in Indie Publishing

8 Signs Your Publisher is a Scam

  • Buffer



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?

Subscribe to the blog
Have every new post delivered to your inbox every time we publish a new article. Your email address will never be shared!
  1. I suppose the first step would be to determine whether the company is a publisher, or a vendor of publishing services. Big difference.

    As for #2: The “bestseller” designation in Amazon is almost meaningless. The system is easy enough to manipulate, that it’s more remarkable NOT to make the list at some point.

    I figure, anything is permissible among consenting adults. But make sure you understand what you’re getting.

  2. Currently, there is no bigger scammer in the publishing industry than Author Solutions, whom indie author and modern muckraker David Gaughran has wonderfully tracked and written about over the past two years on his blog. Solutions commonly sets up shop at book festivals as well as advertise in trade magazines, hoping to lure another author to its deceptive business. Read more about it:

  3. A publisher might be a scam if they can’t connect you with a few current authors with whom they are working.

  4. Good article, good comments and a good link from Adam.

    I was looking online for information on publishing and left my contact information with one of the Author Solutions imprints. I wasn’t ready to publish anything, and it took me almost a year to stop the phone calls from my personal representative/consultant/sales agent.

  5. They try to contact you on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. said they could publish and promote one of my stories on Twitter for free. I looked on their website. It said you have to $9.99 a month.

Comments are closed.