Writers—especially self-pubbed or vanity pubbed writers (as well as writer-wannabees)—seem to attract scammers. Maybe the scammers think, “Gee they paid to get published. Let’s see what else they’ll pay for.”
Despite my vanity-pubbed status, I’m pretty savvy when it comes to writing scams. I’ve been to conferences where scams are identified, I’ve read the scam-warning sites
on the Internet, I talk to other writers. I’ve known for years that the International Library of Poetry, American Book Publishing Company, and PublishAmerica are the biggies of writing scams. I know that legitimate agents don’t ask for money upfront and don’t post their clients’ works-in-progress on a website in hopes that an editor or publisher will see them. I know that real agents are members of the AAR
and usually live in (or work out of) New York.
I know not to pay for posting pictures of my books’ covers on a website that will “display” them for potential buyers. I know not to contribute my work for free to a site that will use said work for content, while actually promoting a product or service that it sells. I know never to pay for a book review—especially a review by an unknown reviewer—that will be displayed on an obscure website that no one reads and that few even know exists. And I know that amazon.com book reviews are basically worthless—especially the ones by anonymous reviewers. (People go to amazon.com to buy books they’ve already decided they want. Who browses book reviews at amazon.com to decide which book to buy?) I wasn't born yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon, I was napping when the phone rang and woke me up. A smooth talker asked if I’d gotten his email. When he told me his company name, I told him my scam filter had probably caught it. (I won’t identify the company by name here, but the first part is the first half of the word information
and the second part is the four-letter synonym for a dollar bill. Suffice to say, it isn’t a name that sounds, well, respectable.)
He told me that he’d put my business card—which he’d picked up at a used bookstore—on his website that promotes area businesses. I told him I wasn’t an “area business”—that I was a writer and educator.
He mentioned how attractive my card was and that he wanted to display cards that were colorful, not plain black print on a white background. (Huh? Is this a red flag, or what?) He told me he was providing this service for free (Yeah, right,
I thought, as another red flag waved close to my nose.)
Also—and here’s the kicker—he wanted me to “contribute a service” that the other businesses on his site might use. (The red flags were flapping now.) I explained again that I was a retired teacher who’d written a couple of books. I wasn't a business. He said that maybe I could do something in the way of writing to help Junior Achievement, whose card was also displayed on his site. I asked him if Franklin County had a Junior Achievement program. He didn’t know—he was in Roanoke and they had Junior Achievement there. I told him I was in rural America—forty miles from Roanoke—and there wasn’t Junior Achievement around here. (Another red flag: Shouldn’t he know about the “businesses” his site promoted?)
He insisted that I look at his site and then, if I didn’t like what I saw, he’d remove my card. He dictated both his URL and email addy to me.
I looked at his site and wasn't impressed. It took several minutes to load (a site shouldn’t take more than eight seconds to load), wasn’t scalable (so all parts of it weren’t viewable unless I scrolled horizontally), and wasn’t well designed at all. It was, well, a random collection of business cards for wineries, realtors, builders, etc. Yeah, Junior Achievement was there and so was my card. In the menu bar were links to several of this guy’s businesses—something about technology in healthcare, another about publishing (“America’s most affordable publishing outlet”), something about a nationwide healthcare system, a solicitation for survey takers, etc. This guy was certainly, uh, diversified.
But what did he have to gain from posting business cards? I knew there must be something. . . . Anyhow, I emailed him and told him to remove my card.
Later that night I accessed my faculty email that soon will be shut down.
I hadn’t signed on for two weeks so emails had piled up—including this guy’s emails—one per day (sometimes two!) for over a week.
The June 9th email—the last one before he phoned me—gave away how he wants to make money:
You probably are aware of how well your business is being promoted with your artistically designed business cards, which add a touch of flair to the site...thus reciprocity. I am happy to promote your business at no charge throughout the valley. However, in order for me to continue to do so, I must offer my clientele something special in order to maintain their interest and to keep them coming back to the site. This is where you come in. I must receive from you a special deal that's not offered to the general market. These special deals we refer to as "barter blasts". Although, it is a public display to attract more business to the site, it carries an air of exclusivity to the members of (*name of his business*) All consumers want to feel special when sharing their "purchasing power." In conjunction to promoting your business at no charge, I will be happy to promote businesses that you recommend at no charge, when you send their artistically designed business cards to (*name and address of his business*). If you can't offer any special deals or barter blasts, I must replace your card with the businesses that can...no hard feelings. However, you can continue to have your business promoted but it must be at a cost of $2.00 per day. This is still a good deal considering advertising rates in other media sources.
Therein lies the scam: Two bucks a day—$730 a year—for a site that the average computer user is highly unlikely to access?! (If you give a roomful of monkeys easy-to-use computers and unlimited Internet access, there exists the remote possibility that one just might access this site—but I doubt it.) No way is it "a good deal."
“Air of exclusivity”? Yeah, right.