Writers (New Ones Especially): Beware

A friend of my wife’s parents had been a German trainee Luftwaffe pilot in the final months of World War II in 1945, but never actually flew, and was wounded in ground combat and captured by US soldiers. After his recovery and release, in the late 1940s – he had been born in 1925 – he attended university in West Germany and in the 1950s earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. His spent his career mostly working for a United Nations agency and lived with his Irish-English wife in (and eventually they raised their children in) Geneva, Switzerland until his death about a decade ago.

He came to our wedding, and I met him several other times. By the 1990s, he had wanted leave a record to explain to his now adult children (and grandchildren when they were old enough to understand) about his youth in Nazi Germany. To do that he decided to write a short autobiography of that period and had it published by a “vanity press.” (The now defunct Minerva Press.) He had a few dozen copies published to pass around to that immediate family and some friends.

This is my wife’s family’s copy, which was given to me:

[When To Pieces All Will Fall, by Lothar Richter, 1997. Photo by me, 2021.]

It is only a bit more than 100 pages. Indeed, now that he is gone it is great he wrote it. It should have been picked up by a major publisher. (I suspect he just never bothered to approach any.)

[When To Pieces All Will Fall, by Lothar Richter, 1997. Photo by me, 2021.]

A “vanity press” is not self-publishing as is done now on Amazon or elsewhere. A (reputable) “vanity” publisher owns the rights (like a traditional one) and usually provides an editor and does all of the “heavy-lifting” (again, much like a traditional one) to make the final book happen. However, it is (usually) expensive to “vanity” publish (it can cost thousands of dollars) and the cost is borne entirely by the author; the contract (for reputable ones) stipulates the author’s fee.

Why have I shared that story? Because while (insofar as I am aware) he had had a decent experience with his, too many “vanity presses” have been known to have engaged in shady practices over the years, and as technology has evolved so too naturally have publishing con games. I keep coming across writers and poets who have fallen prey to, essentially, “publishing” fraudsters – just now 21st century internet style.

[From Twitter.]

Reading that tweet and its related thread serves as a necessary reminder. The sudden appearance of many new (online especially, but some print too) “literary magazines” which “publish” poetry and similar shorts seems to be a latest con trend. Such (supposed) “publishers” regularly approach inexperienced and/or unrepresented writers on Twitter and Instagram particularly. (They often follow the writer.)

If you receive a direct message or similar approach, immediately crank up your bullsh-t detector. Before you email ANYONE back, for goodness sake at least Google the (supposed) company and spend time researching it at an independent, third, source. There is no hurry for you to respond (if you ever do, which you probably should not), because a reputable publisher will not pressure you by unsolicited DM.

Above all, unless you are using a “vanity press” (in which your payment is contractually clear) you should NEVER pay to have your work published. Period. If you are asked for payment by a “publisher,” and especially if the request surprises you, 99.9 times out of 100 you are being SCAMMED.

[Photo by me, 2021.]

Finding a legitimate publisher is NOT easy; reputable ones are businesses that need to make money, and that money comes from the sales of authors’ works. So they almost never fall from the sky into your lap. Trust your gut: if someone approaches you out of the blue through Twitter or some social media platform like that and they want YOU to pay (for any reason) THEM… come on, deep down you probably already know that THEY are the only ones who will make money; that they will rip YOU off. Do NOT allow yourself to become a victim.

Back to my own writing now. Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