Top 5 Self-Publishing Scams (With Legitimate Counterparts)
Self-published authors have encountered goldmines of success over the past couple of decades. Every year brings up more rags-to-riches cases of novice writers inducted to literary stardom and encourages prospective authors to jump on the wagon.
Unfortunately, this new wave of publishing has also attracted a number of scammers to the scene, and some writers, instead of meeting with bestselling numbers and a growing fan base, instead find themselves in debt and alone with no idea where things went wrong.
And yes, there are many things that could go wrong. Maybe the book isn’t polished. Maybe the cover turns people away. Maybe your advertising efforts went nowhere. Maybe readers simply never got the message your book existed in the first place.
The publishing market is a fast-growing jungle, and it gets harder to navigate every year. Some offerings for interested writers sound too good to be true--and absolutely are. Others might give you exactly what you need to get your writing in front of your ideal readers.
Let’s review some of the more common scams out there and what legitimate opportunities you can use instead.
Scam #1: Vanity Press
These presses often masquerade as traditional publishers but have been increasingly dipping their toes into the self-publishing sphere. They say they will publish your book, and based on which package you want to buy, they will provide tiers of editing and production quality.
Others won’t charge a dime upfront, but will happily accept your book and force you to purchase a number of author copies that will soon collect dust in your garage while doing nothing to help you promote and get the word out about the new release.
Not all of these presses are complete scams. Some can be ordered through brick-and-mortar retailers, and some give exactly what they promise. But the cost usually amounts to more than if you were to pay for publishing services independently according to your needs.
Use instead: Print on Demand
Print on demand is a comparatively new publishing tactic where copies of your book are printed to order. These services, including LuLu and Amazon’s KDP Print, will charge you nothing to publish your book and might throw in a few goodies during the process. In return, you only pay for copies you want (there is no “need” to buy anything anywhere along the process).
The process is fast and straightforward, and the books produced are usually professional or near-professional options. Even for newer authors or those who are not tech-savvy, POD is a great way to get your book off the ground.
Scam #2: Book Blog Tours
Book blog tours and virtual book tours aren’t scams, and in fact, they can be some of the most effective tools available for getting readers excited about your books. But the companies that offer tours are a different story.
Again, there might be some exceptions for virtual tour agencies, but many will result in only small and impersonal listings on a few little-known blogs. They cost a moderate amount of money and the return you get is questionable.
Use instead: (Your Own) Book Blog Tours
You can organize your own tours. Bloggers like when authors go out of their way to reach out, and by searching through relevant blogs, you can find bloggers who would be especially interested in your books.
You can learn more about this process here.
Scam #3: Fiverr Advertising Bundles
Fiverr has a lot of great services, but advertising effectively isn’t one of them. You can ignore anything that promises that your book will be posted to massive Facebook groups or re-tweeted to hundreds of thousands of followers.
Those groups and accounts are largely inactive, and very few of the people who see your book listed will care. In some cases, the only others who will see the listing are other writers and sellers looking to list their own books, and they don’t pay attention to any of the others in line. You’re submitting into an echo chamber of authors and bots, and any money you spend here is essentially wasted.
Use instead: CPC Advertising
If you’re willing to spend money on ads, even only a small amount, cost-per-click (CPC) advertising will give you the farthest reach. Both Amazon and Facebook have detailed algorithms that allow you to decide exactly who you want to see your book listing and what effect you want the advertising to have.
Better yet, these ads are far more customizable than Fiverr’s options. You can use them to grow your mailing list or Facebook page, announce a current sale, or show a colorful book trailer. For the same price you would spend on Fiverr bundles, you can get a lot more.
Scam #4: Cheap Editors
A good editor is essential to publishing a good book, but a bad editor can be deceptive. Beware of any editing service that offers rates that sound too good to be true, and make sure you know what kind of editing your book needs the most so that you can partner with an editor who will help your book in the way you most need.
Use instead: Reedsy, Scribophile
If you’re stuck on where to find an editor or how to know if an editor has the skills you need, Reedsy is a great database to start. You can search by genre and by type of editing to find the exact editor who can help you visualize your book.
If you’re exceptionally tight on budget but still want valuable critiques to help streamline and revise your writing, Scribophile is a workshopping site with great free or premium options.
Scam #5: Grammarly
Unlike the other scams on this list, Grammarly’s not a scam at all… but this advanced proofreader is not the magical digital editor that some supporters claim it to be, either.
What it does: proofreading, wordflow monitoring, mood checks. This is great for essays, emails, memos, and other miscellaneous bits of writing you do throughout a day.
What it doesn’t do: catch over-used words, passive sentences, or monitor the pacing of your writing--things that fiction writers in particular need to watch for.
You can easily trick Grammarly into thinking your writing is the next best thing, but you’ll miss out on a lot of what other digital editors can catch.
Use instead: ProWritingAid, AutoCrit
For my full showdown of ProWritingAid vs. Autocrit, you can check out the post here. Either of these two digital editors will take a more intense look at your writing and reveal things that you never would have caught alone--even things an editor might not have pointed out.
If digital editing is a part of your revision process that you want to take full advantage of, don’t stop at something as basic as Grammarly.
When it comes to publishing your own books, you need to do some things yourself. Research what goes into publishing a quality book and evaluate what specific areas you can replicate for yourself and where, specifically, you will need to hire another service.
In addition, remember that the cheaper options upfront won’t always save money. A $5 promotion might sound like a good deal but not land any clicks, whereas $5 spent towards a more effective promotional tactic will land you not only clicks, but visits from interested readers who might turn into lifelong fans.
What writer-bait scams have you fallen prey to? We’d love to hear your experiences. Please tell us about it in the comments below or join Pen and Glory’s Facebook group for further discussion.