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Publishing Scams and How they Work — 72 Comments

  1. I am in the process of finding a self-publishing company to help me get to the next level of completion including marketing. I am not a self-promoter but believe my memoir is relevant and might offer assistance to those who suffer from some type of mental illness. My dream,based on this motivation, is to get it in the field. This blog has been enormously helpful; buyer beware. Now I have somewhere to begin in my quest. Thank you Dave, and all who have shared.

    • Thanks for reading – but stay away from “self-publishing companies.” You can’t have a company do something yourself. Find a good book coach who can walk you through the process without controlling your prices or taking royalties without taking risk.

  2. I have a question. I have stumbled into the vanity scam, sending them a sample and my manuscript. But when they asked for a rather large sum of cash, the red flag went up. I haven’t signed a contract and seriously want to get out of the rabbit, but my biggest worry is that they will use my work without my permission. What should I do?

    • Hope they use your work. They have plenty of money and if they steal your copyrighted work, an attorney will happily take your case on retainer. Winning a copyright suit against a fat criminal is much easier than making a profit selling books.

      But seriously, they’d have to invest in and editor, a typesetter, and a designer on top of the liability they’d assume. Why bother when they have victims waiting in line to pay them? I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

  3. Just got hit with EXACTLY this (see below). I contacted a company and within 2 hours they called me AND emailed me. We spoke on the phone the next day and before even finishing that phone call, they had managed to email me the packages and the contract. They’ve never even read one word of my book…

    Vanity publishing scams usually target first-time publishers. Most have a rough draft manuscript ready and have begun to ask questions about how to publish. They need editing, typesetting, design, and distribution. A web search soon brings them to xUniverseHouse who offers one-stop shopping for all the needed services and a distribution package. They offer a platinum plan, a gold plan, a silver plan, and a tin plan with services that fit any budget. You get to keep your copyright so the deal is “risk free.”

      • Dave, I enjoyed your article here; all meat. Read many others, but yours was straight to the point. I almost “bit the bait” with Westbow Press, as the rep really “tickled my ears” with flattery and increasingly attractive “promotional specials” with firm “deadlines” to act; the most recent being 50% off, which I and my book project was “selected” through some computer algorithms that spit out my name. Website is very professional. However, after thoroughly digging into the behind-the-scenes and learning that they are part of Author Solutions, which has very negative reviews, though I wish I this wasn’t the case, I could not then turn a blind eye to this type of vanity publishing. If I proceed and things turn out exactly like what you and others have said will most likely happen, who do I have to blame? Right! Therefore, I will hold onto my manuscript and continue to do research with a patient, clear head, rather than rushing to fulfill my “prideful” dreams of being an “author” with a few copies of a hardback book with my name on it…and, I might add, an empty wallet to go along with my few copies. Thanks again, Dave!

      • Tim here, from Tellwell.ca. While there are some good points in this article, there are also some major contradictions. Publishing a better book (relative to whatever quality you start at) requires the help of an editor and designer. Even the best editor can’t turn dirt into gold, but he or she can improve it substantially. Authors always pay to get published, either: 1) by giving up rights and sales revenues (the traditional model), or 2) by paying the designer and editor or self-publishing company, or 3) by investing time and energy and talent in order to effectively execute a DIY approach. None of these three, or combinations of all three, are inherently wrong.

        At Tellwell we have a small but passionate team with a lot of experience – we believe strongly that our distribution model is the best, where we setup authors directly with POD and ebook channels to that the author receives maximum revenues, 100% of the net revenues (i.e. we don’t act as a middleman, skimming royalties).

        There is a little bit of irony here, this article being written on the same website that says: “Please do not ask me to design your book and website in exchange for a share of potential royalties…. I am, however, happy to provide design and publishing services at reasonable, professional rates.” And for consulting: “Rates are $100 per hour, but feel free to call and chat about your project.” If you define a publishing scam as requiring payment for design and editing services (not to mention help getting your book setup and approved in all the distribution channels) instead of giving an advance against royalties, then Dave himself would be a classic example of a publishing scam. (I’m pretty sure he isn’t… but perhaps check http://pred-ed.com). Tongue-in-cheek.

