Common Writer Scams & How to Avoid Them

If it’s your first day, I’m going to rip the Band-Aid off¾some people just plain suck, and despite what they say to the contrary, they’re not out to help you succeed or make money. They exist to waste your time and your money. Here I’ll cover common scams that can bamboozle even the savviest writer.


Freelance Writer Scams

Who’s the target? Freelance writers and hopeful freelance writers are easy targets for scammers because not only is it hard to find work, it’s also hard to find work that pays well and that is exciting or career-progressing.

This makes freelance writers an easy target for low-pay or for non-existent work.

What are the scams? The scams that target freelance writers vary but aren’t limited to:

  • Pay to join a network and pay to get writing jobs. While perfectly legal, these “opportunities” are usually promoted as ways to make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars with no training, no degree, etc. Reviews from the handful of unique success cases are supplied as evidence that the network is the real deal solidifies the deal, so writers sign up. I know several people who work or who’ve gotten work through Textbroker and Upwork and the like, so it can be done; however, it’s not the goose that laid the golden egg it’s conveyed to be. Writer be wary.

  • Join group XYZ, get some training, and learn how to (for example) get free vacations, to publish in the world’s best travel publications, and to (holy crap!) GET PAID! For the low-low-ultra limited-time discount price, you can join the exclusive community, do the training, that sure, might be a little value-added, and then, if you’re really a freaking go-getter, do what you could’ve done all along—land writing jobs.

How to avoid these scams

I guarantee at least one person will try to click this to see how they can become a marijuana millionaire.

I guarantee at least one person will try to click this to see how they can become a marijuana millionaire.

  • First, if a job is promoted in all-caps or with exclamation points, avoid it.

  • Also, there’s a style of webpage that I call the “used car salesman approach”. The page is usually a mile long. It starts with some kind of TGTBT (too good to be true) claim like, “Make $250,000 a year with this amazing offer now available for $39—a $1,200 value!!!!” The TGTBT used car sales pitch starts with some information. Then there’s testimony. Then there’s a bullet list of varying “statistics” that feature TGTBT numbers. Then there’s a YouTube video. The used car salesman technique merits using lots of different size fonts. Lots of bold. Lots of underline. Lots of emphasis.

IT LOOKS SOMETHING LIKE THIS!!!!

But wait, there’s more!

  • One peril of having a platform for being a professional freelance writer is the scam e-mails. I got one this morning. The subject line was “hi” it was from a fake profile, probably a phishing bot. Mary Watts is not a real woman. I know this because by hovering over her name, the real email address was clearly from the depths of hell (just like whoever sent it). Don’t open these. Send them directly to spamalot where they belong.

How to really be a freelance writer: Build your professional platform. Pony up for a website, a professional e-mail address (leave that slutmagic69 Hotmail e-mail address in 2001 where it belongs), and a presence on social media. Head over to Contently and put your content there. If you’ve never been paidto write content, that’s okay.

Like they say, dress for the job you want. Well, in this case, write for the job you want. Write some sample content that mirrors the kinds of jobs you want. If you want to be a travel writer, then start by building a big beautiful portfolio of work that highlights travel around your city. Platform building takes time, so if the jobs don’t come running, don’t panic.

Once you have something to show, check out publications you like. Review their submission guidelines. Get familiar with the content and style they produce, and then pitch an idea to them. You might need to work for free at first, but eventually, you’ll get jobs that pay real money.


Editorial Association Scams

Who’s the target? Freelance editor associations are an easy target for scammers because an editor’s interests, e-mail address, website, etc. are listed. A truly dedicated scammer can easily create a pitch to an editor (or a writer) that indicates they’re legit.

What’s the scam? The most recent scam is scammers creating fake business e-mails for real companies and then soliciting editors. The pitch is something along the lines of “I saw your profile on ACES” and “we’re hiring proofreaders for immediate hire”. The salary is on-point with fair pay. At the end, there’s a signature from an HR rep and you’re asked to contact someone immediately if you’re interested.

How to avoid these scams: On the surface, the scam looks good, but if you do a little searching, there are red flags. 

man+pants.jpg

Scam sign #633:

Real professionals can take a dick joke.

  • For one, the e-mail isn’t written all that well.

