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Dreamer Beware

For everyone with a dream, there is someone hoping to con that dreamer out of some cash. Think of the fly-by-night “modeling agencies” that crop up to tell young women how pretty they are, how famous they’ll become, if they’ll only pay the agency for photos and expenses and a signing fee. The Bernie Madoffs who prey on people’s dreams of wealth or financial security. The Nigerian scam artists and other con men who convince people to give them their banking information for an elaborate get-rich-quick scheme that only makes the cons rich. The snake oil salesmen who sell fake miracle cures to desperately ill people. Those who promise their product will keep you young, make you healthy, enlarge body parts or make you thin.You bet they’ll take your money — but the dreams are more likely to be shattered than fulfilled.

So many people dream of being published authors. I understand that one completely — it was all I wanted to do from a very young age. I worked very hard to make that dream come true. Studied, read, researched, risked and survived rejections. I’ve talked before about some of the steps I took to be published, finding an agent, learning the business. I am so proud, and so eternally grateful, that I have been a Harlequin/Silhouette author for more than twenty years and more than 90 books. By buying my first book in 1986, Harlequin fulfilled my lifelong dream, and my association with them has been a joy. I’ve worked with so many wonderful, ethical professionals there who genuinely love romance stories and who work with me to make every book the best it can be — from title to cover art to editing to back cover copy to marketing. I have been truly blessed.

Yet there are many talented authors who somehow never find the right person to read their work, writers who dream of being published but grow frustrated with the challenges in reaching that goal. And are there people who are willing to cash in on those dreams? Oh, yes. Shady “agents” who charge exorbitant reading fees and expenses and never sell a book (tip — an agent makes a percentage of the author’s earnings. No sales, no money to the agent. That’s their incentive to hustle!) So-called “book doctors” who will read and edit your book for a high price, but no guarantees that you’ll ever actually be published to recoup any of that outlay, of course. And “publishers” who are really nothing more than printers. They will print anyone’s book, whether good or bad, for the right amount of money. They’re called vanity presses. They aren’t publishers.

I can’t tell you  all the stories I’ve heard of people who have given large sums of money they didn’t have to spare to “publish” their books this way. They end up with a closet full of their own bound books, which they then have to try to sell to friends, family and strangers. They don’t have the marketing resources of the legitimate publishers who pay an advance to their authors, then follow up with royalties once the advance is earned out. (Again, the legitimate publisher doesn’t make money until the books sell. The author Does Not Pay up front).

You’ve probably heard stories of authors who paid to print their own books, then caught the attention of mainstream publishers and made it big. You’ve probably also heard about people winning multi-million dollar lotteries. The odds are about the same. The vast majority of players end up with a pocketful of useless lottery tickets — or a closet full of expensive, bound books they can’t sell.

Authors do not pay to print their books. Nor should they pay for cover art or other expenses that are the reason the publishers get the largest percentage of the sales earnings. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s hard to make a living writing these days. The industry is changing so quickly, the economy is in such turmoil, and society’s habits are changing. There are very few superstars of writing. But there is still a demand for fiction and there are still readers willing to pay to be entertained and transported into the pages of a good book. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Writing is hard work, and we expect to get paid for our work. Why should someone else make money off the author’s book when the author ends up losing money for their hours of effort? That doesn’t even make sense!

Romance Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., Mystery Writers of America and Science Fiction Writers of America have all issued statements warning authors of the many vanity presses cropping up lately. I highly recommend that you visit and read their  brilliant statement and excellent arguments against these expensive and rarely-beneficial endeavors.

Because I know exactly how it feels to wants to be published very badly, to live with that dream for so very long, I feel especially compelled to warn others who share that aspiration about the many pitfalls awaiting them on their journey. Be careful.  Keep telling your stories and honing your craft and submitting to legitimate publishers (do your homework, find out who those legitimate businesses are). Join writers’ networking groups so you’ll be wise to the traps. And do extensive research, on-line and through author recommendations, about any publisher or agent before you sign any contracts.

Don’t let others cash in on your dreams.


Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

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