. Legitimate agents make their money by selling your book to publishers and collecting a percentage of your royalties for their services. An agent who collects fees has no incentive to sell you book and can make money by just collecting fees from hundreds of hopeful writers. If an agency asks for money, don’t deal with it.

In the world of offers over the Internet, it always pays to be skeptical. Remember the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Of course, you could receive an Email from Simon & Shuster saying that they heard about your book and want you to contact them. Just make certain that the URL in the Email address isn’t “simonandshooster.com.”

Handling Rejection as a Writer

RejectionNo one likes to be rejected. It has a string. People are social and want to be accepted, yet in relationships, business and school, everyone has experienced rejection. It can feel like a personal attack on ourselves and our values.

But, artists, writers, film makers, composers, actors, musicians and others who create and present works to the public must break past this concept and recognize that a rejection or criticism by an individual is just that, one person’s opinion.

For writers, they may feel that rejections by agents, editors, publishers or magazines are a comment on their character. This is not the case. The people you send your queries to are publishing professionals. Though they love books, they are running businesses whose existence and viability are the mechanism by which books reach the reading public. If a publishing house or magazine prints too many stories that don’t sell, they could go out of business and the authors they represent would be left with no distribution. These companies must select material that is not only the best writing, it has to sell and satisfy readers.

There are many reasons a book, short story, poem or article might be rejected. It may not fit the style of a particular magazine or publishing house. Many agents, editors and magazines work in specific areas. A great book about winter vacation spots in the Caribbean will not be picked up by an agent or editor specializing in children’s stories. That’s why it’s so important to research the kinds of work each magazine and publisher accepts.

Another reason is that they may already have too many similar works at the time or they may have a backlog of stories and are not looking for more.

It may also not be that your submission is not written at a professional level. In this case, the rejection is for the work, not you as person. The story or article may need to be improved or you may need to enhance your writing skills.

Most rejections tell you little or nothing as to why the work was not accepted. You will see phrases like, “this does not fit our current needs.” You will often be wished good luck in placing your story somewhere else. Neither of these things do you much good. Sometimes, however, you will get feedback. This can be a gift, and you should consider it carefully.

When I began writing, I was not producing award winning material. Very few beginners do. Writing involves craft that has to be learned and practiced constantly, often over many years.

One agent did me the biggest favor ever when he rejected my submission. He said that I included too many step-by-step descriptions of action that did not move the plot forward.

For instance, I might have once written something like, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He walked out of his house, got in his car, and drove downtown. After parking his vehicle, he got out and walked into the bank with the statement in his hands to confront the bank manager.”

The only point of this little scene is for George to see his bank statement and to then go to the bank to discuss it.

Today, I would write, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He went to the bank, statement in hand, to confront the bank manager.”

That agent told me something about my writing that I did not realize. This allowed me to examine my own skills and improve them. Some people would be angry that they were rejected. I can never thank this agent enough for his rejection because it allowed me to become a professional writer and author.

I have had writers say to me that their material was “Their baby” or “Their blood upon the page.” It is neither. What you write is just a piece of work and it either communicated your ideas effectively of it didn’t. If it didn’t, it needs to be fixed. Still, writers can expose themselves in their work. Even if a piece of writing is not autobiographical, the emotional reactions of the characters are often drawn from the writer’s own life experiences. Still, it is the presentation of the art that has been rejected, not the artist.

Don’t think of rejections as an attack on you. Try to learn from them. However, don’t make changes to a manuscript based on every rejection or comment. Examine each and determine if they expose a problem in your writing or if they are just personal opinions based on someone’s taste.

Certainly, there are individuals who make personal attacks on creators. The best thing to do in those cases is to ignore the comments. The same thing applies to people who criticize your themes and ideas that they don’t agree with. Those themes and ideas belong to you and you have to accept that anything you write can create controversy. Never reply to a negative comment on social media or elsewhere and never respond to anyone in defense of your writing. It can only start a war. Just let people say what they say and go on working. However, in instances of slander and liable, you may want to seek legal advice.

A very good book for writers is Rotten Reviews by Bill Henderson. This little collection of negative reviews covers works by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Wolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. The book is not only amusing, it is an assurance to writers that not every opinion or rejection is well placed.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. Half Awakened Dreams: Volume II of the Carandir Sage will be released at the end of Summer, 2020.

