"Caveat emptor" is a very common phrase, used willy-nilly but sometimes it really needs to be watched. For those who don't know what it means - normally it is used as "Let the buyer beware."
To start, let's begin with the concept of "buyer" and how this should be a red flag. I was taught early on in my writing career that the money comes TO the author from the publisher, not the other way around - from author to publisher. If you're buying to get yourself published, you're supporting what they call a vanity press. That is a whole different topic that what I want to discuss with this tip.
Yes, I know it is only a $10 entry fee and you have a chance at winning $3000 in a writing or poetry contest. Exactly who is handling this contest? What organization? Is it legitimate?
I'm not saying all contests are rip-offs. BUT, if you evaluate the source you may save yourself money and heartache. Joe Average has a website where for a mere $5 entry fee, you can enter your poem or short story into his monthly contest and win $50. You have no idea who is entering, how many have entered and some obscure person will be the winner - a name, no picture, no other details. In other words, Oh, look! John Doe won! You lost!
But let's get to the real scam artists. They can be editors, publishers, agents, and other writers. Are you shocked?
A friend of mine sent a 500+ page story to an editor to review. She got it back with a few red lines and circled words. This cost my friend over $1,000 back in the late 1990s. The editor's comments were: Good story. A few typing errors. Clean up and send out. Needless to say, I got to see the document after it had been rejected by 5 publishers and/or agents. In the first three pages I found several errors and knew immediately I was reading a rough story by a newbie. She found another editor who made some major suggestions and changes to the story but, in the end, cleaned up the tale to make it a viable product.
I was coordinating a writing conference and "almost" got hood-winked by an agent. I was surfing when I stumbled on this particular agent and since she lived with 8 hrs of my event, I decided to offer her a chance to be a guest at the conference. I sent the email and then, on a whim, decided to check her out. To say I was appalled at what I discovered would be an understatement. This woman had absconded with several thousands of dollars from writers and even faked her own death to elude the police as she escaped to Europe. She was found out by accident when she used her old name and email address in correspondence with a savvy writer. Fortunately I was able to cancel her engagement since we hadn't signed contracts.
So how does one protect themselves from being scammed?
First, be smart, be savvy. You shouldn't be paying except for legitimate items - like payment for a professional edit.
Editors: Check out their web, see if they have any recommendations and if they do, contact a couple of the people to see what they have to say. I would say that you should only pay 50% of the fee to start the person editing and the rest when the job is returned to you OR only have them do a few pages to get a feel for their work.
Agents: Again, do your research. They shouldn't be charging you for anything - they work on a commission. One writer I know had an agent she was paying to cover postage and other office expenses. Finally, after 3 quarters of the year and paying these bills, my friend questioned where the agent had been sending and what type of rejections she was getting. Imagine her surprise when she received photocopies of letters where the name had been erased (white-out) and her name poorly typed in. She didn't renew.
Publishers: I had a publisher approach me and offer to publish my work and for a mere $150 I could get the "silver" option for a quicker turn-around. If I wanted to pay more (upwards of $500) I could get an even faster response. Plus there were fees for editing and transcriptions. What I found amazing, this wasn't a vanity press operation. If I didn't pay any extra, it would have taken upwards of 10-20 months for my story to print.
Now here's some really good secrets. There are places you can go to verify information about whether or not the person/place you want to deal is a scam. Unfortunately, it is timely but may not have EVERY scam artist listed.
Just because you write in the security of your home - that doesn't mean you're safe. Be on guard at all times.