Are You Being Scammed? Warning Signs for Writers

Any freelancer in the game for longer than say, five seconds, has run into scams specifically designed to lure writers and those who want to be writers.  Some of these are direct rip-offs of your time or your work. Others aren’t deliberately out to hurt you but are run by people who are clueless about how the writing business works. Either way, it doesn’t really matter since the bottom line is wasted time, money and resources.

One example of a dubious publishing model is reported by Storycrafters, which ran complaints about a shady-sounding “get published” scheme at a website called Naturally I’d be willing to give both sides the benefit of  the doubt, but the publisher of ZootyandFlappers went on an ill-considered written rampage against “writers beware” site Preditors and Editors. Bad move, that.  The Bard springs to mind here, the lady doth protest too much.

I’ll try my best not to comment specifically on At publishing time, I don’t know whether it’s a scam site or not. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say it sounds dogdy, but I have reasons I’ll get to in a moment. For me the jury is out because I just don’t know enough, but I know when I smell a rat–and there is a definite rodent bouquet in the air over this particular controversy. With that in mind, here are my own personal warning signs that absolutely scream “STAY AWAY”.

  • Stupid names. Yes, I said it. People in the writing biz live in fear of alienating others with harsh criticism, but I can’t deny that one of my own personal red flags is a publishing outfit with a stupid bloody name. I hate to sound like such a snob, but as a professional writer I would NEVER, EVER be tempted to add company with a name like ZootyandFlappers to my resume.
  • Consistent bad grammar and spelling. Every web site (including this one) has trouble with spell check. But after you’ve been around the block once or twice you begin to learn what that looks like compared to someone who just plain doesn’t know how to write. The one that turns me off instantly is a job ad with misplaced apostrophes, as in “Writer’s Wanted”. I run away screaming from this nonsense. It’s an indicator that the person running the show doesn’t have any idea how to proofread their own work, let alone judge yours. You really want a dork who puts “Writer’s Wanted” critiquing YOUR work?
  • “E-Mail us for more details”. Many new freelancers use Craigslist to find gigs, but take my advice and NEVER respond to a job ad two sentences long, promising you $500 a week to write PR or a handful of pieces per week. You’ve seen these, they have no company name attached and always include a request for you to e-mail for full disclosure. You’ll be on every Viagra spammer list in town in about three days after you respond.
  • Reading fees. Never pay ANY MONEY to have your work read.
  • Sign-up fees.  Never pay for the “privilege” of getting work.
  • “Make your voice heard.” or “Gain exposure.” Ignore writing job ads with these phrases, since it is usually code for “no pay”. Unless you LIKE working for free…then go for it.
  • Stringent requirements for no pay.  Ever see those hilarious calls for writers where they want you to write exact word counts in a specific style, demand you be a subject matter expert, walk on water, and basically ask you to justify your existence as a human being, then offer peanuts in pay? Or NO pay? You can do better someplace else. Most of these gigs are NOT scams, but they ARE unreasonable.  
  • Attacking reputable figures in the writing game. Sorry, ZootyandFlappers, but you rang bells on my bullshit detector when you attacked the folks at PreditorsAndEditors, calling Victoria Strauss names and making baseless accusations. Legitimate criticism is one thing, ad hominem attacks is quite another. Folks, beware of shrill, hysterical sounding rhetoric and cries of “you just don’t understand!” If you read this sort of thing on a website you are considering as a source of income, RUN AWAY SCREAMING. If you don’t, it’ll end in tears sooner or later.

There are miles of copy I could write on this issue, but this is an excellent start. I strongly recommend the aforementioned PreditorsandEditors, as well as the Warnings section of if you want detailed information on how to spot scams or what the latest controversies are in the wild world of writing.

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