Avoiding Publishing Scams

The writing community is full of wonderful people who genuinely want to help other succeed. But there are also scam artists who want to take advantage of desperate writers with dollar signs in their eyes. On top of that, there are well-meaning but inexperienced individuals who can hurt your career even as they're trying to help it.

The following are red flags:

An agent who charges a reading fee. Some contests charge reading fees. Agents should not. Reading through submissions in order to find clients is part of their job. Don't pay for it.

An agent who charges a representation fee. Legit agents earn their money from commissions. In other words, they earn a percentage (usually 15 percent) of the money you earn. If they don't sell your books, they don't make any money. This can be hard for agents who are just starting out, but it is the industry standard, and it's important in order to protect authors. Don't pay agents up front.

An agent who refers you to an editor. Now, an agent might reject your work and suggest it needs editing. This may be offered as helpful advice. However, if the agents refers you to one specific editor, that agent may be getting a kickback. If the agent says paying for the editing services is a requirement for representation, consider this a red flag.

A publisher that charges you. Publishers are supposed to pay the author, either in royalties or a combination of an advance and royalties. If a publisher charges you, you're probably dealing with a vanity publisher. More on this below.

A publisher that requires you to purchase copies of your book. This is just another way for a publisher to charge you. Sure, you hope  you'll sell the copies and make your money back, but you'll probably just end up paying for self-storage to hold all your books. This is true regardless of whether your book is any good. Publishing is about more than writing a good book. It's also about marketing and distribution.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishers are publishers that make their money by charging writers for the privilege of being published instead of by selling books to readers. They will accept any manuscript, regardless of quality. They often charge authors a lot of money but may provide very little in return.

  • They may say that they provide editing, but in reality, this may amount to nothing more that the use of a spell checker. 
  • They may provide covers, but not ones that are worth the price. 
  • They may claim they can get you into bookstores, but what they may really mean is that they list your book so it's technically possible for bookstores to stock your book. Without a sales team pitching your book to the stores, this won't actually happen.
  • They may not market your book or send it to reviewers.
  • The books they produce may be so expensive that most readers will not want to take a chance on them. This can make it more difficult for you to market the book on your own.
Because vanity publishers make their money by selling services and products to authors, they have little to no incentive to sell books to readers. 

If your goal is launch a career, or even a small side career, as an author, don't expect a vanity publisher to help. You're better off self-publishing and paying for individual services, like editing and cover design, as needed. 

Determining Whether a Publisher Is Trustworthy

If you're not sure whether you're dealing with a good publisher, here's what to do:

  • Talk to authors who have been published by the publisher. Don't trust reviews on the site, as these might be fake or from authors who are too new to be disillusioned yet. Seek out authors on your own.
  • Try to read books from the publisher. Are they high quality? Are they well edited? Do they have lots of good reviews? Are they overpriced? If you're not satisfied with the quality, consider whether you want your book associated with them. 
  • Look for books from the publisher in local bookstores. If the publisher doesn't have any books there, assume they won't get yours into stores, either.
  • Absolutewrite.com/forums has a section called "Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check." See if the publisher is listed there. 
  • Writer Beware has information on scams, as well as agents and publishers they say to avoid. 
  • Google the name of the publisher along with "scam" to see if there are any warnings out there. 

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