  • Secondly, you’re asked to reach out to your point of contact via the Google Hangout app; your POC also doesn’t have a company e-mail address. It’s just sarahtaylor0604@gmail.com. (That’s a HUGE red flag.) 

  • If you start Googling, you’ll notice the names of your points of contact are real people who work for the company, but in your e-mail, they’re names are a letter off. Sara Taylor is spelled Sarah Taylor. 

  • The company’s name is missing a letter (i.e., instead of ALIGHT SOLUTIONS, it’s ALIGHT SOLUTION).

  • If you go further and look at the company or their listings on Indeed or elsewhere, they don’t actually employ proofreaders.

  • Finally, if, angry that your precious time has been wasted vetting this crap, you suggest that they have a tiny penis or that their mother must be “so proud”, they’ll swear at you, which I found to be tremendously unprofessional.

How to really be an editor: You can become an editor in many ways. I cover some in this previous post. First, you need to know the type of editor you want to be because there are multiple types of editors and one size doesn’t come close to fitting all.

  • Experience is critical, of course. If you want to work for a publisher, then you’ll need to start somewhere. 

  • Most editors start as copyeditors or Assistant Editors and work their way up. 

  • You need a strong set of grammar skills (like, Rock of Gibraltar strong). 

  • Learn the style guide(s) for the type of editing you want to do. 

  • Join associations and do certifying training courses. The Editorial Freelancer’s Association’s members offer several courses that help new and experienced editors get started and expand.

As with freelance writing, create a professional platform complete with website, e-mail address, social media presence, etc.


Author Scams

Who’s the target? Authors full of hopes and dreams who just want to get published who (generally) don’t know much more about the publishing industry beyond the fact that they’ve written a book.

What’s the scam? Paying for publication or paying for representation are usually scams (or at least scammy). Sure, there are some valid vanity presses that will edit your book, put a beautiful cover on it, and format it, and will essentially help you self-publish…for a hefty fee. Some even collect royalties. I’ve seen the product of vanity presses, and honestly, you could hire someone off the Internet to help with the creative and the format and do a better job yourself. Or you could pay Smashwords or Create Space to help and self-publish. 

If you absolutely must / want to go through a vanity press **sigh**, then vet them. Look at the works they’ve published. Look at the quality of product they’re producing. Ask for the numbers. What bookstores do they get the work in? What works have made best seller lists? Purchase and read some of the works. Are there mistakes? Formatting errors? Writing is an art, but publishing is a business.

To get with a real publisher, you almost always have to have agent representation. Here’s another scam, and this one really is a scam. A REAL AGENT WILL NEVER ASK YOU FOR MONEY UP FRONT. Your agent gets paid by landing you a contract. They get paid off your advance (if you get one) and your royalties. Generally speaking, my recommendation is unless you’re self-publishing, you don’t pony up any dough to anyone to get published.

How to avoid these scams: Avoid these scams by writing a query letter (or a book proposal for nonfiction works) and land representation the good old-fashioned way. If you grow weary or the feedback indicates that your work, good though it surely is, isn’t a good fit for mainstream publishing, consider self-publishing via valid indie author venues like Smashwords, Kobo, Lulu, Amazon, etc. Or, just go straight to self-publishing as many authors are doing these days.

Consequently, these approaches for avoiding scams are also how to be a real author. My only other advice is to read widely about the business of writing. You want to be an author, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by being ignorant about the publishing industry or how to succeed in it. To that end, I highly recommend reading Jane Frieman’s book, The Business of Being a Writer. She also has a Great Courses publication, How to Publish Your Book.


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All righty. I’ll cut the cord there and wrap up with this nugget. Publishing is an amazing and wonderful industry. It’s also hard. Thriving and surviving in it is as challenging and as rewarding as slaying fire-breathing dragons. On your way to victory, there will be trolls. I want to help you not even give those trolls the satisfaction of crossing their bridge, so contact me, Vonnie York, via this link or at vonnie@creativeeditingservices.com. Let me know what you’re working on and let me help you take that next step, whatever it may be. Until then, peace, love, & prose.

PS: The above links to Jane Friedman’s works are affiliate links. I greatly appreciate your support if you make a purchase through the links. Consider it a small finder’s fee for turning you on to some incredible resources. ;)