The importance to writers of an author's personal website

I just finished a personal branding workshop by Jeniffer Thompson from Monkey C Media (https://jenifferthompson.com/) that was presented through the Independent Book Publishers’ Association. The seminar consisted of six, one hour sessions plus homework to hone in on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, audience and underlying goals in being authors. She stressed the importance of establishing a personal image and presence on the web. One of her suggestions was to establish a unique author’s website in addition to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon author’s pages.

All of her advice was excellent. Up until now, I have pointed readers to my publisher’s website to see my books. I now have my own author’s site where I not only showcase my works with details and links as to where they can be purchased, I get to speak directly to readers about who I am as a writer, my own values and why I want to write. You can see what I put together at http://www.davidawimsett.com.

I was lucky enough to get a web address that matched my name. I also purchased the address davidwimsett.com without the middle initial and linked it to the main site. This increases the chance that people will be able to find me. If you are an author, I encourage you to claim your own personal brand by putting up a website just for you.

Authors Must be Marketers at Personal Appearances

The business of writing requires marketing skills. You have to get the word out to sell books. Some writers only want to deal with the art and leave the business aspects to a publishing house. Small publishers and university presses often have little or no budget for marketing. At one time, large houses provided marketing such as advertising and paid book yours. Not anymore. Unless you're John Grisham, a very good author who sells millions of books, even the largest publishers are not going to promote the books of most authors beyond perhaps a mention in Publisher's Weekly. To sell books, all authors need to hone their marketing skills. They need to participate in social media and make public appearances.

When giving a lecture, book reading or signing, authors must engage with readers and bring their message forward. They will never sell books by quietly sitting behind a desk at a bookstore while waiting for someone to approach them. Reach out, look people in the eye and say "Hello" to everyone who walks through the door. In smaller communities, most people will say, "Hello" back. In larger settings it can be a different story. One problem is that when too many people live too close together they tend to look on those that they do not have a close relationships with as if they were trees deserving no notice. If you are noticed, you might be thought of a trying to get something out of them. There is also the worry that if they talk to you they become obliged to buy something.

Don't let these people deter you. Keep a positive attitude. Be genuine in your greeting. Don't think of others as possible sales. Your inauthentic attitude will be telegraphed. Know in your heart that you are giving people an opportunity to learn about a book they might enjoy or that could change their lives. You have to believe in yourself and your work.

When you do catch someone's attention, have a 10 second elevator pitch ready to deliver. That's as much time as you will have. Boil down the 200 or more pages in your book to a single sentence. Bring out the main theme of the book and why people will want to read it. For a detective novel you might say, "Police detective Joe Doe must expose a crooked police commissioner with ties to the mob before he has Joe killed." An author of a non-fiction book about elementary school education might say, "My book reveals ways to teach your children how to excel in school with proven techniques that I have used in my career as a principal." The shorter the better. Don't go into long details or explanations yet. Get them hooked. Fans of detective stories will want to learn more about Joe Doe and his plight. A parent with young children who are having trouble in school will be enticed by the principal's message. If the people you are talking to show no interest, don't try to convince them. Thank them for stopping by and let them go. You will never sell a book to them. Concentrate on the next person.

If the people respond to your short pitch, give more details. Demonstrate how the book is different from others, how it will help them, how it will entertain them.

For fiction, talk about the main characters, overviews of the plot and themes. If appropriate, give the age range. Don't go into too much detail. Give a feel for the work and leave questions unanswered that readers will want to discover. In the theater we say, "Always leave them wanting more."

For non-fiction, you will need to present your credentials as to why you are the perfect person to write the book. If it is a book about politics, are you a journalist or politician. If it is a method of raising children are you an experienced parent or child psychologist. If it is a memoir cover what is unique about your life experiences and why people might identify with them. Potential readers will want to know that you can speak about the subject with authority and that it is something they are interested in. Describe key points that readers will want to know. Provide one or two solutions or answers, no more. You want to show that your book will serve them and you want them to buy the book to learn the rest.

Once you see that they understand what the book is about, ask them to buy it. You have to be polite and direct. Say something like, "Does this sound like a book that you would enjoy? I am here signing copies today. Can I sign one for you?" Don't wait for them to ask you to sign a one, but be careful not to sound like you are only seeing them as a sale. Always remember to present yourself and your book as a service. You have to know this to the core of your soul because people can detect disingenuousness.

If you are in the middle of giving your pitch and the person says, "I'll take one," Stop selling. Continuing can only ruin the deal. Just ask, "To whom should I delicate this copy?"
This will be difficult for some authors who fear public speaking and are terrified by rejection. You have to get past that if you want to make sales. Most people will not stop when you say hello. Most of those who stop will not buy. That does not matter. You are not actually selling books, you are selling your brand and you are the brand. If you can be personable, honest and present your book as a service, you will be remembered.

