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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

Too Good to Be True? 9 Signs of A Publishing Scam

Book publishing is an active and competitive market, so new publishers are always hopping into the spotlight to try to find the next hit. Despite the growing divide of the "big five" traditional publishers (Harper Collins, Hachette, Random House, MacMillan, Simon and Schuster) and authors who decide to go it alone, there are still a number of smaller, independently owned publishers, startups, and hybrid publishers who wish to work with authors on a smaller and more localized scale.

If you want to partner with one of these smaller companies for publishing, you'll need to watch out for one thing: scams.

Vanity press businesses and publishing scams prey on well-meaning authors by getting them to pay large sums of money to publish their books. Sometimes this comes as an up-front publishing fee or reading fee, and sometimes it's a little more back-handed (such as a fee to buy a minimum of author copies). In the worst-case scenario, these companies might buy your rights to your book and fail to publish it at all, leaving you on your own.

If you're wondering whether a publishing company you're looking at might be a scam, here are some warning signs to look for.

Yes, your books will be on Amazon if you publish through a vanity press. Any other publisher, vanity or not, will likely do the same. But get this: you can publish your own books on Amazon for free with a few clicks. It's easy. People do that every day.

A publisher who brags about publishing to Amazon is only wanting to take credit for doing something so basic you might as well save yourself the publishing costs and go for it.

A traditional POD paperback publishing service like KDP Print or Lulu will give you a steep discount for your own books or only charge for shipping to begin with. You never need to purchase a print copy of your books, though ordering a proof copy before publishing is frequently encouraged to check quality.

Vanity press scams want to print copies of your book whether anyone cares to buy them or not. They will often sell you orders of your book and leave you with boxes you can stack neatly in your attic or garage until you forget about them. Again, you should never need to buy author copies like this--it's only a way of extorting money from you.

This is the big one of the bunch. You don't need to pay money for your books. Anyone who says you need to pay money to get published is lying or has bought into a scam himself. A legitimate publisher will not charge a reading fee, a convenience fee, or a publishing fee. In fact, if you find success the traditional route, the publisher will often pay for the rights to your book if you move forward. These advances are generous and a promise of the care the publisher intends to show to your book.

Again, you shouldn't need to pay money for any of this.

If you choose to self-publish, you won't get an advance for your book because, well, you're not selling the rights to it. You're cutting out the middle man and taking all of your costs on yourself, gambling that you'll be able to make the money up by selling copies down the road.

A traditional publisher will pay you an advance for your book and, in return, claim most of the money the book makes when sold. This can come back to bite you if your book sells well but you hardly get any of the royalties, and it's one of the more popular reasons for self-publishing over traditional publishing.

A publishing scam might dangle a payment under your nose. Scammer Publish America is notorious for promising to pay for your book and then giving you a ceremonial dollar for your submission after you agree to their terms and conditions. Your book isn't a joke, and so your advance shouldn't be either.

You're going to run into many options and alternatives when you decide you want to get published. Some people will tell you to get an agent, and some will tell you to do all the work yourself. Submitting directly to a publisher without an agent sounds tempting because you're cutting out one stage of the traditional publishing process and saving a lot of waiting time while also getting the accolades that come with traditional publishing.

Small press does exist, and it is legitimate. Many small press publishers focus on regional or super-specific genres or formats, and while they might not require agent solicitation, they'll be picky about what they accept and can handle.

If a publisher is too excited and willing to accept any books at all, take that as a red flag. It might turn out that it's not actually a "small" press at all, but an imprint of something larger. Vanity press giant Author Solutions is famous for posing as a group of smaller publishers, including iUniverse and Xlibris among others, each competing for submissions from new authors.

Publishing a book is a long process and takes many steps. Even if you decided on a relatively basic self-publishing regimen, you will still need to have your book edited and revised before you can send it out into the world.

Working through a publisher will take even longer. First you query, then you submit a sample, and then you submit an entire manuscript. If a publisher accepts your book without question after only reading a brief query or synopsis, you should take a closer look.

"Your book will be a bestseller!" "Our authors land movie deals!" "We guarantee bookstore sales!"

If you encounter any of the claims listed above, run.

A publisher can't guarantee success--even a massive big five publisher with a full editing and marketing team at its disposal. No one can promise that your book will sell one copy, let alone become the top in a category or a bestseller. No one can guarantee movie deals, and most of the deals bragged about are small film projects that will fall short of your imagined blockbuster. Since most book sales these days are online, a site bragging about brick and mortar stores likely has extremely limited distribution and will cut you off from a broader audience.

POD and self-publishing services pitch to authors. So do literary agents, who work with authors directly. But publishers have their eyes set somewhere else.

Visit the website of any major publisher, and you won't see calls for submissions. You'll see books advertised to you, new releases, updated catalogs. Successful publishers have no need to ask for additional submissions, and they focus instead on their primary source of income: selling books. You might even find some publishers stating that they are not open to submissions for a while or that they only accept agent-solicited submissions. That's normal. Again, these companies are swamped with work and wish to focus more on selling books than on discovering them because that's where the money is.

Any publishing site that is overtly pro-author should be treated with suspicion. After all, if this company were so good at making astounding book deals with their current authors, why are they so desperate for more?

Every publishing house is ultimately made up of human people. These people have their own preferences, professional experiences, and routines. One person will read your manuscript and accept it. If you find yourself in correspondence with a faceless publishing entity, be careful. Vanity presses and publishing scams will often issue only an ambiguous first name when contacting you, which implies that your book is not getting any individual treatment or consideration.

What if it's a scam?

In the unfortunate event that your publishing company turns out to be a scam or vanity press, there are several options.

  1. The traditional route. Instead of cheating the system, honor it by finding an agent who is willing to pitch your book to a publisher. Not only will this help you avoid scams, but you're far more likely to score one of those major publishing deals you were dreaming about when you found the scam.

  2. The self-publishing route. Up until about ten years ago, self-publishing was largely lumped in with vanity press, and there was little difference between the two. If you publish your book on your own, you take full responsibility for issues like editing, formatting, and cover design. The process takes a lot of work and often costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, but gives you large royalties and complete control over the process and your rights.

  3. Hybrid publishing. This close cousin of vanity press involves buying a publishing package after your book has been submitted, but is much more exclusive when it comes to accepting manuscripts. If your book is accepted into a hybrid publisher, the publisher will handle the design, formatting, and publication elements while you focus on writing and marketing and get a greater share of royalties further down the road. This option is expensive but helpful if you aren't tech-savvy but still want control over your publishing rights.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comment section below or join my group for self-publishing fiction authors on Facebook for further discussion.


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