Friday, November 20, 2009

Beware of writing scams, check before you sign!

ONE OF THE THINGS budding writers need to guard against is people who prey on their desire to publish. There are numerous examples of hucksters who try to make a quick buck by playing on the dreams of writers. One great site to bookmark that will help you avoid problems is Preditors and Editors. Recently, Mystery Writers of America writers received the following notice, which I’m copying here as a word of warning:

Dear MWA Members:

Recently, Harlequin Enterprises launched two new business ventures aimed at aspiring writers, the Harlequin Horizons self-publishing program and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service (aka "Learn to Write"), both of which are widely promoted on its website and embedded in the manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is deeply concerned about the troubling conflict-of-interest issues created by these ventures, particularly the potentially misleading way they are marketed to aspiring writers on the Harlequin website.

It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service" in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to "Harlequin Horizons," its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements.

That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List.

On November 9, Mystery Writers of America sent a letter to Harlequin about the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service," notifying Harlequin that it is in violation of our rules and suggesting steps that Harlequin could take to remain on our Approved Publishers list. The steps outlined at that time included removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts. Since that letter went out, Harlequin has launched "Harlequin Horizons," a self-publishing program.

MWA's November 9 letter asks that Harlequin respond to our concerns and recommendations by December 15. We look forward to receiving their response and working with them to protect the interests of aspiring writers. If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards.

We are taking this action because we believe it is vitally important to alert our members of unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published. We respect Harlequin and its authors and hope the company will take the appropriate corrective measures.

This e-bulletin was prepared by Margery Flax on behalf of MWA's National Board of Directors.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Competency and the law

MANY WRITERS SEEM to have problems distinguishing between the different forms of mental competency in their stories. Here is a short list of mental competency items writers might find helpful:

Mental health commitments: People are ordered into mental health treatment after a hearing before a judge where it can be shown that the individual poses a risk of harm to himself or others. Substance abuse matters are handled in a similar fashion.

Usually the procedure is started by a relative or physician who makes an application to a court outlining their concerns that the individual is at risk of harm due to his mental condition, or that someone else may be at risk. The application is usually by affidavit and the judge will then decide if the individual will need to be taken into custody (usually to a hospital mental ward) until a hearing can be held. At that time the judge will also appoint an attorney for the individual. A full hearing is also scheduled, usually within a week or ten days from the date the application is filed.

Guardianships and conservatorships: Individuals who cannot care for themselves are often assigned a guardian and/or conservator by the court. The difference is easy to know: a guardian assists the individual (called the ward) with physical needs while the conservator assists with financial and business matters. The guardian and conservator can be separate persons or a single individual.

Guardianship and conservatorships can be established by petition to the court in an involuntary procedure or can be done by petition of the proposed ward himself as a voluntary petition. In an involuntary case, the petitioner is often a department of human services or a family matter. Usually the court will also appoint an attorney for the proposed ward at the time the petition is filed with the court and an initial hearing date is set. In an emergency situation the court can also order the proposed ward taken to a hospital or nursing home pending a full hearing.

Powers of attorney: POAs are voluntary documents signed by an individual giving another authority to handle his financial affairs. These can be done in anticipation of some legal incapacity or for the convenience of the individual. For example, it is not unusual for a soldier being shipped overseas to execute a POA in favor of his parents so they can handle his affairs while away. A medical power of attorney can be used to give another person authority to make medical decisions when the individual is no longer able to make those decisions himself.

Estate planning: The establishment of any of the above will not necessarily impair the legal ability of a person to write a will. The requirement for a testator is that they will know and appreciate those who might be the natural objects of their estate. So if a person has a clear idea how he would like to have is property distributed after his death, he still may be legally capable of writing a will.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November is National Novel Writing Month

IN CASE YOU NEED an excuse to start your Great All American Novel, this is National Novel Writing Month. In fact, to get you going there is a nation-wide effort to get would-be authors to turn out a 50,000 word manuscript by the 30th of the month. It is called NaNoWriMo and can be found by following this link. There are no fees for entering and there are no prizes for finishing, except the satisfaction of having completed that novel you’ve always known you can do. And who knows, perhaps – just perhaps, it could lead to a real live book contract. Remember, we all started somewhere nowhere near the top!

And if you want some writers tips, scroll down a few entries where you can read about Joe Konrath’s free downloadable book on getting published. Joe’s website is

Good luck, and let’s see if you can’t make this a month to remember.