Welcome to the cyberverse. There are plenty of hucksters, scammers, con artists, and assorted seedy characters looking for every opportunity to move some money from your pockets to theirs. Some writers have spent thousands of dollars following the path of promises, misrepresentations, and “expert” recommendations made by some very bad people. They’re out there. Learning how to recognize them is your best protection.
There are a couple of very good watchdog resources every author should know: Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. Both these sites do an outstanding job of tracking the latest scams and bad behavior in the publishing industry.
Indies Unlimited is not a watchdog site. Part of the reason is that we know these shadowy scammers can (and do) easily change their names and open up under a new banner whenever they are outed. Trying to compile a list of suspicious actors becomes a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. But a leopard cannot change its spots. If you know what to look out for, the name of the beast doesn’t matter.
Here are some guidelines which will help you identify scammers, no matter their name:
Vanity Presses and Hybrid Publishers
Legitimate publishers make their money from the sale of the authors’ books, not from selling services to the author. If the publisher charges for an array of services they provide to their authors, you can be sure that is how the company makes its money, rather than by selling authors’ book.
Vanity presses have been around a long time. These guys simply run off as many print editions of your book as you are willing to buy. The cost per book is often exorbitant. These operations may originally have served the purpose of producing books in small batches for special events such as family reunions. They were certainly never a realistic alternative to mainstream traditional publishing, as they never had any distribution channels, or any intent to sell your book to anyone other than you.
Somewhere along the line, vanity presses morphed to exploit the near universal desire of people to see their names in print. They began aggressively marketing not only their print services, but a whole array of other services to naive aspiring authors. The most notorious of these operations are America Star Books (formerly PublishAmerica), and Author Solutions.
The term “vanity press” is eschewed now in favor of the more friendly-sounding “hybrid publisher.” We will not go so far as to claim that all hybrid publishers are predatory in nature, but they should not be confused with the small-print presses and independent labels that operate in the more traditional manner of NOT CHARGING YOU to actually produce your book.
Legitimate agents make their money as a percent of the deal they get for you with a real publisher. So-called agents who charge money for readings, evaluations, critiques, administration, marketing, or submitting your work to publishers are not doing business in a legitimate manner.
Some agents are not scammers, but merely lazy or inept. Many of these use a shotgun- type approach, blasting your manuscript out to every publisher in the book rather than doing the work to find publishers in the market for what you write. Publishers quickly become irritated with these practices and your association with this type of agent will not only be frustrating and fruitless, but ultimately may become a professional liability.
If you are receiving solicitations from a publisher or agent, beware. The indie authors who have broken through to traditional publishing first sold many thousands of copies of their books before attracting the attention of publishers. Real publishers are extremely risk-averse. They are NOT interested in taking on any unproven talent.
Consider the Source
Disregard the testimonials on websites. Of course a lot of websites with services to sell are going to post customer testimonials. In some cases, those quotes are taken out of context, or completely fabricated. Get your information from another source.
Do your homework
It is your responsibility to protect yourself. After all, YOU are the one with something to lose. Use the internet to check up on any companies that have made offers to you. Google the name of the company+scam and see if anything comes up. Check Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors to see if the company has popped up on their radar. Check consumer websites like the Better Business Bureau and Fraud.org. Talk to the other authors they’ve signed and see if they are really satisfied. Look at the Amazon rankings of those authors’ books and see how well the publisher does for them. Ask around in your social media circles.
As indies, we may be on our own, but we are not alone. There are a lot of valuable resources at your fingertips. Ultimately though, no one can protect you better than you can protect yourself. Do the research, take nothing at face value, and always ask around.