“I need to terminate contracts with my publisher,” an acquaintance recently said. “I never get a statement and I haven’t been paid.”
“You should check into my publisher,” another acquaintance said. “Their upfront fees are much lower than most.”
In my self-publishing guide I said, “Hopefully by now it goes without saying that money should flow to the author, not from the author.” But I was wrong. Every week I read another post or article about someone either paying ridiculous amounts of money to sign on with a “publishing” company, or someone who signed with a company they’ve since discovered is a scam.
Because it bears repeating, because publishing scams still swindle naïve authors, and because I’m a graduate of the I Wuz Scammed School of Hard Knocks, a recap:
First, never, ever pay a company to publish your book. Not a reading fee, not a signing fee, not a publishing fee, and not a promise to buy x number of copies that will only sit in boxes in your garage and collect spiders and dust. Even the Evil Mastermind has said, “Legitimate publishers make their money from the sale of the authors’ books, not from selling services to the author,” in his post on How to Spot a Scam.
There. With that out of the way, I’ll share a few more things to consider before signing on with a publisher. Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list, nor is it an indictment based on any one item. Instead, it’s a general list of items that should at the very least cause you to ask questions.
Buzz on the web:
We research car insurance, cable companies, and school districts, so why wouldn’t we also research publishers before signing contracts? Do a quick Google search and see what pops up. Check Writer Beware, Absolute Write, and Preditors and Editors. What does the internet have to say about the publisher? Are disgruntled authors writing blog posts about not getting paid? Or about books held in limbo indefinitely? Books that haven’t been properly edited? I’m a big believer in learning vicariously. (Well, I am now, a day late and a dollar short.) If other authors are complaining, take heed.
While doing your internet research, see how the company is registered. Is it registered? If it isn’t, that’s a possible red flag. Ideally, there should be some indication that the owners’ personal funds and business funds are separate. Of course, registered companies have also been known to rip people off (Wall Street, anyone?), but there should at least be some obvious attempt to separate business from personal.
The company and the products:
Check out the publisher’s website. Are there misspelled words, grammatical errors, and broken links? If so, is this how you want your book represented? I once visited the website of a small publisher and was greeted with, “We are so glad your here.” I wasn’t, for long.
Take a look at Goodreads and Amazon. How do the company’s books look? Do the covers look professional? Do they adequately convey the genre of the book? Are the titles clearly readable?
How about the “Look Inside?” Is the book formatted well? Are there typos and grammatical errors apparent in that first 10%? If so, more red flags. Why sign with a publisher that puts out unedited, poorly formatted books?
More subjective questions: Are the majority of their book reviews done by review sites and readers, or are they from other authors at the same publishing company? That sounds like a weird question, but it matters. Ethical implications aside, if the only reach your book will have is to the other authors in the company, that doesn’t speak well for the company’s marketing strategies (and I’ve seen this happen many times).
Also, how are their books ranked on Amazon? Chances are we’ve all dipped into the hundreds of thousands before (not so bad, if you consider Amazon has something like 3,000,000 eBooks). But if the company’s books are consistently hanging around that 3,000,000 mark, that’s a good indication they aren’t selling, which again would raise questions about the company’s marketing strategies.
All of those issues would make me ask some serious questions about the publisher’s role. If they aren’t formatting, editing, or marketing, what exactly are they doing to justify taking a cut of my profits?
I could go on (and will, in subsequent posts), but these are the very basics, the first things to research when trying to protect yourself from a scammer.