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Writers Beware; Ask the Right Questions and Avoid Publishing Scams

publishing scam

You’ve finished your book! Now what? Before venturing into the big world of publishing, realize that scam artists who pose as legitimate book publishers are on the prowl. Do some investigative work. Researching self-publishing companies before you sign on the dotted line will save you endless headaches.

Start Thinking Like a Businessperson

Writers may be artists, but they also need to attend to the business side of the craft. Once your final chapter is written, stop thinking like an artist and start thinking like an entrepreneur. Scouting reputable publishing companies should be a breeze for someone already well-versed in the art of research. Take the time to learn every aspect of the publishing process so you will be prepared to sign on the dotted line with confidence.

5 Self-Publishing Scams & How to Avoid Them

  • Grand promises—If a self-publisher claims that when you sign with them, they can get your book picked up by a big-name firm, turn and run. Large publishing houses don’t search for new material by going through self-publishing companies. Question anyone who makes this claim, and ask how much this service will cost.
  • Excessive flattery—Authors can be blinded by the need to get their work appreciated. Beware of the siren’s song. Read all contracts thoroughly and avoid exclusive agreements that keep you from publishing your work elsewhere if you decide to leave.
  • Convoluted contracts—Know exactly what you want to accomplish through the self-publisher and make sure it is spelled out in the paperwork. If you do not understand something in the contract, ask the company to explain it. If you need further clarification, speak to a lawyer who’s fluent in contract law.
  • Vague website information—If a self-publishing company is aboveboard, the cost for each service will be clearly listed and explained on their website. Scammers will show an incomplete fee structure, then tag additional costs on after you sign your contract. Understand how the numbers for the total production costs (publishing, distribution, and sales) are arrived at as well as your net sales profit.
  • Copyright tricks—Scam companies will say they will set your book up with a unique ISBN (International Standard Book Number). What they don’t tell you is they are still the publisher of record. That means they own your book, not you. Retain creative control of your work by buying your own ISBN through R.R Bowker, which licenses the numbers.

author publishing scams

More Scam-Spotting Techniques—Look for Hidden Costs

There are a multitude of costs associated with publishing a book, and many are often hidden by disreputable self-publishing companies looking to take advantage of novice authors. Determine the services (editing, marketing, cover design) you want from a self-publisher and note their prices upfront. Then look for hidden costs and unsubstantiated fees in these areas:

  • Editing—Some companies will pass off unqualified employees as expert editors so check your editor’s references. Be sure your contract allows you to choose someone you have confidence in who matches your writing style.
  • Typesetting—You may not have thought much about the interior design of your book. This is what scammers are hoping. Some companies advertise expert or custom design consultation and charge a ridiculous rate, only to deliver cookie-cutter book formats. Don’t settle for one-size-fits-all work. Ask the publishing company about their design methods and whether you will be a part of the decision process with your book.
  • Cover design—Some self-publishing companies reuse cover art and call it original. Don’t let a lack of confidence in your own design abilities cause you to hand over the cover art decisions to your publisher. Be involved. If you are offered the chance to work one-on-one with a designer, jump at it. Ask if revisions are allowed and at what point change fees kick in.
  • Distribution—Scammers will often promise they can put your book in every bookstore in America. Do they mean actual hard copies on shelves, or do they mean adding your book’s title to a nationwide order database? Ask your publisher how your book will be sold to readers and what happens with unsold copies.

#1 Rule to Avoid Self-Publishing Scams: Question Everything

A top-notch self-publishing company will not flinch at answering any and all of your questions. If a publisher doesn’t have ready answers to your inquiries, move on. Scam artists hide in plain sight, so protect yourself and your work by being involved in all aspects of the process. Know your publishing rights. Ignorance is not bliss in the self-publishing world. Question everything.

We hope we have helped open your eyes to some of the pitfalls of publishing scams and how to avoid them. Feel free to share our blog with others.

Ray Robinson
Ray Robinson

When Ray first entered the publishing industry, authors relied on “vanity presses” to produce their work – many of whom would charge $15,000 or more and leave the author’s garage filled with hundreds of books. Ray, along with coworker Alan Harris, joined forces with Miles Nelson to create Dog Ear Publishing to provide the author community a self-publisher with a heart. The group’s application of new technologies and publishing on demand reduced the cost of publishing a book to a fraction of what it had been for previous generations; authors now have the ability to publish a book in as little as six weeks and print as few as a single copy.