How to Avoid Publishing Scams
Yet again, another author contacts me with big hopes and dream about an offer by an overseas publishing company in which they would make them a best-seller. After 20 years in this industry, I have literally lost count on the number of times I have either been approached with these kinds of emails or calls, let alone the number of authors who have fallen victim to these publishing scams.
When looking to write, publish and market your book there is always a sense of trepidation, even fear, as we are putting our name, brand, knowledge, intellectual property, and creativity out to the world to absorb. We, as authors, want our books to be the best they can possibly be so we put our faith and money into companies that promise to fulfill that lifelong vision to become a published author. Quite simply, we entrust others to help bring our story into the world. So I ask you to look at your book entering the world the same as bringing your very own child into the world.
Would you trust someone you have never spoken to help bring your baby into the world?
Would you trust someone you have never researched to help bring your baby into the world?
Would you not Google reviews on the midwife or obstetrician before entrusting them?
Would you not talk to others before making that commitment?
If new authors did this prior to committing to a publisher then they may save themselves a lot of heartache and pain by being let down, treated like a number or worse, scammed by someone that doesn’t fulfill their obligations or know what they are doing.
So here is my own personal accountability list I wish for you to review so that you are confident that the publisher you are reviewing is reputable, trusted, and worthy of your manuscript or money. In all honesty, I just want all authors to have the knowledge to avoid the publishing scams.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
There are three types of publishing in this world – traditional, hybrids, or self-publishers. Know what each offers before you reach out to them to ensure you are approaching the right type of company that suits your vision. Here is a very brief hit point on each;
Traditional Publishers – those that accept manuscript submissions, most often through a literary agent, and if successful, offer you a contract to publish. You sign away publishing rights, may well receive an advance payment, and once published, are paid a % of the book sales. Note that their marketing support, unless you crack the 0.001% of best-selling books, is limited and will fall on you anywhere between 1-6months of the release of your book.
Hybrid Publishers – these are the up-and-comers of the industry. It is also a warning sign. A hybrid publisher could offer a number of variations such as – shared expenses, marketing support, distribution support, the all-in-one publishing process, or more. The most important thing is that most hybrid publishers have a very definitive editing and design process so to meet the same standards as traditionally published books, and marketing and distribution support
Self-Publishing – these are companies that offer a variety of publishing services at a price. Some offer just pre-press work (editing, design, etc), while some offer print as well. Note that many do not offer tangible marketing support or can actually confirm the credentials of those touching your manuscript.
Now you have a very brief outline of what the three options ahead of you are, and presuming you are all too familiar with the traditional publishing option, let’s dig into the hybrid/self-publishing world so you are fully aware of what to look for when making the decision on who will bring your baby into the world.
The following are a series of steps I recommend you take when looking into a publisher. Hopefully, you may find very early on that they are either a perfect match or to stay away from. So in order of ease, I have made a list of those that are intended to give you an answer sooner rather than later.
Google their company name and ‘bad reviews’ or ‘scam’. If nothing appears, then great – move onto number 2 below. If something does appear, red flag! Read the feedback and ensure you are informed.
Google simply publishing scams. A series of websites will show up that highlight companies already established as negatives. Hell, let’s make it easier! Here are two of the most respected feedback sites for you to check and see if the publisher you are looking into has been listed as a red flag.
From the Philippines, Not With Love: A Plague of Publishing, Marketing, and Fake Literary Agency Scams - Writer Beware
Alliance of Independent Authors
Home — Self-Publishing Advice Center from the Alliance of Independent Authors (selfpublishingadvice.org)
The Best Self-Publishing Services. (And the Worst). Rated by ALLi (selfpublishingadvice.org)
Ok, so we have now done the two easiest actions to discover if your possible future publisher has worked with integrity or hurt too many people and put a bullseye on themselves. But don’t stop here. There is still more I recommend you do before reaching out.
Google and Facebook Reviews – while testimonials on their websites highlight how wonderful they are, write often there are no links to contact that reviewer or even if they are real people. Google and Facebook, however, are much more reliable. Publishers with high rankings on any of these two platforms would be worth exploring further. Publishers with little or no reviews, or worse, bad reviews – red flag – they are of concern. But even then, how do you know they are legitimate bad reviews? Contact the reviewers – click on their name and message or email them. Ask them what their experience was like. Hear from those who have walked the path before you.
Connections – most credible publishers align themselves with organisations that are established for the benefit of the industry and the authors. Check if your publisher is listed with your territories leading organisations. Some of the big ones are;
Australian Publishers Association (Australia)
The Alliance of Independent Authors (United States)
Independent Book Publishers Association (United States)
Independent Publishers Guild (United Kingdom)
Great, we may have established a few things here to avoid publishing scams. Those word of mouth testimonials truly are the best form of advertising and that your potential publisher is either connected with strong players in the industry or oblivious to the need to have great and encouraging connections. Still haven’t decided? Still, think it’s worth reaching out to the publisher further? OK, well here are a few questions you can ask to ensure you are getting quality service and value.
