Dun Writin’—Now Whut? – 46 Recognizing Publishing Scams (A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing)


There are so many publishers—and types of publishing!—on the Internet that it is difficult to know who is legitimate and who is not.

Let’s first discuss the different types of publishing companies available currently.

  • Commercial or Traditional Publisher: You submit your book to them, possibly through an agent, and sign over all rights. They handle all facets of publishing, including editing, layout, cover design, distribution, and (nowadays) a little marketing. There are no costs to the author, and the author typically receives a royalty advance plus additional royalties of 8 to 12%.

  • Subsidy Publisher: You submit your book to them and sign over some of your rights. They handle all facets of publishing, including editing, layout, cover design, distribution, and a little marketing. The author makes a financial “contribution” or “underwriting” to subsidize the publishing, with no royalty advance, and the author is paid royalties from the very first book sold of 20 to 40%.

  • Vanity Publisher: You submit your book to them and may retain specific rights. The author may be required to fund the bulk of the production costs, and editing, layout, and cover design are offered at additional cost. There is no royalty advance, and authors are paid royalties on sales; the percentages vary according to each contract.

  • Self-Publisher: The author handles everything necessary to get the work into print, retaining all rights and exercising exclusive control over production, editing, layout, cover design, distribution, and marketing. The author retains 100% of royalties (after distribution channel costs to carriers such as Amazon).

Each of these types of publishers is valuable. Even vanity publishers—spoken of so dismissively by some—serve their purpose in allowing authors, such as those who only wish to produce a single book, to have their book published in a short print run.

How do you know if they are a scam or not? A scam is defined as a dishonest scheme, or fraud, especially for making quick profit. Many writers feel they have been scammed by subsidy or vanity publishers, but those publishers (usually) have done nothing dishonest. The author was simply uninformed about how publishing takes place, had unrealistic expectations, and entered into a contract that was not in their favor. An author needs to research the industry carefully, read contracts with a literal magnifying glass, and understand what they’re agreeing to. After all, it really is your responsibility to know what you’re getting into.

If you are not looking to publish a short-run work (such as family trees and family bibles—works that would not be publicly distributed), there are some warning signs that point to a publishing relationship that may not be in your favor, or may be to your financial detriment:

  • If they offer to publish your book without seeing it.

  • If they contact you with an offer to publish.

  • If they want any money from you up front.

  • If their contract is filled with spelling and grammatical errors.

  • If the contract asks for the copyright, an assignment of all rights, or contains an option clause (first rights to your next book) that they won’t negotiate.

  • If their books are available only online.

  • If the books they publish are offered at a very high price.

  • If, upon investigation, they are a vanity or subsidy publisher disguised as a traditional publisher.

  • If the “contribution” or “underwriting” costs are much higher than the cost to complete the tasks yourself, using independent providers (such as freelance copyeditors).

  • If they keep a percentage of your sales when they haven’t invested a dime.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be traditionally published (in which case you lose all rights to your work), there will be some costs to publishing your book. But with careful investigating and selecting professional service providers, you’ll pay a lot less than going with a subsidy or vanity publisher. But, again, there is nothing inherently wrong with using a subsidy or vanity publisher if that’s what you decide to do.

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!


Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing




66 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? – 46 Recognizing Publishing Scams (A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing)

  1. Great post! I learned about publishing scam the hard way, but in the end, I don’t think I have lost anything, but learned lessons about the publishing world, which also made me all the more eager to educate myself about both traditional and indie publishing. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for asking, Hildred! CreateSpace comes under the heading of self-publishing, as there aren’t any costs (that I’m aware of!) unless you choose to “upgrade” to a package that includes editing or a cover design or something like that. They are a POD (print on demand) publisher for print copies of a book. A lot of people use Kindle and CreateSpace concurrently; one for e-books and the other in case anyone wants a print copy (or you do for yourself!).

      If I’m not correct about CreateSpace’s pricing, please let me know, somebody! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All publishing is vanity based. You have to be rather grandiose to think that your words are so important that they must be recorded for posterities sake—not to mention foisting them on the buying public. Thus, I’d argue that, “Vanity publishing” as you’ve labeled it, is actually “independent publishing.”

    It would be a semantics game, except, it’s not. There is more snobbery amongst writers than just about any arena I’ve ran in during 66 years of life. From my frame-of-reference, publish any way you can. I frankly won’t wait for a conventional publisher. I only have so much life and waiting for a subjective judgment about my creative work isn’t on my schedule. My first book was published traditionally. However, my books since then are fiction, and my first publisher only publishes non-fiction. Thus, I publish my novels independently. I make no apologies and am happy with the outcome because the quality of the end product is equal, the royalty checks equally timely, and, none of them have bounced!

    Everyone else is, of course, free to do as they please. But if you’ll publish independently and be realistic about the process, you can have the same quality outcome I’ve had. Good luck to all, and publish anyway you can.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m with Lynne Cantwell on this one. As one who got burned by iUniverse, (part of Author Solutions) way back when I didn’t know how to get the information I needed I submit that these outfits have only one agenda – to take advantage of the naive and rob them of their money.They are in business to make a profit – not to support writers and authors.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, too, Yvonne, for your experience. It certainly is for the best that better, more accurate information about vanity publishers is available on the Internet now, and pretty easily found. They definitely are out to make a profit—that’s for sure! 🙂

      But as I said to Lynne, I actually have run across some authors who were satisfied with a vanity publisher. I’ll admit they’re very far and few between, and I believe they’re usually fairly wealthy people who didn’t mind spending the money in order not to be “bothered” with anything like formatting, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was happy, too, until I saw the poor editing and the shoddy marketing package. I submit that those who don’t mind throwing good money after bad also don’t care about sales, or about the quality of the work they paid for. “Real” writers or “real books” do care. They want the editing, formatting, cover and quality of printing to be professional. Those few who only want to share the family history with a few relatives cannot be used to validate the vanity predators. They were the ones the word “vanity” was created for.

        Liked by 2 people

        • “…those who don’t mind throwing good money after bad also don’t care about sales, or about the quality of the work they paid for.” Exactly. Those are the *only* people I could see semi-legitimately using a vanity publisher.

          Liked by 2 people

          • But then they ought to be up-front as to their business model and not market themselves as legitimate publishers for serious writers. That would put them into a different – and very limited – class, altogether. Such businesses have a legitimate place – until they claim to be what they are not. We call them predatory scammers because they claim to other than what thye are – and because their raison d’etre is to dupe the innocent and naive newbie.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you about vanity publishers having a place. They do not.

    At Indies Unlimited, we just ran a whole month of coverage on publishing scams, and vanity presses were huge offenders. The authors we heard from are not stupid. Some had been traditionally published previously. Some had even had their contracts vetted by an attorney — and they still got burned.

    Even if all you want is to have one copy of your book published, you can still have a company like CreateSpace produce it for you. A vanity press will charge you hundreds or thousands of dollars to set up that single copy. CreateSpace will charge you nothing. Tell me again why a vanity press is a good alternative.

    Liked by 4 people


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