Sunday, September 4, 2011

Seeing Scams

After my boyfriend graduated college, he entered into the “real world,” where he found, low and behold, he was overwhelmed.

An aspiring actor, he went into it head first, looking for acting jobs and normal jobs alike, not sure how to start off in either category, but following different paths. There he found something that has disheartened him ever since: Scams.

Scams are a bit thing in the art world. People pray on the willowy hopes of the young and naïve, attempting to dig money out of their already broke hands by suggesting they have a path.

The problem with the art world is that there’s no clear cut way to get in. We have ideas about getting agents, winning an important contest, knowing someone, etc., but even all those goals don’t have crisp starting points. In order to get an agent you need to be published, but in order to be published you need an agent, how do you not only figure out how to submit to a contest, but find out about it at all, and so on and so forth.

Scammers recognize this needy confusion and they pray on it. Thousands of potential artists find themselves out of money without anything to show for it.

The question becomes how do you separate scams from opportunities?

The good news is that once you know the basic rules, most scams are pretty obvious. A good number of con men are lazy, and they tend to get business despite being not so clever. The number one rule of thumb in detecting scams is that the artist SHOULD NOT PAY BEFORE WORK IS DONE.

If the agent asks for some sort of fee, as in “reading fee” or “monthly fee,” it is very much most likely a scam. Many actors hand over thousands of dollars to their “agent” to find that he is gone the next week.

A seemingly common belief, one that I have never understood, is that the author has to pay to get his book published. This is not the case. The book is the product that the author is paid for. The publisher takes the “prototype” (i.e. the manuscript) and produces it, markets it, and ships it. He then proceeds to divide up the profit accordingly. The book is the big idea. It is the design, the concept, the invention. The publishers make money off of it and then pays the creator.

Real agents, publishers, and galleries will be paid by royalties, i.e. the money that is made off of the work. If it doesn’t make any money then they don’t get paid, otherwise, a good number of them would just accept everyone because they’re making money either way.

Technically, the author never pays these people at all. They get a share of the income.

There are, of course, little exceptions to these rules.

Self-publishing is not a scam. It is, very obviously, self-publishing. Like I stated above, the publisher’s job is to produce, market, and ship. When deciding to use a self-publishing site, the author is “hiring” a factory to mass create the script in question. He then is own publisher and does the rest of the labor.

However:

He RECEIVES the product. In self-publishing, he is having his book created, which means, when all is said and done after he forks over the 2,000 dollars he should have about 200 books sent to him. There are scams that claim to be self-publishing and they’re actually not. If you do not receive tangible merchandise, then you should not be paying them.

Take iUniverse, for example.

They advertise on the internet with Google’s 1984 help of knowing their victims. They claim to be a self-publishing site that also helps with the other production aspects. It is, however, a complete scam.

Number one: It’s print-on-demand.

Print-on-demand, just for clarification, is when a publisher only actually creates the books when someone orders them. This is cheaper and less risk for the publisher, but also makes marketing harder. A lot of people buy books on impulse because they see it in a store and it has a nice cover, which means that unless someone is specifically looking for your book or a good read and happens across the website, it’s less likely to sell.

With iUniverse, they’re asking payment for their “services.” Not only that, but then they are proceeding to ask for royalties, meaning they’re getting paid before and after the sale.

This specific publishing company is a mixture of a vanity press and self-publishing with the worst sides of both. A vanity press is a publisher that accepts a lot of books and does not take quality into account. These, of course, are hard to sell, not only because they’re not well edited or that no one is trying to sell them, but also because they tend to be more expensive than an average book to make up for the cost of the failures. Stores like Barnes and Nobles won’t even look at them.

Ebooks are becoming more and more popular today. I am not entirely sure of that process, especially when it comes to independent works. But, I still say the rule of thumb applies: Don’t spend money unless you’re getting something concrete back.

When looking at self-publishing options, remember that the price should be less than the price of a similar product in a store. A fifteen dollar hardcover made by Haper Lee has to pay off the author, the printer, the editor, the cover designer, the agent, the publisher, and a large group of people. You’re only paying off the printer. You should be able to sell your book for regular price and make a profit. If you’d have to sell it for more to break even, then you’re being ripped off.

And, of course, paying someone to edit your work is also legitimate. You are hiring them for a specific one time service.

The best way to protect yourself from scams is to view the art world as a business. You have the product, they have the means of production or advertising. Are they hiring you or are you hiring them? Interviewers do not charge the people they’re interviewing for a job, no matter how much a pain in the ass it is. View your art as merchandise and that should clear up exactly what you should be paying for.