Rarely do I republish a blog post, but I just got another email from a writer who didnt do his homework.
Many self-publishers start their book projects with unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings about how publishing works. A huge industry has arisen to prey on writers who are unsure of the path. This article explains the basics of how publishing scams work and how writers can avoid them.
Publishers must learn the risks inherent to their business. If you fantasize youll earn your investment back as soon as you get on Oprahs show, its not the supply chains job to pressure-test your assumptions.
If Im a painter and you want purple zebra stripes on your pink house, someones going to take your money; it might as well be me.
Though that kind of business practice isnt strictly unethical, it overlooks the fact that the most important thing publishing service providers can sell isguidance. Too many author service companies take advantage of the fact thatit really is your responsibility to know what youre getting into.
To understand where the bait-and-switch usually happens in publishing scams, its essential to understand how the booksellers economic pie gets sliced.
Production costs are an essential aspect of bringing a well-made book to market. Every writer pays for quality in the short run or for shortcuts in the long run. Every publisher must pay for ink and paper, and (I hope) for editing and design. Editors and designers are part of the essential supply chain that results in ready-to-retail books. The professionals who make their living providing printing, cover design, editing, typesetting, and binding can quite reasonably be expected to earn a profit.
If these costs arent clearly stated, dont pretend your publisher has some magical ability to make them go away. Anyone claiming to be your publishereven a legitimate operatorexpects to pay these bills. Knowing where that money comes from is important.
Additional costs include shipping, distribution, and seller commissions (which usually run half of cover price). These costs occurafteryour book is made available to the public and an order is placed.
Do you know what it costs to sell one copy of your book? Do the math. Subtract your editorial and production costs from what you have left after the sellers commission is paid. If you dont know what it costs to print, ship, and sell a book, you are not in control of your publishing business.
If you received an advance payment against royalties on your book, you most likely have a traditional publisher backing you. Publishers are investors who buy and sell intellectual property for profit. Your publisher thinks your book will sell and has paid for editing, design, marketing, printing, and distributionon top ofyour advance. Consider what an enormous risk that is if youre an unknown author. Your publisher is gambling on making enough profit on book sales to cover your production costs and your advancebefore they see a dime.Its no wonder publishing contracts are so difficult to come by. Publishers certainly care that your book is good, but they mostly care whether your book willsell.
Many a traditionally published author has wondered why nothing came in after the initial advance. I thought I was going to make $2 per book. I know youve sold books; wheres my money? Very often, the book has sold but it hasnt sold enough copies to cover the publishers investment.Your publisher is in business, too. After investing in you, they expect to recover their outlay before they skip merrily down the profit sharing road with you.
If youre selling books in traditional bookstores, returned books can bury you. If you distribute 3000 books and sell 1000, you can still lose money when you have to pay for 2000 unsold books to be returned or destroyed (tragic but cheaper than shipping them back and figuring out what to do with them).Read more about returns here.
Vanity publishingscams 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. When Penguin calls offering a big contract, you wont be locked in to your deal with xUniverseHouse.
Most authors have heard all the bad doo doo about self-publishing. They want a real publisher and xUniverseHouse offers to assume that role. xUniverseHouse inflates the retail price and skims the cream back off every sale as a publishers royalty. Heres where the red bullshit indicator light on your dashboard should be flashing.XUniverseHouse hasnt invested a dime in your book. Why should it earn a royalty from it?If anything, xUniverseHouse has put you at adisadvantageby increasing your retail price (and by putting their kiss-of-death logo on your books spine). This is why self-publishing companies are oxymoronic: youre either self-publishing or someone is publishing you. Paying someone to be your publisher is like hiring someone to take a vacation for you so you can stay home and work.
Here we find a useful definition for the term, publisher.A publisher is an entity thatinvests inandassumes the risks forproducing and distributing a piece of media.
So maybe you published with xUniverseHouse before you read this article or had someone point out the typos in your book. Maybe you got an informed critique of the cover art and found out its formulaic or clich. Probably, the work done by xUniverseHouse isnt horrible; it just never got past pretty good. Maybe your books just too expensive?
No big deal. The contract says you can get out at any time. But the small print says the cover art and the typesetting and other digital assets belong to xUniverseHouse. As the publisher of record, xUniverseHouse also owns the ISBN number on your book. You can end your contract but youll have to start over with a Word document and find your own sources for design and distribution. After spending a lot of money, youre back at square one.
You can republish but youll also have to compete with cheap, used copies of your original xUniverseHouse edition on Amazon.
And if you agreed to distribute 100 books to xUniverseHouses list of qualified reviewers, you can count on seeing dozens of fifty-cent like new copies of your book on eBay
If a publisher wants to negotiate a deal where it splits the production costs with the author and then splits the royalties,co-publishingmightqualify as one of the non-traditional publishing models that isnt a scam, but I found a tiny handful of operators who appeared to be playing that game straight.
