“Caveat Emptor”; it means “buyer beware”. Scams and rip-offs are nothing new, and writers are not exempt from being targeted, especially eager new writers. I recently read an article on Forbes by Suw Charman-Anderson about this very subject, and I couldn’t help but think of all the ways that people can be taken advantage of in this industry.
We’ve all heard about the evils of vanity publishing, which is not to be confused with self-publishing. To my understanding, vanity publishing is where a writer hires a company, for a fee, to publish their work. There is little or no support on behalf of the so-called publisher, no editing, no cover art support, no marketing and promotion. If the writer would like these services, they agree to pay the publisher additional funds for them.
On the other hand, self-publishing has gained huge recognition in the publishing industry at large, and has grown exponentially around the globe. In this instance, writers are taking the bull by the horns and, rather than rely on agents and/or publishers to get their work into the hands of the reading public, they are doing so themselves. They are working directly with companies like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc., to upload their original works into ebook formats, and contracting the direct services of legitimate printers, editors, cover artists, etc., to produce quality books that rival that of the big six publishers ( Critical Pages).
But here’s the catch, in the eagerness to self-publish, some writers are being pulled in by scams that claim to assist them in getting their work out there to the masses, for a sometimes very substantial fee. According to Charman-Anderson’s article, and others that are emerging, some of these seemingly legitimate sources are proving to be anything but helpful. In fact, claims are starting to emerge about companies, such as Author Solutions (AS), that are apparently backed by Penguin, one of the world’s leading publishers. Who can fault the writer for believing they are safe with a company backed by this big hitter? Not me. With so much falling to the writer in terms of marketing and promotion, design, formatting, reaching audiences and growing a solid author’s platform, I completely understand how some writers are lured in by the prospect of obtaining some “professional” help in these areas. We are overwhelmed and underfunded, but also eager and determined to “make it” in this cut-throat business of book publishing. The writing part is nothing compared to these stresses.
But wait, what can writers do to help ensure this doesn’t happen to them? Well, I’d suggest reading as much as possible about industry related news, to learn who is doing what. The amount of information available on the net is massive, so start small and just begin by typing in words like “publishing”, or “publishing news”, etc. Look around, become familiar with sites you really like, bookmark them, and frequent them often. Next, I’d suggest researching online about possible bad reviews of publishers, editors, and agents. Yes, these reviews exist. Websites like Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write Water Cooler, etc., give reviews and comments on companies who have run afoul of other writers. Also, by Googling the name of a company you are considering, you can learn a great deal about the dealings of a potential company claiming to help authors self-publish. If there are bad reviews out there, best to discover it before signing on the dotted line and paying out hard-earned money.
Another way to be prudent of course, is to have a lawyer examine any and all contracts before signing them. If there are any hidden fees, or obscure wording that doesn’t completely spell out what the company will and won’t do, a lawyer experienced in reading such contracts will ferret it out and advise you. This will cost you money for the lawyer, but perhaps better that than discovering, well into the process, that you are caught in a trap that you’ve paid for.
In the end, it really is up to each individual writer to treat their work as a business and ensure, to the best of their ability, that they have checked out any potential company they are considering working with. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This means there is even more reason to check everything out thoroughly, before committing to anything.