        • I don’t think you read the article or the rest of my blog very carefully. My model is the same as yours. Yes, hire the valuable services of an editor and a designer and possibly a publishing coach. No, don’t pay them for services and then give them a royalty payment on every sale.

          • Interesting article and interesting replies. I wrote Self Publishing in Canada and I completely agree with you Dave about vanity publishers. I have seen far too many people end up with expensive books that are poor quality and won’t sell. People who want to self-publish have to understand that the vanity presses get their money up front. They are constantly trolling for ‘fresh meat’ because they don’t make money from continued sales. They make more money from selling editing and design packages. Writers are better off to hire their own editor and designer. There are many independents out there who do great work for the same or less. And the vanity publishers also don’t distribute books outside of perhaps Amazon or their own website. It’s up to the independent publisher to distribute books, which is difficult unless they have an actual distributor. Yes, Indigo/Chapters in Canada will take a local author’s books on consignment for a few weeks, but that is not distribution.

            I have heard of Tell Well (I live near Victoria) and on their site they state that when you publish traditionally, the publisher owns all the rights. That scares new writers. And it’s not true. The publisher gets agreed upon print rights and e-rights. The site also gives a list of where they distribute – and that is all e-books. Well, that’s free and easy to set up yourself. There is no need to pay someone to do it for you.

            The new catch phrase going around it “assisted publishing”. I prefer to call it “subsidy publishing” because you are subsidizing your own publishing. Yet, you can do it yourself for less money.

            Something to ponder – An investment firm bought all the big vanity companies in the US, Canada and the UK and put them under one name – AuthorSolutions. Then they sold it to Penguin Group for $1.6 million. That should tell people that vanity publishing is so lucrative that an international publisher is willing to spend big bucks to get into the game. Hopefully that encourage people to DIY.

  4. Do you have any information on Morgan James Publishing? I have been offered a contract, but am unsure. I do have to invest in the publication, but they do marketing in the Brick and Mortar bookstores.

  5. Allen van der Linde 20/10/015

    Thanks for your expert advice. I sent my whole manuscript to a so called publishing house online. Was his a dangerous thing to do, as they can take it for themselves. There was no cost involved.

    • No danger in sending the manuscript. If they’re a real publisher, they’ll either send you a rejection letter or offer you a contract where they pay you an advance against royalties. If they “offer” you a chance to pay them to be your publisher, run.

    • I hesitate to name names here as I don’t want to get flooded with public complaints about the many nefarious operators in the publishing space. But though I’m sorry you got taken, my advice is always the same: Do your homework. I looked up the site in question and found plenty of negative reviews and outright warnings on the first page of Google search results. I’d use those sites to round up a list of other victims and see if it’s feasible to hire a lawyer collectively, but this is a hassle, an expense, and probably won’t win you much. Plenty of sharks in these waters. Look before diving in.

      • I am having a book published by Iunuverse, I hope they are a stable company and give me what I pay for, are there any red lights?

          • iUniverse is one of the AuthorSolutions companies. As for ISBN – they are free in Canada and only cost about $125 in the US. Then the author/publisher owns their own ISBN and not some other company.

  6. Dave…Your article on self publishing scams was superb. It should be considered a writers bible to those who have aspirations of “telling the world” of some event, personal revelation or what have you other than a vanity story to place their name before the general public.

    Like many individuals who have commented, I was not that informed, but thank God my story line was intact and it will be a matter of time before “The Revelation Year 2027 Pre-Movie Edition” will be made into a movie with the help of special effects to show in detail what I could not express on the printed page. Unless a movie is made, I am prepared to take some secrets left out to the grave with a clear conscious.

  7. Thanks for the excellent article. As a marketing consultant, I help authors position themselves to sell books. I like to get in as early on the project as possible so I can help my authors prepare the market for their future book. I’m an advocate for POD because it’s a smart and safe model, generally. However, I organize each stage with my own designers, layout professionals and then I recommend printers that I’ve used in the past. It’s all upfront and everyone knows what the costs are and we all agree before we start.

    At least once a week I have an author calling crying the blues about the publisher they signed with. I hear it all:
    “I hate the cover.”
    “The book is ugly.”
    “There are mistakes that weren’t there before. I have to pay to correct the mistakes that the publisher made.”
    “I have no idea how many books were sold.”
    “The price is too high.”
    And it goes on and on!

