Today I’m going to talk about a rather sensitive topic, but one that needs to be talked about often and shared widely. The more I try to navigate the tricky waters of publishing, the more I read, learn, and educate myself on, I sadly find there’s a dark truth everybody needs to be aware of: there are predators out there in the publishing world, they will jump on you given the chance, and so you have to learn how to avoid them.
I think every faction of the entertainment industry has wolves in sheep’s clothing who try to lure you in, who want to prey on your desperate need to validate your art and latch onto that as an opportunity to suck money out of you. With the upsurge in self-publishing, these scammers and con artists have found new niches to dwell in and new techniques to get you to open your wallet for them. Despite the fact we live in a digital age with tons of information right at our fingertips, they manage to flourish and they can still smell who is ripe for the picking. Education is important for every writer.
Here are some hard truths you need to know. And if you already know these things, make sure other writers do too:
- Real, legitimate publishers/agents do not charge you a single dime to edit, produce, and publish your work. There are no ‘buts’ or ‘howevers’ to this, it’s not in any way arguable. The Association of Author’s Representatives forbids agents to charge any type of fee to their clients, or even people just in the querying stage. For publishing houses to belong to writer’s organizations such as the RWA, they cannot charge their authors for publication. Publishers are supposed to pay you. They foot the bill for your editing, cover art, book production, to put your book up at retailers, and any publicity they want to do on their part. Then they send you a check for the books that were sold. That’s it. That’s how real publishing works. Unfortunately, there are many so-called ‘publishers’ out there who are literally charging people tens of thousands of dollars to ‘publish’ their book. Yes, this is a real thing that happens. It is a scam. They’re called vanity presses. These people regularly get in trouble, go away, and then pop back up as another ‘publisher.’ For the money they charge, you can self-publish for far cheaper (and keep all your profits).
- Speaking of self-publishing, be careful who you pay to get your book sale-ready for you. If you pay for professional editing, cover art, and distribution, make sure the people you use are legitimate. Do your research. Talk to other authors they’ve worked with. Ask for credentials and look up previous books they’ve worked on to see how they’re presented and how well they sell. Also make sure you do research on the current average rates for these services, so you don’t get overcharged.
- Contests are a hotbed of scams. There are quite a few legitimate writing contests out there that will help you along in your career, but there’s also quite a few that are designed to take your entry fee money and you’ll never hear from them again, let alone ever see your story in print (this also compromises your rights to the story so you can’t publish it elsewhere). Before you enter a contest you’ve never heard of, do your research on it. Don’t hand over your money and your hard work and get nothing in return.
There are thankfully plenty of resources online you can turn to that will give you information about who and what to watch out for:
- Writer Beware (they also have a regularly updated blog)
- Predators and Editors
- The Bewares, Recommendations & Background Checks discussion forum at Absolute Write. This is a good place to find out which legitimate publishers are behaving badly, too.
- Google is your friend. If a name, company, publisher, editor, agent, or anything else is unfamiliar/smells fishy to you, do your research.
There’s a lot of really good people out there in the publishing world, people who believe in your work and want you to make money, who want to help you share your art and vision with the world. There’s also people out there who only care about them making money, even if it means robbing you of your trust and creative energy. If we can’t effectively shut these people down, we have to learn how to dodge them. Arm yourself with education.