Publishing Scams: Six Red Flags That Scream “Ripe”

Publishing Scams: Six Red Flags That Scream “Ripe”

This is heartbreaking. You go to a local fair and there are a number of smiling hopefuls at the author’s table, eager to sell their books. Several are beautiful books self-published or produced by traditional publishers. But so many are poorly written, poorly produced, with amateurish covers and cheap bindings. The author’s smiles fade when they realize that the world isn’t flocking to buy their books, and they just start to wonder if there’s something wrong with that picture.

Score another vanity press score. Poor authors, with no knowledge of the publisher’s business purpose, have been bilked out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars and now have cases of unsalable books serving as very expensive safeguards.

In these days of POD (publish-on-demand) technology, publishers can promise to ship the books when they are ordered, which at least frees the author from having to stock the books. But vanity still takes large sums and the author is left with an empty bank account and shattered dreams.

Or even worse. Some scammers take money from reputable authors and deliver nothing.

The good news is that with a little knowledge, it’s not too hard to spot a scam. Here are some obvious red flags to look for:

Red Flag #1: “We’ll publish your book for ONLY $595!”

Above all, remember this one rule: legitimate publishers pay YOU for the rights to publish your book. You should never pay anyone to publish your work unless you choose to self-publish.

To get a book published, you have to write the best book you can. You should research the market and use an up-to-date market guide to choose the most suitable publisher. You submit your manuscript using a standard manuscript format that is outlined in most good books on writing and publishing. While you wait for a response, you get down to your next project. If a publisher is interested, an editor will contact you and make an offer. The publisher will pay you an advance against royalties, and once the advance is earned back, you’ll earn royalties on further sales. You or your agent can also sell other ancillary rights, such as foreign language translation rights or film rights. However, the chances of your manuscript being rejected are high. If this happens, pick the next publisher on your list and submit the manuscript there, then get back to working on your next project.

If you want to self-publish, the best way to do it is to start your own small publishing company. You give your company a name, choose a good printing service, buy an ISBN number and a copyright file. If you pay for “publishing” but the book bears the imprint of another publisher, that company is a vanity publisher. A good printing service will encourage you to use your own printing. You have a much better chance of getting a distributor to carry your books if you use your own imprint. Most distributors avoid vanity publishers.

If you only want a few copies, such as a family-only memoir, look for a good bookbinding service.

Red Flag #2: “Authors wanted by a major publisher!”

No legitimate publisher should advertise authors. All major publishers have giant slush piles piled high with far more manuscripts than they will ever be able to use, most of which are of poor quality. If you see an ad in the back of a magazine offering to “publish” your book or suggesting that they “need” authors, chances are it’s a printing press.

Red Flag #3: “We know the secret to instant success!”

There is no “instant success” in the publishing world. Most famous authors have worked hard for years to become an “overnight success”. Sometimes luck will propel a new author to the top of the bestseller list, but remember that their story is just one of millions. Most authors never get that kind of fame. If the homepage of the site talks about how your book can be a bestseller, be wary. Real publishers do not make such promises because they know the reality of the publishing business.

Red Flag #4: “Traditional publishing is dead/a scam/not worth your time.”

A publishing company that ignores traditional publishing is almost certainly either a vanity publisher or an outright scam. What they overlook are the long-established reputable businesses that carefully select the manuscripts most likely to sell and pay authors for the publishing rights to those works.

Red Flag #5: “We will list your books on!”

Listing your book on is as easy as going online and filling out a form. Anyone can do it. And listing on Amazon is not a guaranteed path to success. Even in this day and age of online commerce, just under 10% of all books sold are sold online. The majority of books are sold through physical bookstores. While you may be able to convince local bookstores to carry your self-published book, the only way to get it to bookstores nationwide is to hire a distributor to carry it. It can be expensive (which is one reason vanity books don’t bother with distribution), and distributors won’t touch vanity books (which is the other reason). Publishers and bookstores also don’t like POD (publish on demand) books because they can’t be returned if they don’t sell. Booksellers, unlike most businesses, expect to be able to return or destroy unsold books and get their money back. It sounds crazy to other businesses, but it’s true. If a publisher can’t offer distribution services to get your book into bookstores, it’s not a publisher that will serve you well.

Red Flag #6: Bad review of Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware

Yes, it really is spelled that way, for alliterative purposes. Predictors and editors is a website full of scam warnings and sage advice for writers. Writer Beware, on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, has a list of current scam alerts. Both are useful when researching a potential publisher. If a publisher ignores any of these sites, watch out!

If you spot these red flags, you can avoid most posting scams. However, the best way to protect yourself is to educate yourself about the publishing industry. Read as many books on writing and publishing as you can get your hands on. Understand how the industry works and find out how to market your work in the genre you write for. Keep up with industry trends by reading Publisher’s Weekly or visiting their website. With a little education, you can help put scammers out of business.

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