How to Spot Self-Publishing Scams

self-publishing scams

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.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

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.

Self-publishing companies to avoid

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.

How to spot self-publishing scams

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 different imprints offering the same service

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.

Do your self-publishing company research

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.

Book Publishing Plan guide


Previous articlePanic For Fun And Profit: Submission Deadlines And My Book Series
Next articleUse Book Excerpts To Promote Your Book
Avatar photo
Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and President Emeritus of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self-publishing service provider. After a successful career with companies including Mattel, Hasbro, and Pinnacle Orchards, Steven joined AVL Digital in 2004 as Chief Marketing Officer, leading the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. The native Oregonian was tapped to lead BookBaby, the company’s new publishing division, in late 2014. BookBaby’s growing book-printing operation is located outside Philadelphia, PA, and employs over 100 book-publishing experts across the United States to meet the printed and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Steven retired as brand President in 2022 and continues to contribute via weekly emails, industry guides, and posts on the BookBaby blog. He’s in the process of relocating full-time to southern France in early 2023. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to


  1. I’ve heard from fake movie companies and everything… I wonder how they are getting my unlisted phone number. They spam only the telephone, and don’t reply when I ask to see their website so I can learn more about their company. If they’re who they say they are, they must be time travelers from the 1980s.

  2. One woman who called herself a literary agent offered a package that was going to cost $2800 to promote my books to movie producers told me she was in an office on Fifth Avenue New York. A rooster started to crow in the background. I asked why she had a rooster in New York. Her answer was it was a pet. I have been around too long to believe this. I told her it was not a normal farmyard rooster or a small bantam rooster it was an Asian rooster used in cockfighting in the Philippines. She wanted to promote my book The Opal Dragon. She was from the Philippines. I have had so many similar calls and now have a list of all the bogus operators in the literary business. I have had calls about Bernado’s Circus, Great White Shark Tales, and Opal Eggs Of fire also. I can tell they have not even read the book. My emails are filled with vanity publishing scams nearly every day

  3. Mr. Spatz, regarding mention of the article published in the New York Times (Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?) in your recent newsletter, I can tell you exactly where stolen manuscripts go…Hollywood.

    One of my unpublished manuscripts was stolen in the mid 1990s. That book eventually became the TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and the show included nearly all plot elements featured in the manuscript. Since then, I have documented more cases where my work was obtained by Hollywood producers and converted into television shows. I have no idea how they were hijacked by someone and passed to producers as his or hers original manuscript with zero credit given to me.

  4. Sounds like we dodged a bullet when we went with Book Baby. First off, the choices of how much help needed (editing, cover, formatting etc) and second, you can order one book – to have and hold before investing in your whole order, third, you get a real person to coach you and answer any questions. It really was exciting and a joyful process!

  5. Good post here. I’m going to share with my local writer’s group. I’m self-published and am doing well. I paid for editing and cover, but formatted the rest myself with occasional help from friends. I’m trying to find info on a company called Black Magnolia Books. A friend just won a contest with them. Publishing is their prize. They’ve only be around since last year. So worried for her.

  6. And what about those ‘experts’ who promise to turn your book into something irresistible whilst having barely a handful of middling reviews for their own books…

  7. There are a lot more than a few vanity presses scamming authors.
    Even the so called self publishing companies are mostly vanity presses using a nicer name to fool you.

    And while you might have picked one of the very few honest ones, the majority will suck money out of your wallet with a vacuum using their services and extras, which are mostly low quality and worthless.

    THE publisher of a book is the OWNER of the ISBN.
    If you do not own your own ISBN then you were vanity published.

    Even if you use a cheap vanity press that claims you can ‘publish’ for free, they will be trying to get you to buy their useless services and add ons. And all you get is another ebook competing with millions of others getting lost in the clutter and ignored by most everyone except the authors.

    You do need an editor. Everybody needs a final editor.
    You do not need anyone to design a cover.
    If you are smart enough to write a book you are smart enough to DL a template and DIY your own cover.
    Covers are meant to SELL books not win awards for so called ‘professional cover’ artistes.

    Worse is that there are now some trad publishers who also have vanity press imprints under the larger corporation to help them get in on the fleecing of the naifs out there. Doesnt anybody do any research before they sign a contract that obligates them to spend thousands of dollars?

    Buying separate services you know are truly needed ,but you do not want to DIY ,makes sense if you self publish. Editing is certainly one of those. Formatting the book might be another. Anything else is cause you are just lazy or stupid.

    Buying an expensive package of services with no guarantees is foolish.
    The only thing you need to buy is your iSBN; and you should buy a final editing.
    Anything else you choose to hire out is for your convenience not because it is necessary.

  8. Thank you Stevan for all this help & advice. .also your recent email about your hatred of the scammers. I wish i had known about BookBaby before i signed up with the wrong publisher!
    They have lied to me & ruined my first book. They certainly won’t get their hands on the next three in the series! I am just hoping that i can recoup enough sales to have my first book reformatted, & get back some of the extortionate fees i paid out for advertising. .Best Wishes..VHS

    Thanks for all your info it has been so VERY HELPFUL.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

    • Me too, each week I get letters and offers from agents, publishing co., to Republish my five books, many of the email letters are the same format even with poor grammar or typos, just with different agents or company names! I look up each company and their fees, and then say, no thanks! The latest is now making a movie or promo video of my books. I want it to be legit, and if I must pay I want the bang for my bucks! Been there done that!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

    • 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!

  14. […] Posts How to Spot Self-Publishing Scams Should You Pay Writing Contest Entry Fees? Realize Your Best-seller Potential: Focus On These Five […]

  15. 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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.