Avoiding scam publishers

Avoiding Scam Publishers

Is that contract from a scam publisher?

While most writers know vanity presses are little more than scams, many intelligent people still fall into their traps. As information becomes more available, scam publishers continue to evolve finding new ways to part the aspiring writer from her money. Vanity presses and other scam publishers present themselves as a partner for your book, a partner who charges you fees, provides little or shoddy workmanship, leaves all the marketing to you, and then blames you when your book fails.

Some indications of a scam publisher

Charges reading fees

Our reading fee is…

A legitimate publisher will NEVER charge you a fee to read your book. Not. Ever. Publishers make their money by selling books, not by looking for them. A legitimate publisher does not charge reading fees, application fees, or processing fees. If a publisher wants you to send a check or a credit card number with your submission, this is not a real publisher.

Paid submission apps

We use the writer.scam app for all submissions. You will need to purchase a subscription…

While most publishers still accept email submissions, many are moving to a cloud-based submission platform to manage their queries. Legitimate publishers do not use a submission website program that requires a paid subscription from you. Submittable (the most popular) is free for authors to use. If the publisher wants a fee to set up your submittable account, it is a scam. If a publisher wants you to use another submission program that requires a fee, run.

Also, watch out for submission platforms that offer add-ons like auto submissions, or making your manuscript available for browsing. Legitimate publishers are swamped with submissions. They aren’t searching through databases looking for more.

Printing fees

The cost to print 2000 books is…

A legitimate publisher will pay to print your book. In exchange for this, the publisher will decide on the cover, whether there will be a hardcover, paperback, or e-book only, and the number of copies to print. If the publisher wants to charge you a fee for printing costs, it is a scam.

Editorial fees

Our editing fees are…

A legitimate publisher will have editors on staff. They will pay for your edit. The details of the editing process should be explained to you before you sign your contract. If you have any questions, ask. The acquisitions editor will be happy to answer your questions or point you to someone within the company who can. If your editor refuses or gives you the runaround, don’t sign the contract.

The exception: since publishing is a business, publishers have a defined process for handling edits. As part of this contract, the author must also fulfill their obligations, which means finishing revisions on time and not asking for developmental level changes at the proofreading stage. These expectations will be clearly stated at the beginning of the process, and even included in the contract.

Editor for Hire

We love your book, but it isn’t ready yet. Please contact Ms. Editor. She will guide you step-by-step, and then we will be happy to publish your edited manuscript

Another editorial scam is a publisher who insists that your book needs a full edit before it is ready for publication and you need to hire their recommended editor. This creates a conflict of interest where the ‘editor’ might give the ‘publisher’ a kickback for the business. An acquisitions editor may recommend working with an editor in a rejection letter. For example.

“While I liked the premise of your story, I feel the writing isn’t ready and may benefit from an editor’s feedback. Feel free to re-query me with the revised manuscript.”

The important difference is the acquisitions editor did not recommend a specific editor, and she did not make hiring that editor a condition for publication. Legitimate publishers pay for your editing.

Extras that are actually free

Want your book on Amazon, Nook, iBooks? Those add-ons will cost you a small fee.

A publisher makes money when they sell your book. Not having them available for purchase in the most popular venues doesn’t make sense. Unless it is a scam. Anyone can publish an ebook on any of these venues. Literally anyone. All you need is an email address. You don’t have to be a publisher. You don’t have to pay a fee. It’s free.

In-house website

You must have an author website that links to our website where your ‘buy’ links are. The only way to fulfill this obligation is to host your website on our system, for a small fee.

First off, this is an outright lie. Any website can link to any other website. If the publisher wants a fee to set up your website, decline. WordPress is simple to use, and you can have a professional looking website for free. (This website uses a free WordPress account.) You can cut and paste links to your books right on the page. WordPress pulls the cover image and all the code directly from Amazon. It’s simple. Don’t pay for a web designer. (Not until you’re famous.)


As part of your submission, please fill out this extensive marketing plan for your book.

I write genre fiction. A publisher in genre fiction should know how to sell genre fiction. You should not need to tell your publisher how you are going to sell your book. They should be telling you how they are going to sell your book. If they don’t know how they can sell it, they shouldn’t be publishing it. If a publisher has no plans for marketing your book, you are better off self-publishing.

But what about platforms?
Platforms are an important component of non-fiction book proposals. Your reputation as an expert is a major factor in determining how well your book will perform in the market. While an online presence is helpful, it is not the main component of selling fiction.

Required marketing fees

We need you to pay for bookmarks, ARC copies, Amazon reviews, and you have to pay to attend our conference.

While your publisher might have a tiny (or non-existent) budget for marketing, your contract should never require you to pay them for marketing. You may choose to buy bookmarks or attend conferences, but these extras should not be a condition of your contract. Also, your publisher should supply ARC (even if it’s digital) copies for your readers, as well as a box of books for you to take to signings. (If you have a print run) Ask questions about marketing before you sign the contract.

Required book purchase

We want you to schedule some book signings, but you’ll need to something to sign. You should have at least a hundred on hand. We’ll be happy to let you have them at cost.

A legitimate publisher will never require you to buy your own book. NEVER. They make their money when they sell your book. If you have a print run and wish to do a signing, they should provide you with a box of books.

Complex royalty structures.

We will pay you 15% of sales after the following conditions are met.

Scam publishers will make these conditions so complex that the author never sees a check. (The rules are different if your book receives an advance, but if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Your agent will be handling this.)
Make sure you understand the rules and then be certain these conditions can actually be met. Do the math. Does it add up?

Know what is in your contract. If you don’t understand something, ask

Don’t sign that contract until you are comfortable with the process. Ask questions about editing and marketing. Understand what is in the contract, and what isn’t. If an editor won’t answer your questions, run. If a publisher asks for money, run. The bottom line: the author does not pay the publisher.

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M.L. Keller is a freelance writer and editor. Her blog "The Manuscript Shredder" is focused on helping emerging writers hone their craft.


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