Thursday, June 1, 2017

Shady Publishers

So you've written a book. Good for you! You should be proud of yourself and possibly a little impressed at your own perseverance. You've written and (hopefully) rewritten at least a few times, have gotten people to beta, rewritten yet again, hired someone to edit the manuscript, gotten a cover designed, and now . . . well, the world is waiting and you need to get your book into their hot little hands.

How, exactly, does that happen?

I’m going to talk about how it should NOT happen. As in most of life, if there is something worthwhile, there will always be someone who figures out a way to pervert it to their own advantage. It's no different when it comes to the printed word.

Every so often, there are articles posted about this (and I’ll give you plenty of links at the end), but it never hurts to put it out there again for those who may not be aware. What am I talking about?

Shady publishers, that's what.

They prey on the newbies, the eager, the naive. They know you want to see your book on the virtual shelves of Amazon and the physical shelves of Barnes & Noble, and they're counting on your eagerness to translate into ignorance in the rush to become famous.

Bottom line: you can self-publish through a variety of avenues (and I'll cover that in a separate blog post someday) but if you're looking for a publisher, you need to know one basic fact, and this is it—getting a publisher should not cost you a penny.

There are so-called publishers out there—vanity presses—who charge authors to publish the work, do their scam thing for a while, disappear, and then come back under another name to do it all over again with more unsuspecting people. Often they'll charge more than it would cost to self-publish, and my guess is that people fall for their deception only because they're fearful of the unknowns of self-publishing.

Part of what may drive some to go for the scammers is that self-publishing involves doing all the steps on your own, and all the research that accompanies those steps. Seeking out an editor, a good cover artist, formatting, etc. is such a hands-on thing. I can see how it would appear to be easier to allow a publisher to do all that legwork. All the promotion is your own as well when you self-publish, and scam publishers will try to convince you that your book will be promoted for all the world to see, buy, and love if you sign with them. Instant fame and fortune.

In addition to the appeal of the work being done by others, I think a good number of newer authors may lean toward vanity presses because . . . well, let's just think about the name of a vanity press. Their actions appeal to a person's vanity—the need to be liked and to feel approval. Though there's nothing wrong with being proud of your work and wanting others to enjoy it, the scammers count on that being a driving force in your choice of how to publish.

Vanity presses don't have the same criteria that traditional publishers follow (whether large publishing houses or small presses). Publishers who are on the up and up must be careful to only accept those manuscripts they believe will earn money for them. Their profits come from book sales, and their investments must be wise. Vanity presses, on the other hand, accept pretty much any submission because the money is flowing toward the press, not the author. Scammers have nothing to lose when you say yes to them. And those who don't know better are excited and flattered that a "publisher" is interested in them. Wiki even mentions that “a vanity publisher's intended market is the author and a very small number of interested members of the general public.” Ah, vanity.

As a musician, I can understand this completely. If someone doesn't like what I'm doing, that means, of course, that they don't like ME. Never mind the fact that perhaps they don't like the song itself, or the style in which it was performed. Or maybe they don't like my voice. Does that mean they don't like me as a person? It shouldn't. And yet, we tie our art so closely to ourselves . . . because displaying our art—whether it's music, writing, photography, drawing—often means we've revealed something very deep and personal. Rejection of that "something" is all too easy to link to rejection of "inner me."

And that may be the biggest factor of someone succumbing to the “oooh, shiny” appeal of a vanity press: they love you . . . the inner, personal you! They can make you rich! They won’t be able to stop themselves from bringing up your name during business dinners! The world will sing your name to small children in lullabies!

[Please note that vanity presses are NOT the same as small presses. There are plenty of legit, wonderful small presses out there that may be a good fit for you and your book-publishing needs. I may feature those in a future post.]

Thankfully, there are watchdogs out there. Even if there weren’t, a simple Google search would give a solid heads-up as to who’s been complaining about whom in the publishing business. Here are a few good places to check out, and some interesting blog posts on the topic of how to tell one type of publisher from another:

Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check —Exactly what it describes, and one of the most useful forums on Absolute Write.

Predators and Editors —This site's listings have temporarily been removed (P&E has called them "stale and outdated") until they can find a new caretaker to update the site. However, they still have a few good links to other resources such as SFWA's Writers Beware.

Scammers (and How to Avoid Them) —Author Megan Morgan put together a helpful post about a year ago with good advice about this. If you have time, check out her 2017 A to Z Challenge posts (which was how I found her in the first place). The woman is hilarious and her theme, 26 Things to Hate About Writing, had me laughing every day in April.

Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse Them and Pay the Price —This is an older post but covers things thoroughly, and reading through the comment section gives almost as much insight as the post itself.

For those who have read all the way to the end: I'm working on a future post and need your help!
What is the best and worst writing advice you've ever received? Shoot me an email at
and tell me what it was and how it affected your writing.


  1. Nice! I bookmarked this for future reference. Thanks

  2. Self-publishing is so common nowadays, I'm somewhat surprised that vanity publishers still exist. But then again, I suppose there is quite a strong tendency to let someone else do the promotion for the book, and vanity publishers do always promise that!

    1. I'm surprised as many people fall for them as it seems, since a quick Google search will tell you who's under investigation and who has a lot of complaints against them. But I suspect there are many people who are just overwhelmed at figuring out where to start, and a vanity publisher seems to (on the surface) take care of "everything."

  3. It's so easy to take advantage of new writers these days. Vanity and pride can surely make a person blind, which is why, as you know best, I always say research is priceless. This is a helpful post for that. An eye-opener for sure!

    1. If there's one lesson I've learned from you (and we both know there have been many, but let's focus on books for now), that lesson is to RESEARCH EVERYTHING. Anyone who doesn't do their due diligence is foolish.

  4. Great post, Lynda. I feel for people who "hire" publishers. They usually end up discovering it was a big mistake.


    1. Thanks! I have a friend who was writing her autobiography about her childhood of physical abuse and was looking into publishers. I tried to tell her I would ask my reliable author friends for how to go about it, but sure enough, she was approached by an unscrupulous "publisher" who (of course) loved her book and could get it on bookshelves all over the place for "only" $1500 up front. The book needed almost no editing and would have cost her less than half that amount to self-publish with a good cover and formatter. Thankfully, though she was convinced this company was the way to go, she chickened out about publishing the story (due to certain family members still living), and if she ever gets it in her head to go for it, I will have a LOT more information for her to steer her away from any of that nonsense. I can't remember offhand the name of the publishing company (it's been a couple years now) but I had looked it up at the time and found it listed on all kinds of "beware" sites, with complaints and lawsuits.

    2. One of my recent clients hired a publisher and then learned they were unscrupulous. She had already paid them. I was so glad that they refunded her money. She took a class on how to publish by herself. I look forward to seeing how her publishing journey turns out.

  5. I remember I first learned about vanity publishers when my mom told me that my crazy uncle had published a book. I looked at the copy, and not only did it not look like publisher quality, but the writing was horribly misspelled and he ended many sentences with about 20 exclamation marks. Not exaggerating. Sometimes more.

    I then googled the publisher, and immediately found an article where someone had literally just submitted the dictionary to this 'publisher' and it was accepted... now they just had to pay $1,000 to publish it. Yikes.

    When all else fails, just Google. Chances are good you'll see right off the bat if it's a scam or not.

    1. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Thought you might appreciate the extras for sentimental reasons.) I'd love to know what your crazy uncle's book was about. Exclamation points always make me laugh because that's one of the first things experienced writers delete.

      Amazing about the dictionary but not surprising. And yes, GOOGLE! For crying out loud, that's all it takes these days. One point four seconds and you have at least four or five irreputable businesses in a tidy list in front of you.

    2. I always appreciate relevant humor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I also hate even overusing single exclamation marks, let alone many of them together!! This physically hurts to type!!!

      According to my uncle, he was once a drug addict, traveled to Brazil, found more drugs, then found God, then came back, and now he's a successful used car salesman? Or something like that? I don't know. I guess I'm hard to inspire. Plus, we don't really talk to him much. We can't handle the loudness of his voice or his Hawaiian t-shirts.

      I wish I could find it, but I can't. The cover was a hand drawn black and white pencil sketch of a map of Brazil. Somehow that still didn't tip him off that his publisher was a scam.

      You really can't make this stuff up.

    3. Now I feel compelled to seek this book out. And yes, I'm right with you in the hard-to-inspire category. I've been married to a cynical sarcastic and have had enough of real life to be more of the "yeah, whatever, like you're somehow unique?" category when reading things that *should* inspire me but don't.

      If I find that book, I'll put it on and we can all have a good laugh. Publicity's publicity, right?

  6. Then there are self-publishing companies Like IUniverse and Xlibris. They are not scams but their services are substandard. A good search and asking a few questions of other authors can provide enough independents to do everything they provide and of better quality. This and about half the cost.

    1. That's it entirely: just ASK AROUND. There are great ways to self-publish that won't break your bank, and there are terrific small publishers out there who are legit. I think many who fall for the scammers are just so excited to have someone say, "Yes, we love you!" that they don't want to stop themselves and do their research.


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