January 2012

Hi, everyone! Today’s guest post is written by Emma Taylor, a freelance writer and blogger who regularly writes for Accreditedonlinecolleges.com. I found her analysis of the potential scams from these companies spot-on. One comment I’d like to add is that many of these companies call themselves self-publishers, but that’s really a misnomer. They are either assisting you in truly publishing yourself or they become your publisher. Each is a different role and can cause you to think differently about what you are doing.

Thanks so much for sharing, Emma!


For many writers who’ve faced rejection after rejection from publishing houses, self-publishing can start to look like a pretty good idea. While there are writers out there who’ve managed to make self-publishing work for them, there are risks involved with self-publishing that every writer should know about. Namely that some self-publishing companies may be pretty shady and could cost you extra time and money if you’re not aware of the kinds of scams they run. Here are some of the most common scams that happen in self-publishing, a list that anyone even considering self-publication should read before entering into any kind of agreement or paying any fees associated with self-publishing.

  1. Excessively flattering offers

    Who doesn’t like to have their ego stroked now and then? While it can be a great self-esteem boost, when it’s coming from a publisher you might want to beware. Unscrupulous publishers may be using this as a method to manipulate you and are trying to butter you up in order to gain your business. While your writing may indeed by great and you may really deserve to be published, legit publishers won’t bother with all the flattery. Regard excessive flattery as a red flag and avoid companies that try to compliment you into doing business with them.

  2. Promises that are too good to be true.

    If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” is an adage that holds as true for self-publishing as it does for other aspects of life. Some self-publishers may promise you that they can get your book into every bookstore in America, which sounds great and may prompt you to pay more to go with this company. The thing is, this promise doesn’t mean much of anything. Your book won’t be stocked on the shelves of most bookstores but will merely be available to order should customers request it. Not so great now, huh?

  3. Copyrighting tricks

    Is your self-publisher harping on how hard and expensive it is to get an ISBN number for your book and a copyright? They’re probably scamming you if they offer to help you with those details for a fee. In fact, it’s actually quite simple to get both of these and shouldn’t cost more than $160 for both. You can purchase an ISBN from the agency directly (and depending on the type of book you’re writing, you may not even need an ISBN at all) and you automatically own the copyright to your work, but you can register it with the Library of Congress for a mere $35.

  4. Crazy contracts

    If you can’t understand the contract a self-publishing company is presenting you with, there’s probably a reason they don’t want to make it easy for you. Never sign anything without understanding what it is you’re doing first. You may need to get a lawyer to look it over. Additionally, never be afraid to ask how and how much you’ll be paid before signing anything.

  5. Suspect marketing

    If you’ve done any shopping around for self-publishers, you’ve probably come across a variety of all-inclusive packages that include editing, proofreading, sales, publicity, and shipping. Yet these extra materials and services may not do much for you at all and are often things you could easily do yourself for a fraction of the cost (or for free). These marketing materials very often include little other than press releases (which will likely end up in the garbage as they’re sent out en masse by just about every publisher) and a listing in a book catalog. You’d be better off contacting local papers, libraries, book clubs, and bookstores on your own and penning your own press release.

  1. Vanity publishing

    Many self-publishers are what are referred to as “vanity publishers.” They offer authors a chance to get their books in print for a fee and often advertise that they “need” more authors. Any legitimate company will never “need” more authors, as should be clear to anyone who’s ever tried to write a book. These companies charge unsuspecting authors to publish their work, often producing works that are poorly written, aren’t proofread, have terrible covers, and for all intents and purposes are virtually worthless. That is, to everyone except the publisher, who makes thousands of dollars from the author.

  2. Guaranteeing success

    There is never a way to guarantee that a book will be successful, and you can assume anyone claiming otherwise is totally full of it. There is no way to get instant success, become an overnight star, or ensure that you’ll take this book to the top. It’s a risk, and it takes a lot of hard work and determination, no matter what a publisher will tell you. Real, legitimate publishers will never promise that your book will be a best-seller or will achieve any level of success. No one can promise that, and anyone who does is just looking to take your money.

