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Publishing Scams

Thu Aug 8, 2013, 6:54 PM
Copied and pasted from my blog since deviantART's been having this problem for a while now. I had meant to post something on this matter back in October since it was when I noticed more and more "publishers" like this popping up on the site, but never got around to it. Of course, with all of these unprofessional publishers coming out of the woodwork again recently, I thought I'd share what I shared on my blog here.


What is a scam publisher?

Essentially, a scam publisher is a press that cheats authors into believing that they are getting traditionally published by their rules and guidelines. However, if you read the fine print, you'll see that "traditionally" publishing you is not at all what's happening. This can range from promising royalties which never come, making you pay a fee to be published, or even stem from lack of professionalism. While the term "scam" usually means forcing you to pay, there are many other factors that can make a publisher appear to be a scam-- essentially one you don't want on your credentials list.

Most scam publishers out there aim to target new and inexperienced young writers. Why? They think they're easy. Let's face it, if you're a young writer and you want your work published, you'll go for whatever chance you're given. But don't! One way to help stop publishers like this is to educate young writers. The more who know how to spot a scam, the less people there will be feeding the scam.

:bulletpink: So, how can one spot a scam publisher?

There are many ways. Most scam publishers and agents fall into the same habits over and over, and once you know how to spot them, it will make the selection process for your future work easier. Here are just a few of the many popular scam techniques you'll find:

  • Reading fee. While this isn't necessarily a reason to call "scam", it is something to watch for. Often times, you'll find reading fees for writing contests that offer cash prizes (they need to get money to give to the winners from somewhere!) but the payment is minimal-- $5-$20 is the range I've encountered most often. In those instances, you're not being put up by a scam. However, when it comes to literary magazines or anthologies, if you're asked to pay a fee for your submission to be considered or to be published in the anthology, back out of it. (This goes for agents, too.) More often than not, the reading fee in scams is much higher (I've seen up to $50 reading fees). If you're not hosting a professional contest for novellas or novels to be judged with cash prizes in the $1,000s and tickets to writers' conferences, you shouldn't be charging that much. Scam. That also leads me to my next point.

  • Payment to be published. So you got past the free  reading fee and have been contacted by the editor of the press. Hey! They said they want to publish your work, how wonderful! But what's that? They want a payment in order for your work to be included in their anthology? Stop right there. In traditional publishing, you never ever have to pay to have your work published somewhere. If they are asking for you to pay to have your work included, it's not a press you want to have on your literary credentials anyway. You can get your work published elsewhere without the fee and actually have some credibility towards it. Don't ever pay to be printed!

  • Purchasing the book. While it's not always a red flag, it is something to take into consideration if other aspects of the publisher look fishy. In most cases, if you've been chosen to be published in an anthology, you'll get at least one complementary copy for yourself-- others after that will need to be purchased. In some smaller presses, you may have to buy your copy, but they often offer it at a discounted price (usually no more than $5). If a publisher tells you that you will not be receiving a copy of the book and need to pay $50 for a copy, it's a scam. Also, doubling with "payment to be published", if a publisher tells you that in order to be published you need to purchase a copy of the book, it's also a scam. Beware!

  • Unprofessionalism. What's that you ask? While there are so many aspects of being unprofessional, the most common ones with scam publishers are your questions never being answered, pestering for you to purchase a copy of the book/pay them (some will repeatedly call you on the phone demanding payments for books), harassment of authors, and illegible or incomprehensible guidelines for submissions. You'll know a scam publisher when you see their site. If you feel at all unsure about a publisher, it's probably best to go with your gut and not risk falling into a scam trap.

:bulletpink: What can I do to protect myself from scam publishers?


There are many things you can do to prevent yourself from falling into the laps of these types of presses. Most of them are very simple and what every writer can and should do prior to submitting their work anywhere.

  • Research. Give the name of your publisher a Google search. What comes up? Do you see good reviews on their last anthologies? Are their editors blogging or answering questions? Are there any results when you search the name of the press with "scam" after it? It's always important to do your homework. Look around to see what others are saying. Chances are, if others are complaining about the publisher being a scam, it probably is.

