Bad players in our industry prey upon unsuspecting independent authors by disguising themselves as traditional publishing houses and using deceptive marketing tactics. Here are four ways to identify self-publishing scams.

Looking for a service to help you self-publish your book can be tough. I’m happy to report that BookBaby is just one of a number of reputable self-publishing companies in the industry. But there are also a few bad players that are only interested in one thing: scamming you out of your money.

Take, for example, the “Hollywood” package offered by one of these less-than-reputable companies. They promised to send authors’ books to prominent Hollywood agents upon publication with the idea that those books would then get optioned for movies. But of the 300 books sent in by self-published authors —  who paid over $11,500 each for the privilege  —  two got optioned. Meanwhile, this company took in $3.5 million. This is just one example of the unscrupulous tactics being used against indie authors.

Companies like this prey upon unsuspecting independent authors by disguising themselves as traditional publishing houses and using deceptive marketing tactics. They hound and harass authors with high-pressure sales tactics. They take advantage of new authors’ naïveté, peddle false promises, sometimes even swindling them into signing away the rights to their manuscripts. Then, they leave the author with a fat bill.

As an independent author, you need to be aware that companies like this exist. Sometimes they can be hard to spot, but there are tell-tale signs you can look for to help identify them.

#1 They manage several different imprints offering the same services

If after reading this you were to do a quick Google search of “Publish my book,” you would likely see a handful of sites pop up that look the same and offer the same things. These sites could be imprints of the same company.

These companies do this to fool you. The thinking is that if you pass on a package offered by one brand, you might purchase a similar package from one of its other imprints.

But that’s just where the scamming starts. After one of their multiple self-publishing websites obtains your contact information, they will call you and harass you with intense, high-pressure sales techniques. Even if you tell them, “I’m not interested,” they will simply hand your name off to the next imprint, and one of their reps will call.

They want to make you believe you’re dealing with somebody brand new each time, but they all share the same resources, the same people, and the same goal: getting your money.

#2 They make big sales guarantees

Another hallmark of scamming companies is that they make promises they can’t keep. For example, these companies will often promise that if you pay for their expensive promotional packages,  they will make your book a New York Times or Amazon best seller.

Reliable self-publishing service companies help you put out the best book possible. They don’t make sales guarantees or promises related to popularity because it’s impossible to guarantee success, and the scammers know it.

#3 They make outlandish discount offers

Similar to making promises they can’t keep, scamming companies often make offers that sound too good to be true. That’s because they usually are.

If you come across a company offering you 50–75% discounts on their package of services, as opposed to a more reasonable 10–15%, you can be confident they are after your money. That discounted rate is still expensive when you don’t get anything meaningful in return.

Here’s another tactic to watch out for: Some companies will host faux writing or book contests for big cash prizes or the chance of a lucrative publishing contract. These contests are usually a front for piracy or for trying to get their marketing hooks into you. Don’t buy into them.

#4 They offer packages that are not customizable

When you go to buy a car and the salesperson on the other side of the empty-coffee-cup-and-sandwich-colored desk is offering you things like a rust-proof undercoat or steering wheel polish, you can be certain he or she is simply trying to squeeze more money out of you.

Self-publishing scams try to do the same thing. They’ll pack on extra fees for things that sound fantastic but that you don’t really need.

A package of services can be great, but reliable companies allow you to pick and choose if you want. At BookBaby, if you just want help with cover design, we’ll offer that alone. If you just want to publish eBooks, we’ll set you up to do that.

Scammers, on the other hand, actively try to tie you up in a confusing tangle of commitments and extras that are usually unhelpful. It’s a sign they’re not looking out for your best interests.

It might seem like a daunting reality, that the waters of the self-publishing world are riddled with sharks. But there are plenty of ways to avoid a bite.

Associations like The Alliance of Independent Authors rate, review, and compare self-publishing companies to help authors identify which are scams and which are reliable. There are also reputable firms like Trustpilot that review companies and allow independent authors to do the same based on their experience.

