The writing industry is competitive, and with so many aspiring authors out there, it’s no wonder that scammers worm their way into the industry to take advantage of a writer’s hopes and dreams. Almost monthly, I hear from writers scammed by a publisher or solicited out of the blue by movie producers with incredible opportunities. There are several different types of publication scams, but they all have one thing in common: they promise a lot of something for high fees.
One of the most common publication scams is the vanity press. Vanity presses are companies that charge authors to publish their books. While some legitimate vanity presses exist, many are simply scams. They will take your money and promise to publish your book, but they will often poorly edit or market it, and your book may never even see the light of day.
Another type of publication scam is the book packager. Book packagers are companies that offer to help authors publish their books and claim to be able to get your book into major retailers, such as Barnes & Noble. They promise to market your book and guarantee large sales but charge exorbitant fees for their services. In some cases, book packagers may even take ownership of your book and all its rights.
Several scams involve fake literary agents soliciting your work with a promise they can get your book published by a well-known publisher. Often that promise includes getting you a significant advance. But to do so, you must pay huge fees. The other side of that coin is the fake movie producer with a deal of the century if you write the script and pay them to shop it around. If it sounds too good to be true, and you have to pay for it, then most likely, it’s a scam.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself, including:
- Do your research. Before you do anything, take some time to research the company or person you’re dealing with. Google them. Check out their books online. Talk to their authors. Ask the writing community. Make sure they are legitimate and have a good reputation.
- Don’t pay any fees upfront. Legitimate publishers and agents will never ask you to pay a fee to review your manuscript or get your book published. That said, there are legitimate magazines and small presses that run contests. Those will charge a small entry fee. Just make sure you research the contest before submitting to it. Also, hybrid publishers will require you to share the costs with publishing. But make sure they are reputable before using them. Do your research. If the hybrid publisher provides little value but charges high fees, then chances are they are scammers. Check out this list from Publishers Weekly, including hybrid publishing criteria.
- Get everything in writing. Before you sign any contracts, make sure you read them carefully and understand all of the terms.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask the company or person you’re dealing with for clarification.
- Be wary of any company that promises to publish your book quickly and easily. Legitimate publishers and agents know that it takes time to develop a successful book, and they won’t pressure you into signing a contract before you’re ready.
- Don’t give out your personal information, such as your credit card or Social Security number, to anyone you don’t know and trust.
- If you’re unsure whether a company or person is legitimate, contact the Writer Beware website or the Authors Guild for more information. Writers Beware and the Authors Guild have ongoing lists of reported scams.
If you’ve been scammed, there are a few things you can do. First, contact your bank or credit card company and dispute the charges. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC can help you recover your money and prevent others from being scammed. You can file a complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Also, contact the Authors Guild to see if they can take action on your behalf.
Publishing scams are a real problem, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. You can avoid becoming a victim by researching and being aware of the red flags. If you need more info on publishing scams, let me know.
Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.