Sunday, November 23, 2008

Writers beware: it's just another scam

Everyone has a pet peeve, so it's no surprise MK should have one too. They're more ubiquitous than poodles, cost less to feed than gerbils and don't bite the way hamsters are inclined to. So, naturally, everybody has at least one pet peeve; some folks have several. I have ... a few, I admit; but the one I want to talk about today lives in the closet like Binkley's Giant Purple Snorklewacker, and periodically beats on the door and demands to be let out in broad daylight.

Like today.

And here it is: it's the "I can teach you how to be a successful writer in 12 easy lessons, no matter if you've never put pen to paper before, and instantly you'll be a successful, published, paid writer. All you gotta do is pay me US$49.95, and you can start living the life of your dreams."

There are SCORES of these offers on the Internet at any one time, and HUNDREDS of them cycling through in any two-year period. And one presumes that there enough takers out there, each with the IQ of linguine, for the publishers of these courses to make their hundred grand or quarter mill, and skeedaddle out of the field before rampaging armies of glazed-eyed, torch-wielding, would-be writers come storming up the driveway demanding their refund.

At this specific juncture in the unfolding of this particular universe, the whole industry is epitomized by one specific page, in which every single rotten, lousy stunt is pulled. I was sent the URL for it, and I am disgusted to the point where I'm extremely tempted to just paste in that URL and let you have the whole thing.

However, I fully expect to be sued if I did that, so ... taking a deep breath, we'll do it this way: I'm not going to name names, I'm not going to give any URLs. But I am going to tell you what to Google to pull up the page -- and probably 50 pages just like it.

Google something along the lines of "write for quick cash," and "write get published get cash" and "zero effort writing quick cash" ... and you'll find your way there. You'll know it when you see it. It's the one screaming this heading: "Earn BIG MONEY for 5 MINUTES of WRITING!"

Yeah, sure.

The above high-density keywords should speak volumes to you. Writing ... zero effort ... quick cash ... get published.

And here is my pet peeve: I've spent thirty years honing my skills. I'm editing my own latest novel right now, and after thirty years of experience, I'm still turning my work inside out in the editing to make it not just good, but as close to flawless as possible. After three decades of writing everything from poetry to film scripts, I can tell you that virtually everything on this entrepreneur's "squeeze page" (as they're called because they're designed to squeeze money out of you) is balloon juice.

One of this entrepreneur's "hot tips" is that you can make MOVIE PITCHES. "Write three lines" and get your name on the next blockbuster movie. Seriously -- I'm not having you on here, this is an actual "tip" on this squeeze page!

It might have been true forty years ago -- I doubt it. ("From an idea by" would have been your credit.) Here's the cold, hard facts: in today's Hollywood, YOU CAN NOT MAKE MOVIE PITCHES without having an "in" at a studio. You cannot make movie pitches even if you HAVE an "in," without being INVITED to make the pitch; and most producers and directors won't even look at a letter which doesn't come from a reputable agency.

How do I know this? Because I *do* make movie pitches. I've been making them for 15 YEARS. I'm part of a writing partnership that *has* a reputable agency and *is* invited to pitch. I've lost count of the number of scripts that have "done the rounds" in the last decade. If we'd sold something major, you'd know about it.

It's like selling a book to a major publisher. Your chances of breaking in and getting a sale worth significant money have recently been estimated at one in nine hundred thousand. It's that proverbial one in a million shot.

This entrepreneur spends considerable percentages of his "squeeze page" space talking about selling "letters to the editor." Such magazine inclusions routinely pay $5 to $50, if you're lucky ... 99% of magazines and newspapers pay nothing. Those that do pay are inundated.

The next recommendation is to look at writing jingles, little poems, for greetings cards -- Hallmark and John Sands, that kind of thing. However, these companies have STAFF WRITERS ... you'll find that you're selling your little verses to much lesser companies who will pay about $1 per line. A four line verse -- $4.

And as for the next tip, "writing captions for photographs" ... editors do this themselves, on the fly, when they're setting type. Next: writing captions for your own photos. Go right ahead ... and then climb aboard another treadmill -- now you're trying to sell your photos. Have you ever tried?! Have fun.

The steam really starts to explode out of my ears when this entrepreneur gets onto the subject of short story writing (not to mention articles and reviews), and then selling comedy to TV.

All I can say to you is, if you believe this spiel ("How you can turn your sense of humor into a STEADY STREAM of PAYCHECKS!"), then go ahead and try it. Take a shot at selling your comedy sketches to television or radio. You'll come back down to earth so hard, people have been known to break their legs.

And I'm going to close on something so stupid, I'm speechless: "A Web site where you can SUBMIT any number of MOVIE IDEAS for a modest one-time fee and get them pitched on your behalf to Hollywood producers."

Believe me (or not, if you don't consider thirty years in the business is enough to know what I'm talking about), Hollywood producers get pitched about 100 scripts PER DAY, via agencies who take them to lunch, to dinner, for drinks, on vacation ... via writers who have already sold movies and TV series, by directors who have STAFFS of writers online ... and by actors who own their own production companies (like Brad Pitt and his Plan B). Movie studios do not, nor have they ever, nor WILL they ever turn to amateur websites for movie ideas.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Every writer gets 100 for every one we write; every producer sees 500 scripts for every one for which he bids for the rights. And very often, the producer, director and writer are the SAME PERSON.

What burns my cookies is that there are people out there in the world who work for the minimum wage (maybe $5 per hour), eat noodles for a month, and pay US$49.95 to an Internet entrepreneur for an ebook full of complete drivel, and then try their hearts out and maybe get $10 here for a published letter (where the bloody magazine cost them $11.95 to buy a copy, in order to get the submission info!!), and maybe $8 for a verse sold to a greetings card company -- where the cost of postage on the paperwork, and maybe an interstate phonecall to get the sale, exceeded the income.

There, I feel better now. Pardon me for letting off steam. You can tell this is something I feel very strongly about. Strongly enough to be thinking seriously about having a second blog -- an actual "writing blog" where the focus of the whole thing is ... writing. They do say that you oughtta blog about something over which you can get passionate.

[The cartoon is from the Bloom County comic anthology Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things, by Berke Breathed. All rights acknowledged to BB and Little, Brown.]

Ciao for now,

No comments:

Post a Comment