    Unfortunately, people go to these publishers with stars in their eyes. No matter how many times I try to warn authors they still believe they’re going to find a great deal. Which is like a needle in a haystack.

    When you’re honest and upfront about what goes into publishing a book, which I have a bit of experience with, they just don’t want to hear it. They prefer the “rose colored glasses” version that the publishing scammers give them. Until they sign the contract then it’s all down hill.

    Hopefully, they’ll listen to you. This is a terrific article. Authors pay attention!

  8. So, by and large, how do you rate ‘CreateSpace’?

    They SEEM to have all of the answers UP to getting the books sold. From that point on I feel rather adrift. I have A darn good novel and also a short story created through them . I paid the full load to learn the process of the business for the novel (over $1,000.00, — I had my eyes wide open because I had no idea what to do beyond the writing and editing of my creation). However, I was able to complete the short story, cover included, for what they called ‘free’ (at least there were no charges at all), Based on what I believe I learned from the production and preparation of the novel.
    Having said that, I do not really have a clue as to how my ‘products’ – I have 1 more novel and 5 short stories in the mill at the present time, which I can put together and meet their standards without any of their service charge expense) will fare beyond the publishing stage. I still do not know how to get rid of one darn book, not even the 20 complimentary copies that they sent me of my novel. Somewhere in this whole works there is something seriously missing and that is how to reach the masses.; The people that buy our creations. How do we entice, or however you wish to describe it, the public to at least look at our works and decided if they would like it in either hard cover, paperback, or e-book???
    I do have a cover on my novel, ‘Reflections” that will knock your socks off, but it won’t do a darn bit of good unless the reading public can see it and be influenced by it. I have established a website which brings up my writing on its opening page, but again, they have to be looking for me, otherwise I am just another sunflower in a Kansas hayfield. Suggestions and a reply are encouraged and will be appreciated.

    Richard

    • CreateSpace seems up on the list of acceptable POD printers. Most people see them and Ingram’s offerings as vanity press alternatives, and each has advantages. I hesitate to get into naming too many names here, as I might miss some ethical players who lack the marketing horsepower to eclipse the visibility of the larger players.

      • This is a great article, thanks for publishing it. I notice a lot of people asking about promoting and selling their books, I am a marketing person, and the first piece of advice is to constantly promote your efforts through every channel available. One that I suggest that folk might want to check out is a web site service http://www.booklaunch.io I found this to be a really good, inexpensive way to develop a website, which in today’s environment is a must for most books. ( I do not get paid for this endorsement and I have no connection with the site developers).

    • If you invent the better mousetrap (see foot above) but no one knows about it – you’ll not sell any. You have to learn how to “market” your work. It can’t do that for you. Just being “out there” isn’t enough.

      Try some reading- Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s “The Frugal Book Promoter” is an excellent start. (no, I get no royalties for suggesting it – I just like it). She explains how to market yourself, how to write and submit notices about your work, etc.

      Locate your “audience.” Who specifically will benefit/enjoy your book? Find them, connect with them, join them, contribute to their groups. Get known. And yes, it’s time-consuming and a bit of work, but the only way to let interested buyers that you’re offering that better “mousetrap.”

      GOOD LUCK

  9. I am a writer searching for a publisher for my first book. Thank you to the writer of the article and all others who have posted helpful information. I am lucky that I have been smart enough not to fall for the self-publishing pitfalls. I am using Predators & Editors website as a base of who I submit to and only submitting to recommended or highly recommended publishers on their website. I am hoping to find the right publishing house who is willing to accept my unsolicited manuscript. If anyone out there has had great luck with a publisher who does this please feel free to email me at laurelyoung@rocketmail.com

  10. A fantastic overview of this subject! I too have heard many such stories from authors contacting me. Research when publishing my own first book was the reason I began WoolysWagon ePublishing. So many authors get courted into buying to be published and I felt compelled to provide an alternative. The joy I get from a deserving author becoming published is one that can’t be adequately described in words even though I am an author myself! Some things are indeed priceless beyond words. I recently began a publisher’s blog to run through the writing and publishing process. I’m not sure I can add much to this article of yours regarding this portion of the process and would be honored to include your blog as a link to my treatment of this subject. If I have your permission.

