Caveat Emptor – Have I Got a Deal for You!

Can they prove what they’ve claimed? (Simple strategies for recognizing scammers)

Note to folks who saw this on Facebook: I go a tad deeper here.

Interesting LinkedIn experience a while back.

Got this solicitation:

Authors, YOUR BOOK, memoir, or story idea synopsis as a movie? Make it so! You should hire us, Hollywood award-winning Screenwriters and IMDb Producers to write you a PROFESSIONAL script. FREE QUOTE: 1) send us your email 2) tell us the name of your book OR your story idea from synopsis to … Producers PREFER PROFESSIONAL scripts from books, and don’t have time to read books. Producers do not read scripts from beginning novice script writers who are book authors. They can tell ASAP from first few script pages if an expert wrote the script! We are IMDb award winning PROFESSIONAL scriptwriters, and award winning IMDb film producers. Our scripts WINS include best scripts top awards at Cannes, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Hollywood, & OVERSEAS, etc., and 100s (YES! 100s!) of other BEST SCRIPT awards and BEST FILMS too. NEW Best Script AWARDs at the ECA and UTAH F.F., etc! We do not do book reviews. (We do NOT want other writers finished scripts to buy or option!)

I wrote back:

Could you provide the names of the scripts, the awards they’ve won, the movies made from them, please?

Got this reply:

you need to do your own due diligence on our awards and film accomplishments

Followed a few moments later by:

On IMDb, sites, and 100s of awards! I cannot send you all of them here. Clients need to do their own due indigence of course. If you want an A LIST scriptwriter who have LOTS of A LIST films that writer will cost you 100 thou and more as a WGA UNION writer. We are not that, because we want to work and have lower fees. But if you want a writer with TOP CREDITS, you would then need to pay VERY HIGH fees. Is that what you want? Then be my guest and look for a writer with A LIST credits. 🙂

First, the email address provided was gmail. Really? Sorry, someone offering to help you out and asking for money has to have something more substantial than a GMAIL account. Especially when they make the claims they do.

Second, anybody making the claims they make then saying “Go verify us yourself” is not to be trusted. If you want my business, prove to me your worth it. Saying you’re worth it and having the credos indicating you’re worth it are two quite different things.

Third, dear god don’t tell me (essentially) I’m an idiot for not accepting you at face value; the follow up basically says they don’t have lots of cred, they’re not WGA, and ends with “Is that what you want? Then be my guest and look for a writer with A LIST credits.”

Well, umm…yeah, I do want someone with lots of credibility in their industry, knowledge of their business, and a proven track record.

Idiot Moi! Right?

I ran my own business 25+ years. We put our list of happy clients, satisfied customers, recommendations and their results front and center. Did a prospect have a question about our track record? Here’s a client company and the contact in that company. Ask them directly.

Get Specifics
Beware of marketing claims that only contain generalities. Example: “Authors have seen substantial increases in sales using our platform.” The other one I like is “XYZ resulted in lots of pageviews, which resulted in substantial increases in royalties.”


Define “substantial.” The author sold nothing on their own and sold two copies using your platform and spending $700? Or their royalties went from $7 to $70?

No thanks, I’ll pass.

I’m tired of being told “substantial” and, when I ask for specifics, being told either “that’s not relevant” or “you don’t understand what we offer.”

Of course it’s relevant. Do you make marketing decisions based on hearsay? And if I don’t understand, educate me.

Unless they can’t. Because they don’t have the numbers they claim.

It’s all about keeping expectations in check. My definition of substantial comes from years working for NASA. I’m use to numbers with lots of zeroes after the first significant digit. As mentioned before, I ran an international company for 25 years. I’m use to numbers with lots of zeroes blah blah blah.

More importantly, I’m use to knowing what to expect for the money I spend. Herein lies a concern. Individuals and companies who don’t give you specifics are telling you they don’t think their specifics live up to their generalities.

It also means they don’t respect you enough to answer your questions. BEWARE!

Full DisWhat?
What’s sad is I get 2-3 solicitations similar to the above each week. Most of them lack what’s called full disclosure. Full disclosure is the old way of saying transparency. I think people call it “transparency” because it doesn’t have the same finality as “full disclosure.” Transparency is fluid, you see through gossamer wings. Full disclosure is final, ending, you don’t get past here. Ever seen George Carlin’s “Shell Shock” routine? You get the idea.

Does your publisher suggest you take part in awards programs that charge a fee? Check to make sure your publisher doesn’t have a stake in the awards program. If they do, they should inform you of such. Kind of like a news program telling you the subject of a news story they’re about to air is an owner or supporter of the program. One, it informs you the news program is aware there might be bias. Two, it lets you know there might be bias.

Third, if your publisher wants you to take part in something they own or get a cut of, you better damn well make out on it. Note: Publishers promoting their own marketing systems is prevalent among small/indie publishers, and that’s completely understandable to me. Any small/indie publisher whose business plan goals success strictly from book sales in going out of business real quick. There are too many books, too many authors, and the market is way too fractured for any company to maintain profitability strictly from book sales. That’s not a sustainable model in today’s market.

So a publisher hawking their own or co-owned or kickbacked marketing scheme? Of course they want you (as one of their authors) to take part. They’re making money from your taking part and probably making more money from your taking part than they’re making from selling your book.

I have no problem with publishers hawking their own marketing plans provided they tell me that’s what’s going on.

