Buyer Beware: Predatory Publishers


piranaYou’ve got a book. It’s ready to be published, but you don’t know the first thing about how to do that. You ask around. No, you don’t want to go through the traditional publishing route because it could be several years after your book is accepted for it to even see the light of day. You want your book published and you want it now, though you don’t want to self-publish either. It sounds like too much work.

Then, someone comes along who tells you they will publish your book for you. Wow! A dream come true. Or is it?

What is a Publisher?

There are different kinds of publishers. Some are legitimate and will be good for you, while others are predators looking to make money off of you. The latter will not help you except to produce an inferior product that won’t last long in the market place.

Let’s look at the difference:

A publisher could be one of three things according to the dictionary. A publisher is a firm in the publishing business; a publisher is a person engaged in publishing periodicals such as magazines, books, or music; or a publisher is the proprietor of a newspaper.

Unfortunately, with this broad definition anyone can claim to be a publisher.

A legit publisher will not ever ask for your money. Ever. I can’t stress this enough.


An assisted publishing company will ask for money. And they are legit. So what is the distinction?

An assisted publishing company offers services to get your manuscript in shape, get artwork and narrative formatted, get the cover and book designed, and even offer printing options. This is a very popular way to get your book published. You have control over the final product, but it is not as time-intensive as self-publishing.

Here’s the difference between a company who assists you in publishing your book, and a non-legitimate “publishing” company who offers to do the same thing for money. The assisted publishing company will tell you about all costs upfront, you will not be surprised about “hidden” costs. And they will never ask for your rights, or for royalties. That’s super important. That’s the distinction.


What kind of things will cost money if you want to publish your book?

Note: Any legit publisher will encourage you to find an editor, if your book is not ready to be published.

An assisted publishing company may have editors working for them, or be able to suggest a good editor to help you polish your manuscript into a very good book. You should have a choice of editors. A non-legit publishing company wants money for editing your book, or they will suggest an editor who will be giving that publisher money for recommending them. The transaction between you and your editor should be inviolate.

Editing the book costs money. What is an editor? The developmental editor tells you where your weak spots are and how to fix them. A copy-editor fixes all your grammar and formatting mistakes. Some editors do both, and charge for each type of editing. An editor may charge between $40 an hour to $100 an hour. An hour being between 4 or 5 pages at 250 words a page. Some charge by the word, between one cents and three cents a word. It comes out to about the same thing.

Note: Most LINE editors estimate the time they will need based on the number of errors in the first 10 – 25 pages.

Book cover design costs money. A book cover designer will be around $25 an hour. If you provide your own artwork the final cost is greatly reduced. You want to give the designer several examples of books with covers you like in your genre. The designer will send you half a dozen mock-ups to choose from. It’s almost painless.

Another thing that costs money in publishing a book is formatting the book for Kindle, Nook, and CreateSpace. The cost should be around a hundred dollars. That cost is reflective of fiction books with no pictures.

Printing services that are not Print on Demand like CreateSpace, are costly, but sometimes more convenient than POD. The assisted publishing company will find you the best deal and offer you options. Traditional printers are usually cheaper per unit.

Assisted publishing companies often have all these services in house and offer different levels of cost to you. This is convenient for you, but it does legitimately cost money. And you will be happy with the end result.

You are usually offered all your book’s digital files to keep in case you want to do something with them yourself eventually.

Assisted publishing companies never take rights, or royalties.


So what does a small press offer?

A legit small press publisher does the editing themselves, and they are good! They do the book cover themselves. They either have someone in house doing great book covers and book design, or they are getting covers from or the free covers offered from CreateSpace. Either way, none of this should cost the author a dime.

They may get your book into local bookstores. Or even larger ones on a larger scale. They also will have done all the work getting your book ready to be put on library shelves with all the necessary Library of Congress numbers.

Small presses will offer a contract, which will ask you to give up certain rights to your book. These will be limited and will not require you to sign over your first born. Small presses are usually larger than some person doing this out of their living room, and they have a library of books behind them, and a bunch of happy authors. Get references. Get references. Get references.

Never give up your copyright. The book is yours. You’re the author. That’s the right of copyright. Don’t give it away.

A small press publisher will keep your book’s digital files until the rights time period runs out, at which point the author should ask for them.

Small publishers may not pay an advance but they do pay royalties (a percentage of sales). Usually the royalties paid by a small publisher are larger than the royalties paid by a large publisher. The money should always flow to the author, not the other way. The small publisher will do some marketing for you, too. Any marketing done is not charged to the author. A publisher asking you to pay for marketing means the publisher is not legit.


Then, what is Self-Publishing?

With Self-publishing you have complete control over all the moving parts. You can hire all the people to do the work, or you can learn to do it all yourself (except editing, always hire an editor), and you have a product in your hands that you will be very proud of because you did it. You have all your book files in all formats so you can decide what to do with them.


What does a Traditional Publisher Offer that I won’t get with self-publishing, assisted publishing, or a Small Press?

Legitimate large publishers, like Penguin-Putnam, Harcourt, Random House, etc., do all the work including the printing in paperback, hardback, and ebooks. They take royalties to cover the cost of the advance they paid the author up front. The advance paid to the author is sometimes substantial. They take rights, too (for a limited time). But here’s what you get in return for going with a large publisher – an advance, guaranteed shelf space in bookstores across the United States, foreign book translations and sales, a place on library shelves, a bit of nationwide publicity, and a lot of kudos. After the advance is paid out the author will then begin to receive royalties. It won’t be much because the publisher is still making money from the book, too. That’s why they paid the big bucks to have your book published. They get to receive some glory, too. Nothing wrong with that. This is the way it’s been done for over a hundred years.

So what does a Predatory Publisher Look Like?            wolf-smile

A small publisher who takes your rights, your royalties, and all the money they can squeeze out of you. They do it without giving the author any benefits, such as, paying you an advance, getting you any publicity, getting your book on shelves ANYWHERE, or letting you feel in any way happy about your making the mistake of using them.

I recently heard about a publisher who took a novelist’s money supposedly for an editor to edit the manuscript, the manuscript was not edited and the editor never received their money. Wow.

This person (operating out of their living room) claims to be a legit publisher. This person takes money from the hopeful author for an editor, takes money for a book cover, takes money for book formatting, takes money for phone calls made with the author, takes 40% royalties, takes all rights for the published book, and won’t hand over the formatted files of the book so the author could order their own books to sell. What did the novelist get in return? A novel that isn’t well edited, and nothing can be done short of getting a lawyer.

That’s horrible, but buyer beware should about cover that, right?

But what if this publisher has a position in a writing organization? People see this person as having some writing legitimacy, right? Exactly. That’s what being predatory is.

So here’s the thing: credibility comes from performance (get references!) not position. This “publisher” is after profit, not a good product.

So yes, buyer beware! Get references, and if a publisher or a literary agent asks you for money — Run away.


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