About Writer Beware
Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Like many genre-focused writers’ groups, SFWA® is concerned not just with issues that affect professional authors, but with the problems and pitfalls that face aspiring writers. Writer Beware®, founded in 1998, addresses that concern through the Writer Beware® website, which provides warnings about literary schemes and scams, along with information on how writers can protect themselves; the Writer Beware® blog, which covers schemes and scams in real time along with publishing industry news and advice for writers; and the Writer Beware® Facebook page, which links to writing-related articles, blog posts, and news items and provides a forum for discussion; and the Twitter feed of Writer Beware co-founder Victoria Strauss.
Although we’re sponsored by a US-based organization of professional writers of speculative fiction, our efforts aren’t limited by country, market, genre, or publication history. We’ve designed the Writer Beware® website to be used by any writer, new or established, regardless of subject, style, specialty, or nationality.
“Writer Beware” is an officially registered service mark of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Writer Beware is a volunteer effort. SFWA® funds our expenses, but we receive no salaries, stipends, or other remuneration.
Victoria Strauss, co-founder of Writer Beware®, is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including her Way of Arata epic fantasy duology (The Burning Land and The Awakened City) and a pair of historical novels for teens, Passion Blue (a Kirkus Reviews Best Books For Teens) and Color Song. She has written hundreds of book reviews for publications such as SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.
She received the 2009 SFWA® Service Award for her work with Writer Beware®, and in 2012 was honored with an Independent Book Blogger Award for the Writer Beware® blog. She’s webmistress of the Writer Beware® website, which she also created, and maintains the Writer Beware® database, blog, and Facebook page.
Michael Capobianco served as President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) from 1996 to 1998 and again from 2007 to 2008. In addition to being a Writer Beware staffer, he currently serves as Chair of SFWA’s Contracts Committee, Co-chair of their Legal Affairs Committee, and Authors Coalition Commissioner. He received the SFWA Service Award in 2004.
Capobianco has published two solo science fiction novels, Purlieu and Burster, and is co-author, with William Barton, of the hard SF books Iris, Alpha Centauri, Fellow Traveler, and White Light, as well as several short stories and magazine articles on exploration of the solar system.
Richard C. White
Richard C. White is the author of tie-in fiction for a number of media franchises, including Star Trek and Doctor Who, as well as original novels–including Gauntlet Dark Legacy: Paths of Evil and Harbinger of Darkness–and two short story collections, For a Few Gold Pieces More and Chasing Danger: The Case Files of Theron Chase.
His non-fiction work, Terra Incognito: A Guide to Building the Worlds of Your Imagination, has been selected to be the text book for a Visual Design course at Becker College (MA).
Among other interesting jobs, he has worked as a journalist, a substitute teacher, an independent comics publisher, an analyst for the military, and a technical writer. He is pursuing his Masters of English at Bowie State University and was recently selected to be a member of Sigma Tau Delta (The International English Honors Society).
Ann C. Crispin
Ann C. Crispin, co-founder of Writer Beware® and Chair of the SFWA® Committee on Writing Scams, became active in SFWA® in 1983. She served as Eastern Regional Director for almost ten years, and as Vice-President for two more. With her husband, two-time SFWA® President Michael Capobianco, she was a 2004 recipient of the SFWA® Service Award.
Her more than twenty novels include the best-selling Han Solo Trilogy; New York Times best-selling Star Trek novels Yesterday’s Son, Time for Yesterday, and Sarek; the original series Starbridge; and her final novel, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom. Her many freelance credits include articles in Writer’s Digest and the SFWA® Bulletin.
Ann passed away in 2013, but her tireless work with Writer Beware® stands as an enduring legacy.
The mission of Writer Beware® is to track, expose, and raise awareness of the prevalence of fraud and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry.
- We maintain and continually update the Writer Beware® website with the latest information on literary schemes, scams, and pitfalls, and the most current information on what writers can do to protect themselves.
- To complement the general advice and warnings on the Writer Beware® website, our blog provides up-to-the-minute information on specific scams and schemes–along with advice for writers, industry news and commentary, and a special focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the publishing world.
- Our very active Facebook page links to articles, blog posts, news items, and warnings of interest to writers, and provides a forum for discussion.
- Victoria’s Twitter feed offers Writer Beware®- and writing/publishing-related news, alerts, and warnings.
- We constantly research the issues we discuss, reading trade publications and subscribing to professional newsletters and mailing lists in order to keep current with issues and changes in the publishing industry. We’re in regular touch with reputable agents and editors, so we can better contrast their business practices to the nonstandard practices we warn against.
