Book publishing – scams are alive and well and living in the USA, part 2

By James A Rose

In last’s week’s article, James Rose, from Tennessee-based, shared his view of traditional publishers and literary agents in the USA – both the good and the bad. As I mentioned last week, it’s no surprise that – if anything – there are even more potential scams to watch out for in the USA than there are here in the UK. Anyway, this week James looks at the fast-growing and increasingly complex area of self-publishing and its derivatives…

Book publishing scams are alive and well and living in the USA

Self-publishing in the USA: a bit of a minefield, but this advice will help you avoid the scams

Self-publishing is a catch all term referring to any company that provides any type of service that might be needed by an author who wishes to self-publish. Every publishing model except traditional is a so called self-publishing company and simultaneously there is no such thing as a self-publishing company.

The author is paying a company to perform tasks necessary to self-publish. This could be editing, printing or design services among others. In the end, however, only the author can self-publish.

What are the key self-publishing personae?

  • Author Service Company
  • Assisted Self-Publishing Company
  • Vanity Press
  • Subsidy Publisher

All of these terms refer to basically the same type of company. These are publishing companies that handle particular aspects of the publishing process or provide the convenience of packages which include all the services an author would need to self-publish.

Author Service Company and Assisted Self-Publishing Company mean essentially the same thing. We need to pick one term to refer to a company that provides services to self-publishing authors and logic dictates that the term should be Author Service Company so from here out that is what I will refer to them as.

Vanity Press is a term left over from a time when self-publishing was frowned upon and a segment of the literary community thought poorly of authors who could not get published traditionally. The assumption was that struggling writers must be vain if they wanted to be published so bad that they were willing to self-publish. The other origination of the term stems from the fact that some of these companies took advantage of authors by targeting the vanity that is fairly common among humans. A vanity press is just an author service company.

Subsidy Publishers are Author Service Companies that tie themselves to big name traditional publishers. The problem is that most of the time these big publishers don’t want to hassle with digging through their piles of rejected manuscripts so they use a sub-contractor. The idea is that maybe some money can be made off the rejections in the independent market so why let them go to waste.

Book publishing scams are alive and well and living in the USA

Subsidy Publishers – the garbage disposal arm of the traditional book publishing business?

Most of these sub-contractors have a horrible reputation for taking advantage of inexperienced authors. The biggest subsidy publisher of which you have probably heard is Author Solutions and they handle the manuscript salvaging process for many well-known traditional publishers.

One would assume that the big companies would want to protect their name and step in to stop the shady practices of Author Solutions but sadly, for the most part, this has proven to not be the case. It seems that big corporations in the publishing industry act like big corporations in every other industry and put money before people.

Marketing scams

The most common area where authors get ripped off by service companies is in marketing.

These companies will offer marketing packages that cost like $800 to set up a simple blog and a few social accounts. They may claim to be able to get your book into major bookstores, when in reality, they just get your book listed in a universal database, so should a customer walk into a major bookstore and request your book, the store will be able to find and order it.

Good book marketing is a time intensive and perpetual process that no one will do for anything less than a lot of money. Unless your pockets are deep, it is likely you will be forced to handle your own marketing.

Author Service Companies usually try to sell you things you don’t need, typically in package form or an upsell. The most ridiculous upsell I have heard of is the movie script package. You pay them an arm and a leg and they will convert your book to a movie script and pitch it to Hollywood. Ya, right. Don’t buy anything you don’t need. If a company does not offer à la carte pricing then don’t use them.

Another shady practice to watch out for is overpricing. The Author Service Company will sell you printed copies of your book at almost retail so you can’t make any money when you try to sell them somewhere else.

Royalty scams

The cruellest of scams these service companies may try on an author revolve around royalties.

Book publishing scams are alive and well and living in the USA

Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to accept royalty payments if you’re paying for the publishing service.

The bottom line is that these companies don’t put any of their own money on the line when you enlist their publishing services. You are paying them for the service. They are taking no risk.

If a company tries to force you in to signing a royalty contract, don’t hire that company. There are many variations of royalty agreements and the company might try to trick you with fine print so if you are unsure, be sure to have a lawyer go over the contract.

The contract quagmire

Also regarding contracts, there are a few more points of which you should be aware. Most of these Author Service Companies will not negotiate contracts. It is their way or the highway. They don’t really need your business. There is another sucker waiting in the wings.

