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

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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

Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing

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