Category Archives: writing

A Note/Warning To Aspiring Writers: Avoid Vanity Press Scams

For years now, I’ve been an aspiring writer. I’ve self-published multiple books, which I go out of my way to promote. I’ve also been published by a couple of small-time publishers, which I also go out of my way to promote.

I know it’s an uphill battle. I’m also aware that very few writers ever achieve mainstream success. For every George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, and Stephanie Meyer, there are thousands of writers toiling away, working on amazing manuscripts that’ll never see the light of day. Most of the time, writers on my level are content to get whatever exposure we can and whatever minor bit of money comes with it, which is usually very small.

It’s a sad fact of life for aspiring writers. Most will never get published by a mainstream publishing house and few will ever be able to make a comfortable living.

That’s not to discourage anyone from writing. Most people, like myself, genuinely enjoy writing novels, short stories, and anything else that comes to mind. It’s both a hobby and a passion. Even if we can’t ever turn it into a career, it’s something we love to do.

To those same people, as well as those who dream of that rare success so few achieve, I have an important message. It’s not meant to encourage or discourage you from pursuing that dream. You should totally keep working for it. That’s advice most aspiring writers don’t need.

This is different.

This is also important because it might cost you more than a manuscript you worked hard on.

And it boils down to this.

Do NOT fall for Vanity Press scams who claim they can help you sell your book. They’ll just take your money, your book, and whatever else they can get away with.

Now, I’m not just offering this advice on a whim. I promise there’s a good reason why I’m bringing this up in hopes that other aspiring writers will see it.

For the past couple years now, I’ve been getting a number of unsolicited calls from people claiming to work for real publishers. They’re not your typical robocall or phone scams. These are real flesh-and-blood people who usually don’t read from a script. They even leave voicemails that sounds like something a real human would leave.

But don’t be fooled by the human element. These people are working for the least scrupulous part of the publishing industry. They’re what’s called a Vanity Press scam. In short, it’s a type of grift that attempts to get an author to sign the rights over for a book they’ve written while also paying the vanity press for marking services.

On the surface, it sounds like a good deal. You give them your book and some money. They in turn market your book to a wider audience. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

There’s just one glaring problem.

They don’t really market your book. They just take your book, your money, and leave you with pretty much nothing. They rely on authors who don’t know much about the publishing industry and would prefer to have someone else market their book. It’s shady and exploitative as hell, but it sadly works way more often than it should.

I’ve been dealing with several of these scams for the past couple years now. They keep calling me, asking about one of my self-published books, usually “The Escort and the Gigolo” or “Skin Deep,” and claim they can help me market the book. They’ll even claim they came across the book and it met their criteria for a book with serious sales potential. All I have to do is give them money and publishing rights to realize it.

That’s a lie.

If a legitimate publisher really believes your book has major sales potential, they pay you in the form of an advance. To them, it’s an investment. But a vanity press scam is nothing of the sort. It’s just looking to get you to fork over money to do marketing that’ll never actually manifest. They may claim they have a robust marketing team. They’ll even claim they can get you into major bookstores. Some will go so far as to claim they can get your book noticed by Hollywood producers.

Again, that’s a lie.

It’s little more than excess flattery to convince you to give them your money. Don’t fall for it. They aren’t going to help you sell more books. You may even lose the rights to your own work if you sign one of their contracts. That might end up costing you more down the line and not just in terms of money.

Now, that’s not to say all vanity press publishing is a scam. There are legitimate vanity press publishing companies who essentially help writers self-publish their books in exchange for a fee. The key, though, is that you seek them out and not the other way around. Vanity Publishing is largely the domain of self-published authors who already have an audience or are unfamiliar with how to self-publish across multiple platforms.

There is a place for that kind of service in the publishing industry. But if someone from a publisher calls you and is asking for money in exchange for your book, chances are they’re not representing a real vanity press. They’re just scammers trying to get you to pay them money to make bold promises they have no intention of filling.

In the past two months, I’ve received voicemails from two “publishers.” A quick Google search is usually all it takes to find out that these people are not representing legitimate publishing companies. I usually don’t respond to them. But when I do, I make it a point to ask them if they’re going to charge me for marketing or promotional services. If they say yes or refuse to answer clearly, I hang up and you should too.

