I can't tell you how many times I have told aspiring writers not to pay a vanity press to "publish" their books, or not to pay an agent a "reading fee," or not to pay to enter a writing contest nobody has ever heard of, only to be told "Yeah, Lee, I know, but this is the only opportunity I have and you have to start somewhere." My friend writer Mark Evanier has heard it, too, and thinks it's "brain dead stupid."
Imagine if your goal was to play for the Seattle Mariners…or maybe even to get on a professional baseball team. Imagine that some odorous homeless guy came up to you on the street and said, "Gimme a thousand dollars and I'll introduce you to their talent scout" and you forked over the cash and said, "Well, gee…it was the only offer I had."
Well, paying someone to submit your writing or to publish it or — the big new scam — entering a "contest" is even stupider than that.
It's getting harder and harder for me to have any sympathy for these suckers, especially when all it takes to discover the truth about most of these scams is a simple Google search and a molecule of common sense. Nobody I know, in publishing or television, became successful by emptying their bank accounts with fee-based "literary agents," vanity presses, and fly-by-night screenwriting and publishing contests. As Mark says:
First rule of professional writing: They pay you, you don't pay them.
I know times are tough. Believe me, I know times are tough. But there's never a good moment to let yourself be exploited by people who think you're so hungry, you'll work for promises…not until MasterCard accepts promises from scumbags as payment.
Amen to that.