These companies make sure that they own any work they do to your book. This does not or at least should not include the copyright to your manuscript but if they design the cover then they might try to say they own that design.

They may claim the same thing with the ISBN. The point here being that if you bail on the contract half way to completion, then any money spent up to that point will likely be wasted.

Again, the best advice here is to have a lawyer check the contract. But you need to be careful there too.

Most lawyers don’t know anything about publishing but they may know something about contract law so if you go into a random law office, they will probably agree to take a look at the contract.

Don’t make this mistake. Be sure to hire an attorney with experience in literary law.

Copyright and ISBN scams

Author Service Companies may try to charge you excessive fees for a copyright and an ISBN. Don’t fall for it. Your work is intrinsically copyrighted but getting it on file with the government should cost about 35 bucks. A single ISBN is about $120 from Bowker but these companies buy them in bulk for huge discounts.

You should not have to give up any part of your copyright to an Author Service Company. Traditional publishers may be able to get away with limited copyright ownership and in some situations it may even make sense such as selling your book in a foreign country.

Book publishing scams are alive and well and living in the USA

And equally. don’t get fooled into paying more than a small amount for copyright assertion and your ISBN.

There are too many variations on how a copyright applies in different circumstances to get into here but suffice it to say that an Author Services Company should never get claim on your copyright no matter what.

But there are  some good ones

While scams definitely exist in the author service business, there are just as many, if not more service companies that care about their clients and do good work. This is not to say that they are cheap. You get what you pay for. If you encounter a company with prices that seem too good to be true then they probably are.

Generally, just remember to check references, ask a lot of questions and have an attorney look at the contract. If they are not upfront about anything or omit important information from their website then avoid that company like the plague. Here is a good resource for checking the validity of author resources:

What about book coaches?

A book coach is an independent professional, many of whom have worked for traditional publishers, and know what it takes to bring a quality book to market and make it a success. A book coach will work closely with an author so s/he is able to achieve the desired outcome with little or no loss of control. A book coach will basically do the same thing that a DIY self-publishing author would do which is the hiring of contractors to handle the publishing to-do list.

The benefit is the book coach should already have the knowledge and industry contacts to make the finished product the best it can be. There have been stories of book coaches that took the money and ran or that vastly exaggerated their experience resulting in a finished product that was not up to par.

There are many excellent book coaches out there. You just have to be diligent and check references. Odds are that if a book coach has a good reputation then they will also cost you a good bit of money.

DIY Self-Publishing

If you want something done right then you have to do it yourself.

Do it yourself is the true definition of self-publishing and in reality, the course most indie authors will end up having to follow. You will have to do the planning and hiring yourself by finding and vetting contractors. This is not that difficult and saves money. Just be proactive and always ask for portfolios and past clients you can contact for references.

Going this route, a quality book could be brought to market for as little as $2,000, depending on the type of book. This cost does not include marketing because no entity will properly handle marketing for less than a small fortune. When we break down what is required, the process does not seem so overwhelming:

  • Editor
  • Copyright/ISBN
  • Cover Design
  • Print Formatting
  • eBook Formatting
  • Printer (just 50 – 200 copies to start) (Instant Publisher; sorry for the plug but you could do a lot worse)
  • eBook Marketplace (Kindle, Smashwords)
  • Print on Demand Marketplace (Createspace)
  • Some friendly consignment deals with local bookstores
  • The base for your author platform (website, social media, business cards)
  • Never-ending marketing

In the end you are either self-publishing or you’re not.

Self-publishing takes planning and diligence but it’s not rocket science. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.  That fear is exactly what fraudulent author service companies prey on.

The only way your book will be successful is with a great book and consistent long term marketing. Take whatever path that can help you best achieve that outcome.

James A. Rose is a writer for, a self-publishing company that has been helping authors bring their visions to life for the past 15 years. James has worked in the publishing industry since 2010 and during that time he has seen pretty much every problem that authors encounter during the self-publishing process. It is James’ goal to utilize his experience at Instant Publisher to help budding authors avoid common mistakes and self-publish the best book possible.

Any questions?

I’m sure James would be happy to answer any questions you may have about both Part 1 and this Part 2 of his contribution here on HTWB – just jot your questions down in the comments area below the Google Plus section.