I hope this helps any other aspiring writers out there. I urge every one of you to keep writing and keep fighting to get your book out there. Just make sure to avoid vanity press scams. They don’t care about helping you succeed. They just want to take your money, your book, and all the work that went into it.

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A New Writing Method I’m Trying (And Not Sure About)

I know it’s been a while since I’ve talked about my various writing projects. There is a reason for that. I won’t say it’s a good reason, but there is a reason. I still have a number of manuscripts that I hope to get published one day. I also keep reaching out to agents and publishers in hopes of publishing another novel.

To date, I’ve only gotten responses from scammers and grifters. Seriously, if anyone claims they can make your book a best seller for the low price of $1,200, delete that email or hang up on them. They’re lying.

While I am discouraged and have since stopped making sexy short stories, I’m still writing every day. I still have ideas I want to flesh out. I’m still trying to refine my craft. I treat every project as an opportunity to improve and I try to take it.

However, lately I’ve been finding it difficult to write at the same rate and efficiency as I did years ago. It used to be I could write a good 5,000 words with ease and still have time for class in college. Now, I’m lucky if I can get 2,000 words out. Again, there’s a reason for that.

Looking back on it, those 5,000 words I mentioned weren’t exactly quality work. In fact, it would take me almost as much time to edit or revise those words as it would to write them out. Quality beats quantity in writing 99 times out of 100. That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way and come to appreciate.

These days, the slow pace of my writing has less to do with how fast I can type and more to do with me wanting it to sound just right. The narration has to be good. The dialog has to be solid. It has to work on multiple levels and that’s really slowing me down. I’m doing less editing and revising on the back end, but it’s still frustrating at times.

As a result, I decided to take a step back recently and adjust my approach. In doing so, I realized something critical in my writing. The part that slows me down the most, to the point of stalling, is writing dialog. For most writers, that’s not surprising. Writing dialog is one of the hardest things to do in any novel, script, or play. Whenever I seek out writing tips, I tend to gravitate most towards those focusing on dialog.

Again, some of that has to do with quality over quantity. I try to give each character a voice. I try to make the conversation feel realistic, but memorable and witty. That is not easy to do and, if I’m being honest, I neglected that in the past. When I read over my old work, I see how little thought I put into the dialog. At times, most of the characters just sounded the same. They were just there to play a role.

I’m trying to avoid that. I’m trying to improve, as well. I also want to be efficient. I know that’s asking for a lot, but I think there’s a balance to be struck. Right now, I do not have that balance. So, after assessing what I’ve done and how to move forward, I’ve decided to try this new approach.

In the past, I simply went from start to finish with each chapter, going word for word between narration and dialog. It was simple and probably the way most people approach writing. Now, here’s what I want to do.

For each chapter of each story, I start with a script. I focus entirely on the dialog between the characters. There’s no prose or narration in between. I write out the conversations first. I add the details and structure later. In essence, this is what it looks like.

NARRATION

Character 1: Dialog

Character 2: Dialog

Character 1: Dialog

Character 3: Dialog

Character 1: Dialog

NARRATION

Character 1: Dialog

I’m going to try and use this on my next project. I don’t know how well it will work, but it’s something I’d like to try. I feel like the way I’m doing things now is just too inefficient. There’s always a better way to do something and I’m going to try this and see where it leads me.

In the meantime, has anyone else ever attempted something like this? Has anyone ever written out a chapter or book in a non-linear fashion? If so, what has been your experience? Did you find it helpful? Did it make your writing better and more efficient?

I’d love to know. Please share your experience in the comments. If you have other tips or approaches you’d like to share, please do so. I’d be happy to listen.

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How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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How To Combat Writer’s Block: A Few Simple Tips

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Writing is challenging. Anyone who has written a grade school essay can attest to that. It’s even challenging for those who do it every day. I’ve been writing constantly almost every day since I was 15 years old. I’ve more than met the 10,000-hour rule when it comes to mastering a skill, but I still find it challenging.