- We maintain an extensive database of questionable literary agents, publishers, independent editors, writers’ services, contests, publicity services, and others. This database has been assembled thanks to the hundreds of writers and publishing professionals who have contacted us to share their experiences and to provide us with documentation. Our database is the most complete of its kind in the world.
- We offer a free research service for writers with questions about agents, publishers, and others (e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org). The information we provide is supported by multiple similar advisories and complaints from writers, by documentation, or, in most cases, by both.
- We assist law enforcement agencies with investigations of questionable agents, publishers, and others. Writer Beware® has been instrumental in the convictions of several literary scammers.
- We help build public awareness of literary fraud by writing articles (our work has appeared in the SFWA® Bulletin and Writers’ Digest, among others), appearing at writers’ conventions and industry events, conducting workshops and classes, and participating in online writers’ discussion groups and message boards.
Writer Beware® is best known for its warnings about literary fraud, but our focus is much wider than that.
Amateur and marginal agents, unprofessional publishers, inexperienced editors, and other unqualified or unskilled people/services/companies can do just as much damage to a writer’s career as scammers can. Successful literary professionals sometimes have author-unfriendly business policies. And a writing-related business can be predatory without actually being fraudulent. Writer Beware® focuses on any and all questionable practice in the publishing world.
What does Writer Beware® consider “questionable?” What practices define a questionable agent or publisher? How do we distinguish between writers with genuine complaints and those who are merely angry at being rejected, or who had unrealistic ideas about what an agent or publisher could or should accomplish? Is any complaint, no matter how small, enough to put an agent or publisher on our watchlist?
We define “questionable” as nonstandard practice not in writers’ best interest. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Fees where it’s exploitative or not customary to charge them. Agents who demand reading fees, evaluation fees, retainers, “marketing” or “submission” fees. Publishers (as distinct from self-publishing services) that withhold royalties to recoup publishing expenses, or require writers to buy critiques, pre-purchase books, or pay for some aspect of the publication process. Writing contests that make a secret profit with high entry fees.
- Conflicts of interest. Agents who recommend their own paid editing services, or consistently steer clients toward publishing or editing operations they themselves own. Fee-charging publishers or independent editors who pay kickbacks for referrals.
- Abusive or nonstandard contract terms. For instance, an agent who claims an inappropriate financial interest in a client’s future work, a publisher that claims copyright on editing, or a reading app that doesn’t allow writers to cancel.
- Unprofessional, deceptive, or exploitative practices. Agents who place writers with fee-charging publishers. Publishers that conceal their fees, or pay net profit royalties, or turn authors into customers by pressuring them to buy their own books. Independent editors who claim that manuscripts must be “professionally” edited in order to be competitive. Marketing companies that sell PR services of questionable value (such as press releases and book trailers) at inflated prices.
- Nonperformance. Agents who fail to submit clients’ manuscripts, or who’ve been in business for years and still have no sales. Publishers that breach contractual obligations, fail to publish books, or fail to pay royalties. Independent editors or marketing services that take clients’ money and don’t deliver, or deliver substandard products.
- Lack of qualifications. An agent, publisher, or other purported literary professional who sets up in business without relevant training or work experience. Such people are often well-intentioned, but have no idea how to do the job.
- False claims. Literary agents and editors who lie about their professional background. Literary agencies that claim sales they haven’t made. Publishers that make extra-contractual representations or promises (such as marketing) that they don’t fulfill.
Most of the reports and complaints we receive involve one or more of the issues outlined above. We ask writers to substantiate their reports with documentation wherever possible (letters, e-mails, contracts, websites, brochures, publicity information, etc.). We don’t accept anonymous or second-hand reports, and we don’t open a file on an individual or company unless we’ve received at least two substantially similar reports, or a single report with documentation.
Occasionally we hear from authors who have general gripes about the submission process, or are upset by something that’s fairly routine–long turnaround times, non-response to queries, rejections without explanation. These things are not enough to put someone on our watchlist. While they’re regrettable, they’re also very common , and writers must be prepared to deal with them.
We also sometimes hear from writers who are angry that an agent didn’t manage to sell their manuscript, or rejected an additional manuscript, or sent a dismissive rejection letter. We don’t often regard issues like these as documentable complaints, because they’re general problems that anyone can encounter in the ordinary run of things (and may involve unrealistic expectations on the writer’s part). Multiple similar reports do sometimes add up to a pattern, and if so, we feel a warning is in order. But that’s not very common.
We’re careful to distinguish between genuine bad practice and writers’ sour grapes, and to back up our warnings with as much documentation as possible. We want to provide balanced information that writers can depend on. To that end, we must be as responsible in our data collection and our dissemination of information as we expect agents, publishers, and others to be in their business dealings.