In the world of self-publishing, it’s writers beware!
Publishing a book is a business. That means money changes hands and whenever money is involved, there’s always a chance of fraud. The best defense for writers it to arm yourself with knowledge about what is and isn’t typical for a certain transaction.
Agents are hired by you to represent your manuscript to publishers, to help you negotiate a favorable contract, and often to help you plan and execute your career plans. It’s a crazy world when the employee chooses you, instead of the other way around, but that’s the story of supply and demand. Today, there are too few agents to go around and they get to choose which authors to work for. However, make no mistake: they work for you, not the other way around. Reputable agents are members of the Association of author Representatives and abide by their Canon of Ethics. Basically, they don’t get paid until they sell something for you. Never pay an agent to shop a manuscript to a publisher.
Traditional publishers. A publisher pays you an agreed upon price to license your copyright for an agreed upon term to publish the book as agreed upon. That’s lots of “agreed upon” because contracts can vary widely. The big thing here is that a reputable publisher PAYS YOU.
Hybrid publishers. According to the Independent Book Publisher’s Assocation (IBPA), “hybrid publishers behave just like traditional publishers in all respects, except when it comes to business model. Hybrid publishers use an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves, and in exchange return a higher-than-industry-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. In other words, a hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales.” In February, the IBPA published a list of criteria to be considered a quality hybrid publisher.
Vanity publishers. However, in today’s world when self-publishing is common, there are some companies who will help you publish your book for an agreed upon fee. These companies come with a wide variety of skill-sets and the quality of the services will vary widely. I’ve seen some awful results and some acceptable results. If you choose this route, be careful about putting money on the line until you’ve seen their work. Ask for sample books, peruse their website and order a couple books. It will save you money in the long run.
Red flags. I would be worried if a publisher did any of these practices:
- Requires you to buy books or services such as marketing as a condition of publishing.
- Asks for no revisions on your story, in other words, does little or no editing.
- Most of their revenue comes from author services.
Consult Writers Beware from SFWA
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America maintains a “Writer Beware” listing of agents and publishers who are not recommended. Before you make any publishing decision, check out their materials.
In general, keep in mind that money flows TO an author, not AWAY from the author. Your work is a valuable asset and you should treat it as that.
Sure, it’s frustrating to submit your story and have it rejected over and over. Part of that is the process of learning your craft. If you decide to self publish, as I have, then be sure you know the standards of quality in your field and meet or exceed them.
The saddest thing is for an author to give someone control of their story and to wind up with a sad, inferior quality book. Don’t let that happen to you! Beware!