  11. I wish I had done more research before I paid to have my book published. I was told it was a joint investment. I was naive and did not know how the publishing industry works. I later found out my publisher is considered a vanity publisher. The publisher priced my book way too high for a first time author and for the genre. I have gotten only a couple of royalty checks, with each being less than 2 dollars. In addition, this publisher promised to promote my book and blitz the area when a book signing is scheduled, but they have not blitzed the area and have not promoted my book. After I signed off on the final, edited manuscript, someone at the company went crazy with semicolons, and it makes it look like I don’t know how to use correct punctuation. I also get at least one email from the publisher each week in which they are offering promotions and discounts if I buy more copies of my book. I will not use this company again, and I will not recommend them. I will look into other options the next time I write a book. Thanks for your words of advice!

    • Why don’t you share the name with us? It helps if we should all be aware.

      I keep repeating to my clients, “if you don’t have the energy & confidence to promote your own work, you can’t expect anyone else to do that for you.” Even traditional publishers want you to tell them how you intend to promote your book – should they decide to publish it. This is no longer just the traditional publisher’s responsibility. They expect your involvement.

      The best true “promoters” can do is locate places for you to talk, to get reviewed, to be interviewed. They can’t do the interview for you.

      After all, who knows your book better than anyone? (You). Who can answer questions about it best? (You) Who should be holding the book up saying, “Here’s why this is a great read.”? (You)

      GOOD LUCK

      • I am very much against censorship, but I’m in no position financially to defend my rights to free speech. Some of the vanity presses are extremely litigious. Predators and Editors has been sued. As for recommending POD printers, the top choices seem to be Ingram Lightningsource, Ingram Spark, and CreateSpace, but the publishing world is constantly changing. Players come and go. Authors have different needs and varying degrees of DIY skill. My “do your homework” message remains the same as does my loyalty to no particular company. I prefer not to name too many names, and to neither endorse nor disparage anyone specifically. Readers are welcome to contact me privately if they want to find out what works for me, and plenty of good recommendations can be found on the many LinkedIn writers’ forums.

        Sometimes commenters on this blog do provide recommendations/warnings, but I send them a polite explanation and omit or truncate their comments. If everyone posts their favorite or least favorite vendors, this site will rapidly get buried.

  12. I am new to all of this. I submitted to dorrance and was accepted, decided to check them out before I signed anything. Glad I did. I’m still trying to publish my first book. I thank everyone for their advice.

  13. Great article! I am curious on self publishing, I see an issue with marketing. My understanding of publishing houses, they market and work with the author to market the book because both parties need to make money. At the same time, with self publishing, one needs to be a sales rep and marketer, sure the book may get on the shelves of B&N, and in a list of a million books on Amazon, but who’s doing the work of getting it in front of potential readers? Do self publishers and legit publishers have the same access to marketing books to potential reading audiences? My guess is publishing houses have a much more powerful marketing machine than a single individual with limited resources.

    • To general audiences, yes, and only if you can get them to take you on, and only if your book sells well enough to survive its quarterly rotation through the publisher’s active catalog. But consider a niche audience. This blog gets 600 page views a day. Will a trade publisher have the ability to reach that many indie writers and publishers? I doubt it. Self-publishing and traditional publishing have advantages and liabilities. Do your homework. Find the best path for you and your book.

      • I am self published and had my book printed by a printer and it is a well made book, my problem is I have to market my book and it has been hard .I am trying to to go with B&N as a vendor. They had said they would take 10 books but needed to use there wholesalers and distributors I was not able to do this so vendor was my way to go.
        Amazon wants $40.00 a month ,and naturally if I do not sell any books at all I am losing money right off. I have all my books in my home and have been sending books when an order comes about. I have to buy the envelopes and mailing at my expense.
        Plenty of people out there will market my book for a cost,
        So being a writer is quite hard and a known publisher you need an agent to get to them.
        so I will keep trying to sell myself..
        Selling on the internet is not free either unless you have lots of Facebook friends.

