News and advice for writers: story updates and spotting publishing scams

diary-968592_960_720Howdy! How’s everyone’s January blues? Despite the last week’s cold snap making it very difficult to get out of bed, I’ve mostly kept the blues at bay. This is thanks to lots of copywriting-shaped busyness, catching up with friends and going to see an excellent film that one or two of you might’ve heard of called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So I’m back with another round of Million Eyes news and story updates, following on from my last news and advice article. I’ve also got some words of wisdom for fellow writers about publisher and literary agent scams (which I very nearly fell victim to myself once).

New story completed: The Quiet Invasion

In the run-up to Christmas, I got cracking on another tale in the Million Eyes Short Stories series. This one is quite different to the others I’ve written. The others are conspiracy stories with a mysterious group of time travellers at the centre of everything. The Quiet Invasion centres on a different but equally mysterious group of people and, without giving too much away, it explores the ‘side effects’ of time travel rather than time travel itself.

The Short Story have given me a very good value for money critique. They’ve told me that The Quiet Invasion is compelling and has promise and, with a few changes, could be a “strong and surprising story”. So I plan to use their suggestions to rework the story and start submitting.

By the way, I highly recommend The Short Story if you’re looking to get an affordable critique. They offer three types of critique; I got the tick-sheet critique, and even though it’s advertised as a tick-sheet, you still get some lengthy and very useful comments. The tick-sheet critique is only £7.99 for stories up to 4,000 words, and £4.99 if your story is under 2,000 words.

Mystery Weekly holding onto The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller

I was hoping to have some more solid news on this by today, but basically, I submitted three of the Million Eyes Short Stories to Mystery Weekly, a smart-looking online magazine that publishes free short stories (but does pay contributors).

These stories were Who is Rudolph Fentz?, The Babushka Lady and The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller, all stories you’ve heard me talk about before. Who is Rudolph Fentz? was previously published in Scribble, but because Mystery Weekly are looking for online publication rights, I was able to submit it to them as well (Scribble is print-only).

Mystery Weekly’s editor rejected both Who is Rudolph Fentz? and The Babushka Lady, but is “holding onto” The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller. She still hasn’t made a decision but has told me that she really loves the story, she’s just not 100% on the ending. So I’m keeping everything crossed!

The other good thing about Mystery Weekly is that they offer to give you a line or two of personal feedback. The editor told me she rejected Who is Rudolph Fentz? because she didn’t like the ending. She said that The Babushka Lady was really well-written and she could see no problems with it at all; she rejected it simply because of her own personal opinions on JFK. (The Babushka Lady presents a new, time travel-flavoured twist of the JFK assassination conspiracy theories.)

That, I think, is the extent of my short story news. Progress on Million Eyes the novel has slowed, mainly because I’ve not read much of it to my writers’ group of late. The group’s gotten bigger and busier, which is great, but obviously means more people want to read and get feedback on their work. However, I read a large chunk to the group last night and got some useful feedback, which means I can now re-start the editing process!

Advice for writers: spotting literary agency and publisher scams

road-sign-464653_1920The reason I wanted to offer a few words on this subject is because I STILL get emails from a company (now) called SBPRA, which stands for Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency. This is the latest in a long line of aliases for the same company, mainly because they’re always on the receiving end of complaints and lawsuits filed by the authors they’re swindling.

The man behind the various iterations of SBPRA is Robert Fletcher. Useful anti-scam website Writer Beware has long been warning writers about this man and his operations.

When I had a run-in with SBPRA, they were called Writers’ Literary Agency. I sent them a very early version of Million Eyes that wasn’t remotely publishable (but I was young and stupid back then). They wrote back with an automated email saying that they liked my work and they wanted to represent me.

I was, of course, over the moon. Still, there was something off. Firstly, it was an automated email. A legit publisher or agent will not accept your work by way of an automated email. Secondly, they kept encouraging me to get a critique and said that they would send me a referral for an independent critique service.

In order to go forward, I had to respond saying that I wanted them to represent me and that I wanted a referral for a critique. They weren’t asking for any money, but when it came to the critique, I was expected to pay for that.

Suspicious, I googled “Writers’ Literary Agency – scam” and it produced tons of results. I got in touch with Writer Beware. They told me that the company is bogus, that EVERYONE gets a positive review and an offer of representation from them, and that Robert Fletcher (plus all his male and female aliases) is not a real literary agent – in fact he’s a convicted fraudster. He makes his money by getting authors to pay for allegedly independent critiques and editing services that are secretly done by other branches of the same company.

Needless to say, I cut ties immediately and luckily for me, I’d not parted with any money.

Bizarrely the company is still going under its new name and, it would appear, is continuing to dupe people. The SBPRA emails that continue to land in my junk folder thank me for my past enquiry about publishing and implore me to submit my manuscript to them for approval.

My first piece of advice to fellow writers is, of course, don’t touch SBPRA with a barge pole. But my second is this: if anything seems ‘off’ about your interactions with a literary agency or publisher, check it out. In this industry, if anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do a Google search for the agent or publisher’s name, plus the word “scam”. See what it brings up.

The rule in the traditional publishing industry is that “money moves from the publisher, not the author”. The publisher should be paying you, the writer, for the rights to publish your work. You shouldn’t be paying them.

Next week: Russia and Alexander Litvinenko – when a conspiracy theory turns out to be true…

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