Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Avoiding kids' writing scams

Back in this post, I talked about one of my favorite blogs, Writer Beware. The part of me that loves crime shows also loves the coverage Writer Beware offers of publishing scams. "Agents" who run off with people's money. "Traditional" publishers who charge for their services. Publishers who will publish your book for free, honest, but want you to buy a ridiculous number of your own book, or spend money for their editing services. Publishing as an industry is not the most transparent thing out there, and there are crooks who take advantage of this. As you'll learn while reading Writer Beware, there are many shady publishing practices that don't LOOK shady at first glance but turn out to be no good when you scratch the surface.

One of these no-good schemes was recently profiled in the Guardian: Nothing to write home about. The short version of the story goes something like this: 10-year-old girl finds out via mail that her writing has been chosen for publication in a book! Girl's mom finds out that most everyone else in her daughter's class got the same letter and in fact, the company publishes between 60 and 80 percent of everything it receives. The company encourages parents to spend insane amounts of money on the book in which their child's writing appears, a book that will never appear in libraries or bookstores. But isn't it worth spending the money just to see that child's writing in print?

No. It really isn't. Because it's pretty much a scam. Even though it will cost the child nothing to have her writing appear in this book, that the writing appears at all is essentially meaningless. The publisher is willing to take but not give money, and they're certainly not willing to edit and/or help the child improve her writing. The parents would be better off going to some place like Lulu.com, a reputable vanity press that doesn't try to disguise itself as anything else, and getting a book of their child's writing. At least that way they'd know all the costs up front and no fake certificates of meritorious writing are involved. It's important to note, too, that this "Your poetry/story is going to be published in this book you can pay an exorbitant amount of money for!" is not a new thing. I remember a girl in my seventh-grade writing class that also got her poem "published." When she read her poem out loud to the class, all I could think was, "That poem isn't very good." Clearly, I was destined to review for Kirkus from a very young age. My early career path as a critic aside, I always had the thought that there was something going on other than the oh-so-great quality of her poem. When I grew up and learned the basics of how writing gets published, I was able to confirm my 'tween inklings.

With the pressure parents feel to raise "perfect" children, it's easy for them to get caught up in the idea that their kids will grow up to be the next J.K. Rowling. Indeed, the Guardian article addresses "pester power" that fuels publishing scams like this one. And from what I see around the internet, growing up does not necessarily mean that everyone who wants to write learns that all publishers are created equal.

If you like Writer Beware (and why wouldn't you?), I definitely recommend reading the archives of Miss Snark's blog. From Miss Snark, I learned two of the most important tenets of publishing: 1. Money should always flow in the direction of the writer and 2. Good writing trumps all.

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