You know how in Hollywood movies con artists are usually sexy, or interesting, or secretly kind of good guys, or all of those things (think The Grifters, Paper Moon, The Sting etc. etc.) and most of the people they scam are greedy bad people anyways, so it doesn’t really matter? When I watch those movies I’m completely sucked in, and on their side, and want them to win.
In real life, not so much. Cause, you see, scam agents and publishers are also con artists. They prey on people who are ignorant of the publishing industry and desperately want to have their work published and read. I was once ignorant of publishing and desperate to become a real author with a real published book. If I’d come across one of these scams back then I bet I would’ve fallen for it. Many otherwise smart people have.
Falling for a con isn’t about how smart you are. It’s about how much you know. It’s many years now since I’ve known enough about publishing to be immune to the kinds of scams that are regularly exposed by Writers Beware and Predators & Editors.
But on many things I’m easy to fool. If someone tells me something my instinct (like most people’s) is to believe it. I’m endlessly tricked by my friends and relatives—curse them. And April’s Fool’s Day? Gah. For starters, I’m a freelancer, so I never notice what day it is, besides most April Fool’s day gags consist of telling people something that could be plausible. What’s so dumb in believing them? There’s so many implausible things in the world that are true. You know, like Tom Cruise being a sex symbol, and people actually believing that American Beauty and The English Patient are good movies, and that Bring It On and Resident Evil 2 are bad. Excuse me?
I’ve almost been conned in NYC, but fortunately I was with a more knowledgeable person who recognised a scam (whatever it was—I still don’t know) coming.
I even understand the impulse to trick people—there’s an element of the trickster in every fiction writer. I’m just saying it ain’t that hard, nor if you’re doing it to trick money out of folks is it glamorous, noble, sexy or any of the other things that Hollywood likes to make it seem. You don’t even have to be especially smart to do it. That particular scam consists of the scammer advertising for unpublished writers and then when they send their writing the scammer says it’s fabulous and for a fee will represent the writer. Easy. All the scammer needs is for the unpub’d writer to be ignorant of the fact that good agents don’t charge fees and especially not in the multiples of a thousand.
Of course, it’s not just Hollywood that glamorises scammers. There are lots of really excellent crime books out there from the point of view of grifters. I just read Lawrence Block’s The Girl With the Long Green Heart (thanks, Naomi) and I really enjoyed it. But something happened as I read it, I started thinking about things from the griftee’s point of view. Even though—as is usual with these stories—he was a thoroughly nasty piece of work because he was greedy and thought he was gaming those who were gaming him. At which point it’s hard to see which way’s up ethically speaking. Who’re worse the people who make a living gaming people illigetimately? Or real estate speculators etc who game people legally? The grifters point at the griftees and say it wouldn’t happen to them if they weren’t so greedy. But isn’t greed for money one of the key motiviating factors of the grifter?
My head hurts.
There are lots of movies and books I enjoy whose ethics are beyond questionable. Gross Point Blank anyone? In which the hero is a guilt-free paid killer. And yet the audience is expected to be barracking for him to wind up with the girl. Which I always do even though I’m sure that were it real life and not a perverse fairy tale the first time his girl annoys him he’d off her without thinking twice.
And my point would be?
Dunno. Oh, hang on, yes I do. My point is that fiction ain’t life and that Writer’s Beware and Predator’s & Editors are doing stellar work and I salute them.