Writers Beware (Part 1)

Imagine this scenario…

You’ve been dreaming of being a published author your whole life, or maybe it’s a recent dream. You get a brilliant idea for a novel. Chapter by chapter you write it down until you pen the last word. You feel great! You just finished writing your first novel. You read over it a few times, fix up the plot holes and double-check the spelling until you’re completely happy with it (you can hardly wait to start writing the sequel). So far you have shown your work to no one (because you don’t want anyone to plagiarise your brilliant idea – it’s the smart thing to do).

Then comes the scary part. You finally work up the courage to send your baby out to a few publishers and cross your fingers they will like it. You hope your story will be accepted and all your blood, sweat and tears will be validated. (Sound familiar so far?)

A letter comes in the mail, sooner than you expected. You hold your breath. What if it’s a rejection? You slowly tear open the envelope. Your story has been accepted! It’s going to be published! You can hardly believe it, all your dreams are coming true.

You sign the contract, barely skimming it (you can barely understand all the legal mumbo jumbo, but you can’t afford a lawyer to look over it. Publishers are all reputable companies, so it should be fairly standard you think). You share the news with everyone.

Finally the day comes when you hold your book in your hand. You persuade all your friends and family to buy a copy and they do. You ask them what they think and they all tell you it’s wonderful. Then one brave friend (probably a writer type) tells you the truth:

“It’s a great premise, but I have to ask, was your editor asleep on the job?” (She probably says it more nicely than this.) She goes on to point out all the spelling and grammar mistakes your editor should have picked up on. But that’s ok, you’ve seen published books with mistakes, although maybe not quite this many.

Another friend asks, “When will it be in bookstores?” To which you can’t reply. Why isn’t your book in bookstores? Why is the publisher asking you to purchase the books for your friends and family to buy?

Too late you realise something is not right. In your excitement to get published you jumped in head first.

This is a true story…

Unfortunately this story is true for some aspiring authors, in fact just recently I heard of a writer who fell into this trap (it’s what prompted me to write this post). We can all relate to wanting to get published so badly, so much so that some writers are taken in by companies posing as traditional publishers. The truth of the matter is, there is no easy path to publication, and I know a lot of aspiring writers won’t want to hear this. Getting published is hard! Even the best of the best writers got rejected several times before selling a bestseller (ever heard of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King? They both got rejected at first.) If you send in your first ever manuscript, without ever having had anyone else look at it and you get accepted straight away, there’s a good possibility it really is too good to be true.

How do I know if my publisher is genuine?

A traditional publisher (think publishers like Penguin and Scholastic) will not charge you anything, they will pay you. They will not ask you to buy copies of your own book. They will market your book to bookstores and arrange author events. They will use a professional editor.

There are some companies out there who claim to be traditional publishers, but are really vanity publishers in disguise (a vanity publisher is a company who will publish your book, but expects you to pay certain costs or buy copies of the book yourself so you can sell them). These companies take advantage of aspiring authors by acting like a traditional publisher, so the writer thinks all her dreams are coming true, only to reveal their true selves when it is too late and the contract has already been signed. You can spot these companies by comparing them to a traditional publisher. If they charge you anything, including buying your own books, they are not a traditional publisher. If they do not do any marketing/if they are not placing your book in bookstores, they are not a traditional publisher. If they speed through the editing process to get the book published super-quick, they are not a traditional publisher.

There is nothing wrong with using a vanity publisher, if that is what you want (it’s a choice you make, the same way if you decide to self-publish). Some vanity publishers are quite reputable. But be aware of what you are signing up for (including rights). Also be aware that vanity publishing has a stigma attached to it in the writing world. If in future you do query an agent or publisher, you may not want to mention you’ve previously published through a vanity publisher.

To be continued…

Part 2 – how you can avoid these companies posing as traditional publishers and how to improve your chances of landing a genuine publisher.

Were you aware companies like this existed? Have you ever been duped by one of these companies or know someone who has? Share your story below.

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9 thoughts on “Writers Beware (Part 1)”

  1. Wonderful post, Jo. In theory we are all aware of this but I guess in reality it’s only to easy to fall for it, thanks for bringing the issue to our attention.

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  2. Jo, what an amazing post! A friend/college professor I know won a competition and was to have her book published; however, when she came to describing how much it cost her to go through the process (buying the books, traveling to book signings toting her own books along, etc.) I thought it was rather odd – now I understand why!

    I have yet to send anything in to a publisher (only to magazines) but we will all be a little smarter thanks to you!

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  3. Unfortunately, these companies play on the one thing writers want most – to be published. The excitement of seeing our name in print can blind us to anything being wrong. It’s so important we step down from our excitement and look at things logically before signing anything, no matter how badly we want to see our names in print. It’s better to research before even sending anything out, which is something I’ll cover in part 2. I hate seeing fellow writers in a bad situation, so I’m really hoping it will help other writers be more aware.

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  4. Thanks for this Jo.
    I recently emailed a publishing company to enquire about publishing some of my writings and within a day they had rung me back. Super quick! I was very excited.
    They talked through my book concept and liked it and sent me a follow up email with details. Hang on, I did think it was a bit strange they didn’t even want to read it! Anyway, long story short… I did a google search with the “company name and scam” and BINGO…lots of hits!
    I have been trying to find a literary agent but not sure how I choose, how do I know they are legit? Looking forward to part 2.

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  5. You were definitely right to be suspicious! Good on you for doing a google search (one of the things I will be talking about in part 2).

    Part 2 will be focusing on publishers, but I will be giving literary agents a mention. Most of my advice for seeking a genuine publisher can be applied to finding a genuine agent too. Part 2 will be up in the next 24-48 hours.

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  6. “A traditional publisher (think publishers like Penguin and Scholastic) will not charge you anything, they will pay you. They will not ask you to buy copies of your own book.”

    I told someone this at a book signing two weekends ago, and he got angry with me. :eye roll:

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  7. I’ve seen it happen on forums before. The writer is so excited to announce being published, then someone asks who the publisher is. The writer replies and someone points out that it is not a traditional publisher, but a vanity publisher. The writer then becomes extremely upset and indignant. It’s understandable, because they are so excited to see their name in print that it’s hard to have their bubble burst. That’s why I wanted to write these posts – to warn writers to be aware so they don’t get themselves in this situation. Hopefully I can save at least one person the heartache.

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