When entering into such a partnership, make sure that all the costsproduction, distribution, and sellingare fully disclosed. Your publishing partner may be able to invest sweat equity or access outsourced services at a reduced cost, but you should understand thevalueof those services.
Install some quality control measures. What recourse do you have if you find typos in your book that your publishers editor missed? Do you retain the right to approve the cover design?
Dont fly your publishing plane with the visor down. Writing is an art but publishing is a business. If you intend to share your work, run some numbers and take control.
Start with a hypothetical cover price. Price is driven by the market, not by your costs. If other books in your genre sell for $20, you need to find a way to profitably bring your book to market for $20.
Subtract 50% for the seller commission (Lightning Source allows you to set seller commissions as low as 20% but dont expect brick-and-mortar bookstores or non-traditional retailers to play along).
Do you know the cost to print, ship, and distribute a book? Reputable publishing services provide a cost calculator or at least a solid estimate.
Someonespent money on editing, cover design, and typesetting. If that someone is you, add up those costs and then amortize them over 100 books, 1000 books, 5000 books, etc. How many books do you have to sell before the production costs are paid and you can start taking a profit? You cant know how many books youll sell but figure out where the break-even point is. If you have a traditional publisher, find out how many books the publisher needs to sell before the production debt is paid. This debt includes any advances against royalties paid to you when the deal was signed.
And though you may have thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing your book, if youre seriously in the publishing business, youll want to see your writing hours paid for. You put 1000 hours or more into writing your manuscript but youre the last link in the income chain. Know how many books you need to sell to start taking royalties and then know how many books you need to receive royalties for to compensate your publishing companys in-house writing staff.
Its easy to see why so many writers dont pay attention to these details. Publishing cost analysis can be discouraging. Everyone downstream of the publisher generally risks nothing yet makes a bigger cut. Looking at books from a numbers perspective, could you find aworseretail product?
All the same, people like you are out there writing and marketing good books for profit. Though the odds are against them, some find receptive audiences. A few find fame and fortune, either through careful planning or dumb luck (or a bit of both).
Ive said it many times on this blog and Ill say it again:Do your homework!If you have published a book but dont know the publishing food chain basics described in this article, youre swimming in shark-infested waters. This aint rocket surgery. Read up on the biz for a few hours.
Phony publishing companies arent risk-takers. They provide budget editorial and design services and then mark them up for a profit. You get less and pay the same prices you would pay a professional. Vanity publishers dont get you bookstore distribution. Usually, the smokescreen is that theyll getlistedwith and all the major bookstores. And after youve paid them to broker production services, you get to pay them a publishers royalty on every book you sell.
True self-publishers understand the risks and adjust their expectations accordingly. They invest in professional editors, typesetters, and designers and hold their contractors to the highest standards. They work with printers and distributors who offer straight talk about costs and profits, and they make their own decisions about prices, seller commissions, and return policies. Some make peanuts on book sales but are able to use the fact that they wrote the book on the subject to bring in consulting or contract work.
Make objective, fact-based decisions. Smart publishers arent concerned about what the rumor mill has to say about self-publishing or traditional publishing on todays forum discussions. Self-publishing is ideal for certain authors in certain circumstances and traditional publishing is ideal for others. Prejudice, gossip, and ignorance contribute nothing to sound business choices. Choose your route carefully.
Above all, remember that you, your ideas, your time, and your work are valuable. Assume full control over all these assets before handing them over to any third party. Anyone sharing your publishing pie must absorb cost or mitigate risk if they are to be of any value to you.
Thousands of writers are snookered by publishing scams every year, mostly because theyre afraid and they want an expert to handle everything. If you use a traditional publisher, hire a lawyer to review your contract; its a small price to pay for protection when dealing with a big company. Otherwise, heed the old adage: if you want a job done right
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Self-Publishing Scams: Keep the Self in Self-Publishing
Dear Dave: As a first time author, I knew nothing except there was a company, Trafford, that had started print on demand publishing. I wanted to see my book in print so badly, I purchased their cheapest package and submitted my book. Right away I noticed what a rinkydink circus they were running. First, every Tom, Dick and Mary spoke with a mid-eastern accent and couldnt communicate comfortably with me. I actually did all the work in selecting cover, editing, illustrating etc. I found the picture I wanted for the cover but it had other incidentals in the picture (like ghosts and printing Happy Halloween) I wanted them to removeas they are supposed to do the design. When the galleys came back, there were the ghosts and printing on the cover. They had done nothing. In proof-reading the book, there were many many mistakes (most not of my making). I had to do the editing they were supposed to do and finally the book was ready for print. And, yes, the price was high. But I was not thinking of salesI was totally captured by actually seeing my book in print. Over the years I admit to being a victim of scammers such as Trafford. Now Im in another scam through Book-Art Press, which Im trying hard to get out of. Yes, Ive learned there are tons of scammers out there, but how does one get past them. How do you find the honest companies? Im too old to go hawking my book all over, and it is not my nature. I want to sell my books (I now have three in print) but who is out there to help people like me? You tell us who the scammers are but not how to find the honest ones.
