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Self-Publishing Scams and How to Spot Them

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Avoid scams!

Avoid scams!

The Call

Have you ever received an email or phone call that goes something like this . . .

"We're very interested in working with you on your book. We think you have a lot of potential. We also may introduce you to Big Name Publisher. Contact us if you'd like to discuss."

Eager-to-be-published authors who receive these kinds of messages could get so excited, they'll barely get through reading or hearing the message before they're dialing the phone to reply.

If this describes you, put down the phone for a minute and read through this article. Please. It could save you some heartache, headache, and money if the message you received is a self-publishing scam.

But how can you know if it's legit?

Competing for Author Dollars

In the not too distant past, print on demand (POD) technology was expensive and had limited availability. But as with any technology, as it becomes more readily available and affordable, we'll see more companies entering the self-publishing fray. So the number of companies from which an author can choose for book printing and publishing will likely expand. Not all of them will have the same level of experience and skill to assist authors.

As the number of competitors in this space increases, some of them may become more aggressive in their pursuit of selling POD services to authors. Don't automatically be sucked in when a company says they're interested in working with you. Of course they're interested in you . . . let's make that interested in your money. Know whose interests are being best served when researching your self-publishing options.

Tip: Research the companies you're considering to assist with self publishing your book so that you know what you're buying and what the company can do for you.

The Traditional Publishing Carrot

Authors often ask to pick my brain about publishing issues. So one day, an author asked me about a self-publishing program that said they would connect her with such-and-such Big Name Publisher about her self published book if she used their services. Hmm . . . legit?

Without knowing all the parameters of what this group was offering, I told her that she better seriously look at the terms of any contract she signs with them, preferably with the help of an attorney. Will they guarantee that introduction or the results of it? What fees are they charging for this added benefit? Will they be acting as her agent?

Let's be realistic. The possibility of a random self-published book being picked up by one of the big publishing houses is slim to almost none. These large organizations absolutely don't need to scour the self-publishing ranks for new material. They typically get more book proposals than they can handle.

Remember, every book project a traditional, or even indie, publishing house takes on is an investment for them. So it is highly unlikely that they will take on a project from a largely untested self-published author.

Tip: Always question any promises about introductions to various publishing houses.

Vanity Presses

Predatory publishing groups may pump up new authors with tales of how much potential they have. Sure, everyone has the potential to be a great author. Everyone has the potential to win the lottery, too. So these scammers aren't lying; they're just stretching the statistical reality.

They might also tell you you'll be successful since they can successfully help you get your manuscript produced into a print book. Again, they're not lying; they just have a different definition of "success" that has more to do with "printing" than "publishing." (You do understand the difference between those two terms, right?) Vanity presses of the past were of this variety.

Tip: If a self-publishing offer lauds your potential success as an author, call them out and ask how they determined that potential. Ask for numbers and research to prove it!

This is the saddest of the scams. I've heard stories of authors who have gotten sucked into self-publishing contracts that robbed them of their copyrights and/or their ability to publish their work elsewhere. Any exclusive arrangement is a huge red flag when it comes to self-publishing!

Self-publishing platforms are merely services that can help authors get their manuscripts into a printed or electronic form, distribute them into the marketplace, and facilitate sales. You're paying them for this service. So why should they have any rights to your work?

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Tip: Carefully review ALL terms of service, agreements, and contracts for self-publishing programs to make sure you protect your rights and your work. Reviewing with an attorney is recommended.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 19, 2019:

Hi Shiv! Actually, I started writing as a marketing copywriter for my job. That later led to becoming an editor and advertising director for a trade newspaper. Then I started the self publishing thing as a way to promote my promotional products business. Now I concentrate on writing to help other authors. A little bit of a detour, right? :)

We all have such different paths for our writing efforts. The point is to always be trying new things and looking for opportunities.

Good luck with your writing adventure!

Shiv from Delhi, India on November 19, 2019:

Hey Heidi,

Thanks for sharing this article. while reading I got a question in mind.

How did you get started with writing for publications or self-publishing?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 15, 2016:

Thanks, Lawrence, for adding that footnote to the discussion. Some of these programs may be worth participating in for promotional purposes only if (like Kindle select) there are some clear limitations to the concessions authors must make. Appreciate you adding that. Have a good one!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 15, 2016:

Lawrence, Createspace/KDP can be challenging at times, but definitely some of the more author-friendly platforms around. Glad you feel good about your experience and progress. Thanks so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great day!

Lawrence Hebb on July 15, 2016:


One thing forgot to mention is with Kindle if you want to get into their 'Kindle select' (their lending library where you get royalties when people loan your book out) you do sign an exclusive deal with them but it's only for 90 days with a clear cutoff date when you can re-sign if you want.

Just thought people might want to know that.


Lawrence Hebb on July 15, 2016:


I think what saved me from this path was the fact that people here had 'walked the path' I wanted to go and I was able to follow 'their lead'

I put my book out through Amazon (CreateSpace) and Kindle which n itself is a challenge as it's all 'up to you'

My attitude has been 'learning curve' with some things done right and others still needing to be fixed.

Thanks for the information in this hub as it showed something I seem to have gotten right

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 30, 2016:

Hi Teaches/Dianna! So, so true, if for nothing else but your own peace of mind. Thanks for stopping by and have a Happy July 4th!

Dianna Mendez on June 30, 2016:

Thank you for the tips on avoiding self-publishing scams. My take away is -- get a lawyer before your agree to anything. Good advice.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 21, 2016:

Thanks for the comments and stopping by, Larry! Have a great day!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 20, 2016:

Good information.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2016:

Happy Monday to you, too, Billybuc! I figured you'd have the wits and wisdom to not fall prey to these traps. Summer is here in CHI, too (90-ish past few days)! Stay cool, buddy!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 20, 2016:

I've received them by email, by snail mail and by phone, and I've ignored them all. But thanks for the reminder and a valuable piece of warning for those not aware.

Happy Monday, Heidi! Summer is here!!!!!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2016:

Yes indeed, FlourishAnyway! My heart just drops when an author tells me about the "deal" they're getting and I know it's a sketchy self publishing offer. I just hope that some of them will read this and at least question before they invest. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you're having a great summer so far (hot already here in CHI)!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2016:

Hi Jodah! Glad you were savvy enough about these organizations to not get hooked by them. Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 20, 2016:

Hi Reynold! No kidding! I think beginners are the most vulnerable when it comes to these issues. Thanks for the kind comments and have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 20, 2016:

Excellent advice. Too often people's egos and starry eyed dreams take the place of logic.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 19, 2016:

Good advice, Heidi. Thank you. I have been approached by a (so called) publisher by email about my work, but their prices were exorbitant. They tried to get my phone number to talk to me about it, but I refused to supply it. After two or three more emails they gave up.

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on June 19, 2016:

Hi Heidi, Lots of good things for beginners to be aware. Well done. Looking form more from you soon.

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