  14. Hi Dave, As before many thanks for the info and for all the comments included. I have had one e book published on Amazon Kindle and looking to have my memoir published later this year. I have just received an offer to print it, which is way above both my means and what I am prepared to pay. I will now start checking out Create Space & Lightning Source. If anyone has dealt with Christine Anderson or Timber Press I would appreciate hearing from you. My email guestcolin992@gmail.com

    • Unless you’re already moving heaps of books, printing a batch of them is a great strategy for permanently shrinking available closet space. Use print on demand until demand dictates that you need supply on-hand.

  15. Hello Dave,
    Following the publication of the experience I had with Dorrance and RoseDog publishers, I received many letter of thanks from people, my article prevented before handing over their manuscripts to Dorrance. In fact taking someone’s money, over three thousand dollars and yet failed to publish his two books, to me is one of the biggest crimes in the publishing industry. I am in possession of an European passport which could have flown me to America to follow this case, but I ignored, because the the pen is mightier than the sword. I will render them penniless with my campaigns.

  16. I think this caveat should cover those who commission coffee table books, especially when it comes to predatory “publishers” who will wine and dine potential clients into signing on with their “company.” Some clients are lured to publish profile books with them, while others are “invited” to be “featured” in a few spreads.

    Has anyone here come across large-format coffee table books that can pass for a hodgepodge of advertorial pieces instead of a well-curated collection of text and images that revolve around a unified theme? Where the featured “subjects” have had to pay tens of thousands just for a few spreads in books that may or may not even sell?

  17. Hello Dave,
    Thanks for the article on ‘Publishing Scams.’ It’s unfortunate before entering into book publishing, I didn’t come across interesting educative articles such as yours. As an amateur author, I made a very sad mistake which cost me over three thousand dollars without the publication of my two books. Since then I have strongly informed and warned other up-coming authors not to repeat the mistake I did.

    The world needs to know that “Dorrance and RoseDog Publishers are criminals. The two publishers are under one management. My full story can be read below.

    http://juskosave.blogspot.be/2012/07/dorrance-and-rosedog-publishers-exposed.html

  18. You could say, anytime someone asks you to pay to publish your book, it’s a scam. Genuine publishers make their profit from selling finished books. Scammers make their profit from publishing books, it doesn’t matter whether they sell or not.
    There are a few co-publishers that might ask you to share set up costs, but the genuine ones are usually small, start up publishing houses. For long established publishers the above rule applies.
    If your book is good enough to sell then its good enough for the publisher to invest in covering publishing costs.

  19. Great article, Dave. True self-publishing is a worthy pursuit for authors who understand the risks and opportunities of the business model. The “self-publishing companies” dominate the search engines which all but guarantees that authors will continue to be victimized by the proverbial “free lunch” arguments they shamelessly promote. All legitimate publishing experts can do is speak the truth and hope to be heard.

  20. Great article Dave. Many thanks for the advice. I have had several publishing companies offering me deals re the memoir I am writing. However, from what others seem to agree on is Create Space is recommended for self publishing.

  21. As always a very helpful no-nonsense article Dave. I’m glad I listened to you and went with a kosher print on demand outfit – if I built the canoe nobody else gets to paddle it! 😉

  22. Thank you for an extremely well-written and researched article. I’ve had experience with both self-publishing consultants and with a traditional publisher (which subsequently went out of business) and currently am quite happy with my self-publisher. They have done two of my books and produced quality work. Of course, all they have done is use quality interior and exterior designers, and quality editors, all of which I have paid for. Time will determine if these projects turn a profit but as of this minute, it appears that both will. By the way, the traditional publisher for my second novel went out of business with a substantial number of my books (hardbound) sitting in the warehouse. Chalk up one point for POD.

  23. POD PUBLISHERS: SCAMS AND FRAUDS
    –Dan Poynter, Book Futurist. http://ParaPub.com

    Authors and publishers have been contacted lately by organizations offering “self-publishing services.” They employ “boiler rooms” of sales people making relentless calls. They wear you down and are hard to resist.

    Be very careful.

    Some of these companies have tarnished records with a lot of unhappy customers. Several authors have complained to the Better Business Bureau and some companies have been sued.