At the end of the day, you have to be aware of scammers and learn how to avoid them. Like everything else, it’s buyer beware, so do research on any company you’re considering before signing any sort of contract.

Make sure your self-publishing service provider guarantees every one of its products and services  —  and puts it in writing. At BookBaby, we work with far too many authors who come to us after negative experiences with self-publishing scams. Don’t let yourself be another cautionary tale.

Join Steven and a host of great presenters, speakers, and exhibitors at BookBaby’s 2018 Independent Authors Conference, November 2-4 at The Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel in Philadelphia! The Independent Authors Conference is the only writing conference dedicated to helping independent authors publish successfully. Register now! Don’t miss this opportunity to listen and learn from some of today’s leading self-publishing experts!


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Steven Spatz

About Steven Spatz

Steven Spatz has written 90 posts in this blog.

Steven Spatz is an author, marketer, and the President of BookBaby.

11 thoughts on “How to Spot Self-Publishing Scams

  1. Ernest Milliner says:

    I have a transcript ready to be publish also the book cover and back as well, i guess my question is can you take the transcript and print the book with the necessary editing.

    1. BookBaby BookBaby says:

      For answers to all your questions about self publishing, call one of our specialists at 877-961-6878

  2. SHAWN BIRD says:

    I’d add that dubious companies charge you high fees to update your cover or to update copy.

    These updates are automated, so do not cost the company any time or effort to provide as a service to authors who’ve already paid their fee for distribution.

    The best companies allow authors to update covers as the market changes. It’s in the company’s best interest for the author to have improved sales, but some charge upwards of $100 for such updates. It’s that sort of thing that sends authors to change companies.

    1. Steven Spatz says:

      Hi Shawn,
      Thanks for the comment.
      But i have to say that automation isn’t a given in self publishing.
      Let’s consider a change on an eBook file.
      We have to retrieve the files from 60+ different stores. It’s done manually as each store has different protocols.
      Then we have to open the eBook file – both ePub and .mobi files – and make the changes manually.
      Next we resubmit the new updated files back to the 60+ bookstores.
      Finally we verify that the new and updated file is indeed the one that is available for sale.
      So as much as we would like to make this an automated, automatic process….there’s actually a lot of time and effort that goes into it.
      Hope that helps!

  3. This is a great post, Steven,
    Sadly, the story board above tells the truth and is not a scam!
    In 2012 I had experiences with a “publishing company” that were exactly as #4. It cost me $12,000 for zero returns after great promises.
    In fact, I am still waiting for 5 complimentary copies of my book that never arrived after I paid the $12,000 for various ‘packages’.
    Another scam #1 was when they wanted my credit card number to continue ‘hustling’ me late at night. I said “No thanks”. A week or so later, I found they were grabbing thousands of dollars from my account, using various incognitos in different countries, making it difficult to spot. They tried to extract $40,000 from me. It was a nightmare.
    #2 The company promised to get my book advertisement into Readers’ Digest and sales would boom! I still shiver when I think about this company.

    1. Steven Spatz says:

      Ah, my heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry you had that kind of experience. Publishing your book should be a joyous event – not anything you’d ever regret.

  4. Molly A. Moore says:

    This is what scares me about self-publishing. It’s taken me three years of research to find the best outlet to publish with. Not to mention the amount of money that is required to put out a good book. I have 18 heard of poems hiding in my shelf because I don’t want to get scammed and lose.

  5. This is impressive and informative. I have quite a number of them bombarding me with different options on a different imprints platforms. I have not yielded to any of them because I suspect they might be trying to scam me. Thanks for this great eye-opener information.

    1. Steven Spatz says:

      Hi Isaac,
      Glad you found this post informative.
      My advice: give the different service providers a phone call. That is – if they have phone call hours listed on their site.
      Ask how long they’ve been in the publishing business?
      Ask for references you can look at or – even better – email for proof they really back up what they claim to do.

  6. Daniel Neyoh says:

    thanks so much. this post sounds like it was written just for me. I enjoyed it. it was really educating. thanks Mr Steven

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