Scams and Book Doctors - In that order, Part I

By: Jeff Herman 

Publishing scams have become an epidemic. I read somewhere that writers are getting ripped off for more than $50 million a year, and some scam artists have even gone to jail.

Let’s start by looking at ethics. I don’t like ethics. They’re like organized religion—prone to promoting arrogance, subjective judgment, and hypocrisy. I do like honesty. Honesty’s best defense is the fast and consistent enforcement of consequences against those people who harm others.

The best defense is not to be a victim in the first place. Without becoming a paranoid lunatic, you must accept that bad deeds are hovering around waiting to happen. Sometimes, you may be tempted into being a perpetrator. That’s why houses have glass windows and why the universe can’t stay angry, or else we’d all have to go to hell. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll be a victim, not a doer, on any given day; though it’s hoped you’ll be neither. Both extremes may be mostly, or completely, within your power to be or not to be. For instance, I’ll never understand why women jog by themselves in Central Park when it’s dark out. And I’ll never understand why writers send fat checks to virtual strangers.

To what extent should society protect its citizens from making stupid choices? I’ve seen smart men and women date and marry morons, with predictably disastrous results. I’ve done enough stupid things in my life to qualify for the Infra-Mensa society many times over. How about you? Should someone have stopped us? And if we were stopped, might we not have been even more stupid the next time?

Basically, I’m praising stupidity as a natural right and gift. It’s unnatural to overly protect people from themselves. We all see what happens to individuals who are excessively parented or to entire communities that are enabled to subsist in perpetual poverty and social decay.

So what about writers who get scammed? Well, they should stop doing it.

• They should stop sending money to get people to “read” their work, since there are several hundred real agents who will do that for free.

• They should stop smoking and stop eating other fat mammals.

• They should stop giving money to unproven strangers who promise to get them published, since there are several hundred real agents who will do that on a contingency.

• They should wear seatbelts, especially when in New York taxis.

• They should stop giving money to unproven strangers who promise to “fix” the work, especially since there are at least dozens of real former book editors who can genuinely fix your work.

• They should stop maintaining balances on their credit cards.

• They should always ask for evidence of ability whenever asked for money.

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