Indie publishing gets a bad rap. Often, that reputation comes from authors putting out sub-par work, but in a corner of an artistic industry where anyone can make anything go, contractors deserve some of the blame.
We’ve heard countless horror stories of an author self-pubbing with the advice of a “professional” and ending their journey as a writer in heartbreak with an abysmal product and even worse sales.
Luckily, there are easy ways to spot the scammers:
1) They Charge Reading Fees
Unless you’re submitting to a literary magazine, you should NEVER be paying anyone to review your manuscript just to find out if they want to work with you. If they’re above board, agents, presses, and freelancers should all be willing to look at your manuscript for free before any agreements are reached. Editors should also be willing to provide you with a sample edit of a few pages.
Of course, if you’re wanting an entire manuscript critique, then that is something that is expected to be invoiced, but never open your wallet before an industry professional agrees to work with you and you’re confident in their abilities.
2) They Guarantee Bestsellers
Here’s the thing with publishing: it’s always a gamble. Even J.K. Rowling had a heck of a hard time finding a publisher for the first Harry Potter, and she is the first author to ever become a billionaire.
Saying you can guarantee a bestselling book (especially for cheap) is a snake oil salesman’s promise of a tonic that cures all ills. They just want your money, and won’t care about what happens later. Instead, look for a publisher that has a multi-pronged approach to marketing and established and varied distribution channels.
3) They Tell You Your Book’s Perfect
No matter how amazing of an author you are, you can’t publish a book alone. SOMEONE needs to look over it, as they will catch things you missed. Whether it’s plot holes, content or stylistic inconsistencies or even just an extra page in a layout—no stage is perfect. If a publisher or freelancer won’t let you review and make changes to different steps of the process, or even skips steps like proofreading altogether, run away.
4) They Are Faceless
Publishing is a business made out of an art. As such, the process is subjective, and there is no one perfect process for every book. If a publisher doesn’t offer any customization, or won’t even have a phone call or let you meet an editor or designer, you’re just one person in a big assembly line.
5) They Nickel and Dime You
Every book will need a few add-ons, but if your company charges for each round of revisions or every ISBN, your cheap self-publishing plan will become expensive, fast. The best companies to look for are ones that teach you and show you the ropes, while still taking care of the little things like getting an LCCN or a barcode for your book.
Remember, the publisher isn’t going to be the main person selling the book—you are. It’s up to you to learn as much as you can during the publishing process so you’re ready to market!
6) They Claim to be Self-Pub, But Have a Royalty Structure in Place
Self-publishing is work-for-hire, where the author foots the bill and owns 100% of the product at the end. Traditional publishing has the publisher footing the bill and then pays the author royalties from sales of the end product. Hybrid models have publishers pay for some, where the author pays for some and gets a higher royalty percentage.
Decide what track you want to use, and stick to it. If you’re self-pubbing, the company you work with shouldn’t behave like a traditional company post-printing. If you’re not sure what kind of publisher a company is, ask. If they don’t answer clearly or directly, it’s a scam.
7) They Try to Claim Your Rights/Sub-Rights
Always examine the contract carefully. If a “self-publisher” is trying to infringe on your rights to your book, or the sub-rights (film, serialization, translation, etc.), then walk away.
8) They Have a Minimal Presence
A publisher should have an address (unless it’s a remote, online publisher), a phone number, names of real people attached to the company, an updated website, a presence on social media, reviews, and books.
If not all of these boxes are checked, then there’s a very good chance some funny business is going on.
Readers, what are some other ways you can tell if a publisher is a scam? Do you have any stories to share?