“So basically, you pay someone to publish your work, and after you’ve paid them to publish, they continue to make around 80% of the royalties off of your work you financially backed to produce. Rip-off? I’d say so.”
—Writer and comedian Ron Placone
You’re on your favorite social media writers page, and you see this amazing offer pop up. The offer revolves around an individual or company looking for writers, and they guarantee that if you sign up with them, they will publish your work, no matter what.
If you’re a seasoned writer, you know it’s a scam, so quickly scroll on by. But what about newbies? What about those new writers who have yet to taste the horrors of those who feast on the uninformed, yet hunger to have their work published?
Well, truth be told, you’ll find quite a few sad tales on the internet where many writers have been cheated by the aggressive tactics used by so-called vanity publishers.
Joseph Epstein once wrote, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.” With those types of stats, it’s only natural for scammers to be drawn to these people, intending to defraud, under the umbrella of vanity publishing or author services companies.
In vanity publishing or subsidy publishing, the publisher assumes no financial risk. As a writer, you will pay all costs, even print on demand fees. The vanity publisher risks nothing, whereas you risk everything. For instance, you’ll pay for every expense, and give up your rights to your book — forever. They will often offer you packages which boast about the royalties you’ll receive and the marketing services they’ll provide, which are little to none.
Vanity publishers are not only defrauding writers, but they are causing much harm regarding the sciences. According to a 2017 article posted in Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, entitled, “The False Academy, Predatory Publishing in Science and Bioethics”, unscrupulous researchers can skip peer-reviewed journals, and simply publish their work. In the competitive world of research, one where “publish or perish” can make or break careers, this is turning out to be an issue, as junk science can be passed off as legitimate.
While not every vanity publisher is out to get you, there are quite a few that are. Those that are shady will be vague about their services. They’ll wow you with the plans they have for your book, but steer clear of mentioning how they will carry those plans out. If you inquire as to their track record in book sales, they’ll more than likely not have one.
Self-Publishing, Retailers, and Aggregators
When you self-publish, you are the one in control. You decide the price of your book, the marketing — everything — and here is the problem. Some writers find themselves in way over their heads with the business end of things and might seek solace within the arms of a vanity publisher. After all, those publishers sing a pretty song richly laden with promises to lure the unsuspecting into their web of lies.
To encourage you to continue with your self-publishing plans, there are several legitimate, not-for-profit organizations devoted to enhancing the lives of indie writers, such as the Independent Publishing Resource Center. In fact, an excellent first stop for the new indie writer is the Authors Guild, where they offer a plethora of valuable information for those new to the world of self-publishing.
You should also know self-publishing companies are divided into retailers and aggregators. Retailers are those entities such as Amazon, which sell your books through their storefronts. Aggregators not only sell your books but also distribute them to the libraries and retailers they partner with. By using an aggregator, you’ll be able to reach a wide audience with just one account. Using an aggregator can also help get your book to digital libraries such as Scribd, which reject books directly solicited from authors.
Re-branding and Clones
Vanity publishers have developed a rather sordid reputation over the years for swindling writers out of their cash. As a result, some publishers have made a clever switch and market themselves as self-publishing companies, or author service companies.
You can check this by doing a simple web search for their brand name. You will quickly see whether they’ve re-branded themselves as a “self-publishing company” to lure in the uninformed, when they are, in reality, a vanity publisher.
If you want to avoid the scams offered by vanity publishers, then you need to know about clones. Vanity publishing houses often use clones to continue scamming writers. When I say clone, I’m referring to their ability to operate under different names. Some infamous companies operate under 5 or more brand names. To help you wade through the murky muck of scammers, the Alliance of Independent Authors has created a list of the best and worst author services companies for you.
Remedying the Situation
If you feel you have been a victim of fraud, seek help immediately to avoid the statute of limitations. Legal organizations such as the American Bar Association Lawyer Referral Network and Law Help are there to assist you if finances are a concern.
Another excellent resource is the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts: legal service organizations that serve artists in each state. If you suspect a scam, don’t stop there. Alert the FBI, Attorney General, and Better Business Bureau. The FBI also operates the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which handles crimes involving websites. Finally, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners can assist you with your case and filing a fraud examination report.
When you write with the intention to self-publish, you instantly become not only a writer but a businessperson and a marketer as well. You need to learn how to sell your book. This can understandably overwhelm new authors, and this is where the scammers come in. They see fledgling writers as nothing more than fodder—things to feed off of, to sustain their own greed.
These publishers charge enormous amounts of money, charging you for everything from copyright, ISBN, print on demand charges, and whatever else they see fit to tack a fee on. By knowing the difference between vanity publishers and true self-publishing, the new, indie author will have full control over their content.