Friday, January 15, 2010

Avoiding Scams

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done any piece on literary scam artists, but a recent question made me realize that it’s something I should be doing more frequently.

At an SCBWI monitoring workshop, we met an editor from a large publishing house. She requested and eventually read our YA/MG full manuscript. She requested revisions, which we completed and submitted. The manuscript was then “under consideration” for almost a year. (I still do not understand what that means!) During that time, we would see the editor at other events and she would consistently praise our work. Eventually, we got a rejection letter from her saying that the manuscript just needs too much editing for publication at this time. About a month afterward, we found out she’d left the house and opened an independent editing service. We approach her thinking . . . ”Here is someone we know is a professional and has the knowledge to correct any problems.” (At least she did not approach us.) We entered into a contract and pre-paid $750 (out of a $1500 total) for her to edit the manuscript, query letter and synopsis. She gave us a first draft revision date which came and went. We followed up. She responded she needed more time. This went back and forth for awhile. But the bottom line of the story is that in the end we got no editing, no return of our deposit and, now, cannot find her at all. So, here is my question, how do you know who to trust in the industry even with everything on the web? How do we even know we need the editing in the first place and this was not just part of her leaving her house?

This story stinks and my absolute first piece of advice is that you must get in touch with Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware to let her know about this editor and her practices. While it might not help you get your money back, hopefully it will prevent others from falling into the same trap.

So how do you know if someone is a scam artist? The first place to look is Writer Beware, the second is Preditors & Editors; both sites work hard to protect authors from scam artists. Unfortunately, if the editor is a new scammer, like it sounds yours was, there might not be a lot of information yet.

I think, like with many businesses, knowing who to trust means doing your research. Sadly in this instance I think you were put into a particularly bad situation. Given this editor’s history at a major house I probably would have trusted her too. In most circumstances, though, I would suggest reviewing the two sites I mentioned and talking to clients of editors and agents. In this day of the Internet that’s not difficult to do. In fact, I know a number of my clients were able to contact other clients through their web sites to ask questions about me before ever signing anything.

As for how you know if you need an editor, I’m not sure you really do ever know. I think it’s more of a decision you make rather than something you need. A lot of books need an editor, but the work can frequently and easily be done through critique groups as easily as it can be done through a paid service. Frankly, I think a critique group can be so much more beneficial than an editor. From a critique group you’ll learn not only from what others say about your work, but from your own critiques of the works of other writers.

I’m sorry this happened to you, but don’t kick yourself. You were scammed, but it doesn’t sound like you did anything stupid. You just got put into a bad situation. Instead of dwelling on it, I would report this person to as many people as possible and then get back to work on submitting this project and writing your next book.



Donna Lea Simpson said...

I think the first warning bell should have been her holding on to the ms for a year while it was 'under consideration'. I've never hear of that length of time for something being 'under consideration', especially after revisions have already been done on it.

Instead of letting her (the editor) handle it again, perhaps the questioner should have have tried other publishers, first?

At least then you know it's not just one person's opinion, if it is consistently rejected with the same kind of comments.

Cammie said...

My question may reveal just what a neophyte I am in the industry, but is it kosher for an editor (allegedly) affiliated with a publishing house to TAKE $ to privately edit someone's work? That was the first red-flag I saw. I mean, I know freelance editors do this, but I assumed staff ones only edited manuscripts cleared by the house first. Am I way off here?

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Cammie, the answer to your question is a decisive NO, but in this case the editor in question reportedly left the publishing house and *then* established herself as a for-pay editor. Nothing wrong with that, if she had been legit.

Vivi Anna said...

Donna, I've had stuff at houses for that period of time. Also know friends who have as well at different houses. And I have an agent.

And can and does happen.

It's not always a red flag that this person is a scammer, could just mean that the editor is as slow as molasses or your work got lost or they forgot about you and forgot to tell your agent that.

I agree with Jessica, for the author that had the question...get out there tell everyone what happened to you and get yourself involved with others, join a critique group, a writing group, get yourself some peers so that there is someone that you can ask questions of and can help you find the answers.

Good luck!

ryan field said...

I'm glad you're posting things like this. Writers are always so eager to get published they tend to want to believe that anything can help them get published. And there are a lot of scammers out there waiting to take advantage.

Joni Rodgers said...

Aspiring writers are really being preyed on in the new publishing culture. You can't allow yourself to be at the bottom of that food chain. Agents work on commission. Period. Editors can freelance, but if you have to pay someone to doctor your book before you can even query it...might be time to reality check your expectations about your future in the biz.

Also seconding the mention of a good critique group. Great post! Consider it twitted...or tweeted. (Twitterated? Twat?)

Anonymous said...

I think seeing/meeting someone at a conference can give new writers a false sense of security. Legitimate location...legitimate person? ALWAYS go to P&E, Writers Beware and Absolute Write at the Watercooler. Don't assume.

writergrrrl said...

The sad thing is you can do your homework and crap like this can still happen.

Jeff Moores, a former literary agent (with Dunow, Carlson & Lerner) had been offering editing/consulting to writers, and was highly praised by his clients. One of my good writing pals hired him and thought he was wonderful, so she hired him again for help with her synopsis.

Then last spring/summer, writers started to report that he was slow to respond to emails--then disappeared, taking the money with him. His website is gone too.

Marilynn Byerly said...

My personal favorite writer scam was an email telling me my book had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and would I please forward a lot of Euros for the processing.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Wow, Vivi Anna, I had no idea work could sit that long on an editor's desk! I've been a published writer for over ten years and have never had that experience.

