What Stace had to say on Friday, February 11th, 2011
Expert Advice

Ah, the internet. It’s such a big place, isn’t it? (Yes, I realize the internet isn’t actually a physical place. Just go with it.) So full of people from all walks of life, all levels of intelligence, all sorts of different opinions and thoughts and advice and knowledge and jobs and…well, all that stuff.

It’s funny how the internet has really become such a go-to place for information. I mean, it’s not funny ha-ha, but funny in that as little as fifteen years ago, nobody really even knew what an internet was. I remember my ex telling me about how somebody showed him this really cool site online called Ebay, where you could actually buy all sorts of stuff from all over the world, and you might get it really cheap!

Anyway. The things that make the internet so great–accessibility,* information, multiple viewpoints, etc. etc.–are the things that make it so dangerous. We all know the stories about women or young girls who’ve gone to meet an internet boyfriend and ended up murdered or raped. We all know about internet stalkers and all of that stuff.

But there’s another danger on the internet, one that’s a bit more…sly. And granted, it’s a lot less dangerous, in that you won’t be raped or murdered. You’ll be robbed, sure, but it’s kind of willingly, so there you go.

Here’s the problem. Anybody can be an expert online. Anybody. All you have to do is call yourself an expert, and people will believe that you’re an expert. This is how writers fall for PublishAmerica’s scam all the time; PA claims it’s a big publisher, look at our happy authors, we publish lots of books, we don’t want your money! So they submit their books (and PA will famously accept anything) and then discover that no, actually, PA does want their money very badly, and will do just about anything to get it (and treat the writers like shit along the way; they don’t even get a reach-around). Why do PA authors fall for it? Because PA has a big website, and pats themselves on the back, and because these writers don’t think to do the single most important thing they could do for research: Go to the bookstore and see if any of that publisher’s books are on the shelves.

This is something I see a lot. I’m sure it’s prevalent in all industries, but of course I see it in the writing community because that’s the one I’m part of and the one I pay attention to. I see all kinds of people shilling their “How to Get Published” guidebooks and classes, their conferences and workshops, their critiques and edits. All for a fee, of course. Often for a pretty high fee.

I saw one recently that surprised me a bit in its scope. I’m not going to name names or post links here, because I don’t really feel like dealing with angry sockpuppets at the moment, and this particular group of people is famous for both the number and the viciousness of their sockpuppets. Let’s call them Group A.

So group A is run by Joe B (his name isn’t really Joe & he may actually be female). Joe B started an online zine for stories in the genre he writes. He’s written a few shorts himself, and “sold” them to magazines which don’t actually pay money. He wrote a novel and “sold” it to a nonprofit publisher with no distribution (that means no books in bookstores) who requires writers to enter a fee-charging contest in order to submit. It’s a solid little press; I don’t mean to put it down. But the fact remains that Joe B has never made a commercial sale (that means selling to a commercial house, i.e. one of the Big Five in NY, or a successful epublisher).

So Joe B decides to run some conferences based on how to get published, and says he’ll teach new writers how to do that. He puts up ads and, more importantly, send out his sock-puppet army to start visiting writers’ sites and start blogs discussing his conference and how valuable and worthwhile it is, and how very well-connected Joe B is in the publishing industry.

Joe B himself has a website for his conference. The conference site links to several blogs with comments like “Writers On Top confirms we run the best conference in town!” That sounds great, until you look at the fine print on Writers On Top and realize that of its four or five authors, one of them is Joe B, and the others are people who work on his online zine as well. In fact, the more you look around, the more you realize that almost every website that talks up Joe B’s conference is written by someone connected to Joe B. You see posts in all kinds of writers’ forums about how great the con was, but all of those saying it seem to be sockpuppet drive-bys; a single post, and that’s it. You notice that when someone posts a negative experience or any questions, they get personally attacked by a little gang of sockpuppets defending Joe B.

All of which is fascinating, yes, and speaks volumes about the professionalism of Joe B and his little ship of fools. And I’m sure anyone reading this can see that Joe B isn’t someone to whose advice they should listen, because my blog readers are so clever and wonderful and smell like a meadow and all of that. But a random new aspiring writer? Not so much, because Joe B is very, very careful to list, for example, his webzine, the little group he’s set up to help run the webzine, and all of those non-paying magazines he’s given his work to, and his novel, and it sounds pretty impressive when you read it. And, really, it is. It’s perfectly fine. Obviously Joe B is passionate about writing, and what he does. Obviously it matters to him. Obviously he wants to help.

But what help can Joe B really provide? That’s where the problem comes in, because, see, for all of the experience he’s gathered in self-publishing and hanging out with the lower tiers of the magazine world, Joe B has not a single minute of commercial publishing experience. Joe B has never written a novel which was represented by an agent or bought by an editor at a commercial publisher. Joe B has never sold a short story to a professional market. Joe B may be a great writer, sure. Joe B may be very talented. Joe B may enjoy doing his own thing and not be interested in moving to the commercial publishing world, and that’s fine.

