6 Signs of Scam Publishers

As a warning, I am writing the rough draft of this post on my IPhone while I do cardio at the gym (cue gym selfie below). I am trying to be more efficient and thought that this would be a good time to get in some writing.

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Earlier today, I was browsing Facebook and amid the swath of political drivel, I found an advertisement for a publisher looking for authors. Several red flags flickered almost immediately. Though this post is inspired by an actual publisher, I am going to omit their name because when I reached out to them, they deleted the content. It seemed like they were more of a naive kid rather than a malicious con-artist. Regardless, here are 6 Red Flags to be aware of when looking into a publisher.

Red Flags of Scam Publishers

1. Poor Marketing Design

It doesn’t take an award winning artist to know when something looks like shit. While taste is subjective, quality is not. If the publisher has an unappealing website, or the covers of their books look bad, they are not going to somehow hit the design of your book out of the park. This doesn’t mean that they should be blacklisted, but you should know that they are not going to offer the same value as Penguin or Tor. I guess this doesn’t mean they are running a scam, but it is definitely something to keep in mind.

2. Hosted on a Free Domain

Again, this doesn’t mean that a publisher is trying to pull a con, but if they do not have the budget to afford their own domain, how can you expect them to have the budget to pay for proper editing, proofreading, cover design, and layout? Publishing is a business, and a business requires capital. If it seems like they don’t have it, they probably don’t.

3. A Large Portion of their Books were Written by the Owner

This is often a sign of a self-pubber who has decided to branch out. It likely means that they do not have much room in thir budget (if they have a budget at all) and that they are a one man operation. A good publisher has dedicated artists, editors, logistics personal, and publicts. I don’t care who you are, there isn’t a single person who can fulfill all of these roles to the same standard as a large publisher. If most of the books are written by the owner, you run the risk of them trying to fulfill all of these roles themselves.

3. They Don’t Offer Editing, Proofreading, or Cover Art

In the worst case, a publisher doesn’t offer these services at all. These are tasks put on the publisher’s shoulders and are the sole reasons why they are justified in earning a share of the revenue generated by your book. If they don’t offer these services or they try to make you pay for them, they are a scam. Some might argue that they are new or are strapped for cash, but that doesn’t make it better. A publisher needs to provide value to your work. If they don’t, then they are not legit.

4. They Solicit Money from their Authors

This is less of a red flag and more of a god damn neon billboard. A publisher assumes the financial risk of their business not the author. If a publisher requires a fee to submit or they recommend a fee-charging editor before they accept a writer’s manuscript, they are running a scam. They don’t make their money from selling books, they make their money from stealing money from writers who do not know any better.

5. How do they plan to reach their market?

This is a major question to ask every publisher. If they plan to use Createspace or Lulu, don’t give them the time of day. You can do the same yourself and will not have to split any of the profits. Again it comes back to value, in some way, a publisher needs to increase your efforts, even if that means only getting your books into a few regional stores. If they do not have their own distribution network they are not worth your time.

6. They Do Not Use Contracts

If you published on a hand shake, I’m sorry, but you’re screwed. A legit publisher will explicitly state what rights they are buying and for how long. If the publisher says you retain all copyright, but that is it, walk away. Unless you are ghostwriting, the author always retains copyright. You need to know if the are buying First World English, Exclusive North American, Digital or Audio, before your manuscript hits the printers. Without explicitly stating what they can and cannot do, it leaves you vulnerable to being exploited.

Thanks for Reading

I know this has been a bit of a charged post, but I always hate seeing these businesses. If you enjoyed the read, I would really appreciate if you signed up for my monthly newsletter. If not, I completely understand. I wouldn’t want to listen to me either. I hope you are having a great day, and I am looking forward to talking in the comments.

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53 thoughts on “6 Signs of Scam Publishers

  1. Reblogged this on Pearls Before Swine and commented:
    Great post on identifying the red flags of SCAM Publishers. Post Quote: “If they plan to use Createspace or Lulu, don’t give them the time of day. You can do the same yourself and will not have to split any of the profits. Again it comes back to value, in some way, a publisher needs to increase your efforts, even if that means only getting your books into a few regional stores. If they do not have their own distribution network they are not worth your time.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the tip. I know they are there, it’s nice to know what to look for. I have had some legitimate companies try to scam me also. It seems for the novice writer, once they get your name they come out of the woodwork.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. I wish I had of read this before I almost got ‘scammed’ by this terrible little publisher called RRPI that went bankrupt last year (thank god). People don’t realise that some small publishers might indeed be real (for all sense and purposes), but that doesn’t mean they are any good or have your best interests at heart. RRPI had the ugliest covers I’d ever seen, but I got so carried away at the thought of a publisher signing up my novel that I was happy to look over that and all the other ‘red flags’ – which were many! The contract was terrible with soooo many red flags that I had been told to keep any eye out for, but was happy to ignore for the chance of being ‘traditionally published’ – in the worst sense of course, that being handing over all rights to a publisher that was brand new, had no idea what they were doing, and couldn’t market for shit. I’m just so lucky they went bankrupt and dropped me before the contract was finalised!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds terrible and lucky at the same time. I can’t imagine of having the euphoric “acceptance” feeling tainted by an experience like this. Honestly, stories like your’s are exactly why I think these types of people are so dangerous. They exploit peoples dreams and shatter them. If you have written a post about your experience, let me know, and I will happily reblog it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah it was pretty soul destroying going from such an incredible high and feeling like all my dreams were coming true, to being dropped by them in such a rude and spectacularly unbelievable way (I didn’t know they were going bankrupt, and they failed to tell me, instead they made up some bullshit reason for not signing their part of the contract). I hope the ‘managing director’ Aaron Hughes gets some bad karma one day, he really deserves it, not just for what he did to me, but what he did to all the other authors they dropped. Oh and yes I wrote a blog post about it! It was just to infuriating not to: https://millieschmidt.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/publishing-journey-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Honestly, you just submit to them in the exact same way you submit to a publisher. If you have the chance to go to a major literary convention, you can meet some there too (I’ve had the most luck at WorldCon). Living in Australia will likely make your cover letter stand out. Look up the agents that represent your favorite authors, check their websites to see if they are open to queries, and submit. If you get in with one of the big New York agencies, you will have a much better shot at getting published with one of the Big 5.