Good to learn something new every day! LOL.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jessica for answering my questions.

Yes, everyone, I'm the one that was scamed and wrote the questions. Burned once, especially when you look at wonderful websites like this on a regular basis and try to learn as much about the industry as possible, makes it very hard to continue sometimes.

And the answer to the everyone's burning question...Leann Heywood formerly of Haper Collins. See why we trusted her?

Anonymous said...

Quess what...because you answered, my husband just took the time to Goggle and found her again. I wonder if she'll actually respond when we contact her! At least it looks like she closed the private editing business.

Mira said...

Thanks for posting this, Jessica.

PLJ - I'm really sorry this happened to you. I'm glad you spoke up - it's good for all of us to hear about things like this. Good luck with everything!

Angie Fox said...

PLJ, I'm sorry you had to go through this. Personally, I'm not a big fan of outside editors because of an experience I had while unpublished.

I'd written my second unpubbed manuscript and thought I was really close. So, I hired an outside editor that had been recommended by a published author friend of mine. She'd worked with this editor.

Well, the editor took $1,200 up front. Then gave me eight months of excuses why she didn't read my work. When I finally got it back (and paid another $1,200), the edits didn't help me at all. I tried to understand them and assumed it was because she was so smart that I wasn't able to improve my work. She allowed one phone call in which she encouraged me to do a re-draft and then hire her again.

Luckily, I didn't. It just wasn't a good experience. So I found a critique group instead. And I worked my tail off on my craft. And I wrote another book that didn't sell. At the time, I thought I was spinning my wheels. Looking back, I realize I was learning my craft.

If you want to be a doctor, you go to med school. If you want to be a lawyer - law school. If you want to be a working, published author, you write until you learn your craft well enough to sell that first book - and then another, and then another.

If I'd depended on that editor, I wouldn't have evolved to be the writer I am. I needed to get feedback from my peers and work on my own craft issues. And now when I'm on a tight deadline, I can turn a book around and know that I'm not depending on anyone else.

Oh and last year, while I was cleaning out my office, I happened upon that unpublished manuscript, along with the editor's notes. Knowing what I know now, I can see exactly why the book didn't sell. What shocked me was that the editor had no clue. Her edits were so general and off-base that I wonder if she even read the whole manuscript. I was so angry I had to stop reading.

I know it's not fun to write and submit and then write a new book and submit, but that's the only thing that worked for me.

Layne said...

I would sue this Leann Heywood. Fraud is illegal and I would not let her get away with it. I would also send out a press release regarding the lawsuit so that the general writing community is aware of this wolf within our midst.

Robena Grant said...

Thank you, Angie. That is super advice. I was frustrated and almost went to an editing service. I didn't, but I did hook up with one of my earlier critique partners. Best thing I've ever done for my writing.

Anonymous said...

I was also taken by this editor. I did not give her any money, everyone loved her and thought she was a wonderful editor. There were no clues. The people that worked with her thought she was fabulous, so it just seemed right to work with her after she left Harper.

My heart still breaks when I think about what she did and I don't understand why? She could have developed a good business - one that would have provided a good living. It is unfortuate, but I guess that is the sign of a good scammer - you just don't see it coming. And believe me NO ONE could have seen it coming.

Many people have tried to contact her, but she never answers and I know she is still alive. I just hope that the old saying, What goes around, comes around," is true.

Anonymous said...

I was heartbroken bythe whole situation too and hope that there's more the the story than her taking the money and running. (I apologize for my earlier misspellings, as I was typing during lunch at work.)


Voidwalker said...

This seriously makes me sick. Like Jessica said, those two sites are great for helping prevent this sort of thing. I've browsed them a bit and I'm glad there are people willing to put this infromation out there for prospective authors like me.

cwsherwoodedits said...

I'm a freelance copyeditor, and this story sickens and appalls me. It appears the editor in question has a full-time position elsewhere now, with a substantial Internet presence. Can you not reach her at her new place of work to get your money back? And if not, you should sue her.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jessica that an editing service isn't the best solution in the world-- if your manuscript needs editing, you gotta learn to do it yourself, through a critique group, a class, or by reading books about self-editing.

Shelby said...

ooooo this is nuts.. thanks for posting this. I'm learning.

More and more every day.

sallyhanan said...

While it can be extremely valuable to join a critique group, it can take a long, long time to have a whole book reworked into a publishable piece. The group I joined only covered a chapter a month. Granted, the book was terrible and should never have been shown to another living person; nevertheless . . . :)

Before you all throw the idea of any editor out the window, keep in mind that there are different types of editors. Some work on your grammar and punctuation, others help with the development (plot, structure, conflict) of the novel, and others are true gifts from God in that they do it all.

If your grammar stinks and you know the story isn't flowing, look up some editors online and pick one who has good credentials. Better yet, find one whose work you can read in a bookstore. If he/she seems to have kept the author's voice and the story flows beautifully, then you may have found your diamond.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of scam agents, the biggest hoax of all time is Miss Snark, and all the dopey fat losers who believe that Miss Snark is a real literary agent in the 212 area code of NYC don't have enough combined intelligence to discern that fraud because none of them can think for themselves, they are too busy sitting on their asses in front of the computer eating chips all day.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to cover the Writer Beware Attorney Scam of the John Steinbeck estate? This is big news. I understand Writer Beware covered up the suspension of their attorney from practicing law in Illinois simply because he was a moderator on Absolute Write. What is going on/ Who's watching the watchdogs?