The Number One Rule to Avoid Being Scammed in Publishing


Okay guys, I’ve been focusing so much on the legitimate side of publishing that I haven’t focused on the other side.  And part of this reason is because it’s heartbreaking to me.  But in the past few days I’ve had a ton of questions about publishing and how I found my agent, what the aspiring author should do, etc. and I felt it was time to talk about it.

The biggest thing in publishing is this, an author should NEVER (note the bold, italicized capitalized lettering) pay for anything to do with publishing.  How real publishing works is this:  You submit your manuscript to an agent/editor and then they decide whether to accept it or not. 
Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky.  Let’s go down the path I went first.  The agent route.  Okay, so you’ve submitted to Ms. Dream Agent and she responds with a yes.  She sends you her agency agreement; you hash out a few logistics and then you both sign it.  Then she offers editing advice, you fix the manuscript and then she takes over and starts submitting to editors at different publishing houses. 
An editor comes back and makes an offer on your book and then (after many, many things) it gets published.  They send you your advance and royalty check to your agent, who takes her 15% and sends you the rest. 
Going to an editor first is the same as above, minus the agent.
Notice that the only time I mentioned money was when I talked about getting an advance and/or a royalty check.  That’s the only time money should EVER exchange hands.  Also note in which direction it’s going.  Money ALWAYS flows to the author. 
Here’s things you should know about money:
The publisher: 
1)  Buys your book.  That’s why they offer an advance.  (NOTE: Some of the smaller publishers do not offer an advance, but sometimes they offer better royalties.  That doesn’t make them bad.  Unless they want you to pay for something.)
2) They pay for everything that goes into your book (ie cover art, editing, marketing, etc.)
3) Will NOT ask you to buy your own books.  Most publishers will give you a few “author copies” (this can vary from 1—at small presses—to 50—at the big boys).
The agent:
1)   Does not get paid until you do.  That means that they won’t ask for a reading fee or any such garbage.  They collect their percentage (usually 15% for domestic sales and 20% for foreign) and that’s it.  This is the biggest reason that agents are so picky about what they pick up.  NOTE:  Sometimes they will ask for basic expenses( i.e. photocopying, postage, etc.  But this is usually very small—less than $250–since most things are done electronically these days and it’s usually taken out of your royalty and/or advance checks. 
2)   Work for you.  It’s better if it’s a partnership since you’re both after the same thing, but in essence they are offering a service to you.  Much the same as a plumber or electrician.
So now you’re asking me, what are the big red flags to help me avoid being taken advantage of?  Well, the biggest ones are to not pay a red cent.  If they want you to pay ANYTHING up front, run.  Run as far and as fast as you can. 
Second, do your research.  Go to Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background checks; do a search on anyone your planning on submitting to(yes I know I ended in a preposition  J).  Read what other’s have said and heed their advice.
 Even if an agent/editor is “new” they should have a publishing “footprint,” which means you should be able to find them somewhere.  They need to have experience somewhere.  For instance, a new agent should have either done an internship with an established agency and/or have been an editor for a publishing house. 
Editors should have a few years interning or working for a house, so they know how it works and what makes a great book work. 
Check out Writer’s Beware.  This is an awesome site that is dedicated to helping aspiring writers educate themselves on how to not be part of a scam.  They list all the bad publishers and agents/agencies. Don’t forget to check out their blog.
Go to Editors and Preditors– they also keep an extensive list of agents and publishers with recommendations or warnings.
 You can also contact either of these websites for more detailed info on a particular person, if you so wish. 
Now the reason I’m specifically posting this today is because of this “publisher.”  Publish America.  They say they are a “traditional” publisher, which in fact they are not.  They have scammed over 40,000 aspiring authors and the numbers keep climbing.  Please do NOT be one of them.  I will go more into another post on Wednesday about why to avoid this “publisher” specifically, but in the meantime, please check out Janet Reid’s blog on their latest “deal.”  And don’t forget to check out the other resources I listed so you can learn how to avoid being scammed.
Until next time…

7 Responses to “The Number One Rule to Avoid Being Scammed in Publishing”

  1. theinimitablem1 says:

    >Excellent advice!

    I checked the list just to make sure we weren't on it – 🙂

    Seriously, I've had people come to me after many on the list provided by the Science Fiction Writers Association have dunned them for quite a bit of money. It's tough, and the predators are everywhere. Caveat scriptor, and ask if you're not sure.

  2. RavenClark says:

    >Great advice, Jess. Brave of you to do that. Have to respect you for addressing such a difficult subject.


  3. jasouders says:

    >Maggie: I didn't check the list to see if you were on it, but I'd have been surprised to see that you were. You are awesome and I love what you are doing with MJ's book. I need to get you in for an interview, lady! I'll send you the questions today. ; )

    Raven: Thanks! It's been something I've been debating for a while, but so many wonderful authors have been asking me for advice that I just had to do it. I don't want them falling into the trap.

  4. Liz Czukas says:

    >I wish there was some way to tattoo this on the inside of every aspiring writers' eyelids. NO MONEY goes from you to the agent or publisher.

    Good reminders, Jess. Have I mentioned lately that you're my hero for having an agent? *swoons*

    – Liz

  5. Tiger Princess says:

    >Don't get me started on PA! A friend of mine just suffered with them and I suffered along with him…

    They paid $1 for full rights to the MS, sent him the galley to proof read, ignored his corrections, didn't seek the licence for a few lines of song lyrics that were essential to the story – just chopped the lyrics out, so it didn't make sense.

    Then they printed it with his name spelt wrong, didn't consult him on the cover design and to add insult to injury, the printed version is the same as his MS, mistakes and all.

    They won't let him out of the contract, won't correct anything in the printed book and are refusing to allow him to write fan fiction based on his own world!

    The poor guy is disabled, has very little cash and can't afford to seek any legal help.

    DO NOT BE SUCKERED IN BY Publish America!

  6. jasouders says:

    >LOL, Liz, and yes this should be posted on every author's eyelids. I completely agree.

    Tiger Princess. I'm so sorry this happened to your friend. There are ways out of the contract, so I've heard. I can put you in touch with someone who may be able to help him. Just email me if you want some more info.

  7. RavenClark says:

    >Tiger Princess – Ugh!!! Ohhh, that makes me SO MAD. I have a disability, and an on assistance, so I get that. I know how hard that is. I hope he gets it worked out somehow.

    You may like to see my own blog on VANITY PRESSES. It may offer further help, to you and any other writer.

    In advance, if anyone happens to read mine and notice that I say not all vanity presses are bad, I did that for reason. I have friends who went with one and insist they had good experiences. I had to be careful. By and large, they are little different from this Publish America, and are out to scam.