  • Visit the website. Going to the publisher's website is the best way to get a feel for their overall professionalism. Are the guidelines for submissions easily accessible? Are they clear? Is there contact information for the publisher, not just for submissions but for general questions? And most importantly, is everything grammatically correct? If you stumble upon a publisher's website and find as many spelling errors as a first grader trying to write a college paper, you've probably found a scam publisher. Why? If they can't even bother to edit their own website, are they really going to put the effort into editing their anthologies and making them presentable? Probably not.

  • Buy a copy of the anthology. If you're financially able, try and get a copy of the anthology for yourself. Not only is this good to do even if you're not worried about a publisher and want to submit, but you'll be able to see the quality of the anthology firsthand. Is it formatted in an attractive way? Does the cover look professional and not like something thrown together and pasted up in Photoshop? Are the stories/poems inside edited? Another good thing to look at are the authors being published. Is there anyone of literary stature? It's always good to take note of writers in anthologies anyway to get a sense of what the publisher likes to publish, but an anthology full of writers with no background what-so-ever is something to make note of. Quality is important!

  • Check distribution. Where are the anthologies being sold?What bookstores or sites sell them? Do people subscribe to the anthologies? If so, how many subscribers are there to the books? This is important to check to make sure that your work really is getting out there. If a publisher is publishing through a POD (print-on-demand) site like Lulu.com, chances are, they're not worth submitting to. (This isn't always the case: some publishers use sites like Lulu.com to print but purchase their own ISBN numbers for books to be listed on B&N.com, etc.; but the majority of the time, these "publishers" don't.)

  • Ask the publisher. If you have questions about the publisher, the process for accepted literature, how to submit, where books and anthologies are distributed, etc., ask them! Most publishers will get back with you and answer your questions. If you get a rude reply (usually stating "are you threatening the validity of my company?"), then you know it's a scam.

:bulletpink: Are there sites that can help warn me of scam publishers?


Most definitely! Absolute Write has a forum called "Bewares and Background Checks" that lists publishers to watch out for, and you can even inquire there about others that you may be unsure about. Predators and Editors is another great site to check up on. You'll find what's going on with presses, if they are closed, not worth submitting to, scams, etc. Follow the forums on sites like these, read up on publishers, and always keep in check.

Good places to go to find real publishers and agents with some information on them are sites like agentquery.com and in the Writer's Market books put out each year by Writer's Digest. Subscribing to magazines like Writer's Digest, Publisher's Weekly, Poets & Writers, etc. are also good to have on hand, as they list publishers and agents looking for work, as well (and chances are, you can trust those that they promote). Also follow editors and agents on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and their blogs. You'll learn how to tell real publishers from fake publishers the more you read up on the industry.

:bulletpink: Overview:

Do your research before submitting your work anywhere and look into the publishers that you want to submit to. Scam publishers and agents often target new, young writers-- so if you're a new, young writer who wants to start publishing, do all you can to find out about those you plan on contributing to. If you're too young, ask your parents for help! It's better to be safe than sorry.

That being said, keep submitting your work and writing. But beware! There are publishers out there lurking that want to run your work into the ground with them. Be a smart writer, do your research, and you'll rise above them with your work in magazines and anthologies of merit where your work belongs.

Skin by Ikue (modified by DorianHarper)
Add a Comment:
 
