An unfortunate number of new writers don’t research the publishing industry before jumping in and making submissions. This is a treacherous gamble, as plenty of scammers are looking to make easy money off these unassuming writers. These companies take advantage of new writers who are either uninformed or so excited at the prospect of becoming published authors that they don’t heed the warning signs. Even more unfortunate is the lack of awareness of these unethical practices outside the industry. For far too many aspiring authors, this is a lesson learned too late.
New writers should research both publishers and agents before submitting any materials. The following red flags provide a general idea of what to watch out for in the research phase.
1. Publishers and agents who charge reading fees for submissions should be avoided. The writer should make money off writing, not lose money. Reading fees are often an indication of a less than legit company – they may be making their money from fees gleaned off hapless writers rather than book sales.
2. Similarly, publishers who charge writers for the publication of their books are not traditional publishing houses. These companies are known as vanity publishers, subsidiary publishers, or POD (print on demand) publishers, and are generally looked down upon in the publishing industry. These companies charge exorbitant prices, perform little to no editing, and provide little to no promotion or marketing of books. In addition, the book quality tends to be lacking. This is not publishing; this is printing. While not necessarily a scam (there are a few established, reputable vanity publishers), this method is not suggested for a beginning writer looking for success.
3. The publisher or agent makes claims to top selling titles or sales to large publishing houses, but provides no titles to back up these claims. Legitimate agents will provide a list of sales upon request; if they’ve been in business for a good deal of time and have no sales, you should take your manuscript and run. Legitimate publishers have nothing to hide and openly display and promote their titles.
4. The publisher or agent is advertising a need for authors. This is a bad sign; successful publishers and agents receive far too many submissions to keep up with. If they’re hurting for authors, there’s probably a reason.
5. Acceptances arrive in an unusually short period of time. Reputable publishers and agents are known for long response times due to the overwhelming amount of material they face every day. Typical response times for agents take at least a month; for publishers, response times can be four to six months, sometimes a year or more. Acceptances arriving in under a month’s time are suspect, as this implies the publisher or agent has accepted the manuscript without proper reading and consideration. This is common behavior for “author mills” looking to churn out the biggest number of titles possible to make the most money in a short period of time. These companies tend to care little for the quality of the books or the interests of the authors.
6. The agent never provides any documentation of submissions or responses from publishers. A legitimate agent will keep you posted as to the status of your manuscript, and will often provide copies of publisher responses for your information. If you send your manuscript to an agent and don’t hear from him or her until the contract is up, you’re dealing with a shady agent.
7. The publisher or agent requires or suggests paid editing service through another company they own. This is just another method of getting extra money out of writers. Legitimate publishers don’t charge for editing; they’ll work with the author. Legitimate agents typically just reject manuscripts in need of too much editing.
8. The publisher requires the author to purchase all his or her own books and promote them alone. Again, the company is making money off the author, and the author is tasked with trying to sell books no one’s heard of. Legitimate publishers handle at least part of the marketing process and will provide book copies to promotional outlets.
9. The publisher or agent has no prior professional experience. In this age of technology, anybody can throw up a web page and proclaim themselves to be a publisher or agent. Look for reputable past work with recognizable companies.
10. The publisher or agent turns up negative reports when an online search is done on the company name. Perhaps the greatest measure against scammers is the Internet. Several “watchdog” sites have been dedicated to raising awareness of unethical practices and complaints against specific companies. The company’s website will undoubtedly provide glowing reasons why you should choose that company. Your first step should be to enter the company name into Google and see what other people have to say.