        Like

  4. Dear Steven,

    thank you for a useful post. I’m going to publishing my book, so your tips are just in time. Here is a story from my own experience with Italian publishers (I’m searching one in Italy now):

    Once I contacted Leone Editore, a very respected publisher there. Imagine, they asked me to call to them! I was abroad that period and had to pay for an international call. Then, without even seeing my manuscript, the Editor declared 10 000 euros. He asked me if I had such amount of money. When I asked him back why the service was so expensive, the reply was ‘extra’ expenses. In fact, my book is in English and they wanted to charge for the translation. And Italians do require crazy money for it, though it’s their job! I mean of a publisher. However they promised to publish my book next year….if I paid them. Certainly I neglected an offer of the kind.

    Best regards,

    Maria

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that sounds exactly like the sort of businesses that I am describing. A publisher should have been paying that kind of money as an advance to the author, not as a way to cover “extra” expenses. At least you declined and didn’t suckered into their scam, but I wonder how many writers had ended up paying them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Dear Steven. I used to think myself that it was normal when a publisher asked for contribution. Now I realize that it’s not. By the way, and what to do with translating? I guess the publisher must do it on his account too. I’m anxious for going to publish in Italy and the final text will be in Italian.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Most of the time, your agent will negotiate foreign rights for you. When they do, a foreign publisher will pay you an advance and they will take on the cost of translating it. Your agent will take 15%, but often it is impossible to make the sale without them anyway. Most big publishers do not allow submissions with an agent representing them.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for writing, Steven… do you maybe have listed the competent and serious Publishers?
    What do you think of Chiado Publishing? I don’t have any idea how to check on them, it is really sad, but as you write, out there are many people ready to cheat on you.
    Thank you for taking your time, have a lovely evening :-)claudine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem, and thank you so much for reading! In regards to Chiado Publishing, I have not heard of them, but I will do some research and get back to you.

      The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) is the professional organizations for writers in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres. Here is a link to the page of professionally qualified book and magazine publishers. Just because a company is not on this list, does not mean they are bad, but every one of these has had to apply and get approved by SFWA to be considered a professional market. (You have to scroll down a little, but start reading at “Qualifying Markets.”)

      http://www.sfwa.org/about/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks a lot Steven, I really appreciate your competent support. I’ll read with interest the webpage you mentioned.
        Another important question: I’m looking for a serious Literary Agent… any good news? It seems very difficult, being swiss, to find an interntional one… here there isn’t any chance, and I had a bad experience with Italy 😦
        Thank you so much!
        :-)claudine

        Like

    2. So I just did some quick research on Chiado Publishing. I do not know if they are running a scam, but they don’t seem put together enough to be reputable. I wouldn’t publish with them due to the following reasons:

      They don’t care how long or short a book is.

      They don’t care what genre they are in.

      The “books” advertised on their website have on average around 100 pages. In one example, its genre was listed as “novel.” At best, this is poor marketing.

      This doesn’t mean that they are a scam, but the recurring theme of their website is “they don’t care.” In my opinion, I don’t think they have enough knowledge to give your work the chance it deserves. If you are going the traditional route, my advice is to get an agent. They are often the only way to get in front of the the Big 5 which is ideally where most writers would want to be published.

      If Chiado Publishing is offering an advance, then you have to weigh the overall success of your book vs the money they are willing to pay you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great information…. you are a “well” of great advices, Steven.
        As I wrote in my previous comment, first I will follow your suggestion to find an Agent… and may be fantastic if you can give me some names!
        I’ll keep in touch.
        Have a serene day :-)claudine

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much! In regards to literary agents, there are definitely scam agents as well.

        My advice is to look at your favorite authors and figure out who their agents are. Check those agent’s websites to see if they accept queries, then submit to them in the same way you would submit to a publisher. Most agents do not work alone, and their website will have the other agents that work in their office. You can submit to these if the original agent is the right fit or isn’t accepting new clients.

        To judge their quality, you can look at the publishers who’ve bought books that they represented. If the authors the agent represents are getting published by Penguin or Harper Collins, then they are the real deal. If all they have is deals with small presses that you’ve never heard of, they might not have the connections to get into the Big 5. If you are going to get an agent, it is best to find the one that will push your career as high as it can go.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve passed your post on to a couple of authors I know who have been “burned” and they agree you described the traits of these scammers perfectly. I’ve always said that the only people who actually make money from this self-publishing gig are those who offer services to indie authors. It’s very frustrating when they also scam authors to make even more money. (I’ll reblog this post soon on my own blog.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much! As terrible as those burned stories are, they are a great tool to help other writers learn. In a way, you comment about publishing reminds me gold miners. Writers spend hours toiling to find something valuable, but there are countless crooks who want to take advantage of their effort at every turn.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Steven. I wonder about my previous publisher although the finished product was above reproach, they haven’t been forthcoming with issues that should have been brought to light regarding their relationship with Amazon.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Something like that. I found that my e-book is not available on Amazon anymore but the publisher doesn’t seem to want to rectify the problem, whatever it is but the other versions are available, which is ridiculous.

        Like

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