Or at least, it would be fine, if Joe B didn’t insist on charging money–a not inconsiderable sum of money–to “teach” new writers how to write a book that will sell to a commercial publisher, how to create a marketable idea, how to query, all of that. (Notice that actual writing isn’t part of Joe B’s syllabus. Note also that without good writing, none of that other stuff is worth a doohicky damn; not that it really is anyway, very much, but still.)

Why do people pay all this money to take Joe’s class or attend his conference? Well, because Joe B calls himself an expert. And it’s easy to look at him and think that must be the case. He sounds impressive, after all. It’s only when you start really looking and thinking about it that you realize Joe B is claiming to be an expert in doing something he himself has been unable to do. Joe B is going to tell you how to create a concept/plot that will sell to a commercial house, when Joe B has not himself ever accomplished that himself. Joe B is going to tell you how to get an agent when he himself has never been successful in securing his own representation.

Likewise, there are tons of “experts”–often they call themselves “marketing experts,” and as a kicker they add “Bestselling Author,” which means they had ten friends buy their book off Amazon at the same time so they could shoot to the top of the bestseller list in their niche category–who claim that everybody’s publishing career started with vanity presses, or that they know the Inside Secrets or can do some special service for you by getting you an agent or publisher or whatever. (Oh, and we do all know how useless the Amazon bestseller thing in a niche is, right? My Strumpet series is almost always in the top ten for its particular little categories: romance writing guides, authorship, etc. It’s nice to see it there, and it’s nice to see it has reviews, but believe me, it’s not selling at levels we think of when we think bestseller.)

These “experts” rely on the fact that new writers–they’re almost always looking for new writers, unpublished writers, first-time writers–don’t understand how the industry actually works and won’t know how to check up on them. A lot of them are “Marketing” experts in that they’ve created dozens of websites celebrating themselves and have them aggregated all over the web, so when you Google them you get thousands upon thousands of hit referring to them as “Bestselling authors,” and you start to believe it must be true.

Anybody can call themselves a bestselling author. I could call myself a bestselling author in, let’s see…I’m the best-selling author in my house. I’m the best-selling author of books about junkie witches. I was the best-selling author at my local B&N when two of my friends bought my books one after the other. It’s all bullshit, and quite frankly, when I see someone calling themselves “Bestselling Author,” unless it says “USA Today,” “New York Times,” or “Nationally” before it, I ignore it (“Nationally Bestselling” usually means the author hit one of the aforementioned lists, but the long list. Like if you write a book that ends up on the NYT “extended,” let’s say at #33, you can’t call yourself a NYT bestseller but you can call yourself a bestseller. See?). I know it sounds cruel, but “Bestselling Author” on the website of someone who’s never been near one of those lists says to me that the writer doesn’t understand how “Bestselling” actually works; it’s puffery, and it’s silly. I’ve been a bestseller at several places online; while it’s nice, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

I’m rambling a bit now, but here’s my point: Before you pay an “expert” a dime, make sure they actually have some experience in what they’re talking about.

If Joe B were doing conventions where he taught about starting webzines I’d say go for it! I’d totally believe he’s an expert in that, or pretty darn close to it. If he stayed to what he actually knows I wouldn’t give him another thought. But he’s not. Lots of these self-proclaimed experts don’t. They’re clever, and they’re sly, and they want your money. Don’t give it to them. Remember to research anyone you see who’s claiming to be an expert, and remember to be skeptical until proven otherwise.

It’s the internet, and anyone can claim to be something they’re not. People lie. Credentials don’t. Make sure you check them well, and check them from multiple sources.

* Accessibility for most people, anyway; some people can’t afford it, and that bothers me n several levels.

15 comments to “Expert Advice”

  1. Colleen Lindsay
    · February 11th, 2011 at 2:47 pm · Link

    Once again, brilliant post! =)

  2. synde
    · February 11th, 2011 at 3:04 pm · Link

    Awesome post….! thanks for always keeping us in the loop…

  3. Eleni
    · February 11th, 2011 at 3:15 pm · Link

    It’s all about doing your research & have an understanding of what each facet of the industry does so you don’t get taken in by scam artists.

    I’ve seen people call themselves “editors” in query letters when all they’ve done is beta-read fanfiction and have no certification, degrees or work experience with publisher or agent offices. I’ve seen people call themselves “professional reviewers” when they have a bookblog on blogspot and have never been employed by a library or have been paid for being a columnist at a professional publication.

    The most I leanred about getting scammed in the industry was by reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published— more than I ever did from a website or “expert.” That’s how I found the blogs of literary agents that are in the AAR, which I trust. I always look for qualifications and research what their background is to make them “experts” before paying them a cent. I know which organizations to trust- AAR, RWA, SCBWI, MWA, etc and which sites to consult to find out the “dirt” on these individuals- like Preditors and Editors. I know why I need them because I understand what they do in relation to what I want to do and how they protect me and my rights.