Don't be put off with responses like, "I'm fine" , "Not now", "I don't read (which is obvious because they couldn't read the sign over the door that said ‘bookstore' and probably thought they were in a pizza parlor)" and "I'll come back." Most people who give the last response never will, but some do after thinking it over. One person who came back said that he had looked me up on the Internet and was impressed with my bio. You never know, so be polite to everyone. Some people will come back to the store after you leave and purchase the book because they just didn't want to feel pressured. Those who you talk to might tell friends and family.

If you establish a solid brand that people find informed, authentic and pleasant, you and your books will be remembered.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow Bank, women's literature with a hint of magical realism, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, an epic fantasy novel set in a gender balanced world. His articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada, the Canadian Media Guild, The Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Writer's Federation of Nova Scotia. He is a professional photographer, a film maker and an actor.

Writing Gender Neutral Prose

For several decades, writers producing technical and nonfiction material have struggled with how to compose gender neutral prose. Before the 1970s the word “Man” was often used to mean all people, male and female. Likewise, the word “He” was used to mean a specific person who was either female or male. Instructions in manuals would read, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This created a fender imbalance in the language and implied that women were merely extensions of men.

Since then, society has looked for ways to be gender inclusive in writing. The first attempt was to write, “he or she.” Alternatives have been “she or he” – “he/she” – “she/he” and “s/he.” These were often rotated so that each gender reference alternately appeared first in sentences .

Not only are these phrases awkward, they persist in pointing out gender inequality by making a distinction. In addition, there is the question of who goes first, the male or the female reference.

Some people have suggested introducing new pronouns that are gender natural. None have been adopted. Even though the English language is very malleable and changes occur frequently, there are some words that are highly resistant to change. Those words include pronouns.

Others have suggested that the plural pronoun “they” be use in a singular sentence, such as, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This is simply not grammatically correct. Mixing singular with plural in a sentence sounds and reads wrong.

So, what is the solution? I have wrestled with this for years in writing articles, business documents and technical manuals. I suggest that writers always make their sentences plural unless they are speaking about a particular person, as in, “When operators see the red light flash, they must press the blue button.” There is no need for the ungainly “he or she” or to break grammar rules by combining plural and singular in a sentence. This is simple, flows seamlessly and does not bring up images of gender imbalance because there is no gender reference when writing in general terms.

If writers speak of a particular person, they may use "he" for males and "she" for females, as in, “Mary drove her car to work” or “Tom picked up his dry cleaning.”

There can be cases where a specific person being described does not want to be associated with a gender at all. A sentence could read, ”Feglarglata got into the car and drove to the store.” A problem arises if you want to say that a specific person drove to the store in a car owned by that individual.

This is simple when writing in first person. “I got into my car and drove to the store.” Pronounce such as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘them’ are gender neutral.

In the third person you might say, “Feglarglata got into the car owned by Feglarglata and drove to the store.” Repeating the individual’s name avoids any gender specific pronouns, but it is a little long winded and a bit awkward.

The sentence could also be written, ”Feglarglata got into its car and drove to the store.” This works, but addressing a person as ‘it’ sounds harsh and impersonal.

It is possible to write a complete story without any reference to gender and not get bogged down. Consider this tale.

Feglarglata owned a car and drove it to the store. It was a short trip and the scenery was pleasant. After finding a parking space near the front door, it was a quick walk into the store to buy some bread and vegetables for the party that evening. Feglarglata was looking forward to seeing new and old friends alike. There would certainly be an enjoyable game of charades.

The trip home passed the old city hall that had been converted into a community center. Childhood memories surfaced of days spent playing softball and making crafts.

At home, the groceries were put away. A quick inspection of the kitchen and living room showed that everything was ready for the party.

The doorbell rang and Grylke walked into the living room sporting a wide smile. The old friend said, “I have been looking forward to this. I saw the others at launch and they are all coming”.

The two of them shook hands. Feglarglata said, “Can you help me bring some chairs in from the kitchen. We should be able to finish before anyone else arrives.” As soon as they were done, the doorbell sounded again.

Is independant publishing for you?

At one time, there were only two ways for an author to get a book in print; through a traditional publishing house that covered all the costs and paid writers royalties or by paying a company to print copies for a fee.

