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Posted on Mar 02, 2022

How to Avoid Publishing Scams: An Author's Guide

In previous parts of this guide, we’ve learned who the scammers are and how their business operates — now it’s time to talk about all the things you can do to turn predators away when they come sniffing at your door.

You can take the quiz below for a quick verdict on whether you’re dealing with a publishing scam — and then read on for more details on how you can do the detective work yourself. 

Are you dealing with a publishing scam?

Take this quick quiz to see if you're dealing with a legit publishing company.

1. Be wary of anyone who contacts you first 

It can flatter you quite a bit if someone were to contact you, out of the blue, and offer to realize your publishing dreams. But don’t let the joy of that offer distract you from the truth — that legitimate traditional publishing companies hardly ever contact you first. 

If you want to publish traditionally, you have to query agents and submit to publishers. There are more authors looking to get published than there are agents and editors to take them on, meaning professionals are often too busy reviewing submissions to reach out to you. The only people they might reach out to are well-known chart-topping authors. 

So if someone you haven’t contacted appears in your inbox, offering to make a bestseller out of your book, alarm bells should be ringing. 

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2. Tread lightly with “publishers” that want you to pay 

If you read the previous part of our guide on vanity presses, you’ll know that traditional publishing works as follows: 

  • The publisher buys the rights to print and distribute your book. 
  • They will polish, package, and publish your book with the aim to sell as many copies as possible. 
  • They will pay you an advance on your future royalties and you should never pay them anything.

Similarly, literary agents don’t ask you to pay anything. They represent you and will only make money once they sell your book to a publisher. There are no reading fees, editing fees, or legal fees to be paid before the book is sold. 

Because of that, any traditional-style publishing company that asks for payment from you is a vanity press at best — and a publishing scam at worst. 

In self-publishing, on the other hand, you do pay editors, designers, marketers, and printers. But they don’t publish your book. They provide specific services that help you do the publishing. 

3. Google them 

When it doubt, Google! There is hardly a handier tool than this to verify a company's legitimacy. You can pop the name of the company in question into the search engine and see what comes up.

If the company doesn’t have an official website, you should be suspicious. If there is a website but it looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2005, red flags should be flying. 

While you're on the internet, check out Writer Beware, a blog with up-to-date news about publishing scams of all kinds. In the sidebar of the site is a blacklist of companies that have been identified as predatory — if the company you're dealing with appears in this list, it’s a clear no-go. 

4. Look at their books on Amazon 

Examining the books the company claims to have worked on is also a good strategy. Most books are sold on Amazon nowadays, so it’s a reliable place to do your research. Alternatively, you can go onto Goodreads. 

Once you’ve found the books, you want to make sure that each has:

  • A quality book cover that’s comparable to other titles in the genre; and
  • At least 10 user reviews from actual readers. 

Take some time to check the reviewers — if you see names of other authors who have worked with this publishing company, it’s a sign that the company is unreliable. They may have asked their authors to leave reviews on one another’s books to give each a legitimate appearance, since there aren’t any real readers. 

5. Ask the community 

If you’re still unsure about the company, why not ask fellow writers who have published before? Go to relevant forums and boards and start a discussion. Ask some questions and see if any other author has been through a similar situation. Sometimes, you may even stumble across incriminating threads about writers’ experiences with scammers. 

Just remember to find a well-established writer community with a good number of members so that you get as many perspectives on the matter as possible. Once you’ve found a good place, other writers will be happy to help where they can!

6. Ask questions and see if they turn up the pressure

Another tactic to take is to ask the representative of the company you're dealing with a couple of questions. You can pick smaller details, like information on publishing costs, the target market, or distribution channels. 

Not only do you want to see their answers, but you can also gauge plenty from their reaction. Seasoned scammers won’t bat an eyelid, but they will try to fluster you — they will amp up the time pressure, urging you to take the deal before it's too late. They will try to panic you, rather than answer your question. 

7. If in doubt, walk away

After all this research, if you still feel even the slightest bit unsure about the reliability of this business, it’s best to decline to work with them. Only work with people you are certain to have the right experiences, expertise, and care to strengthen your book. 

Knowing how difficult it can be to find reliable partners in your publishing endeavors, the team at Reedsy has independently vetted over 3,000 publishing professionals before letting them list on our marketplace. You can sign up for free, browse these professionals’ profiles, and send them a request if you’re interested. 

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We hope this guide has helped you protect yourself on your publishing journey. Stay safe, avoid scammers, and we know you’ll find the right professionals for your book soon enough!