    It’s great to have a dream. We all do. But if you haven’t worked to exhaustion and seen hard times, it’s probably too easy. And if it’s too easy, it’s probably not legit. There are a lot of people out there that will “prey” on someone chasing a dream with all their heart. That’s why you must research so very hard and understand everything before you sign over your life’s work to someone- because it is your heart, but you have rights that can very easily be exploited if you give it to the wrong hands.

  4. Zerlina
    · February 11th, 2011 at 3:50 pm · Link

    I’ve always felt that anyone who claims to be an expert probably isnt. In my view anyone who claims to be an expert is saying they know absolutlely everything there is to know about the subject and thats not always possible as just about everything in the world is contstantly changing and evolving.

    • JL Bryan
      · February 11th, 2011 at 4:40 pm · Link

      If they were really experts, they wouldn’t have to refer to themselves as experts (or synonyms of experts). They would just point to their accomplishments. “Joe, whose last novel spent twenty weeks on the NYT bestseller list, offers a seminar about…”

  5. Pam
    · February 11th, 2011 at 3:55 pm · Link

    Woohoo! Next week I will be giving a course on The String Theory and Ergo-dynamics in prehistoric bat literature. The cost is 1,000,000 per person and there is a limited (by limited I mean a gazillion) seats available so hurry.

    This is a great post. I learn a lot here.

  6. Rachel
    · February 11th, 2011 at 4:20 pm · Link

    “Joe B” is successful at this because his site looks like all the information is in one spot. The internet is so saturated with advice (good and bad), somebody new at this can get overwhelmed. We’re all about easy answers and instant gratification. The truth is, everything we need to know is spread out all over, in several different mediums. There is no quick and easy answer.

    Especially since every one of us is on a slightly different road from the rest.

    And thank you for noticing. I DO smell like a meadow.

  7. Zita Hildebrandt
    · February 11th, 2011 at 4:44 pm · Link

    I’ve always thought I smell more like a tundra, personally. And every internet expert will tell you that a meadow does not a tundra make. Or vice versa. But if you want to say meadow, I will not dispute. Tomayto / tomahto, am I right?

    Thanks for another well said and practical post, Stacia. Truthfully, that’s the reason I keep reading your posts. You give practical advice spoken in plain language. You make me reason, which is sometimes painful :roll: but always appreciated (and often necessary). Thanks again!

  8. Zanthera
    · February 11th, 2011 at 4:50 pm · Link

    You need and applaud button.

  9. Elaine Corvidae
    · February 11th, 2011 at 5:54 pm · Link

    Back around 1991-1993 I took two “How to Get Published” classes via a local college. One was a night class that went several weeks, and one was a special two-day weekend class. I trusted that these guys would know what they were talking about, because, hey, they were teaching classes at a college with a pretty good reputation.

    Now that I actually know something about the industry, I know that these guys were completely off-base in their advice. One basically said to ignore submission guidelines and send a single package to everyone no matter what the publisher actually wanted, and to always simultaneously submit, even if the pub explicitly said not to do so. The second was an outright huckster (he offered “extended training” for a few hundred dollars on top of whatever fees he earned from the class after the college took their cut). Both had published a single book via a large NY publisher (oddly enough, both were sports tie-ins), but never wrote anything else AFAIK (I’m guessing it was more profitable to bilk naive writers).

    The point of my post is to carefully check credentials no matter what the source. There wasn’t much of an internet in 1991, but nowadays it’s easier to find out if someone is on the up-and-up. Do it even if they’re in RL and not just on the internet.

  10. Carolyn Crane
    · February 11th, 2011 at 6:30 pm · Link

    I am so psyched! I am a bestselling author! I am a bestselling author in my house, biotches! YEAH!

  11. Lunamoth42
    · February 11th, 2011 at 8:36 pm · Link

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading the downtrodden-sounding journal posts of a (chronically depressed) friend as she beats herself up for not following to the letter the advice of someone like Joe B. I went to this guy’s site to see what he was about, and he’s not at all the expert she seems to think, from what I can tell. And here she is, thinking she’s some sort of poseur, because of this guy, when he’s in fact the poseur.

  12. BernardL
    · February 12th, 2011 at 7:53 am · Link

    Good advice. I remember your blog series on reputable ebook publishers and the links for checking on them. Between self-published guru’s, marketing experts with no markets, Nigerian Princesses wanting you to handle their fortunes, and UK lotteries wanting to send us millions, a person can get separated from their money real fast in the Internet ephemeral world. :)

  13. Tyhitia
    · February 12th, 2011 at 8:26 pm · Link

    Excellent advice as always, Stacia. It’s sooo much easier to find scammers with the Internet. I remember being a kid and thinking that some folks who “published” poems weren’t on the up and up. I actually went to the library to find out they were scammers.

    I hope these new writers find your blog and get the scoop. 😉

  14. Christine
    · February 13th, 2011 at 6:00 am · Link

    I like to call people like this “Creative Predators”. They have learned very skillfully to identify vulnerabilities, and to capitalize on the talents of others, often scooping up the credit for themselves. They are a ruthless bunch. And they do their stalking anywhere truly creative people can be found.
    Thank you for this great post! Information is the best defense against unsavory bullshitters! Thanks again!


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