Let's move to an important life lesson, kids. How can you tell something in the world of writing is a scam? It's easy: do they want money? If yes, IT'S A SCAM. Even if they don't, do they make inflated/exaggerated offers? IT'S A SCAM.

I was trolling facebook today and saw an alleged writer's society had a pot about a contest. No, don't enter it! Can you guess where this is going? No? Really?! You didn't yell IT'S A SCAM!? It's horrifying that a supposed writer's group could be suckered in, as well as any aspiring writers.

Let's review what constitutes a hypothetical scam. Let's use for an example a literary agent group that sells Christian fundamentalist fiction (It's hard not to vomit reading that) in a state, say, Tennessee, decides to have a conference in say Oregon. Only they and their writers will present there. It costs money, unlike a real convention you can't pick and choose events to attend, gotta pay for them all. So to drum up interest in their bullshit squeeze-money-out-of-you "conference" they have a contest. They offer: A) a contract with a publisher you've never heard of, B) a publishing contract not specified in any detail and C) an insane offer of $10,000-$20,000 advance on royalties. Then in the comments a literary agent states all entries must come from a "Christian point of view."

Let's break down the contest, first off.

A) a publisher you've never heard of, who, upon investigation is a publisher Christian books. Books not read by anyone with a 3 digit IQ. Books that if you enjoy, you need to get off my blog, return any copies of my book you bought, and go figure out how to shit with your head blocking the way. Hey, it's okay to have an imaginary friend. Sharing one with others...odd. Sharing it with millions...insane. Founding institutions based on it and demanding money from people to keep the imaginary friend going...evil. Using the imaginary friend to justify persecution, murder, rape, and subjugation...fucking evil. Creating an industry of fiction to keep minds closed and keep them worshiping the imaginary friend...batshit insane.
B) a contract not specified....hmm. That's what you're actually competing for. Let's step back and see how 99% of contracts work: they are for 2 books. You get a small advance for your first, usually no more than $2,000. The average first novel doesn't even make that, so no advance for your second. If that sells enough to recoup the publisher's losses, they may give you a new contract. If not, time to go find another agent, another publisher. An unspecified contract is shady. It's like saying you're competing in mud-wrestling for a car, but we can't tell you what kind of car. Could be a Mustang, could be a used broken Gremlin. 

C) Offering $10,000-$20,000 as an advance? Can you see how that's nuts? As above most first novels don't even sell enough to cover the publisher's take on a smaller amount. See, the publisher gets most, close to 70%. If you have an agent, well, they make one deal for you and get 10% of your cut for life, so you never get a full 30%. So to cover giving you $2,000 a publisher needs to earn $2857 net, not gross. Depending on printing, shipping, misc costs they have to sell roughly $5,000 worth. At an average paperback cost of $7.99 they have to sell 625 copies. 75% of all authors can't do that, which is why the average advance is under $2,000, and $2,000 is the upper limit for an unknown author. $10,000-$20,000 is beyond fishy.

So right there...something's off about this theoretical contest. Now the big picture only comes about when you talk to people entering it. Usually, since this is to promote an event, at every question you send they will tell you to come to the event. Got a formatting question? Come too the event! Curious about time lines? Come to the event!

Let's move on to the event. There are good writer's events. Those revolve around genre fiction (mystery, romance, sci-fi for example) and have multiple vendors; agents, publishers, self-printers, marketing specialists, artists, models, editing services, etc. They have mutliple days' worth of events with various speakers, usually 2-3 going on at the same time, so you can pick and choose what you wish to attend. There are meals and parties with separate tickets so you can just attend the party, just attend the event day, or go to both. They sell day passes, weekend event passes, and all-inclusive passes. You can learn, make friends, network, and have fun. That's a real writer's event, and while it ain't cheap (and in my opinion rarely necessary) it does exist to make money but it can possibly help you.

In our theoretical event you have one literary agency, one publisher, one event at a time, no extra events. Attend it all or none. So, how can a literary agent help you? Not. One. Goddamn. Bit. Really, you don't need them, they are vampires after your money, and finding one that will work with you is a pure lottery.

Seriously, this is how traditional publishing goes: a copyright lawyer or editor works for a publisher, decides they want to make more money doing less work and becomes a literary agent. They open up an agency and keep in contact with their friends back at the ol' ranch. So the publishing house puts out a bestseller, say "Gay Cowgirls Fuck In Front of Pigs" and the brass tells their editors "find more like this." So an in-house editor calls up his old friend, copyright lawyer-turned agent and asks "got anything to do with lesbians and animals?" Now if by some random fucking chance you wrote a story about lesbians in a slaughterhouse, mailed it blindly to the agent, and he/she read it just before their friend called, you'll get a letter back requesting the full manuscript. If the agent hasn't gotten a request for any books like yours, you get a "sorry, but go fuck yourself" letter.

So if you're determined to go that route good luck, and go get some lotto tickets while you're at it.

What can agents at our fictitious event tell you that will help? Copyright law, and the process above. Now you can pay hundreds-thousands for it, or read it here and from other writers, free. Don't you feel smart now?

What will those theoretical agents at their little holier-than-thou jamboree tell you? Formatting, which everyone knows (Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced, etc...info you can easily find for free online), how to write a query letter, again, available free online, and...fuck it. Everything they're going to say can be found free online.

So don't enter any similar contests unless you're brain dead. And to anyone who wishes to sue me for slander...good luck. See, not only do I know copyright law, I also know slander and libel like the back of my hand, so you're welcome to try. Seriously, I'd love to go to court wearing a "Hail Satan" t-shirt every day and would happily. And a chance to get on the stand and explain just why Christian mythology (and yes, it's mythology) sounds so retarded...happiness.Also my net worth on paper...$5. Good luck with that.

Before you get embroiled in anything asking you for money in the world of writing, do your research. Check what they offer against what you can find for free. Check out who is offering it and what partners they have. Do it the same way you stopped believing in that imaginary friend: apply logic. Good luck, and happy writing.