Publishing scams have been around as long as publishing. Before the advent of print-on-demand (POD) publishing and electronic publishing, vanity publishers abounded. The term comes from the idea that these companies play on the vanity of the writer who is willing to do anything to “publish” a book. Most vanity presses don’t consider quality and rarely do more than print a large number of books to sell to the author.
Unlike hybrid publishers, which offer services such as design and editing, vanity publishers require a large investment up front but no quality control. In the end, the author has boxes of books in the garage and no place to sell them.
Vanity presses aren’t the only scam self-publishers need to be on the watch for.
The Editor Scam
Editors, and I use this term loosely here, advertise a new method to get your book on Amazon or bookstores quickly. No upfront fee is charged. A couple days after you send you manuscript, your book is published on Amazon under the scammers name. It’s up to you to prove it’s your manuscript.
Fake agents prey on the desire to have our books on the front shelves of a bookstore. If you’ve self-published and an agent contacts you, proceed with caution—if you proceed at all. Beware of upfront fees: reading fees, editing fees, paper clip fees. These agents are getting paid without providing representation for you. Reputable agents will rarely contact you. They work on commission and get paid when you get paid.
Fees for Services
In addition to editor and agent scams, novice self-publishers fall victim to a provider who claims to handle some of the pesky details for hefty fees. Sometimes these fees can be in the thousands of dollars. ISBN, copyright registration, Library of Congress catalog number, upload to specific platforms can all be easily handled by the author. One ISBN is $125, copyright registration is $35, Library of Congress catalog number is free, upload to most platforms is free. If you are asked to pay a large fee, shove your wallet in your pocket, and move on.
The Everyone Wins Writing Contest
All writers want to be recognized for our effort. Writing awards not only give us a boost we need to continue, but also lets the public know our book is worth buying. With this in mind, some organizations offer awards for a price.
The unscrupulous contests are often monthly awards in which all entries get a trophy, in some cases a literal trophy. These contests require large entry fees and, when the winners are announced, the chosen are asked to pay for the certificate, plaque, or trophy, in addition to the initial contest fee. In other words, the unsuspecting author is buying a writing award.
Many reputable award programs require a small fee, often less than $50 to cover expenses. Most recognized awards are given annually, not monthly. Many are connected with an award ceremony at a conference or other event. For more information about dubious contest http://bit.ly/2wrejnL
How to Avoid A Scam
Can it be said too often, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? A little research and thought will help you avoid losing money and possibly your book.
- Internet Search. This may be the first line of defense. Look for the company or individual’s website. Is it well-maintained and up-to-date? Are the details of services and cost listed clearly?
- Bookstore Search. Look for books published by the company in question. A vanity press will rarely have anything on the market, even Amazon.
- Unsolicited Offer. You’re scanning your email and in bold letters it opens with “We love your writing and want to publish your book.” Delete, delete as fast as you can. If you haven’t queried a publishing company, agent, or editor, this is probably a scheme to sell you thousands of your own book.
- Track Record. What is the track record of the company? If you’re working with a hybrid company, buy a couple of the books they have published. Look at the details as mentioned in in part two of this series.
- Ask the Authors. Contact authors who have worked with the service provider you are considering. If none are listed on the company’s website, ask for referrals.
- Check with Fellow Writers. Through Facebook and other forums ask about the company you are considering. Writers Beware, sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SWFA), is one of the oldest websites with information about publishing scams. https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/.
It’s a trite but true saying. We all love to hear from someone in the publishing business tell us our manuscript is wonderful, what great writers we are. It’s all too easy, even for a more experienced writer to succumb to the praise. Most scams can be avoided by taking time to consider the offer (remember, “If it’s too good to be true …) and do even a little research. Don’t let someone take your dream or your money.
Susan K. Stewart is a teacher, writer, and speaker known for practical solutions to real-world situations. Her books include Harried Homeschooler’s Handbook: Finding Hope in the Havoc, Preschool: At What Cost?, Science in the Kitchen: Fearless Science at Home for All Ages, the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. She brings her inspiring and encouraging messages to online and in-person conferences about families, writing, and editing. The Stewarts live in Central Texas with their three dogs, three cats, nine chickens, and a couple of donkeys. They have three children and six grandchildren. You can read more of Susan’s practical solutions at www.practicalinspirations.com.