This Christmas of 2017, you might find a gift in your inbox that did not come from Santa, but from Krampus.
A number of writers on the forums I visit (including one on KBoards) have reported getting an unsolicited email from NY Literary Magazine in which “Jennifer” (no last name or position) tells the recipient that they have been nominated for the “Best Story Award.”
To submit their entry, all they have to do is visit the site and pay the $14.95 “reading fee” to enter.
Of course, none of the recipients have ever heard of “The NY Literary Magazine.” Despite claiming it is “a distinguished print and digital magazine,” it hasn’t seem to have had any impact on the nation’s literary culture. That might be because “The NY Literary Magazine” didn’t exist until June 2016, when the URL was purchased.
If that doesn’t raise a red flag, the email also includes quotes The New York Times (written as “The NY Times,” which gives you an idea of the site’s copy editing abilities) and Writer’s Digest that appear to refer to the magazine. The first quote, “The prestige of such literary awards is immense for an author” came from a 1992 article about major book awards such as the Pulitzers and National Book Award. To create the second quote, the writer chopped off part of the article’s headline and attached it to a phrase that Writer’s Digest used to promote its own writing competition.
A look at their “hall of fame” page shows the names of 16 writers who won a “best story award” plus three given the “5 Star Writer” award. They also can download a badge to put on their book covers. Considering the site has only been up for less than two years, that’s a lot of “best” stories.
You start getting the feeling this is an “Incredibles” kind of competition, in which everyone goes home with some kind of trophy. And we all know where that leads.
Potemkin Press Coverage
As if that wasn’t misleading enough, a page on the website implies that “The NY Literary Magazine” has received a ton of media attention.
Readers of my Career Indie Author post on press releases will see what’s coming. This tactic is an easy way to claim that you’re generating a lot of buzz and appearing on a lot of legitimate news sites, but in reality you’re not.
You do it by sending a press release through services such as SproutNews and PRNewsWire. They show up on media pages across the country, such as local TV stations, as well as news aggregators that are devoted to particular subjects.
This can lead to weird results, such as a site devoted to passing along financial news, such as Wall Street Select, displaying on its press release feed a story about a notable romance author (note: I didn’t pick her deliberately. These images came from NY Literary Magazine’s own website as an example of the publicity it claims it generates).
The site shows the story appearing on the sites “Morning News,” the “Daily Times Leader” (“serving West Point and Clay County”), and “CelebWired,” whatever that is. Oh, an “Wall Street Select,” a news aggregation site devoted to financial news. Somehow, I doubt many market traders would be interested in books featuring bare-chested muscle men and their love lives, but that’s just me.
Still, it’s publicity, right? Wrong. The dirty little secret of press release news services is that nobody reads press releases.
I go into more detail about author press releases in my CIA post, based on more than two decades in the news business. Trust me, we get swamped with press releases. Unless they go to the right person, with the right headline, and actual news, it gets …. well, I can’t a “thrown into the trash can.” We park the trash can in the mail room or under the fax machine, and it goes straight there.
“But,” I hear you say, “What about Wall Street Select? Why did they pick her story?”
Here’s another dirty little truth: They didn’t. Wall Street Select did not pick up the interview and put it on their web site. Why should they? They’re in business to show financial news.
Here’s their front page.
Can you imagine seeing the NY Literary Magazine story here? You also imagine what potential investors would say: “What the ^#$%%@$ does this have to do with my stocks?”
So what do all of these media sites do? They permit press releases to show up on a dead end page, in the metaphorical back of the site, where no one goes. There’s no link to the front page, and after a time the press release disappears, never to be seen again. (This can be confirmed by typing her last name in the search engine at Wall Street Select.)
Or, if you like, visit the news wire page at Fox 5 in Las Vegas. Now, go to their front page and see if you can get here by clicking on the menu.
Still not convinced? Google part of the headline, one of the most important parts of the post search engines examine and index.
Pretty bare. But NBC12 out of Richmond, Va., has it! Right?
The story that appeared in August is gone by December. In fact, press releases appear on a constant scroll, so by the end of the day, it’s gone. It might as well not even be there, considering the time and effort it took to write the release.
And all you get out of it is a chance to claim that you appeared on a news site that wouldn’t bear up to a search.
Authors hunger for recognition. That’s what people who sell you review and award services count on.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with paying money to get your book reviewed, or paying a fee to enter an award competition. Just make sure that what you get in return is substantial and reputation-enhancing.
Not all awards are equal.
Not all news coverage is equal.
Do your homework. Check up on their claims.
And be wary of Krampus bearing gifts.
UPDATE: The Writer Beware site has the story with details about the organizers, and their attempt to do damage control for spamming authors about their contest.