Swimming with Sharks—avoid publishing house scams


I see it all of the time on the internet… publisher scams. Well, actually, I don’t really see it. Because of targeted marketing and the fact that I am these sorts of companies’ ideal consumer (or at least, an ignorant version of me is,) I get a million of predatory publishing scams popping up in my social media feeds regularly—they’ve become white noise.

Once you’re familiar with the slimy feeling they induce beneath a thin veneer of accolades and ego stroking they dump on an unsuspecting author they become easy to spot.

Before the turn of the century many vanity publishers (self-publishers, which is a nuanced difference between Indies and vanity press authors) began targeting indie writers with author scams where they represented themselves as legitimate publishers. Some of these included iUniverse, Trafford, Author House and Xlibris. Some more modern examples came along including Tate, Xulon, and to a degree, BookBaby. These companies operated on the premise that they sell a false hope to an author rather than sell a book to a consumer.

Thankfully, the internet typically reveals the sharks for what they are. Try searching your preferred search engine or a service like Preditors and Editors for reviews and horror stories. Even if you know a contracting publisher is legitimate, it may be worth getting perspective from other authors.

The primary way these companies work is that they either steer you or flat out require an author to use their services. Legitimate authors pursuing an Indie avenue know that they ought to use professional services for editing, cover copy, cover design, etc and so shady publishers try to sneak under the radar by looking like the real deal while actually making their money off of the authors instead of the books.

Of course, scammers won’t turn down free money from your loved ones, too, and so they will still fulfill orders and do the business side of the publishing house—usually while over-inflating the price in order to compensate for the typically low sales that are common of unknown writes that aren’t properly equipped by their publisher.

Identification is relatively easy.

  1. Ask what the publisher is selling (if they are making claims that you will make money as a full-time author or gain fame and accolades, run fast and far.) Publisher sell books, not dreams.
  2. If they are pushy and try to get you to commit (and you’re not selling a gazillion copies as an indie or getting millions of reads on Wattpad) then they are probably a scam.
  3. Publishers get more queries than they can even read—they don’t need any freshman or sophomore authors submitting to them to be happy, and they certainly won’t chase you down, cold call you, or advertise open submissions on social media. They often have deliberately misleading adverts.
  4. If your book will be priced excessively high, it may be a scam. I write about proper book pricing elsewhere.
  5. If a publisher charges fees for anything (even upgrades to the “traditional publishing service”, flee in a serpentine motion, ducking repeatedly for cover.
  6. (This is the one that I see that is so common) is the sale of a “publishing package.”


Simple rule of thumb is this: whenever someone wants to sell you a “publishing package” of any variety, it’s an indicator that you are the company’s primary consumer. Publishing should never cost you, the author. That’s not how this works… not even for debut/break-in authors, unless you are an Indie and plan to contract all of the work yourself—while the thought that a “package deal” is nice (you can get all of those professional services done for one easy bill) most of those “services” are so outrageously overpriced that third grader with math skills can tell you it’s a bad idea.

You had an idea. You did the work to bring your story to life. You deserve to make money from your books’ sales. Pay to play only works at casinos—and even then, the house nearly always wins. Don’t be a book casualty—research everything.

I recommend checking out the list at http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/thumbs-down-publishers/ for further research on the topic and remember to hold onto your wallet.

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