Avoiding Subsidy Publishing “Scams”

The autumn scam avoidance series continues today with a look at subsidy publishing.

Not all subsidy publishing is a scam–but in today’s publishing world, “vanity press”-style subsidy publishing is a terrible deal for the author. Legitimate self-publishing options have eliminated authors’ need to pay exorbitant fees to see their work in published formats. There’s no longer any need to pay a vanity press unreasonable fees to publish (or market) your work–so don’t do it.

Let’s look at some tips for identifying (and avoiding) “vanity presses” and unreasonable subsidy publishing deals.

1. Legitimate presses almost never approach an author directly. Yes, exceptions do exist, but a publisher approaching you “out of the blue” is a huge red-flag. Publishing industry models for both traditional and self-publishing normally involve the author approaching the publisher first. 

Whenever I mention industry standards, people like to discuss the exceptions. Yes, they happen, but you shouldn’t build a business strategy on them. When starting or running a business, don’t plan on being “the exception”–statistically, most people’s experience follows the norm. Publishing is no different. When something happens to you that isn’t standard, proceed with caution.

2. If a publisher approaches you “out of the blue” with a publishing deal, have the contract reviewed by an experienced publishing lawyer or agent. It’s always a good idea to have your contracts professionally reviewed–but that becomes even more important when red flags arise. Scammers know that a publishing offer often makes authors too excited to exercise good business judgment–especially an unexpected offer. Don’t let your excitement about your publishing dream coming true allow you to accept a scammer’s offer.

3. Legitimate traditional publishing contracts don’t include a paid marketing component. Certain presses have started offering “traditional contracts” which “charge the author nothing” for publication, but require the author to sign an expensive marketing contract. Publishers generally don’t “sell” their marketing services to their authors; publishers’ in-house marketing is provided to their authors free of charge.

4. No traditional publishing contract costs the author money, for any reason. Traditional publishing contracts involve a one-way flow of money: from the publisher to the author. End of story. Hybrid or self-publishing contracts may contain certain costs for the author, but costs should be reasonable and detailed in the contract. 

Never sign a contract that requires a lump-sum payment to a publisher (or anyone else) without a detailed breakdown of the specific services and goods the payment covers. Hybrid or self-publishing deals requiring payments from the author should contain detailed lists of specific fees, and costs should correspond to value provided. These contracts should also contain payment caps and hard numbers, not “estimates.” Never sign a contract that obligates you to pay undisclosed sums to be calculated later, unless the per-unit prices and calculation methods are clearly disclosed, in writing, and price caps are put in place.

5. Reputable publishers do not promise wealth, success, sales, reviews, or unicorns. Beware of any publisher that promises any kind of sales or marketing results. A publisher can make a book available for sales, and send ARCs to reviewers, but a publisher cannot guarantee that anyone will buy or like your book. Anyone who promises otherwise is not telling you the truth.

Finally: use good business judgment. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Writing is an art, but publishing is a business, and if you plan to become a published author, you need to develop good business sense. Learn about the industry, and familiarize yourself with industry standards. Read widely, and use judgment when deciding what (and who) to believe. If an offer, or a contract, doesn’t correspond to industry standards, seek professional advise–BEFORE YOU SIGN. If you seek help later, you may already have lost or compromised your legal rights.


2 thoughts on “Avoiding Subsidy Publishing “Scams”

  • September 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Great advice in this changing world of publishing. With change comes opportunity, but also scam artists. Best to be aware. Thank you!

    • October 15, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Thank you! And it’s so true. Scammers live and thrive at the intersection of art and dreams.

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