Thursday, 29 December 2011

Writer Beware: Vanity Competitions?

So we've seen vanity publishing and even vanity agenting. But various disreputable competitions have served similar functions throughout the years. I ignore most of them, and hope others do too, but it's the ostensibly legitimate outfits (that profess to offer writers much-needed and very valuable support) that sometimes cause the greatest concern, as they slip in surreptitious advertising for what amounts to vanity publishing services.

Here in the UK, at least, it's common for writing competitions to carry an entrance fee. This usually covers costs associated with administering a prize, and usually doesn't net the organisation any profit. I have, however, gone into some detail about the pros and cons of competitions, and whether they're worth the entrance fee (£20 for a £100 prize might not be worth it, for example).

Many of these competitions are aimed at unearthing new writing talent. This is an admirable aim and usually one that isn't very lucrative for competition organisers. Undiscovered writers, you can assume, haven't earned enough money from their writing to make it a livelihood, and therefore can't offer much in the way of patronage to such prizes.

But it is with some consternation that I received an email today, from a competition aimed at seeking out new talent, promoting vanity publishing services. Brit Writers, who offer writing critiques to new writers and have promised in the past to refer worthwhile manuscripts to agents, perhaps naively sent an email headlined 'Publish Your Work on Today Kindle!' I naturally assumed this was just going to demystify the self-publishing process through Kindle Direct Publishing.

On closer inspection there were two things wrong with this email. Firstly, Brit Writers recommend a vanity publisher who charges £99 for ebook publication. Secondly, it clearly states this process will take seven days so (I know, I'm nitpicking) it won't be published 'today' at all.

Here New Age Publishers reveals what the £99 covers. It's not very much, and indeed it's nothing you can't manage on your own with MS Word.

You have to pay extra for a book cover and only simple .docs are converted. Since all you need to publish a manuscript (provided it doesn't include things like bulletpoints or references) via KDP is a Word .doc and a book cover, it's hard to justify promoting a vanity publisher to inexperienced writers who might not know any better, when they're being charged precisely for the work they can do for free themselves.

Wouldn't it make more sense to recommend some top-notch ebook cover designers, or some typesetters who can convert the more complicated manuscripts for you so you don't have to laboriously check it for mistakes and formatting glitches?

Brit Writers otherwise looked like they might be a legitimate organisation. But this email caused me to dig a little deeper and reconsider a couple of other things I had seen before but ignored.

It's worth noting that Brit Writers offer promotional packages for authors. I'm not sure how useful those packages are, with promotion offered primarily on their website and through unspecified 'extensive networks'. There are websites out there that offer this for free, albeit with much larger numbers of writers to compete against, but there's little evidence that many publishers or agents have the time (or inclination) to scour these places for talent (regardless of whether they only promote ten writers or whether they promote 10,000). Indeed, many of them are also thinly-veiled excuses to promote self-publishing 'services' and vanity publishing packages to writers.

Publishers and agents get sent heaps of manuscripts every day. For the most part, they're not going to increase their workload by doing internet searches or looking at websites like Brit Writers. The very fact those writers have to pay for the privilege of being promoted suggests, to me at least, that I'd do well to steer clear of the website and those writers. When I see writers ripped off like that, it doesn't inspire me to read their work. It depresses me that they could be taken in.

You'd be better off paying a decent editor to polish your work and then researching your markets to ensure you send it to the right places, rather than paying for online advertising in a sea of voices looking for publication.

Because of their connection to New Age Publishers, I'm inclined to be sceptical for the time being, and issue a warning to writers to beware!

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