More Money-Wasting “Opportunities” for Writers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Following on my last post about how authors can waste money on promotional strategies, here are some more cash-sucking “opportunities.”

Book Your Trip to Hollywood, from Outskirts Press

Self-publishing service Outskirts Press–home of some of the sillier “book marketing” services–is taking advantage of one of writers’ most fevered pipe dreams with its new Book Your Trip to Hollywood service. Of course, the press release doesn’t put it that way:

These services solve a real problem for many authors who dream of making it big in Hollywood. In fact, just getting Hollywood’s attention is nearly impossible, but with the Book Your Trip to Hollywood suite of services from Outskirts Press, authors receive turn-key, full-service assistance with the push of a button. And with each option, authors receive the feedback and/or participation of a real Hollywood producer and production company; the final results are added to a Hollywood database that is perused by industry professionals for new projects; and exclusive efforts to option the author’s book are immediately set into motion. The author doesn’t have to lift a finger.

Except to pull out his or her credit card.

The first of the “suite of services,” the Hollywood Book-to-Movie Treatment, costs a cool $3,299. For that, you get a 7-10 page “creative adaptation” of your book written by a screenwriter. Which screenwriter? What are his/her credits? Sorry, that info is not available.

You also get an evaluation and a 3-year optioning effort from a Hollywood production company. Which company? What films has it produced? What further compensation might be due if it does manage to get someone to option your treatment? Oh dear–Outskirts isn’t telling you that, either. (The disclaimer that authors have to sign in order to buy the service mentions a “partner production company” with the initials “VM”; that’s too little information even for Writer Beware’s sleuthing superpowers.)

The second service, the Complete Hollywood Screenplay, has a sticker price of $1,999. Hmmm, you might be thinking; why does an entire screenplay cost less than a 7-10 page treatment? Because the $1,999 is only a downpayment, you big silly! It puts you in touch with a screenwriter (once again, no info on identities or credits) to “discuss additional details”; if you want to proceed, you’ll owe an extra $9,940. (What happens if you don’t want to proceed? Can you get your downpayment back? No word on that from Outskirts.)

Since buying the treatment service is a pre-requisite to buying the screenplay service, the total bill for your Hollywood pipe dream comes to $15,239. Outskirts can even claim that this is a bargain: the very similar services offered by Author Solutions will set you back over $18,000.

It hurts my heart, and my brain, to think that authors might actually shell out this kind of money for services that would likely net them zero results even if performed by skilled professionals at reasonable prices. Selling a book to Hollywood is one of the most fervent writerly ambitions; it’s also one of the most unattainable. And as much as you may roll your eyes and think, “Surely no one would fall for a scheme like this,” the fact is that people do–or the schemes wouldn’t exist.

Living Now Book Awards, from Jenkins Group

I’ve written extensively on this blog about money-sucking awards programs whose principal purpose is to create income for the sponsors, rather than recognition for the entrants. Here’s another one: the Living Now Book Awards.

According to its website, the Living Now Book Awards are “designed to bring increased recognition to the year’s very best lifestyle books and their creators.” However, they bear all the hallmarks of an income-producing awards program: a high entry fee (currently $95, increased from $75 for earlier entries; you also have to send two books), a laundry list of entry categories (30 in all); minimal prizes (winners and runners-up get a medal, plus some stickers and “awards marketing material”); and the opportunity to purchase additional merchandise (more stickers, extra medals, duplicate certificates).

The awards sponsor, Jenkins Group (an expensive publishing service provider), also conducts the Axiom Awards for business books, the IPPY Awards for general fiction and nonfiction, the eLit Awards for ebooks, and the Moonbeam Awards for children’s books. Between them, these awards represent over 240 categories, with an average entry fee of $85.

If there were just 25 entrants in each category (and it’s likely that the actual averages are higher: this year’s IPPYs, for example, received over 5,000 entries, averaging 50 entries per category), Jenkins would gross more than $500,000…and that’s not counting the purchase of extra merchandise. Explaining the entry fees, Jenkins notes that “it costs about $50K to run a good awards program.” Assuming that really is the case, Jenkins is spending around $250,000 total for its awards. Even with my lowball income estimate, that’s a pretty nice profit.

For tips on how to evaluate contests and awards programs, and hopefully avoid the less savory ones, see my 2010 blog post.

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    1 comment to More Money-Wasting “Opportunities” for Writers

    • Holy cow! I’m stunned about how much that all costs, and I’m so sorry for the deluded people who believe money is a substitute for talent and hard work. But it’s not just Hollywood. There are other people all over the web who have no real credits and yet offer ghostwriting, editorial services, or how-to-write courses.

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