If you are writing either a nonfiction or fiction book (or want to) and are thinking about how to get it published, here are some red light warnings of just three of the scams that abound in the book publishing industry.
But before we go into the stories, here’s a quick glance at the backdrop…
As you know, the whole book publishing marketplace has changed enormously in the last 30 years, largely due to the advent of the internet which has made it easy for anyone to publish anything.
After some unsettling years, though, we have now calmed down and embraced the good, as well as the bad. Here is my own humble opinion of what good book publishing options for authors exist in 2015:
Traditional trade publishers – they have been around for over 200 years and are still clinging to their original business models with their fingernails. The business models may be old, but they’re honest. Upside: you get good distribution of your book in bookshops and online, everywhere. Downside: your royalties are pretty slim, and you have to do all the marketing unless you write million-selling bodice-rippers.
Self-publishing service providers – these are honest businesses that tell you upfront they have the expertise you need to put your book together, design it, get it printed and distributed, but you need to pay for the services like you’d pay for advertising, PR or direct marketing. They differ from “vanity publishers” because these outfits are totally open and up-front about the costs involved, and genuinely will help you make the right decisions about your book.
Co-operative publishers – these tend to be hybrids of the first two, offering some services for free in exchange for a percentage of sales, with other services you can buy on a fast-food takeaway / takeout menu basis.
Book publishing coaches – these people just help you get your book written and if you want publishing services, will recommend those to you. Most of these people are honest and very skilled. But beware the cowboys (see below.)
Forgive me if I have forgotten anyone…
Book publishing scam number one
Nearly everyone has heard about – and laughed at – “vanity publishing,” but amazingly enough these companies are still around, osmosing money from unwitting wannabee authors, like the bottom-feeding pond life they are.
Essentially they flatter you into parting with a large sum of money in exchange for which they “publish” your book. Because usually they’re glorified jobbing printers they put your text straight out as it comes in with no editing or checking, print it up, bind the books and deliver them to you in boxes which you put in your garage and wonder what the hell to do with them next. Promises of marketing and distribution are not fulfilled.
Just for fun I investigated one of these book publishers and to all intents and purposes, the initial phases of negotiation were just as you would expect from a traditional trade book publisher. I had to submit proposals with three sample chapters; after several weeks I received an email from them saying that they were now passing my proposals on to their chief editor.
Another few weeks and I got a letter saying that the chief editor believed my stuff showed promise although I would have to do more work on the book, that I would be expected to make a “small contribution” towards the cost of the book’s production, and please would I telephone her to discuss this in more detail.
Aha, here we go, harsh truth coming up…
I dialed the number and the phone was answered by a woman with a voice that growled like a Bull Mastiff on testosterone supplements… “yes, this is she.” We skittered around the subject for a few minutes and eventually I thought, let’s not waste any more time here, so asked what she meant by the “small contribution.”
“Well of course as book publishers we invest at least £10,000 pounds in producing a new book and getting it out to the markets,” she rumbled, “and all we would ask from you is just £2,600.”
(Nearly $4,000 US.) That was for a print run of a few hundred paperback copies. No distribution, no marketing, diddly squat.
What really irked me about this obvious vanity book publishing scam was the way that they used conventional publishing techniques at first, to get me on the hook. Less cynical authors could well find the early part of the process really gratifying – “oh, at long last someone thinks my book is good enough to publish” – and once they eventually get to the crunch point where money changes hands, they’re too emotionally committed to the project to back out.
Needless to say I had no hesitation in telling the old foghorn what I thought of her business model.
Book publishing scam number two
Once upon a time not a million years ago I had a book marketing client called Miranda. She wrote romantic fiction and had been working with a Fairy Godmother Book Coach (FGBC).
Here is how the story unfolds…
**FGBC hooks author by hinting that she will find a “publisher” for author’s book as long as author works with her. Because Miranda wants to write a trilogy of these books, FGBC signs her up for a 3-book deal – however long that takes.
**FGBC stiffs author for £X00 a month for a weekly exchange of emails, comments on work done so far, and one phone call. This goes on for several if not many months. Note: FGBC “edits” the work but although the spelling and grammar are OK (happily Miranda is good at those anyway) it’s speckled with glaring content and contextual mistakes. Not the FGBC’s problem!
**FGBC works in cahoots with a General Publisher (GP – possibly one of several) called “Fancy Name Publishing Ltd” who on cue falls in love with the author’s book and offers to publish it for nothing on Amazon print and Kindle. Maybe even pays a small advance. Author is thrilled to have a “real” publisher, not a co-op or self-publishing service.
**FGBC pays GP a couple of hundred pounds (maybe three hundred USD dollars) to, in effect, self-publish the book via Amazon Createspace and Kindle … however author thinks it’s a traditional trade publishing deal with a strong focus on Amazon.
**FGBC may have a variety of different relationships with these GPs, but you get the drift.
**FGBC meanwhile has pocketed large fees. Author is left to market books and distribute them (other than on Amazon.) Author also complains that the GP is rather backward in coming forward with the sales figures. No surprise there, then.
Book publishing scam number three
One thing that really makes me want to spit is when I see how authors (usually of business/self-help books either self-published or done through less than scrupulous publishing setups) carry out a campaign to get their book listed as a best seller on Amazon. It’s not difficult: you tell all your contacts to buy your book at a given time on a particular day, in return for which you will send them all kinds of freebies and goodies for free.
Assuming your contacts perform, because of the way in which Amazon works this shoots the title up to the number one spot for an hour or three and the author then “genuinely” can claim that his/her book has been a number one best-seller. I expect you have heard of this scam already.
I was bitching and moaning about it recently to my friend and colleague Mindy Gibbins-Klein, a popular and talented book coach and publisher here in the UK, and she came up with a potential solution:
“If your book has reached the Amazon category slot purely on its own merits it should be called an ‘ORGANIC’ best seller.”
In my case I have had two “organic best sellers” in recent years and flatly refuse to lower myself to such base practices as bribing purchasers. And sadly the term “organic best seller” has not really gathered much momentum in nonfiction circles. I suspect I can guess why.
Here’s the moral of the stories: if you’re writing a book, watch out for book publishing scams! And if you found this article helpful, please share it with your book writing friends and colleagues.
Useful further reading:
How To Write Winning Non-Fiction by Suzan St Maur
How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss by Lucy McCarraher