Writer Beware was founded in 1998 by myself and fellow author and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) member Ann Crispin (who writes as A.C. Crispin). Writer Beware’s mission is to track, expose, and raise awareness of scams and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry
People often ask me if I got involved with Writer Beware because I was scammed. The answer is no–by and large, my publishing experiences have been positive.
Still, I was fairly ignorant when I began to seek publication. While scams then weren’t anywhere near as common as they are now, it was luck, more than anything else, that prevented me from falling into questionable hands.
Around the time I first went online, in the mid 1990’s, several major scams were just beginning to implode, in part through writers’ discussion of their experiences on the Internet: editing service Edit Ink, vanity publishers Northwest Publishing and Commonwealth Publications, and the notorious Deering Literary Agency and its satellite vanity publisher, Sovereign Publications.
I was at first fascinated, and then horrified, by this fraudulent shadow-industry. Here was a whole slimy publishing underworld that I’d had no idea existed. I began to follow the scam stories, and to take note of the names of agents and publishers that popped up over and over again. When I saw a call on the SFWA website for a volunteer to create an online resource on literary fraud, I jumped at the chance, and began to put together the website that would become Writer Beware.
At the same time, Ann Crispin, who was then SFWA’s Vice-President, was working on establishing a Committee on Writing Scams, with the goal of gathering information on literary fraud and finding a way to disseminate this to writers. Neither of us knew what the other was doing until a mutual acquaintance put us in touch. Our efforts seemed to dovetail perfectly, and we decided to join forces, merging the Writer Beware website with the Committee.
Our activities have expanded a lot since those early days. Writer Beware now includes four components:
- The Writer Beware website, which provides warnings about common schemes, scams, and pitfalls (there are sections on literary agents, vanity publishers, vanity anthologies, small presses, independent editors, contests, self-publishing, writers’ services, and copyright, as well as a page of writers’ alerts, a series of case studies of defunct scams, and our famous Thumbs Down Agent and Publisher Lists), advice on how to avoid them, and links to helpful online resources.
- Writer Beware’s blog, which complements the general advice and warnings on the website with up-to-the-minute information on specific scams and schemes, advice for writers, industry news, and a special focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the publishing world.
- Writer Beware’s Facebook page, where I post publishing news, resources of interest to writers, and pretty much anything writing- or publishing-related that strikes me as interesting.
- SFWA’s Committe on Writing Scams, which works behind the scenes to collect documentation on questionable literary agents, publishers, editors, publicity services, contests, vanity anthologies, magazines, websites, and anything or anyone else posing a danger to writers. To ensure that our warnings are properly documented, and also to screen out fake complaints or writers’ sour grapes, we maintain a fairly rigorous set of standards for data collection. We also provide a free advice service to share this information with writers who contact us with questions about agents, publishers.
If you’d like to contact Writer Beware, you can use the Contact page of this website, or send an email to beware [at] sfwa [dot] org.
Writer Beware is entirely staffed by volunteers. We’re sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, with additional support from the Mystery Writers of America. Although SFWA and MWA are US-based organizations of professional genre fiction authors, Writer Beware’s efforts aren’t limited by genre, country, or publication history. We’re available to any writer, regardless of subject, style, career status, or nationality.