ABOUT WRITER BEWARE ®
Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, with additional support from the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Like many genre-focused writers’ groups, SFWA®, MWA, HWA, and ASJA are concerned not just with issues that affect professional authors, but with the problems and pitfalls that face aspiring writers. Writer Beware®, founded in 1998, reflects that concern.
Although we’re sponsored by a US-based organization of professional writers of speculative fiction, our efforts aren’t limited by country, genre, or publication history. We’ve designed the Writer Beware® website so that it’s relevant to any writer, new or established, regardless of subject, style, genre, or nationality. The same is true for our blog, and for the free email information service we provide.
Writer Beware® is an officially registered service mark of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Writer Beware® is a volunteer effort. Our staff:
Victoria Strauss, co-founder of Writer Beware®, is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the Way of Arata epic fantasy duology (The Burning Land and The Awakened City) and a pair of historical novels for teens, Passion Blue 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, which she maintains. She’s webmistress of the Writer Beware® website, which she also created, and maintains the Writer Beware® database and Facebook page.
Visit Victoria at www.victoriastrauss.com.
Michael Capobianco has published two solo science fiction novels, Burster and Purlieu. He is co-author, with William Barton, of the controversial hardcore SF books Iris, Alpha Centauri, White Light, and the critically acclaimed near-future novel Fellow Traveler, as well as several magazine articles on planetology and the exploration of the solar system.
Capobianco served two terms as SFWA® President (1996-1998 and 2007-2008), and has also served terms as SFWA® Treasurer and Vice-President. He received the SFWA® Service Award in 2004. He’s currently on the SFWA® Board of Advisors, and is SFWA®’s liaison to the Authors Coalition.
Visit Michael at www.michael-capobianco.com/.
Richard C. White is the author of tie-in fiction for a number of media franchises, including Star Trek and Doctor Who. He has published numerous short stories and novellas, as well as an original fantasy novel, Harbinger of Darkness, and a nonfiction title, Terra Incognito: Building the Worlds of Your Imagination.
Among other interesting jobs, he has worked as a journalist, a substitute teacher, an independent comics publisher, an analyst for the military, and, currently, as a technical writer.
Visit Rich at www.nightwolfgraphics.com.
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. Visit Ann at www.accrispin.com.
For more than twenty years, the mission of Writer Beware® has been to track, expose, and raise awareness of questionable, illicit, and/or nonstandard practices in and around the publishing industry.
- We maintain and 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 popular blog provides up-to-the-minute information schemes and scams that target writers–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 Facebook page links to articles, blog posts, news items, and warnings of interest to writers, and provides a forum for discussion.
- We constantly research the subjects 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 reports 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 our mission by writing articles (our work has appeared in the SFWA® Bulletin and Writers’ Digest, among others), appearing at writers’ conventions and industry events such as BookExpo and the American Library Association’s annual meeting, conducting workshops and classes, and participating in online writers’ discussion groups and message boards.
We welcome questions, comments, and especially documentation. Here’s how to contact us:
- Email: email@example.com
- Snail mail: PO Box 1216, Amherst MA 01004
We accept email attachments. If you send us paper documentation (correspondence, contracts, invoices, brochures, etc.), we will gladly reimburse your photocopying and/or postage expense.
Correspondence and documentation sent to Writer Beware® is held in strict confidence. Your name and contact information will never be shared, publicly posted, or otherwise disclosed except to appropriate law enforcement agencies, in response to an enforceable subpoena, or as directed by counsel.
We cannot accept anonymous complaints, complaints that don’t name the individual or company, or second-hand complaints (for example, your report of your friend’s bad experience with their publisher–your friend needs to contact us directly). Any documentation you send must be original and complete (i.e., send the entire email, not cut-and-pasted text).
Please do not send us your manuscripts or query letters! Writer Beware® is glad to share information and answer questions, but we are not agents or publishers, and we cannot read or critique manuscripts, query letters, or any other form of writing. Emails with attached manuscripts or writing samples will be deleted without response.
Writer Beware® appreciates the thought, but we don’t accept donations. If you’d like to help support the organizations that sponsor us, please consider donating to SFWA®’s benevolent funds.
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, and others–who vastly outnumber the deliberate fraudsters and con artists–can do just as much damage to a writer’s career. 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:
- 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 platforms) that 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. 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, or a publisher that claims copyright on editing.
- Unprofessional or exploitative practices. Agents who shotgun-submit or use their clients’ own query letters. Publishers that turn their 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) at inflated prices.
- Nonperformance. Agents who’ve been in business for years and still have no sales. Publishers that fail to fulfill their contractual obligations. Independent editors or marketing services that take clients’ money and don’t deliver.
- Dubious qualifications. An agent, publisher, or other purported literary professional who sets up in business without a relevant professional background. Such people are often well-intentioned, but have no idea how to do the job.
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 complaints, 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. Most of our files contain at least a dozen separate reports. Many contain a lot more. Our largest file (which has been expanding since 2001) has thousands of reports.
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 have to 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 didn’t call often enough with updates, 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 often involve unrealistic expectations on the writer’s part). Occasionally, with multiple similar reports, they do add up to a pattern, and if so, we feel a warning is in order. But that’s rare.
We’re very 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.
Except for graphics, and where specifically indicated, all Writer Beware® contents copyright © Victoria Strauss
MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PERMISSION