The Savvy Author—Sophisticated Publishing Scams and How to Spot Them

We all know the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” But knowing it, and following that advice, are two different things. Too many authors are being scammed by what look like legitimate publishers but are, in reality, nothing more than really good scam artists.

A woman wrote to me telling me how she is over $50,000 out of pocket simply because she believed the hype of a ‘publisher’ who was ‘enthusiastically’ interested in her book So elated and flattered was she that she failed to read the contract in detail that was sent to her. Hidden in the contract were the conditions on book sales.

—author is to purchase any and all print books if less than 3000, (three thousand), of (title of book) are sold—

Her book sold exactly 21 copies at $17.95 a book. She had to purchase 2979 books.

“The publisher seemed so nice, he had a beautiful, professional website, and one of his authors called me up and really sang his praises to me.” Yup, so did the shills for the Carnival snake oil sales man. And we all know what you got when you paid for snake-oil, right? Nothing.

Jeani Rector, author and editor of The Horror Zine has this advice for new authors. “If you, (the author), are approached by a publisher, please be aware that it is usually done the other way around—the author is the one who approaches the publishers.”

Rector goes on to add another warning sign—be on guard if a publisher asks for money from you to publish your book. Legitimate publishers never, ever ask for money. The cost of publishing your book is solely their responsibility.

Speaking of being approached by publishers, this happens occasionally to best-selling authors and only if the author has made it known that she/he is dissatisfied with their current publisher. News travels fast in the publishing world and, when word of dissatisfaction spreads, an acquisitions editor from another publisher might approach the author. This happens rarely.

Let’s understand the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. immediately. When you self-publish your book, you understand that fees are inherent. That’s covered in my article Are You Ready to Become an Authorpreneur? Basically, you are aware that you’re your own publisher, and you will have fees. However, if you are going through a legitimate traditional publishing house or press, the cost to publish your book is theirs and theirs alone.

Anyone asking you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to get your book in print, is a scam artist. Never, never, be fooled by the promise that you will recover your initial outlay of cash once “your book begins to sell”. Those dollars you spend are lost forever and you will never recoup the money.

Now on to what I call the ‘successful scam’. A successful scam is one with an eye-catching website, author testimonials, and covers touting books that are on their way to being best-sellers. They look as good and professional as Simon & Schuster.

They are clever at making their company sound like it is a real book publisher. Though they may call themselves publishers, they are in fact, author service companies. They offer all-inclusive packages that bundle editing, proofreading, set-ups on IngramSpark, sales, distribution, publicity and shipping. Wow, just like a ‘real’ publisher? No, not at all!

Unlike the traditional publishing houses, the fees for all this work begins at $4500 and can climb steadily upwards. You are strongly ‘encouraged’ to purchase more services on the premise that the more services you’ve bought from them, the better your chance of success. Not true. The professional marketing you receive are simply online press releases, (usually on their own website), that the majority of journalists will ignore, and an obscure listing in a book buyers catalog. These extra charges are the main ways these businesses make money. The real marketing is up to you. Legit publishers have in-house publicists, they do it for you.

Author services companies are pretend publishers. In essence, they are what was once referred to as ‘vanity presses’ albeit today much more sophisticated. Unless you are willing and able to shell out thousands of dollars, steer clear of author service companies. A good editor, proof-reader, book formatter, and cover designer cost a lot less than these scam companies. There are also many presses that will print quality small orders of your book at a fraction of the cost you would pay scammers.

Do your research, be aware of scams, and have a lawyer read and explain any contract before you sign.

Happy writing!

Kristen Houghton’s new novel, DO UNTO OTHERS, book 4 in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation is available at all book venues.

Published both traditionally and independently, she is the author of nine top-selling novels and is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct powers of her own. Houghton is also the author of two non-fiction books and a collection of short stories.

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