    When people are victims of scams, they often report the incidents on the Internet. Before doing business with POD publishers or any other person or company that wants your money, including house painters and automobile body shops, make a Google search for:

    (That company name) + Scam
    (That company name) + Fraud
    (That company name) + Rip-off
    (That company name) + “Better Business Bureau”
    (That company name) + con
    (That company name) + complaints
    (That company name) + lawsuits

    Read the reports and be advised.

    Also see Predators & Editors.
    http://pred-ed.com/peba.htm

    • Hooray to hear from Dan Poynter here! I started down the self publishing trail in the 1980s with Dan’s excellent information. While I did get picked up by a publisher, it was only after I had carefully self published the book and made it marketable and recognizable as a good bet for a publisher. Ten years later I still believe self publishing is a much more productive course. I’ve made way more $$ on my self published books than the one a traditional publisher put out. Everything I needed to know about publishing I learned from Dan Poynter.

  24. GREAT info and excellent advice, Dave! This is an article that ought to be the main page header on every writer-oriented site on the web. Uh…let me rephrase that a bit: this ought to be a main page header for which YOU are paid…

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for it!
    Bonnie Milani

  25. Excellent (and very helpful) information, even though I found it after the fact – about 4 years after publishing my first book with a ‘self-publishing’ company. Your point made about those ‘wanna-be’ all-encompassing publishers was spot-on with regard to the pricing/over-pricing and then taking the majority of the profit for each book rang so true for me. When I asked the publisher why are they pricing so high for a short-read/power-packed Life Uplifting/Mindset Reset type of book, they said it was determined by number of pages. So whether your book is 65 pages or 200 pages, it falls into that price range. Well, WHY would a 65-pages book sell for $16, and another about dogs with 200 pages also sell for $16??? AND…with them the author gets 25% while this publisher gets the 75%. It is print-on-demand, so it is not a book that is mass-produced, requiring the company to make back major cash outlays for expenses before allowing royalties to the author.

    Gotta say this, though. The company has the best array of templates for book covers among all that I researched. If your book has a theme you are bound to find a cover imagery or scene that speaks the book’s message. Mine does.

  26. Nice job Dave. Informative as usual. I’m getting close to finishing my first book and look forward to all your articles.

    Showing people the costs associated with self-publishing is very helpful. Everyone, who is writing a book, should be alerted to the sharks and how to identify them. Pointing out the difference between sharks and real professional help is a great service to any first time authors.

    I have friends who wished they had investigated more about the publishing business before putting out their book. Now they are kicking themselves.

    Great article.

  27. Smart and clear, as always.

    This industry is turning a corner (okay, it’s whooshing some loop-the-loop rapids) and it’ll settle into a shiny new (profitable and practical) form all the sooner if those of us inhabiting it learn our stuff and behave like professionals.

    When you’re making art, be an artist. When you’re selling art, be a business person.

  28. I don’t know the American market, but in Australia the Australian Society of Authors is a useful source for checking virtually anything in this field. Has “templates” for contracts, legal advice, publishing advice etc. Part of doing the homework (which is vital). Thanks for your info above. Best wishes.

    • Hi Camille, Dave here is being spectacularly narrow in his advice.
      With TRADITIONAL publishing, you are correct that all up-front production costs are covered by the publisher and they will pay you an advance.

      With SELF-Publishing or Assisted Self-Publishing ,you are either obliged to do all of the production work yourself, hire freelancers or use a company like Tellwell.ca.
      Charging for professional services is not a scam, and this site in particular offers 100% net royalties to the author, justifying the cost of their services.
      Remember to view the entire picture, with the age of digital media, outdated publishing norms are no longer the gospel and unilateral statements like Dave’s no longer apply.

      • Why is it that if I write an article about how diesel engines work, someone always alerts the public that I’m telling readers that all engines are diesels. Inserting an ad for an author services business is particularly classy. Come on. Really? After all, I charge for editing and design services, too. Had you read the article in its entirety before publicly pronouncing it “spectacularly narrow,” you’d have found specific wording to the effect that author services are valid and worth paying for. However, once you’ve paid for them, those whom you’ve paid are not entitled to charge royalties on every book. This double dipping is how the scam works.

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