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  • Writer's pictureFlorence Osmund

Beware of Scams

I wrote this article for The Story Reading Ape several years ago, but the primary content is still relevant in today's publishing world which has unfortunately become a haven for scam artists. This article will be especially helpful for those of you just starting out.

The self-publishing industry has become one of the fastest growing industries of the century. According to R. R. Bowker, the self-publishing industry has grown 287% since 2006, with close to 150,000 self-published books released in 2011, an astounding 43% of all new books released.

Unfortunately, this self-publishing growth spurt has also created a haven for scam artists to take advantage of aspiring authors—authors who have decided to self-publish as opposed to taking the traditional publishing route, authors who are anxious to get published and naïve about the seamier side of the industry.

You must be an informed consumer when it comes to purchasing publishing services. Here are some things to watch out for before you choose a service to help publish, promote and sell your book.


Letʾs start with some definitions.

Self-publishing has been around for a long time, but until recently, most authors looked to traditional or mainstream publishers to get their work published. Traditional publishers purchase the right to publish your manuscript and assume all costs associated with creating, editing, formatting, promoting, printing, and distributing your book. Because they rely on book sales for revenue, they are highly selective about who they represent. The author assumes no upfront costs and receives a modest royalty based on sales.

When an author decides to self-publish, he or she essentially becomes the publisher and is responsible for all aspects for publishing the book, including cover design, formatting, editing, printing, promoting, marketing and distribution. Authors contract with companies or individuals that offer self-publishing or assisted self-publishing services to handle what they cannot do for themselves. The finished product then becomes the sole property of the author.

Vanity publishers are publishing houses where authors pay to have their book published. They generally do not offer any other services besides taking the authorʾs ready-for-press manuscript and producing a printed book. They have no vested interest in book sales because their revenue comes from the fees they charge for this service, and because of this, they are generally not concerned with the bookʾs content.

Subsidy, joint venture, partner, or co-op publishers are similar to vanity publishers except they contribute a portion of the cost to design, edit, promote, market, and distribute your book (which then becomes their property) for either a fee, a percentage of the royalties, or both.

Beware of the following:

  • Vanity, subsidy, joint venture, partner, and co-op publishers masquerading as a small or traditional publisher.

  • A publisher who claims to be traditional publisher and asks for up-front money from you. Traditional publishers do not ask you for money.

  • Verbal promises not in writing.

  • Service providers who claim you keep 100% of the royalties.

  • Service providers who advertise, “We Want to Help New Writers.”

  • Service providers who advertise, “Get Published For Free.”

  • Contracts that state they will print so many books, and if they donʾt sell, you are obligated to buy them back.

  • Fast-talking, hard-selling, slick salesmen.

  • Service providers who make unrealistic promises or guaranty success.

  • Convoluted contract language.

  • Service providers who seek you out, tell you they are impressed with your work and recognize a success story when they see it.

  • Outrageous fees for design, editing, formatting and printing your book. Some general guidelines follow, but keep in mind, less or more expensive fees from service providers does not necessarily mean they are non-reputable.

Ø  Cover design – $500 – $1,200 is not uncommon for a professional book cover design, but it can vary depending on how much detail is involved and how well you communicate your ideas to the illustrator.

Ø  Content editing – $0.01 – 0.04 per word

Ø  Line editing – $0.015 – 0.030 per word

Ø  Copyediting – $0.01 – 0.02 per word

Ø  Proofreading – $0.01 – 0.025 per word

Ø  Internal formatting – $125 – 400 for a 6X9, 300-page black and white interior book with no illustrations, with the lower end of the range being for standard templates and the higher end for customization

Ø  Printing – $5.00 – 7.00 for a 300-page, 6X9, black & white interior, high-gloss exterior book

(Update: The prices above are somewhat higher today in 2023.)

Here is a link to a site that flags non-reputable agents, editors, publishers and illustrators: Pred-Ed

Here are two widely-circulated articles by Joel Friedlander and David Gaughran on their take on spammy publishing houses. (Update: The David Gaughran article is no longer available online.)


When I decided I wanted a website to promote myself and my books, I found a website created by another author that looked like something I wanted to own. I asked her who created it for her, and she said, “I created it myself.” Now I have just average computer skills and didnʾt think I could ever create my own website, but she convinced me otherwise. And she was right. I use Yahooʾs Site Solution web hosting system. It is user-friendly, fairly flexible, and they have great tech support. There are many other similar web hosting sites.

(Update: After using Yahoo's Site Solution for a number of years, I switched to Wix, which is what I currently use for web design and hosting.)

Beware of the following:

  • Service providers who charge exorbitant fees for developing an easy website. I had my very basic five-page website up and running with about twenty hours invested in it. If I charged $50/hr for my time, that would be $1,000. I wouldnʾt pay more than that for an easy website.

  • Service providers who charge a fee to manage a website you can easily manage yourself.

  • High set-up and monthly web hosting fees. There was no set-up fee with Yahoo, and I pay less than a $10/month service fee.

Here is a great article on how to start/create your own website: The Site Wizard


In a nutshell, a blog tour is a collection of authors who are given the opportunity to showcase their books on a predetermined number of blogs in an effort to improve name/book recognition and gain exposure and reviews. Most tours run for two weeks. Some allow you to participate in an interview, provide a guest blog, and offer giveaways. A tour host coordinates the process.

Beware of the following:

  • Large fees to participate in the tour.

  • Promises that the tour will result in increased sales.

  • Participation in blogs that have insignificant followings.

  • Participation in blogs that have followings that are not pertinent to your book.


Entering writing contests hosted by large writing organizations and writerʾs magazines are a great way to get recognition for your work. Unfortunately, many unethical people out there are making a living from scamming authors with phony contests.

Beware of the following:

  • Contest organizers who lure you in with the promise of a publishing contract.

  • Contests with high entry fees and very little payout.

  • Contests hosted by an unknown sponsor with little or no track record.


Social media is another great way to promote yourself and your books. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn provide a platform for a potentially large audience. User accounts for each of these sites are free and extremely easy to create and manage yourself, but there are people out there who will try to convince you that you need their services to get the most out of them.

Beware of the following:

  • Individuals who claim they can significantly increase your following and traffic on social media sites.

  • Large monthly fees to manage your social media sites.


If you choose to go the traditional publishing route to get your book published, youʾll likely need a literary agent. A good agent will act as your business manager by finding the right publisher for your book, assisting you with contract negotiations, suggesting self-marketing tools,nd providing other relevant industry-related advice.

Beware of the following:

  • Agents who ask for a fee to read your manuscript

  • Agents who ask for any up-front fee. (Reputable agents earn money by enjoying a percentage of your royalty.)

Here is a link to a site that flags non-reputable agents, editors, publishers and illustrators: Pred-Ed

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