I need to say something. This is an issue near and dear to me because I almost fell for one of these scams myself back in 2005. I did some research and it saved me from throwing a shitload of money away. I’ve moved on from the disappointment (and disillusionment) of that whole fiasco, but this morning I received an email from a reader that brought the whole thing back. This is what it said:
Good morning (at least here in CA),
I have a question for you. I’m helping a friend of mine publish her book and she wrote me back giving me the terms of the deal this company is giving her. It doesn’t sound kosher to me but I wanted to get your opinion. Here is what she wrote:
“the offer is from ——– (small publisher, not one of the “big 6″ or even a medium publishing house). I would have to pay almost $4000 up front (one time). E-book would be available in 6 months and print in about a year. Once 5000 books were sold I’d be completely refunded the $4000. My royalties would be 50%.”
My issue is her paying the $4000 up front. I don’t know of any legitimate publisher asking their author to pay up front first. My question is why not take that $4000 and publish the book yourself and KEEP 100% of the royalties? So unless I’ve completely missed something in my book industry, this sounds wrong.
What do you think?
I would like to note that I did not censor the name of the “publisher” in question. The email had that part blanked out when I read it, so I have no idea which of the many scam “presses” this could be. If I did, I would share it here and bold the name of the company to make sure everyone could see it. Then I’d Facebook it, then I’d tweet about it, and then I’d paste it on my website with a picture of a jackass eating a sack of money. Make no mistake, this is a scam. An expensive and all-too-common one. I emailed him back and told him what I think, but because this is such a serious issue, I figured I would talk about it here on my blog, as well. Too many new writers get taken in by schemes like this, and they shouldn’t. A little research will help determine the truth, which is this:
No legitimate publisher would ask one of their authors to pay $4,000 up front.
Did you get that? I hope so. But even if you did, I want to repeat it.
NO LEGITIMATE PUBLISHER WOULD ASK ONE OF THEIR AUTHORS TO PAY $4,000 UP FRONT.
In fact, no legitimate publisher would ever ask one of their authors to pay $10 up front. Money flows to the author, not from the author. If you are an aspiring author, and you send your work to a publisher, and they expect YOU to pay THEM, run, don’t walk. They are scamming you. It’s that simple.
This includes editing services provided by the publisher. If you get an acceptance from some small press and they tell you that you need to pay for your own editing, run. If they just happen to know an editing service that would be happy to take on your project…RUN!
This scam is as old as publishing itself, and it succeeds because many new writers are not aware that this is not the norm. Well I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. When a publisher decides to take on a new project, they figure the cost of editing and promoting into the decision. Those are expenses the publishers make, not the author. While it’s true that many authors use some of their own money for promotional purposes, they usually do this all on their own, and publishers do not demand that the author pay them for any promotion or marketing or any other services provided by a publishing house. Any such publisher that does ask you to pay them is scamming you.
This isn’t limited to just publishers, though. There are plenty of fake literary agents out there who do the same thing. They will say something like “We love your book, but we think it could be better. To that end we would like you to have this book edited by XXXXXXX editing. After all, if you aren’t willing to invest in your future, why should we?”
Probably not those exact words, but that’s the gist of it. There are a number of scam “literary agents” that do this. Just keep in mind, folks, that the same thing holds true for agents as it does for publishers. MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NOT AWAY FROM THE AUTHOR. Literary agents are hard to get. It’s true. Believe me, I know it’s true. But they are hard to get for a reason: They only get paid if they sell your book. Thus they are very careful about the books they take on, because no one wants to work for free. Authors don’t. Publishers don’t, and agents don’t, either.
The problem with both of these scenarios is obvious and simple. If you pay an agent or a publisher to publish your book, then what is their incentive to sell it to others? After all, they already made their money. Off you. See how that works?
Now, I’m not talking about vanity presses or self publishing outfits. Those places don’t promise you anything. They tell you up front that they are a printing service and you know what you get going in. That’s different. They offer a legitimate service to self-publishers and to people who only need a few copies of a book printed for whatever reason. They are also pretty inexpensive to set up. CreateSpace, for example, is free unless you opt for their $39 Pro Plan and/or their Expanded Distribution, which is also $39. Your total cost of setup is less than $100, and that’s about the norm for this sort of thing. They don’t ask you for $4,000 and then say shit like “after it sells 5,000 copies, we’ll refund your money.” Bullshit. That’s what that is. Bullshit.
There are some very good resources for spotting scam agencies and publishers. Writer Beware is a great one, and so is Preditors and Editors. But for the most part, you can steer clear of scam agencies and publishers by following that one simple rule. That rule is that Agencies and Publishers pay YOU, not the other way around. Keep that in mind and you should be fine.