Beware of traps when engaging a service


Sadly, in today’s fast paced, quick profit corporate environment, many businesses have sacrificed principles such as integrity and honor when it comes to dealing with customers. Their websites are full of laudable slogans that extol virtues such as ‘money back guarantee’ and ‘service satisfaction’, backed by an impressive sounding complaints department. Grab your money and run is the new tactic, leaving dissatisfied customers with no avenue of redress. To be fair, some companies actually honor their commitments and treat customers with respect. They have earned their brand name the hard way and deserve the good will of the community.

What has soured my milk? A recent experience that reinforced a lesson I thought I knew. Just goes to show you that anyone can be beguiled despite exhaustive research – and ignoring inner alarms. It is a mistake I will not likely make again. Still, the experience has not been without its salutary lessons. All right, let’s get down to cases.

What sort of service am I talking about? As a writer, we cannot do everything ourselves. Well, some writers out there might be able to do everything! For the rest of us, we need an editor to go over the literary masterpiece and knock it into shape – that is if you want it to be a masterpiece. At the very least, get a proofreader. Before getting published, and I am talking about self-publishing here, you will need a cover artist. Once your masterpiece is out in the reader world, you may consider getting a publicist to help sell the damned thing. And yes, you will also want your own website. If you are hungering to be presented by a traditional publisher, you will be looking to get an agent. Suddenly, being a writer isn’t as simple as one might have thought, and each of those steps is lined with deep potholes and traps for the unwary and the innocent.

Writing is fun…mostly. It is all those other things that can grind you down.

There are lots of articles on the Internet telling writers to do their research before engaging anyone. Such an easy word to say…research. The problem is, many of those articles fail to tell you what you should be researching. Take an editor or proofreader as an example. Articles tell you to check their references and reviews. The thing is, a potential editor will only post the most positive reviews of his/her service on their website…naturally. I do it myself, but I am one of the good guys here. Getting in touch with a satisfied client from such a review is a waste of time. A writer must validate the integrity of an editor through third party sources, which is not always easy. Why? There are many more sharks and barracudas swimming in the literary waters than can be identified. Verify through resource sites such as ALLi Self-Publishing Advice Center, and SFWA – Writer Beware. There are others. Writers find out the hard way after having been bitten.

So, what to do? Caveat emptor – client beware. If you want to engage an editor, send in five manuscript pages and see what he/she comes back with. Never send a complete manuscript to start off with! If you get minor punctuation and spelling corrections, a word change here or there, you are being proofread and your alarm bells should be clanging. A good editor will provide suggested sentence changes, revised grammar usage, comments on characterization and plotting. Of course, it all depends on the level of service you engaged the editor. The rub here is that you as a writer must have sufficient mastery of the English language to recognize whether you are getting value for money. And talking about money, I have had several hard luck stories from budding authors wanting to have a professional editing job done, but are unwilling to pay for it. All I can say, that is the price a writer must be prepared to pay in order to stay in the game. No one will give you the benefit of their hard won experience for nothing.

Then comes the rollercoaster of getting an e-book publisher, an agent or publicist. I have written a stack of articles on these subjects, which hopefully might be of use to some of you.

You can read them here:

Getting a website done – a most important tool in branding yourself, promoting your book(s), having something to say in your blog – is an alligator pit; crocodiles if you prefer. I am not going to write here how you should go about designing your website. There are lots of excellent articles out there that do a much better job than I can in this post. What I want to say, as with any other service, research the organization you are considering engaging to do the work. Most of them will have superb websites that will dazzle you with their capability, integrity, willingness to work with you to produce a wow website. Naturally, they are website developers. It is all honey on a flytrap strip. Their expensive website must be paid for…paid by unwary writers who forgot to put on their hardnosed business hat before engaging that company. Also, be very wary engaging a company outside your country of domicile. If you live in America, I would think hard before taking on a developer in India or Europe. If you have a problem, you will find yourself out in the cold wilderness with nowhere to go. I am not saying that all these companies are predators. Most of them probably are not. But writers must remember one paramount business principle: these companies work to make money, and you are the source of that money.

Let’s break it down. Before engaging any website development company, make sure it is a registered business entity, rather than merely a phone number and a PO box. This is important. Why? In case of a dispute, unless a company is registered, you may find yourself without any means of legal redress. Finding the company principal or a self-styled web developer might be impossible, and even if you do manage to locate him, getting reparation would probably be equally impossible, short of shooting him. Just because a company may be registered does not guarantee restitution, but at least you have several legal options not available to you with a PO box operator.

The tactic I like best is when a supposedly hotshot website company enthusiastically tells you they will happily do your work, then turn around and ask what is your budget. That is sucker bait and something to be strenuously resisted. You tell them your budget, and behold! The quoted work is miraculously near or above your budget figure! Also resist websites that have a quick quote calculator! The correct thing to do is present them with your requirements in a proper email and let them figure out the cost of work. You can then make an informed decision whether to engage them or not.

The other thing that makes my hair stand on end, or forces a rueful smile from me, is when an author is asked if they have a website or websites in mind that they like which reflects what the author wants done. That is really not so bad, and the author should browse the Internet and identify websites from other writers that makes them stand up and take notice. However, the look and feel of a website is highly subjective and personal, difficult to identify by simply telling the website developer to look at a number of URLs. There are some industry standards and trends the author should be aware of, but these do not necessarily dictate how his or her website should look like. The thing to remember is that the writer is engaging the website developer to come up with that wow design, being the expert, which brings me to another point.

Website companies/developers will often ask if you have a concept of how your website should look like: home page, blog, whatever. Sounds innocent? In a way it is, as your input will give a developer some parameters to work with. The more input, the better. However, it can also be a copout. As I have found out, a website company/developer will often produce a digital mockup page(s) that merely reflect what I provided as a concept. Not being a graphic designer, I was looking for them to interpret my requirements and produce an attention-grabbing website based on their expertise. If I knew it all, I wouldn’t need them! The thing to do, present a concept mockup, but follow this up with a person-to-person meeting – if possible – to review and discuss how the proposed company/developer will translate your mockup into a website you will be satisfied with. Believe me, it will save a lot of angst later.

It is difficult to distill years of experience into a single article. I can only hope that what you read will make you more careful. Again, beware of traps!

Happy writing and happy publishing!


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