Ruth E. Walker
We writers are eager for validation. It’s not an ego thing — it’s more about our insecurities as writers (Am I good enough? Is this the final draft of something people will want to read or is it garbage? And so on.)
So when something lands in your lap that offers an exceptional opportunity, you (and in this case, I mean me) get excited.
My name is Erica Loberg and I work for Soho Press. We are hiring writers and poets with adequate work-related experience for our upcoming conference. The objective is to have you share your experiences as a writer and/or poet with everyone attending the conference including some of our employees and members of the general public by invitation only. This is to encourage people looking to become new writers. We request for you to work 1 hour on any two days between October 10th and October 30th, 2021. This will be between 12 PM and 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time. We are willing to pay you $1,500 for these two days. If you are interested, please tell us the dates that you will be available for. Thank you so much.
Oh my goodness. $750 an hour! How did they find out about my workshop and conference experience? And right at lunchtime — even if I was already booked into events, surely I could manage two lunch hour Zoom presentations. I mean, they probably have this conference on Zoom, right? It has to be real because that is Soho Press and that email address looks like a legit email address for Soho Press…and…and…and
And. That whispering voice in the back of my mind eventually gets loud enough for me to listen.
Let’s take a closer look at this fabulous email. Using my editor’s eye, I see a number of things that my first quick read failed to consciously register.
#1 Hello: — this is a group email that doesn’t address me individually. Even if a group email was real, a publicist for a niche , respected publishing house wouldn’t start out with such a generic salutation opening and corporate-style tone. So try this edit: Hello. My name is Jane Doe and work for Microsoft. we are hiring software engineers with adequate work-related… Good grief. I think this is a plagiarized phishing email.
#2 We are hiring writers and poets. Hmm. Poets are writers. And why not editors, too? What kind of writers/poets? And adequate work-related experience? As demonstrated in #1, that kind of language is more related to corporate job searches than to those committed to the craft of writing excellence.
#3 This is to encourage people who want to become writers. Huh? “This”? As an editor, I always caution about vagueness in writing. Unexpected from a industry professional. And do publishers “encourage” those “who want to become writers”? Indeed, the closer I looked at “Erica’s” invitation, the more I considered the overall lack of logic and the vague language:
A conference? What kind of conference? Attended by some of our employees and members of the general public by invitation only. Really? A successful niche press is inviting “some” of its employees and a special list of people wanting “to become writers” to some unnamed online conference? (I guess that last bit is meant to cover the lack of any mention of the conference on the Soho website. Yes. I did my research. Eventually. For tips on research, see our August 25 post, Research Redux.)
#4 We request for you to work… significant grammar glitch here with a whiff of English-as-a-second-language. The latter is not a big issue unless you consider the source: a well-respected North American press. And isn’t Erica a communications expert as the Publicist for said press? So her grammar should be spot on.
Cue balloon deflating
There are several other clues that this amazing opportunity isn’t real but I should have immediately digested the biggest of them: $1,500 for two hours work. (It’s true that any presenter at any conference knows there are hours of prep that go into those two hours but $1500-worth?)
Logic said this is way too good to be true. And that was confirmed by the September 1 post (research – remember?) on the Soho Press website and Facebook page:
BEWARE: We are aware of an ongoing scam using real publishing industry employee and company names as well as faked company websites to solicit speakers for a conference. Soho Press is not involved with any such conference nor is there any such conference being planned. These emails are scams.
Moral of the story
Even a smarty pants like me, who frequently points out the scams that well-meaning friends excitedly send my way, we smarty pants can start down the path blinded by the light (in this case 1,500 dollars-worth of brilliance.)
It also shows that criminal phishers are getting more clever in their pitches. Erica Loberg checks out as Soho’s publicist. Her email appears legit but a closer look (research strikes again) reveals the press’s address for all emails are “X”@sohopress.com — minus the “publishing” (which is a dog whistle word for most of us writers but I digress.)
So moral of the story? It’s bad enough having to deal with rejection, missed deadlines and the cold echo of nothing from that agent in your INBOX but this is truly devious.
One good thing perhaps, it might just spark a tale or two for me and maybe for you, too.
For more ideas, check out Will Ferguson’s 419 — a beautiful and tragic novel about the complex reality for poverty-driven scammers and the phish who bite on the hook.