Actually, I dont tell you who the scammers are because they are litigious. I tell you to do your homework because that information is all over the web. Any company that offers to be your publisher for a fee should raise a red flag. Be your own publisher and work with a POD printer and distributor. Four to start with are Amazon CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Ingram LightningSource, and BookBaby, but the publishing world changes quickly and I could be omitting the best choice.
But you say, I want to sell books. You have many choices for making books available for sale, but none of them will do more than just facilitate the fulfillment process. It is up to you to get your message in front of people and build the relationships that lead to transactions. I worry that once youve gotten control over your publishing, youll be disappointed again. Build it and they will come is a traditional route to business failure. By all means, publish your books; making your ideas sharable is valuable and important. But unless you have a business plan (sell books at speaking events, get on the national news, license private label copies of your book to corporations, etc.), you will face more frustration.
Finally, you ask, Who is out there to help people like me? Theres a Hire me menu on my website, and Im one of many capable publishing coaches. How much money have you spent stepping from one tar pit to another? Have you Googled publishing coach and publishing consultant? Have you bought a book on self-publishing? Youre reading this scams article only after having fallen victim to two of them. Before you do anything else, if youre going to start a publishing business (which you are if you want to sell books), become an expert on how that business works. The 100+ free articles in this blog are a good start, but search out the resources you need. Every thread of information you need is available for free online. Or spend a few hours with a consultant and save thousands of dollars and years of frustration.
You warn that if a publisher has no investment, it is a scam. I learned, that if an author does not have a robust (platform ) and unique, quality content, no publisher would be willing to make an investment. If the author wishes to be printed and listed on amazon, and Barnes and noble, how else would he/she accomplish that without a self publishing company?
I warn that if a company has made no investment in your book, they are not entitled to sales royalties. Self-publishing is inherently something you do YOURSELF. You can work with an author services company like Amazon CreateSpace or Ingram LightningSource. By all means, hire an editor and a designer. But BE THE PUBLISHER. Own your rights. Set your prices. Paying someone to be your pubvlisher is like paying someone to take a vacation for you so you can stay home and work.
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 cant 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.
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 havent 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, theyd have to invest in and editor, a typesetter, and a designer on top of the liability theyd assume. Why bother when they have victims waiting in line to pay them? I dont think you have anything to worry about.
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. Theyve 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.
Anyone have experience or information on Tell Well of Victoria, BC? They claim to use POD and to be legit.
Everybody claims to be legit. Do they pay an advance against royalties or do you pay them to publish you? Always check
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 wasnt 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 itand, 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 cant 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 dont 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. (Im pretty sure he isnt but perhaps check Tongue-in-cheek.
I dont 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, dont pay them for services andthengive 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 wont 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 dont 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 dont distribute books outside of perhaps Amazon or their own website. Its 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 authors 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 its 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, thats 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.
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.
them as a vanity publisher. Dont pay someone to be your publisher. Hire a book shepherd who will help you self-publish while ensuring you keep your rights and royalties and intellectual property safe.
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 theyre a real publisher, theyll 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.
Well, this is not about a book, but content articles. is ripping off writers. They owe me over $400 for articles sold on their site. Do you have suggestions? Thanks.
I hesitate to name names here as I dont want to get flooded with public complaints about the many nefarious operators in the publishing space. But though Im 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. Id use those sites to round up a list of other victims and see if its feasible to hire a lawyer collectively, but this is a hassle, an expense, and probably wont 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?
If youre paying someone to publish your book, youre in dangerous waters. Do you own the ISBN? Do you set the price? Do you own the digital assets? 5 minutes of research will tell you a lot about this company. Look them up on and Editors).
DaveYour 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.
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. Im an advocate for POD because its a smart and safe model, generally. However, I organize each stage with my own designers, layout professionals and then I recommend printers that Ive used in the past. Its 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:
There are mistakes that werent there before. I have to pay to correct the mistakes that the publisher made.
I have no idea how many books were sold.
Unfortunately, people go to these publishers with stars in their eyes. No matter how many times I try to warn authors they still believe theyre going to find a great deal. Which is like a needle in a haystack.
When youre honest and upfront about what goes into publishing a book, which I have a bit of experience with, they just dont want to hear it. They prefer the rose colored glasses version that the publishing scammers give them. Until they sign the contract then its all down hill.
Hopefully, theyll listen to you. This is a terrific article. Authors pay attention!
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 mi