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Watch Out for Publisher Predators

As with any industry, there are good publishers and there are others that you need to avoid like the plague.  Publishers charge to print books; it is their business.  But there are some who seduce a new author with promises of extra-small fees—and then employ a bait and switch operation in which the fees do nothing but escalate. 

These particular “vanity presses” are considered to be the predators of the print world because they often take authors’ money and provide very little except a relatively poor-quality printing job.  Are there red flags that can help you spot these sharks?  Yes.  Here are some of the lines they use.

#1:  We publish your book for “Only [small flat fee].”

Carefully check out what this means, what is being offered.  Does this include proofs?  Does it include re-doing mistakes or changing layout?  What is the quality of the paper—does the ink bleed through?  (Ditto for the cover.)  Will you have a real, live person to work with?  How transparent is this organization and what exactly are the costs for their add-on’s (many of which are necessary)?  What have other authors had to say about them? (Check writer’s blogs, Google and Yelp—see #5 below.)

#2:  We list your book on Amazon.  

Think “Oh, big deal.”  Anyone can list on Amazon—set aside 30 minutes, fill out the form and you are listed.  Should you be listed on Amazon? Yes indeed.  You can do it, though—anyone can.  Vanity presses’ shot in the arm was Amazon—otherwise, their books never got any type of national or international presence.  If you dream of getting your book in a bookstore, though, you need to realize that many bookstores do not deal with these types of publishers.

In a phone conversation with a key person at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, I was told, “We don’t purchase vanity press books—they usually fall apart, plus, they are costly per unit and there is usually no return policy (standard procedure with the established publishing houses).  It’s a clear pass for us.”

#3:  We have the solution for author success.  

This “success” will be predicated on your buying their myriad add-on packages.  This can drive your “investment” with this enterprise up to many thousands of dollars.  Success for them, but not for you.

#4:  Publisher looking for authors.  

Yes, there is always the rare gem, breakthrough author that the world discovers (think J.K. Rowling) and sends into the stratosphere.  But this is a rarity.  Publishers actually have authors up the wazoo—what they want is an author who’ll buy their packages.

#5:  “Author Beware” notices from credible sites.  

Start with a search on Google and put in the name of the publishing entity you are checking out.  Follow it with the words: complaints, scams and problems and see what pops up.  The website, is a good place to go, too.

#6:  Bait and Switch.  

Many of these companies pitch you—after all, most have a boiler-room type operation because it’s all about quotas for them—and seduce you so that you don’t realize that you have to pay them much to publish your book.  Not until you have submitted information—your name, contact info, book title, even the manuscript—do you discover that you need to pony up more funds to keep the process going.  Upshot: they’ve got your contact info now and wasted your time, to boot.

#7:  Do publishers rip-off authors—and if so, do they do it deliberately?

The answer is simply yes, and they do it every day.  Your best defense: don’t get involved with anything that looks like, feels like, or acts like a predator.  Here are some to definitely avoid: Author House/Solutions, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Palibris, Author HouseUK, Wordclay and Balboa Press.  There are more and they are proliferating as book publishing itself becomes easier and more accessible.



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