Traditional publishers offer important services such as editing, cover design, marketing and distribution to book outlets. Authors are paid up front with an advance on royalties, which is important cash for writers. Large publishers also have resources to broker movie deals. But, it is difficult for a writer to get a publisher to accept a books or to convince a literary agent to represent it. New books must be written to the highest level of quality. That has always been true. There is now a new consideration, return on investment. It takes the same effort to publish a book that will generate $50,000 in profit as it does to publish one that will bring in $1,000,000. People working in the publishing industry have a deep love of books and delight in discovering new authors, but it is a marginal business and economic factors influence the decisions of publishers.

Before her death, literary giant Ursula K. Le Guin was honored at the National Book Awards. In her acceptance speech she said, "Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship."

For decades, the only alternative to traditional publishing houses was for writers to pay companies a fee ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars to have their book printed. This was not publishing, just printing. Editing, marketing and advice were not included. Writers had to do all this themselves. Many people used this service to print personal memoirs that were given away to friends and family, though there were writers who distributed their own books, sometime door-to-door, because bookstores would not stock them and reviewers ignored them. Such writers may have had 4,999 books in their basement because their mother bought a copy. As a result, these book printing companies came to be referred to as Vanity Presses. Few writers who used these services employed professional editing. As a result, quality suffered.

Two decades ago, a new form of publishing emerged, self-publishing. There have been self-published books before, but they were rare. Self-publishing to the mass market began when Amazon introduced its Kindle eReader device and began accepting manuscripts directly from authors. Amazon does not charge fees to writers. Authors simply uploaded their manuscript and cover art. Amazon takes care of formatting. listing and distributing books. Amazon pays up to 70% of a book's retail price to the author. Self-published authors do not pay fees to literary agents, which can be up to 20% of the author's royalty. Perhaps the most alluring thing is that self-published authors have complete control over their books. Amazon now sells Kindle, paperback and hard cover books from self-publishers. Other bookstores, even chains, have begun to accept self-published books and reviewers are looking at them.

But there is a stigma associated to self-published books. They are not taken seriously by some. Many literary awards will not consider them and grants that are available to authors whose works are represented by traditional houses are not given to self-publishers. There is the impression that writers self-publish their work because they are not good enough to attract a publisher. That perception is not necessarily true. Established authors, such as David Mamet, now self-publish. If readers do not know that a great novel is self-published it would compare favorably with volumes from big name houses.

Still, there is some ground for concern. Far too many self-published books are poorly written. They are not professionally edited and contain typographical and grammatical errors. Plots can be inconsistent and even incomprehensible. Dialogue may be unbelievable or juvenile and characters can be shallow. Such books and authors serve to reinforces the prejudice and stereotypes around self-publishing. Grant providers and contest judges dread the idea of slogging through poorly written material.

Today, a new movement is forming, independent publishing. Sharing many of the aspects of self-publishing, independent publishers take on the same roles practiced by traditional publishers. They assume the risks of hiring professional editors, cover designers, printers and distributors. They market the book or hire people to do so. Like self-publishers, Independents do not pay agent fees. Some independents only publish their own work while others publish the work of many writers as well as their own. The main difference between self-publishers and independent publishers is the degree of commitment and professionalism they exhibit. The books are not released until they pass rigorous quality checks.

Independent publishers heed the advice their editors, cover designers and other professionals they hire. These people know their jobs and bring an objective perspective to the project. My editor doesn’t just check spelling, missing words or wrong words. She performs fact checking and examines the structure and logic. In one scene, a character opened a window. Two paragraphs later the already opened window was opened again. My mind had looked at that scene dozens of times and missed this mistake. My editor caught it and much more. She suggested better ways to say things.

Even though I was the author and the publisher, my editor had the final say as to when the manuscript was complete. That was our agreement, the same as at any traditional press and was absolutely necessary if the book was to meet professional quality standards. This didn’t mean that I automatically accepted every suggestion. We had several discussions where I had to defend a phrase or a scene or a character. An editor's job is not to change the author's themes. Rather, it is to point out how writers can express those themes more effectively.

I also had to contact bookstores (chains, independent and online) and libraries to make the book available. I had to organize book readings and signings and place advertising in newspapers and social media along with blog posts. I was responsible for setting up an author’s page on Amazon and Goods Reads. I established Twitter and Facebook accounts. I put out ads on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

That is what an independent publisher must do in order to produce world class quality. Nothing else will do in the marketplace.

Independent publishing is not for everyone. It is a full time job to get a book in print and requires a willingness to be involved in the business end of publishing. Some authors just want to write and let others handle the details. For them, a traditional press is the best solution. Writers who are willing to get fully involved can find greater monetary rewards and satisfaction in making the decisions.