But be advised: it also means their desire to publish your book is partially based on their expectation you’ll buy into their marketing programs.

Me, I don’t mind playing against the house when I know that’s what I’m doing. It keeps my expectations in check. About how much I should trust my publisher when they give me marketing advice. Or anyone giving me advise to spend money with no promise of reward (play the lottery. it’s cheaper and your chances are better).

Awards Programs and Contests
Awards and winning contests is nice. Depending on what’s involved and what the award/contest is for/about. I love winning awards. That I’ve genuinely earned.

Years back, LinkedIn started a section called “Endorsements.” People would endorse other people for skills…that they rarely possessed. I know I didn’t possess the skills others claimed for me. I never stated I had such skills. And I questioned their endorsing me. And still they endorsed me.

Current author awards programs fall into similar categories. Especially if they require an entry fee.

Does it require an entry fee? Check to see who/what’s won in the past, check to see where winners get published, and definitely check to see the winners haven’t already been decided before the awards/contest opens.

The following are not showstoppers, they are things to investigate and be aware of when entering a contest or going after an award that requires an entry fee:

  • Requiring an entry fee can indicate many things. Perhaps the awards/contest group has a small staff and requiring an entry fee keeps the submissions to a workable level. Perhaps the awards/contest group has a “you have to be this tall to get on this ride” policy and requiring an entry fee insures only serious authors will apply. It can also mean they don’t have any sponsorships, meaning nobody’s backing them, meaning they don’t have connections in publishing (meaning connections to major houses or magazines, not indie publishers or onlines with no readership).
    Something to be aware of: reputable awards/contest groups list their sponsorships. If they have none, they’ll state that.
  • How long has the award/contest been active? They may have beautiful awards and such, and if they have been active less than five years and have no sponsorship, does anybody care about the award/contest? Meaning, if you list it in your cover letter will the editor/publisher laugh, snicker, or take notice?
  • Check to see who’s won in the recent past. Any names you recognize? If not, be careful.
  • Any books/titles/articles you’ve read, know someone who’s read them, or have some knowledge of won in the recent past? If not, be careful.
  • Where are the winners published? Online is fine, just make sure the online has a consistently high viewership/visitor count. Print is also good. Make sure it’s a real publication, not something stapled together in someone’s basement while their pet hamster runs a wheel powering their mimeograph machine. Also make sure the print publication has distribution and marketing behind it, meaning someone’s hitting the streets promoting it (and that goes back to sponsorships).
  • Definitely make sure the winners aren’t decided before the award/contest begins. Believe it or not, I’ve seen this happen. The award/contest exists so the already-decided winners can afford to self-publish and/or say they won out of X entries.
    Sad but true, I know. Sadder and truer, a lot of indie publishers become publishers to promote their own work and legitimize themselves by publishing a few other authors, as well.

And in the end all that matters is you’re happy entering the award/contest and you have expectations in keeping with the probable outcome. Winning an award or contest can be a big ego boost.

Me, I have a big enough ego. I want a bigger wallet.

Do your homework (what’s called due diligence) before signing a contract or handing over any money. I know it’s no fun, and do it anyway.

Check to make sure someone’s claims are valid. I do. A lot. I find out most claims can’t be substantiated. It’s easy to do; the above LinkedIn example was a simple request for more information. The amount of time the individual spent writing me two responses could just have easily been spent providing a link validating their claims.

But they didn’t.

Few do.

My simple strategy – Can you prove what you’ve claimed? – results in more responses telling me what a moron I am for not buying what they’re selling…Frankly, I’m amazed I know how to breathe.

Here’s another strategy I find useful: ask people you trust what their experience has been. Go with the majority opinion. Just make sure the majority opinion favors what you’d like as an outcome. Example: “XYZ got me 1,000 looks.” “Wonderful! How many books did you sell?” “Oh, I don’t care about that.”

Good for you!

I do care about that. A lot! I don’t think I’m going to be an overnight sensation (or, as Bonnie Raitt once said, “Yes, I’m an overnight sensation. Took me twenty years, though…”). I play the long game. I pay attention to ROI because I want to grow my career, not piss away my money on things that don’t recognizably grow my career.

The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything. – Warren Buffet

When approached by someone wanting to market/hype your work:

  • Ask for specific numbers (some kind of ROI you’re comfortable with. Financial, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, …) that can be directly tied to the price they want you to pay.
  • Make sure they’re reputable. Do a search for unsatisfied customers. You’ll learn more from people’s mistakes than from their successes. Especially in marketing.
  • Ask for a full disclosure statement or their transparency policy. The more money they’re asking for, the more likely they’ll have one or the other.
  • If the author comes from your publisher, ask if they are affiliated (and how so) with what they’re suggesting/offering.
  • Awards/Contests – see above and be careful!
  • Do your homework. Ask people you trust if they think something’s a good idea.
  • Always ask for proof of any claim. Reputable groups will have it handy and get it to you as either a FAQ page or downloadable PDF or some such.

And I know my attitude pisses some people off.

Specifically the people who want me to spend money.

And, as a friend once told me, “Go with your gut. It’s right between your heart and your balls.”

Caveat Emptor, folks; there’s lots of scammers out there.

2 thoughts on “Caveat Emptor – Have I Got a Deal for You!”

    1. My pleasure.
      I agree that we must perform our own due diligence. In this case, asking for proof of claims and being rebuffed was due diligence enough.