  3. Promises to make your book “available.”

    While it might sound great that your book will be listed on Amazon and will be available to distributors, this is pretty much meaningless when it comes to your success as an author. First, anyone can list a book on Amazon. Secondly, most bookstores won’t touch publish-on-demand books. Why? Because they can’t be returned if they don’t sell. Most scammy self-publishing companies won’t offer distribution services, which usually means your book is pretty much dead in the water short of a miracle. Choose a publisher that will serve you well and can actually help you to get your work into a bookstore.

  4. Editor services and referrals.

    If a self-publisher offers to edit your book for a fee or refers you to a specific (and often very expensive) editor, then you should be quite cautious that you might be getting scammed. Often, editing services provided by unscrupulous publishers are little more than spell check, and you can likely get editing services for far less money somewhere else. If you feel like you’re being ripped off, get a second opinion.

  5. Offering discounts to authors for resale.

    It might seem great that a publisher would offer discounts on your books so that you can purchase them yourself and resell them, but this is usually a sign that a publisher is working you over for more money. Chances are pretty good that in most cases, you won’t be able to sell those books because they’ll be low quality or bookstores just won’t carry them. Additionally, these discounts aren’t available to retailers who might want to purchase the books, lowering their incentive to purchase the books as they won’t be able to make enough of a profit.

Emma loves to write blogging, writing, education related articles and can be reached at: emma.taylor15@gmail.com.

Publishing your own book—no stigma needed!

Even as nontraditional publishing continues to grow—there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. I’ve read the articles, I’ve seen the tweets. There is still a pervasive belief that self-publishing is somehow “settling”—and probably your only option because you were rejected by all the traditional publishers.

That, of course, is nonsense. For many authors, self-publishing—independent publishing—makes the most sense creatively and financially. These are the authors who have done their homework. These are the authors who are original and creative—and who know what it takes to run a successful publishing business. The quality of their books—both the way the work is written and edited, and the way it looks physically—matches that of those put out by large traditional houses.

Potential readers pick up their books not knowing—and not caring—who the publisher is. (Do you know who Stephen King’s publisher is? Do you care?) I’ve been criticized for saying that a well-done self-published book should not be identifiable as such; apparently it’s somehow “immoral” or “misleading” to put out a quality, top-notch piece of work. Eh. Whatever.

Indie publishing is here to stay, and I hope as more authors do it “right,” any remnant stigmas ultimately fall to the wayside.

Meanwhile, though, how do you make sure your book does not scream SELF-PUBLISHED and is judged by its cover and its content? Assuming you have a unique, compelling manuscript in the first place, here are some tips:

  • Have your own publishing company imprint and your own ISBN prefix. Head over to Bowker and buy a set of ten numbers—or a hundred if you have more than a few titles planned. If you are truly self-publishing (ie, not going the subsidy route), your publishing company must be listed as the publisher of record. If you’ve got Outskirts or Author Solutions or others of their ilk listed, they are the publisher—and you haven’t actually self-published. (Reference the subsidy link, above.)
  • Get your manuscript edited by a professional. Regardless of how good a writer you are, you probably cannot effectively edit your own work. I know I can’t—and I’ve been an editor of other people’s work for more decades than I care to remember. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to read something I’ve written only to be shocked by some glaring error I overlooked.
  • Hire a professional to design your book cover. There are a lot of very inexpensive self-publishing options available today, most of which offer templated cover designs. They are all pretty awful and amateurish.
  • I recommend most authors hire a typesetter to design and layout their book’s interiors as well. If you are pretty tech savvy and can work a program such as InDesign, however, you can probably get away with formatting the interior yourself.

Don’t expect indie publishing to be easy. But do expect it to be rewarding—especially if you do it right.
Self-publishing expert SUE COLLIER is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, and the forthcoming Jump Start Your Books Sales, 2nd Edition. Her expertise has been featured on such places as ABCNews.com, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and Bottom Line Personal. Visit her blog at Self-Publishing Resources.