:iconmarleniamar:
marleniamar Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2014
Hello! It has been very helpful. I think it's very weird when a website has no names of the editors. And you can also make a research on Amazon and read reviews. If you see reviews complaining about many typos etc, then you realise that the book has not been professionally edited. 
Reply
:iconsweetkristina07:
sweetkristina07 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
So I have read that you work at a literary agency. How hard is it to get a job at a place like that and what type of qualifications do you need?
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2013  Professional Writer
It depends really. Usually the qualifications are a degree in publishing and 2+ years of internships in the publishing field for experience. Most entry level jobs in publishing require a lot of internship experience beforehand, so getting some small ones to build up a resume is good!
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:iconpeonies18:
Peonies18 Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2014  Student General Artist
My dream job would be to work in the publishing field, but I couldn't find any degrees in publishing around me, but instead I went with this one called "graphic journalism" (graphic design + journalism), would I still be able to work in the publishing field with that degree? 
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Professional Writer
I think it would be more a journalism publishing you could work in (since from experience, journalism and creative publishing are two different fields). For newspapers and/or magazines the journalism would be helpful certainly, but for book publishing, more of the creative writing/publishing aspect is looked for.
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:iconpeonies18:
Peonies18 Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Student General Artist
Oh okay! I see, well thank you! I also write my own fiction, I finished a novel last year I'm hoping to get published once I've edited it. I don't know if that would help in terms of creative writing publishing. But in any case, thanks for replying. I appreciate it. 
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Professional Writer
Creative writing publishing would mean in terms of classes/training within the field. Anyone can write creatively, but you need to learn how publishing works within the industry through a publishing major before working within it.
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:iconatlasartifex:
AtlasArtifex Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Student Digital Artist
Good job with this. This is super important
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Professional Writer
Thanks!

Yeah there had been a lot of scam publishers on the site recently (luckily most were removed by staff), but even in the publishing world there are many. At work, for instance, we have a list of "black listed" publishers' names so we know not to set up book deals with any of our authors through them (since we have gotten a few asking if we have any manuscripts and authors still looking for a publishing house and soliciting themselves :stare:... I mean, that alone was a red flag, but some of these places, it's ridiculous.)
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:iconatlasartifex:
AtlasArtifex Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Student Digital Artist
Omg wow. I didn't know it was like that. :I i mean I've heard of scams on the internet and everything but. Wow. I can't imagine. 
That just irks me. 
Do you work as a publisher? Or just with publishers?
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Professional Writer
It's insane. Some of them go to absolutely ridiculous lengths (there was one that was on dA that was calling people and leaving then death threats :B)

And I work as an assistant at a literary agency :la: So, helping go through the slush pile and read queries and partials, edit manuscripts, get in touch with agents, help scout for publishers for books we rep., etc.
Reply
:iconatlasartifex:
AtlasArtifex Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Student Digital Artist
WOW! That's amazing
:blush: I'm honored to meet you. I mean, I just finished my novel, and after quite a few edits, I'm looking to actually publish. 
The whole publishing process seems overwhelming, which is why I hope to make it easier for people in my group. I figure if I can learn this stuff and help make it easier for people, than I'll learn a lot in the process. Great to be talking to you and having access to your insight.
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Professional Writer
Ah! That's brilliant :D Have you begun looking for agents/publishers?

It's actually not as bad as it seems. If you're good at following guidelines, you don't have too much to worry about. Honestly, that's probably the biggest thing you need to make sure you do when querying.
Reply
:iconatlasartifex:
AtlasArtifex Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I have not yet! Q.Q I don't know where to begin honestly. Its so overwhelming!
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Professional Writer
Have you checked out Agentquery.com? I recommend looking there and then getting a copy of the Writer's Digest: Novelist & Short Story Writer's Market (2014) and Writer's Digest: Guide to Literary Agents (2014) to start looking for agents to query to :D Writer's Digest also puts out a great book Guide to Query Letters that teaches and shows how to properly write and format your query letters for agents and publishers!

Other than that, it's just following direction and seeing which agents are right for you (which the two books I mentioned will narrow down!)
Reply
(1 Reply)
:icontwipplestoast:
twipplestoast Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013   Writer

This was most helpful. :) Last year I requested information on a self-publisher, and after that they kept calling, and calling and calling... After I told him that I was still working on my manuscript and that I was only doing research, he laughed. Instantly I knew this place was unprofessional, and so I requested that they stop calling and that I was not publishing with them. (This was a self-publisher called iUniverse and at the time I was still debating on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing was better for me. After this, I chose traditional.) After my request for them to leave me alone and that I was going with someone else, he sent a nastly little email "disaplining" me for not choosing them and asked who I was going with, when I only wanted INFORMATION for research on the two options.

 

I never replied back, but he did send another email apologizing for his behavior and finally they stopped calling. Be VERY leary of self-publishing sites, as most simply want your money, like iUniverse.