A big part of that challenge is dealing with writer’s block. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King, William Shakespeare, or Kurt Cobain. You’re going to hit a dead end at some point. You’re going to get to a point in your writing where you feel stuck. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in that position. I’ve thrown chunks of entire stories away, along with entire stories, because of it.

At the same time, overcoming writer’s block is probably the best way to progress as a writer. Overcoming a challenge forces you to refine your skill in unexpected ways. I’ve probably learned more by dealing with setbacks than I ever have navigating a successful idea.

I know there are tons of tips out there for beating writer’s block. Most are just glorified placebos, but some do offer meaningful advice. I know because I’ve tried most of these tips in some form or another over the years. Talk to any writer and they’ll probably tell you they have some special trick to getting around it.

I can say with relative certainty that there’s no one special trick that works for every writer. If there were, then someone would’ve patented it and overcharged for it by now. At best, there are strategies you can utilize. They don’t work the same way for everyone, but they do work in most situations. What follows are some of the most effective tips I’ve used over the years. I just thought I’d share them in hopes they work for others.


Tip #1: Create A Routine For Writing

This works well for me because I like working within a routine. I’m very regimented when it comes to work. I like having set times that I can plan around. Doing that with writing has always helped. I designated a certain chunk of time of day, usually an hour, specifically for writing. Doing so helps with more than just saying productive.

Even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired, I often find my brain starts working better when those times arises. Essentially, I’ve trained my brain to activate its writing function at set times. On some days, it works better than others. It still works and if you’re the kind of person who likes sticking to a schedule, this is a good way to essentially plan around writer’s block.


Tip #2: Exercise (To Get Your Brain Active)

This may not appeal to those who aren’t inclined to exercise. Even if you hate it, I still suggest doing some level of rigorous activity, be it a trip to the gym or a few walks around the block. Anything that gets your blood flowing helps you feel more alert and less lethargic.

For beating writer’s block, that’s important. It’s tempting to just stop writing and lounge about, eventually falling asleep in a stupor. In my experience, that makes writer’s block even worse. I can be stuck on an idea for hours. Then, I’ll just go jogging for a bit and something will come to me. Again, it doesn’t always work, but it works often enough to be a vital part of my approach.


Tip #3: Work On Something Else (That’s Smaller)

No matter how determined you are to finish something, a nasty bout of writer’s block just keeps you stuck in place. You can punish your brain all you want. Nothing will come out. In this case, it’s important to keep your brain working. That’s when having something else to work on can help.

I rarely have just one project to work on. I always have a few little stories here and there on the side. Some never pan out, but they help when I’m stuck on other stories. As long as I’m producing something, it keeps the creative juices flowing. Eventually, they’ll flow well enough to get me back on track with other projects. It can get chaotic, but the key is to just keep your brain chugging along.


Tip #4: Read Over Older Works

It may sound vain, but I’ve found that taking a step back and appreciating what you’ve finished in the past helps maintain a healthy perspective. Even if you haven’t written much and you think your previous works were awful, going back to read them shows that you can do this. You can finish a story.

That reassurance, on its own, helps give you the confidence you need to keep at it. One of the worst effects of writer’s block is how much it hits your confidence. The more you lose, the easier it is to get stuck. Reading over old works doesn’t just show you how you’ve succeeded in the past. It shows you how far you’ve come. It can inspire you in many ways, but you only need one to crack writer’s block.


Tip #5: Write Bits And Pieces (And Combine Them Later)

I find myself doing this often with stories I’ve yet to refine. Most of my work starts off with a focused idea. The challenge is building structure around that idea. While I usually try to go from start to finish in one fluid process, it doesn’t always work that smoothly. Sometimes, I start with the parts I’ve already fleshed out in my head and then just work around them.

It can be messy. Sometimes, the story you craft feels disjointed when it’s written in pieces. You can even tell at times when something was cut and pasted into a scene. Ideally, you fix that sort of thing when you revise it. It’s still a challenge, but it’s much easier to revise something that you’ve already written, as opposed to forcing something out for the sake of breaking writer’s block.


These are all just simple tips that have worked for me in the past. If you have others you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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