Writer Beware: 2019 in Review

Happy New Year! It’s that time again–time for a look back at the schemes, scams, and issues Writer Beware covered in 2019.


Sadly, there’s never a shortage of stories like these.

Scandal Engulfs Independent Publisher ChiZine PublicationsArguably the biggest small press story of the year, the spectacular collapse of Canadian indie ChiZine Publications–amid allegations of non-payment, financial mismanagement, and a horrifically toxic work culture rife with bullying, sexual harassment, racism, and more–posed thorny questions for the small press community about cultures of silence, the treatment of whistleblowers, and the tacit enabling of unprofessional behavior.

Authors’ Concern Grows Over Late Royalty Payments At Dreamspinner Press: Multiple author complaints of nonpayment and other problems, for which Dreamspinner has provided confusing and conflicting explanations. (Dreamspinner has become part of the implosion of Romance Writers of America, with RWA accused of failing to assist Dreamspinner authors who requested help.)

Fireside Press Cancels Multiple Contracts: Mass contract cancellations don’t generally bode well for publisher health.

Complaints At Month9Books, Nonstandard Business Practices at Black Rose Writing: Long-standing issues, including late payments and bullying, appear to be ongoing at Month9. As for Black Rose, it presents as a “traditional” publisher but, vanity publisher-style, sells a large menu of marketing services to its authors.

Trouble at Dog Ear Publishing: Multiple, long-standing author complaints of nonpayment by this assisted self-publishing company (this publishing model is in trouble generally).


If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that I’m no fan of contests and awards–not just because they often involve big entry fees (even the legit ones), but because they so often have author-unfriendly rules and guidelines. Here are a few I encountered in 2019.

Can We Get a Do-Over? What do you do when you get caught with predatory language in your contest guidelines? You hastily switch it out, of course. That’s what Harper’s Bazaar did when the copyright grab in its annual short story competition was outed on Twitter.

Rights Grabs by the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award: Another prestigious (and rich: the winner gets £30,000) contest with a predatory rights grab.

The Pressfuls Short Story Contest: Why not to enter a contest that doesn’t post rules and guidelines: you may discover, as writers who entered this contest did, that your work has been published without your permission.


The shady underbelly of the publishing world is chock-a-block with those who scheme to take authors’ money, by fair means or foul. Here are some especially foul examples.

Seven Prolific Vanity Publishers: A look at the vanity publishers about which I get the most questions, including Austin Macauley, Page Publishing, and Christian Faith Publishing.

Anatomy of a Book-To-Screen Scam: One of the most unlikely outcomes of publishing a book is selling film rights. Book-to-screen scammers–who purport to turn your book into a screenplay, shop it to Hollywood, and more–don’t want you to know that.

Vanity Radio: Why You Should Think Twice: Should you ever pay for a radio interview? Like paid book reviews, this is an iffy proposition–even if you’re not being solicited by a scammer.

Alpha Books United: A Pack of Scammer Lies: Dissecting the highly deceptive pitch by one especially egregious publishing and marketing ripoff.


When a Publisher Claims Copyright on Edits: This predatory practice is a big publishing contract red flag.

How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search: Among other sneaky techniques: fake publisher matching sites that purport to guide you to appropriate publishers but steer you to vanities and self-publishing companies; deceptive use of Google ads to do the same thing; fake facts and statistics about traditional publishing designed to make the vanity model seem preferable.

Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize Them and Why They Should be Avoided: Profiteering awards programs have a secret agenda: making money for the sponsor with huge entry fees. They’re not about honoring writers.


Be careful out there!

From the Philippines, Not With Love: A Plague of Publishing and Marketing Scams: This is one of the biggest new scam trends threatening self-pubbed and small press authors. Some background on how the scams came to be, plus a list of the nearly 70 scammers I’ve discovered so far.

Issues at Audible’s ACX: Including attempted rights fraud and inexplicably withdrawn promo codes.

Caution: Turkish Publisher Mavifil Publishing (Mavifil Yayinlari): Old scammers never die; they just change their names. A non-paying publisher that stalked writers in 2011 returns to stalk them in 2019.

AMS Literary Agency: Approach With Caution: Old scammers never die; they just change their names. Whoops, didn’t I just say that? The owner of one of the most notorious vanity publisher scams ever returns in the guise of a literary agent.

Beware: Wid Bastian aka Widtsoe T. Bastian/Genius Media Inc./Kairos Phoenix Company: A convicted felon, an ebook promo and box set scheme. What could go wrong?

Publishizer: Do Authors Really Need a Crowdfunding Literary Agency? Yet another of those reinvent-the-wheel attempts that are so common in publishing: a crowdfunding site for writers that claims to represent manuscripts to publishers, but is mostly used by vanities and other fee-chargers (some of them seriously questionable).


  1. Obviously I have come to your site too late as I have fallen for the generous praise of Crest Media. They were clever in paying royalties for a year–asking too for more printing contracts. Now no royalties and no response to emails.
    Anyway one can make a claim for refund?

  2. I've heard from a number of people who've been solicited by Crest Media Distribution. It is definitely one of the Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams I've been writing about–it's included in my list in the sidebar. I hope you can persuade your father not to pay them anything.

  3. Have you any experience with Crest Media Distribution at all? My father has been approached by one of their sales team and we are alittle cautious to part with the money they are requesting without some evidence that they are bonafide !

  4. Patricia Miller, that's a classic approach for the Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams I've gotten so many complaints about (there's a full list of the scams I've discovered so far in the sidebar of this blog). It's all lies. Unfortunately, they are insanely persistent–and once they get hold of your contact info, you can expect multiple solicitations from multiple outfits.

  5. I've been contacted about turning my book into a screenplay, offered a radio interview (costing about $300!) and told that a literary agent is very impressed with my book. The caller is having trouble with his English and his name is Joe, or Bob, or John. I've had to block numbers because I've told them not call again, but the calls keep coming!

  6. Thank you so much for all of this. It's an incredible public service you provide.

    I heard a radio advertisement for Page Publishing the other day; thanks to you I know not to let them waste my time or money.

    Honestly, Writer Beware is a life-saver.

  7. Thank you, Victoria.

    I feel I'm well guarded against scams and schemes, both because of your work and a healthy attitude when it comes to contracts and agreements (I owned and ran a business for 20+ years).

    But, most of all, I'm not desperate to get published. If it happens, great, if not, also great. As for self-publishing, if I go that route, I'll be controlling all aspects of the process and farm out very little if any.

    My comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek but does reflect my general unhappiness with the state of publishing (and publishers) these days.

    That said, thank you for offering to answer questions about any concerns. If I ever get motivated enough to seriously work toward getting published and I encounter situations where I have questions, I'll keep it in mind.

  8. Disperser,

    Self-publishing can be a great option, depending on your needs and goals. But it won't protect you from schemes and scams; these are mainly focused on self- and small press-published writers these days. Your best defense is knowledge: the more you know about reputable business practice, the easier it will be to recognize what's not above board. This blog, and the Writer Beware website, can help. Also feel free to email me with any questions you might have: beware@sfwa.org

  9. It makes me want to not even try getting someone to publish (or even read) my efforts.

    More and more it seems prudent — despite small chances of success — to self publish. If I'm going to be misled by someone, it might as well be me.

  10. Thank you for all the work you do. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there with increasingly clever ways of deceiving writers.

Leave a Reply

DECEMBER 30, 2019

Beware: Wid Bastian a.k.a. Widtsoe T. Bastian / Genius Media Inc. / Kairos Phoenix Company

JANUARY 15, 2020

What You Need to Know About How California’s New Law AB-5 Affects Writers