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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Professional Writer
I'm so glad that you found this helpful :heart:

Gah! And I'm sorry you had to go through that. It's really upsetting how unprofessional people can be. I've seen very small presses be extremely professional about what they do and bigger "scam" publishers just not care. It's really sad. And they're usually the ones that people go to more than anything. I'm glad that you were able to get out of that mess, though! Self-publishing is fine and dandy, but only if it's through a publisher who actually is going to be professional about the whole thing. (Though I am glad you chose to go for traditional in the end ;))
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:icontwipplestoast:
twipplestoast Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013   Writer
I am too. I just needed a good block on the head to see that though, because for a while I was convinced that self-publishing was right for me, having been pressed by my parents and being mislead by false information about the traditional publishing industry (and I was also misguided by scandalous traditional publishers into believing that I had to pay to get published; there are a lot of them out there). It's always best to do a lot of research before you set your mind on something. Read the blogs on the authors who published traditionaly and those who self-published. Really take into account the pros and cons to see what's best for you.
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013  Professional Writer
:nod:

I wish so many other young writers would follow that advice! So many are misinformed about how traditional publishing works and it's really sad. I always advise people to list the pros and cons of both types of publishing before just going and making their mind up, since it's best not to be disappointed by one method that may not have been right for them.

I'm so glad that you found out the truth of traditional publishing! I'm really baffled by how much false information there is out there about it. It's crazy!
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:iconwakagi-chan:
Wakagi-chan Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2013  Student Writer
Thank you so much for the information. I'm about to finish a piece, and whenever I think about finding the right publisher I have to undergo a little panic session. I've heard so much about these "publishing scams" now, that I'm afraid to step out there...
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2013  Professional Writer
I'm so glad you found this helpful! :tighthug:

If you go through the trusted sources, you're sure to find publishers that are real! (ie: Agentquery, the Writer's Digest, etc.)
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:icontenshinoshin:
TenshiNoShin Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2013  Student Writer
Watch out for DIP Press and DIP Publishing.  They come on as traditional publishing, asking for no money, but then try to get you to get other people to "sponsor" you.  In the end it turns out to be a disguise for a self-publishing scam.
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2013  Professional Writer
Thank you for sharing! Hopefully those passing by see so that they are aware, too :hug:
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Just wanted to add that there's a press on here going around claiming to treat authors better than other presses. For all I know, they give massage coupons along with generous profits (because 50% of a completely unheard-of press's profits must be huuuuge), but holy shit the proprietor doesn't know what he's on about.

Beware of places that claim no one else is doing what they're doing. It's a big goddamn industry, and someone is.
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Oh Jesus :stare:

Indeed-- how do they expect to pay the publishing team (assuming they have one-- probably not)? And for the most part, presses typically do treat authors pretty well :B If they didn't, who'd ever want to sign with them? Derp.

I shall be on the look-out and warn people!
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I know, right?! Good grief, you'd think the Big Six have everyone up on racks and iron maidens from the way some of these people talk.

Well, the unprofessionalism of the site and the fact that half his Twitter followers are marketing things is itself a warning :B I'm still terribly amused that he can't tell the difference between calling out his unprofessionalism vs calling out his dedication. You can be absolutely dedicated, and really fucking incompetent at the same time. :roll:
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Professional Writer
You mean the Big Five? :eyes: (Because... RANDOM PENGUIN! :penguin:) LOL.

Yep. Blehhhhh. At least if someone wants to start a small press, get some credentials out there (either previously working in publishing, having things published yourself, etc. first). And learn about publishing. Don't go in thinking it's all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns, because... it's not. It's LOTS of work.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
If they do anything to the penguin I will be SO MAD :stare:

Omfg, I want to do a blog about how you can be totally sincere and also a complete fucking jackass. Although I think someone in the industry would be better suited to write something entitled 'Writing is a Real Profession, Too, You Total Dipshits' (okay maybe not that last bit :shifty:)
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Professional Writer
LOLLL. You should just do it anyway. For the lulz.

