Beware of the scam agents and sharks in self-publishing
Publishing a book today is easy with self-publishing services that are generally offered for free online, or if not free, they are very cheap.
This low-cost simplicity, however, has made it a goldmine for shady scam agents and scam publishers to deceive new authors who are trying to get their book published.
I received an unsolicited email today from a long time publishing scammer, which reminded me that the publishing seas are still infested with these untrustworthy sharks.
In general terms, these scammers prey on either an author’s dream of becoming published, or on the fact that an author may not know how to self-publish and has given up on traditional publishing, but still yearns.
Don’t fall into their expensive traps.
Don’t be fooled by scam agents. Here are some warning signals.
Unsolicited invitations to submit your manuscript
Literary agents and publishers all have huge slush piles, so none would be asking to make them even higher. If you are asked to submit your manuscript by someone you don’t know, especially by unsolicited email, DO NOT reply.
It’s 99.9999% sure to be a scam.
If you are approached out of the blue by a publisher you don’t know who wants to publish your book, be careful. It is a telltale sign of self-publishing companies to avoid.
Offers to help you get published
Social media is full of helpful people, but there are also many who charge a lot of money for their helpfulness and may forget to tell you this upfront.
The term there are editors and predators is now a common expression in self-publishing circles.
Self-publishing is basically free, so DO NOT pay for what you can do, or can quickly learn to do yourself.
Marketeers and racketeers
Advertising and marketing a book is time-consuming and there are costs involved in paying for reputable services such as Facebook advertising, Google Adwords, paid blog posts or perhaps even an advertorial in a local newspaper.
These are all normal expenses, and they are relatively cheap and beneficial. Offers to market a book for a package price by someone you do not know, and guarantees success is a sure sign of a scam.
DO NOT pay for book marketing services packages. Arrange and pay advertisers for your book advertising directly with reputable and well-known advertising service providers.
I’m a publisher
While there are many legitimate publishers and small press, especially in niche markets, always check the reputation of a publisher before doing anything.
A comprehensive list of publishers and distributors, with comments about dubious companies, is maintained by SFWA and Writers Beware.
DO NOT enter into an agreement with a publisher without checking their background, history, reputation and ethics first.
Writer, reader, editor, copy editor, proofreader, publisher, cover designer, book marketer, self-publishing consultant
No one person can supply all these services. Beware of failed writers trying to make a buck on the side by offering services that they are not qualified to provide.
DO NOT pay for amateurs. If you have to pay for a service, pay for professional services offered by reputable providers.
Make informed choices
There are no easy ways to become successful in book publishing, so the best way to avoid scammers and the possibility of being ripped off is to understand from the outset that publishing a book will be a tough job.
For those authors and writers who are trying to publish for the first time, there are three established and safe avenues to getting a book published.
This means approaching literary agents with the hope of being contracted and having your book published and then promoted by one of the large publishing houses.
This, of course, is the most difficult and time-consuming method and it will involve sending submissions to a number of agents and then waiting and hoping.
The rejection rate is so high these days that a new author will need a lot of luck. It is not impossible of course, but for new writers, it is not very easy at all.
Pros: No publishing costs to an author and an advance is often paid.
Cons: Difficult to get published and royalties can be quite low. An author also must sign away rights to a book.
As the name implies, self-publishing means that an author will have to do everything that is necessary to get a book published, and then to market it and hopefully sell enough copies online to get a return on the time invested in writing and self-publishing a book.
For those authors who are totally new to electronic self-publishing, it will be a learning curve to begin with and it is necessary to have a sound knowledge of basic word processing, computer and Internet skills.
These basic skills include uploading and downloading files, formatting Word documents styles, converting Word files to pdf and epub files, image resizing, as well as having a good understanding of file management.
Although self-publishing is generally free, there will be some costs in preparing a book for publication. These could include expenses for a book cover, editing and proofreading.
If you find self-publishing technology beyond your ability and need to use an assisted self-publishing service, always make sure you retain all rights to your book, and that all royalties are paid to you directly by the online retailer.
Pros: Quick to publish in e-book or paperback. Free or at least very cheap depending on preparation costs. Authors own all their book rights.
Cons: Some computer skills to learn. All facets of publishing, marketing and selling are the responsibility of the author.
What to expect to pay for reputable services:
Pre-made e-book cover. US$30-60
Custom made book cover. US$250-500
Proofreading and correction – basic. US$ 200-400 for approx 80,000 words.
Assisted self-publishing services. Preparation of manuscript files and publishing for you on Kindle Direct Publishing for ebook and paperback, and Smashwords or Draft2digital for ebook distribution. US$200-250.
Although vanity publishing has been frowned upon for a long time, there are still a few large vanity publishing houses around.
A few traditional publishers used the services of one vanity publisher as a means to offer this method of publishing to new authors, but thankfully, most have closed down these expensive pseudo self-publishing sites.
Unfortunately, some vanity publishers have re-branded and re-named their services as self-publishing, which it definitely is not.
No matter how well-known or established vanity publishing is, or if it goes by a new name, new authors need to be aware that it will be a very, very expensive way to publish a book.
Most of their websites make no mention of the prices they will charge, which should be a warning.
Vanity publishing means that the author pays for everything for a book to be published, which can often amount to thousands of dollars.
This cost does not normally include marketing a book other than that it will possibly be available on the vanity publisher’s website.
Vanity publishing is easy, but it is an awfully expensive way to fill your basement with 5,000 copies of a book, which you may or probably, may not ever sell.
The key warning signal that you are dealing with a vanity press is when you discover that you are being asked to pay a huge amount of money upfront to publish your book. This is when the word scam springs to mind very quickly.
Vanity publishers are generally not interested at all in selling your book to readers. Only to you, the author.
There have also been many complaints about the high-pressure business practices of certain vanity publishers.
Be careful, and search the Internet for customer feedback on any company you may consider before committing to a publishing contract and handing over your money.
Samita Sarkar wrote a very good article about how to spot publishing scams for the Huffington Post.
Her warning signals in the piece are very good advice. These four are classic for high-pressure selling vanity publishers.
The publisher’s website contains little to no information to attract readers, and is almost entirely devoted to selling to authors.
The website contains slogans about helping authors “tell their story” by “letting the experts guide them,” etc.
In exchange for your name, email, and phone number, you can download a free publishing guide.
Expect a call later on that same day, before even opening the guide.
I can personally attest to this last point. I was once pestered with almost daily phone calls for over two months by one of the most well-known vanity publishers.
Pros: Trade publishing quality books with paid editing and cover design services.
Cons: Annoying high-pressure selling by some vanity publishers. Usually extremely expensive with no effective marketing support.
As an author, if you receive an offer that is too good to be true, it surely will be. In publishing a book, there is only one way to succeed –the hard way, and no amount of money thrown at a publisher will make it any easier.
In my opinion, a new author has two sensible choices when it comes to getting a book published – either try to work with a literary agent and a reputable publishing house or self-publish and enjoy the learning curve and the journey.
Both are tough, but that’s the reality of book publishing today. There is no easy way.
Related reading: Vanity Publishing And Self-Publishing Are Not The Same
Helpful links for new authors