Publishing Scam Advice

The best publishing scam advice is to remember the writer's golden rule:

Money flows to the writer! The publisher pays the writer. The agent takes 10-15% commission, and passes the rest to the writer. The writer should never have to pay anyone to publish their work, unless they self publish!

Agent Scams

The majority of publishers will only look at work submitted by agents, and because there is no licensing of agents, the market has many people calling themselves agents who are not legitimate agents.

They just need to print a business card, and they are good to go!

A legitimate agent makes their income from commissions from sale of books and not from any fees charged to the writer.

The scam agents make their money by charging the writer for various fees. These can include:

  • Reading and critique fees. This fee is for reading and reviewing manuscripts, however in the majority of cases the manuscript is never read, or there is no progress past the first chapter. As rejection is very common, the writer is unaware that their manuscript has never been read. There is usually no intention to pass the manuscript onto a publisher either. There may be a few legitimate agents who charge a lower fee [less than $100], but because it is so hard to determine who is legitimate, it is safer to go with an agent who isn't going to charge any fees.
  • Monthly retainer for 'representation'. This fee is for representing your work to publishers, but provides no incentive for the agent to get the work published, as it is easy money for doing little or nothing for several  months.
  • Book doctor or editing service. The agent may say the manuscript needs some work and refers the writer to an editing service or book doctor which may cost several thousand dollars. The end result is the agent still doesn't like the work but has earned a commission from the editing service or book doctor. A spin is sometimes added that a publisher won't look at any work unless it has been professionally edited - this is untrue and is said to earn more money from the inexperienced writer. If you plan on using a legitimate and professional free-lance editor, the rate is about $3 a page.
  • Expenses. Some agents charge for expenses such as calls, photocopying, postage etc and may want some paid up front. Most legitimate agents don't charge for these expenses. Some publishers also charge for submitting to publishers, such as $200 to submit to 10 publishers or $300 to 20 publishers, with the writer paying for the postage. Professional agents wouldn't send out that many mailings as it is unlikely that many publishers would be interested in the style of book - it is more likely to be 4 or 5 publishers.

Publisher Scams

One of the most popular publisher scams is to offer publication for a fee. They will often advertise for manuscripts which is your first clue of a scam as legitimate publishers never have to advertise as they always have an outstanding pile of manuscripts to review.

The alternative is to advertise for authors! Remember no legitimate publishers has to ever advertise for authors as they will have far more manuscripts than they can cope with. If you see adverts for authors or manuscripts, it is usually a vanity press.

Almost everyone who submits a manuscript is accepted and offered a contract with the writer being charged a reading fee [another clue it is a scam] or charged thousands of dollars to subsidize the cost of production [they are known as subsidy publishers if they do this].

The fee is usually higher than the production cost, but the writer may feel it is worth it in return for the promised marketing and distribution. These publishers never have a legitimate distribution or marketing system as very few bookstores deal with subsidy publishers.

publishing scam

As few bookstores ever order from subsidy publishers, the books [if any are ever printed] just sit in the warehouse. An alternative is for the publisher requiring the writer to purchase thousands of copies of the book and a high price and store them themselves. This means they can gather dust in the writer's premises!

The web have also provided opportunities for scams who offer electronic publication for a setup fee and monthly maintenance fees.

The problems can arise when they don't take the book down from the web when requested and keep charging the credit card despite requests to take the publication down.

When publishers state they can get the book distributed to major bookstore websites, again it should be a red flag as major bookstores don't display the contents of an entire book. Once the book has been displayed on the web in its entirety, it is unlikely any bookstore will want it as it is likely to be copied and widely read first.

If you see any claims in magazines or adverts that the publishers know the secrets to success, it is a red flag as there are no secrets to overnight success. Real publishers don't make those sort of claims as they know the reality of the publishing business.


Our publishing scam advice is:

  • Join a writer's group such as the Romance Writers of America [who have 140 chapters] as it provides the opportunity to ask about any agents or publishers you are considering.
  • Evaluate and research any agents first by using a site such as Agent Research that provides information on agents reputations. Their list of recommended agents don't charge any type of upfront reading fee, evaluation fee, marketing fee or any other fee.
  • Also check out Preditors and Editors who provide extensive lists of agents, editors and publishers with information on which ones are reputable and which ones are not, as well as scam warnings and advice, and Writer Beware  [on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website] who give good information on what to look for and also what to avoid, and a list of current scam alerts.
  • Don't trust magazine adverts or market guides as claims can be hard to verify. Request references from major publishing companies, and then ring the editor at that company and check. If there are any claims of membership of reputable associations, always ring the organisations and confirm the membership claim is legitimate.
  • When you finally have a contract, take your time and seek expert advice. No reputable publisher or agent would object to this.
  • If you want to self-publish, you can create your own small publishing company, choose a good printing service, buy the ISBN number and file for copyright. You have a better chance of getting a distributor to carry your books if you use your own imprint as most distributors don't deal with Vanity Publishers [their name on your book]

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