FIVE QUESTIONS OF EFFICIENCY
These questions are essential to give you confidence in your decision. Remember, we need to trust those bringing our baby into the world so consider this the interview with your potential obstetrician or midwife to ensure you are fully informed.
Can we meet in person/have a SKYPE or Zoom call to discuss this journey?
Now if they don’t hesitate and confirm this, fantastic. They are prepared to put a face behind that awesome opportunity. If not, red flag!
How much experience have you had in this industry?
This is huge! The point-of-contact you are dealing with should be experienced in the publishing industry, If they are not, then you are talking to the wrong person. If they begin to rattle off their experience and background and even better, back it up with social proof (e.g. LinkedIn profile, other websites profiling them, newspaper articles), fantastic! If they cannot give you that information or worse, they have only been there a short amount of time and prior to that was working in an unrelated industry, red flag!
May I know more about the team that will be working on my manuscript?
If they share website profiles, Facebook profiles, or even better, contact details, fantastic. If not, and they are cagey with their responses about names, experience, roles, etc., red flag!
I’d like to know the right people are working on my manuscript. Can you share with me your editor’s qualifications?
This is very important. Do NOT have someone touch your manuscript that is not qualified to do so. Make sure you are fully informed that trained and qualified editors will be working with you. If they openly share this information, fantastic. If not, red flag!
What does your editorial process involve?
This again is an important one. Now you may already know what you are looking for with the editorial process and if you do, fantastic. But for those that have no idea, please understand that one single editor going through your manuscript once, maybe twice, is not enough for you to then head into the design process and publish. If you want your book to be the best it can be, I strongly advise that what is on offer is comprehensive and brings at least two trained editors to your work. Now if you are given a comprehensive breakdown of what will happen to your work and it is presented professionally, fantastic. However, if you get wishy-washy obscure responses, red flag!
Awesome, by now if you have discovered that your preferred publisher doesn’t have a presence amongst scammer alert sites, have great social reviews, are connected to reputable organisations, and have given you confidence in the Five Questions of Efficiency, then you are almost there to take the big step. Hold up! Just a couple more things I think are worth checking out before you part with your cash and your manuscript. The following are the Hole Digging Hits. They are structured to ensure you are gaining the right support ongoing once the journey begins. Some are questions and some are observations but either way, they could dig themselves a hole without even knowing it.
HOLE DIGGING HITS
What marketing support do you provide? This is essential as why publish if you are not prepared to promote. You may be publishing for family or friends and if so, great, you don’t need marketing support. But if not, it is important you are supported in this area. Also, ensure the guidance given is tangible and not simply a handout of suggestions. You should be looking for focused and personalised support. Why? Because every book and every author is different.
What distribution support do you offer? Now whilst this is not a game-breaker, it is a helpful add-on to your journey if your publisher assists in actually selling your book. It solidifies the relationship between you both and ensures a robust future ahead. After all, if you are guided in marketing and the publisher is also selling your books and you sell out of that first print run – what are you likely to do? Reprint! So from a publisher’s perspective, it is in their best interests to help you in this area as reprints are easy cashflow to their business.
Return-On-Investment (ROI) This is not a question exactly, but something you need to be guided into. If you invest $5000, $10,000, or more into bringing your book to life, you do want to make this money back I presume? Your publisher should be able to work with you to establish realistic targets and goals to achieve this, with marketing support highlighting the ‘how’ behind reaching these targets. If you aren’t given any indication of this guidance you could simply ask what their involvement is when it comes to ensuring credible targets and ROI’s are established.
Your Vision. This is also not a question but something you should be observing carefully. During your discussions with the publishing consultant or coordinator, it is worth waiting for that point when they ask you a very important question – ‘what is your vision?’ Alternatively, they could ask ‘what is your goal with publishing?’ The key here is they are showing a genuine interest in the ‘why’ behind your publishing journey. With that, they should also be able to tailor their offerings to the best of their ability to help you get as close to that vision as possible.
Now if you have worked your way through all of these steps in the diligent exercise to choose a publisher, avoid the publishing scams, and there have been no red flags, then congratulations, you have found a publisher that suits your needs.
If there have been one or two red flags, I suggest you dig deeper with them until you have that confidence you need to have to pass your trust to that organisation. If there have been multiple points of doubt and red flags then keep looking. Remember, this is your story, insight, entertainment, education – you