Haha. I heard the new logo or something was a giant penguin and a little house... like... Godzilla penguin :XD: Not sure if that's real or not, but someone at work was laughing about it. Maybe it was one of their concept things!
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
God, I probably will P:

NOT COOL GUYS. I wouldn't be surprised if they kept em separate on the outside, tbh.
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Probably. I hope so :shifty:

AND YES, DO IT.
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconnate-walis:
Nate-Walis Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer

Great article with a subject that all aspiring authors should be very much aware of, especially in the modern era of self-publishing and the mass popularity of books such as the "50 Shades" series and the number of people trying to cash in quickly.

 

I was approached at the end of last year by an agent/publishing company that sounded too good to be true. A bit of digging led to a conversation with another author and a rather disturbing series of discoveries that made me feel lucky to have been warned off before anything serious could come of the contact.

Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional Writer
:nod:

If you're approached by a publisher or agent, it's usually a scam. (The excpetion is if you're already a well-known and established writer that they seek as a contributor or ghost writer on another book). You always have to seek them out ;)
Reply
:iconnate-walis:
Nate-Walis Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Unfortunately, that is the depressing truth of the matter.
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional Writer
Well, publishing is a business, and just like applying for jobs, you "apply" to be published! Also, agents and publishers have no time looking around for people to sign (especially since there's no way they would have seen the work prior anyway since they want first-time publishing rights). If you sat in at a literary agency for a day, you'd be surprised how much work we've got to do! We literally get about 100 e-mail queries a day, and a good stack of snail-mail queries, and the phone's always ringing with authors calling and checking in, working on getting book proposals sent out, always on the phone with publishers about royalty checks coming in, editing manuscripts, etc. There's just so time to scout out authors. (Our exception are for artists we need for books-- and even then, we're always behind looking since there's such little time in a day to get everything done [our "daily to-do list" usually gets done in a month!])
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:iconnate-walis:
Nate-Walis Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I mean no criticism, just commenting on the way things are.
Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional Writer
Publishing as a whole's gotten rougher the last few years. I think that's why a lot of scams have been happening, since book deals haven't been the best lately (granted, there are still a lot getting out there, but a lot that aren't) and these scam artists know that writers want to be published. We usually suggest to authors to get smaller works published first before querying, since it builds up a resume and gets your name out there! (Of course, these need to be stories you don't want the publishers and agents to represent since like I said, they want first-time publishing rights [so, no previous printing in anthologies, on online sites, magazines, self-published, etc.]). It does help, though, and make things easier for when you do submit! :aww:
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:iconnate-walis:
Nate-Walis Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer

Agreed.

We all know that if it looks too good to be true then it is, but there's always the dream of coming across the one exception to the rule.

In the end the only remedy is hard work and determination

As well as the sage fact that even in an industry so competitive and pinched, there's still an awful lot of awful that makes it onto the shelves.

Reply
:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional Writer
The one thing I've learned working in publishing is that you can be the best writer in the world, but if your story isn't marketable, chances are you won't get a deal. Publishing is a business, and one that needs to produce what people want to read and what will sell and get money into the book industry. If there's a not-so-great written book that is extremely marketable against a beautifully written book with no market, the not-so-great book is going to get the deal. It's all about what will sell.

For instance, Twilight gets a lot of crap for being one of these not-so-great books, but look at what it's done for the market! It brought in so much money to the publishing industry (when it needed it most during the time many small presses were going under) and brought with it many more publishing opportunities for other writers (all the other vampire/supernatural fiction that came out alongside of it since the market was wide open due to demand). While it may not be every reader's favourite genre or story, what it did for the market, other writers, and the publishing industry as a whole was remarkable.

"Awful" is also just a reader's opinion ;)
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(1 Reply)
:icongwenvar:
Gwenvar Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013   General Artist
Thanks, great article!
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Professional Writer
:heart:
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:icongwenvar:
Gwenvar Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013   General Artist
:hug: <33
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:iconweskervr:
WeskerVR Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Really useful, great article! 
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Professional Writer
Thank you!
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:iconweskervr:
WeskerVR Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You´re welcome! ^.^
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:iconcontraltissimo:
Contraltissimo Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2013
Great article!  :clap:
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:icondorianharper:
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2013  Professional Writer
Thank you!
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