Scams Targeting Writers – Tips to avoid

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Unfortunately, there are many scams targeting writers. Especially if you are new to self-publishing, it is essential to do your research before you purchase a package of services from one company. In addition, it is also important to be on guard for problems with the quality of the self-publishing services that you plan to purchase. It is for this reason that many experienced self-published authors seek out and hire skilled professionals for specific tasks rather than purchasing a package of services from one company. That said, for some writers who want to focus on writing as opposed to approaching self-publishing as a long-term project, having a package of services might be preferable. But this is all the more reason to research carefully before you sign a deal with any one company.

What can go wrong

If you don’t research carefully you may end up with complaints like this: They used flattery, told me about special discounts, told me there were deadlines, and pressed me to sign a contract. They said it was a joint investment. I paid a high up-front fee but they also want a share of royalties from book sales. I hate the cover. They priced my book too high. I don’t know how many books they’ve sold. They gave away too many review copies that I now see for sale at very low prices online. I’m not happy about how often they pay and the percentage they take. They promised to promote my book and haven’t. They did a poor job editing and I have to pay to have them correct their mistakes. Someone added too many commas. They keep spamming me to buy more copies of my book.  (A compilation of complaints from angry authors.)

When shopping around for self-publishing services watch out for these red flags: flattery, special deals, deadlines, and pressure to purchase. In addition, keep in mind that if you are paying for services to get your book professionally produced by one company, you should not also have to pay royalties to this company.

Initial research

The first thing to do when looking for a package of services from a self-publishing company is to check the company’s online reputation.  Do a search of that company’s name plus some key words such as ‘scam’, ‘rip-off’, ‘complaint’, or ‘warning’, etc. You can also check their social media presence for anything that raises red flags. For example, if they haven’t posted anything to their blog, Twitter, or Facebook page for a very long time, or if the things they post don’t seem professional. Third, you should assess their advertising. Are they too spammy? Do they push people to send them manuscripts? Do they over-promise?

Secondary research

After your initial research, and when you have a few companies in mind, the next step is to check the quality of their services. Do the books they publish have quality editing, cover, and interior design? How and where do they sell their books and in what formats? Are they familiar with your genre of writing?

Before you sign a contract

Whether you buy a self-publishing package or hire individual professionals to help you publish your book, you need to be sure to understand any contract you may enter into. Needless to say, it is wise to get a professional to look at your contract. You also must find out what steps can be taken if you have paid for services that are then not delivered (or are substandard). Other points to clarify:

  • Do you keep full copyright?
  • Do you keep audio, TV, or movie rights?
  • Will they control your book for longer than 5 years?
  • Is there small print giving the publisher copyright for the cover image, typesetting, ISBN, or “digital assets”?
  • Will you have to pay to fix mistakes that the publisher makes?
  • Who has final say over the cover and the sales price?
  • How often do they pay and how do they track the number of sales?

It is also well worth your time to educate yourself, before you sign any contract. Below is a list resources to help you avoid scams targeting writers:
TIPM – Writers Be Warned 
SFWA Writer Beware – Master List
Writer Beware – Blog
Preditors & Editors
Joe Konrath – Things you should and shouldn’t pay for
A rant about predatory publishing companies
Observations of slipshod publishing services
Publishing Scams Overview (with extra information in comments)
Avoid Scam Author Agents

Did you find any of the resources listed especially helpful? Or perhaps you have an idea for a resource that should be listed? Feel free to send an email.

Note: Links and information are for research purposes and do not replace professional advice. In addition, accuracy of third-party websites cannot be verified. Links do not indicate endorsement. 

Last updated January 2018