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Publishing scams

Updated: Apr 22

This week’s post is on publishing scams.

These are really common because:

  • there is a lot of aspiration linked to the idea of publishing a book

  • a very small number of people earn a lot of money from book sales, and the success stories receive a lot of media attention

  • authors are often sharing a very personal part of themselves, which can put them in a vulnerable position

In my editing career so far, I’ve seen several authors experience scams firsthand.

Publishing scams affect people from all kinds of backgrounds and levels of education.

All the scams I have seen have linked to traditional publishing (rather than self-publishing), and I expect this is more common because:

  • there is more aspiration linked to traditional publishing (even though indie authors can make a lot more money from their book sales)

  • traditional publishing involves gatekeeping, so authors depend on the authority of someone who claims to know the traditional publishing market

So …

What kinds of publishing scams are there?

First, it’s worth distinguishing between unfavorable terms and conditions (for example, in a book contract), versus outfits that intentionally seek to deceive.

In self-publishing, for example, I’ve noticed:

  • some service providers charge very high amounts of money for the book editing and production process. (Not a scam: the price is agreed in advance; it’s up to the author to do market research and check that a provider’s value matches their fee).

  • Providers who will take large amounts of royalties per book AND charge you for the book production process (Not a scam, but a poor deal for the author; this is especially common among “hybrid” presses).

In traditional publishing, the scams I’ve seen can be divided into two kinds:

  • Those who try to take money from you dishonestly

  • Those who try to make money from you dishonestly

The second kind don’t honor the social contract implicit in traditional publishing: that you will exchange a written book for expertise in marketing, book production, and solid editorial help.

Some hypothetical examples of publishing scams:

  • Someone posing as a literary agent contacts you and wants to work with you on the book. Their terms and conditions sound okay, but when you check their website, you find it doesn’t show up in any search engines, nor do the names of people listed as working for them on their website. After forming a relationship with you, they tell you a publisher is interested but they need a downpayment from you.

  • A publisher expresses an interest in your book; you sign a contract and the book appears online a year later with Amazon KDP (self-publishing), and you note that the manuscript has received no editorial help: it has just been put through Grammarly and PerfectIt.

  • A scholarly publisher contacts you and says they’re interested, but they want a fee for copyediting the book. They put the manuscript through a peer review process and tell you it hasn’t passed, and when you ask for the copyediting fee back, they tell you it’s non-refundable.

These are all variations of stories I have heard on the grapevine. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

  1. Do due diligence before signing anything. Check out the publisher or agent’s online presence carefully, and be careful about any time pressure

  2. Be aware that querying a book manuscript as a new author can be a long process with failure more likely than success. Be careful of anything that sounds too good to be true. Use QueryTracker to target reputable agents, and put a time limit on the querying process

  3. The golden rule in traditional publishing is that money should flow toward you. Alarm bells should ring if you’re asked to pay for any services offered by agents or publishers.

  4. Take a look at the previous experiences of other people who have worked with them. If you can reach out to someone who has worked with them to get a second opinion, do so.

Where to check for scams

There are a few websites you can check, first of all. These include:

If you're worried about unfair conditions in a publishing contract, then you should sign up to the

Society of Authors (UK). They offer free contract vetting for all members.

Have you experienced any publishing scams?

If you’re comfortable sharing any experiences, let me know in the comments below.


If you found this post useful, sign up here for more storytelling and worldbuilding tips, or take my worldbuilding course.

Andrew Hodges, PhD is a developmental editor and line editor who specializes in editing fiction for science fiction and fantasy writers. Their expertise is in worldbuilding and cultural considerations when crafting setting in stories.

They are an advanced professional member of the CIEP, a member of the EFA, and an ALLi partner member.

You can contact them here, or feel free to leave a comment below!

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