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Author, Speaker & Mentor


Earlier today, while browsing through Facebook, I came across an advertisement from a publisher who is looking for authors. Almost immediately the red flags started waving at me. As it happened this post was inspired by a genuine publisher, no names here sorry. However, I decided to speak to them and after expressing my concerns about the content they decided to remove the post. I think that as a fairly new company they were acting more naive than trying to be malicious or act as a con artist. This got me thinking, so I decided that perhaps I should do a blog or a podcast that would help new and developing writers be more aware of what to look for when searching for a publisher.

So following are my tips to suss out a possible scam publisher.

1. Bad or Poor Marketing Aims

Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take most people long to realise when something looks like, you know, s h i t. We know that tastes can be subjective, but quality is something we should not compromise on. If a publisher has a website that doesn’t look good, or the covers of the books they advertise don’t do it for you, then you can be rest assured they are not going to do your book and you any favours. This does not mean you should automatically ignore them, however, you should bear in mind that quality is something that comes with practice. It’s like that old saying ‘you get what you pay for.’  So, although they may not look good on the screen, it doesn’t mean they aren’t any good but perhaps not up to the big 5 standards, so keep this in mind.

2. Where is their website Hosted

As we know it is quite easy to get a website hosted these days. After all, enough free sites are offering hosting services.  So does the publisher run their website on a free hosting platform? If yes, ask yourself does this mean that a publisher is trying to pull a con? Probably not, as it could mean they just don’t have the budget to afford their own hosting or domain platform. But if their budget is limited, does this mean that you cannot expect them to have any budget to pay for proper editing, proofreading, cover design, and layout? Remember, publishing is a business, and like any other business requires capital. If it appears as if they won’t have the money, the chances are they don’t.

3. Check the Authors of the Books advertised

If there is a predominance of books written by the owner/publisher, it could be a sign of a self-publishing author who has branched out. It could also mean that they do not have the budget (if at all) for many authors, and in fact a one-man operation. A good publisher usually has dedicated artists, editors, logistics personnel, and publicists. No matter who you are, no single person can undertake all of these roles and achieve the exacting standards of the larger publisher. If most of the books are written by the owner, chances are, they are fulfilling all the roles themselves. Check out why.

4. They cannot provide certain services.

If a publisher is unable to offer you Editing, Proofreading, or Cover Art services then something is drastically wrong. In the worst-case scenario, a publisher who doesn’t offer these services at all is suspect. Tasks such as these are always part of a publisher’s workload and you could say, the sole reason why they are justified in earning a share of the revenue generated by your book. If they don’t offer these services or try to make you pay for them, the chances are it’s all a scam. Now some might argue that they are new, or they are strapped for cash, but that doesn’t make it any better. The job of a publisher is to provide value to your work. If they don’t, then they are probably not legit.

5. Soliciting Money from Authors

Some would say this is more of a big banner warning. A traditional publisher assumes the financial risk of their business - not the author. It is said that, if a publisher requires a fee to submit or recommends a fee-charging editor before accepting a writer’s manuscript, the chances are they are running a scam. A traditional publisher aims to make their money from selling books. However, those who charge astronomical fees, are making their money from writers.

Having said that, some publishers clearly state they are not traditional publishers. These firms usually consist of people with experience who are offering services that you would probably pay a professional any way in order to achieve the same results. For example, all writers should have their manuscripts professionally reviewed and edited prior to publishing. You would be surprised at how many books are published by Indie authors who cannot be bothered to have their work edited correctly. The mistakes in their books lead to mad reviews and poor sales.

6. Always ask if they have a plan of action for reaching the market?

This is a major question that every publisher should be asked. If they plan to use say Amazon or Lulu, don’t give them the time of day. You can do that yourself and will not have to split any of the profits. You see, it all comes down to what value there is in it for you. A publisher has to be able to increase your efforts, even if that means just getting your books into a few local shops. If they don’t have a specific distribution network, well it’s not worth your time.

7. You are not offered a Contract

Now I have come across non-contracts and also bad contracts. Let’s start with the non-contracts. Do not publish on a handshake, unless you are 200% sure of the person you are dealing with otherwise you’re screwed. A legit publisher explicitly states what rights they are buying and for how long. When a publisher says you retain all copyright, and that is it, run, as fast as you can. Unless you are a ghost-writer on a manuscript, only the author retains copyright. What you should know is if they are buying First World English, Exclusive North American, Digital, and/or Audio rights, before your manuscript hits the printers. Unless it is explicitly stated what they can and cannot do, you will be left high and dry and vulnerable to being exploited.

I will also say that even with contracts you must, and I repeat must, double, nay triple check these over very carefully. Recently I investigated a publisher's contract which didn’t look right to me. So bad was it I even went to the Society of Authors, of which I am a member, for their advice. The answer was simple – the contract wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. So even with traditional publishers, one has to be extremely careful.

8. My Final Thoughts

Finally, I want to state something concerning being a small independent publisher, which I am. In particular, this references items 3 and 4.

I started as an Indie author, publishing my writing some years ago. If you were to check out my publishing website,, you will discover I have listed a large number of books written by myself. These were all reissued and re-published by a pukka publisher, using my imprint names, a few years ago. Unfortunately, that independent publisher chose in 2021 to retire from the industry. As such, I found myself forced to take back full control of all the books published on my behalf, including those done under the Kids4Kids Organisation banner. However, all this is explained on the ‘About Us’ page of the website.

Another aspect of having to take back control is that I readily admit I knew I could not fulfil all the roles mentioned in item 4 above. Having been placed in the position of re-opening my publishing business, I wanted to ensure that the services I offered those authors requesting my help were of as high a standard as possible. I, therefore, ensured that I have a small team of independent professionals to work with; one’s who provide the best possible services required by my clientele. In other words, I am transparent in my dealings with all my authors, as well as being selective with the writers and mentee's I deal with worldwide. The question for you is, can you say the same about your future publisher?

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