and how to avoid them
The world of self-publishing can be exciting. From writing your novel to putting it on the market, each step can be as rewarding as it can be an adventure. As it is in any good adventure, the hero or heroine of the story will face obstacles and their share of foes and villains on the way to their destination.
Some among your greatest of the latter will be scam artists. There are innumerable amounts of them out there on the web that will target and prey on new, indie authors that are looking for resources and outlets to get their novel self-published. The unfortunate reality is that many of them actually spend money, time and put in a decent amount of effort into appearing online as a legitimate organisation or business.
That begs the question: how can you spot the villain beneath its disguise?
Here are some tips on how to do just that which I found really helpful on my own self-publishing journey.
A few helpful tips on how to identify a scam
#1 Know what you’re looking for
The industry is ever-evolving right along with the market. Only 25 years ago was the internet made public. Now, the internet is used as much for business and marketing as the business plaza in your nearest metropolitan city. Products like eBook format and book formatting programs change almost as frequently as iPhone models, so it’s not so outlandish that the products and services people would offer would change - to some degree - too.
So, before you start buying, ask yourself this - what service or product are you looking for to make your self-publishing dreams happen? Next, it’s important to do your research on what general varieties of those up-to-date services and products are offered out there. Why? The moment you’ll find a company that offers you something drastically different, be it price or otherwise, that might be a clue that they’re not legitimate, but that’s not always the case. Adding to that, some scam artists will do their best to appear like a legitimate, run-of-the-mill business offering your average services for average prices.
Essentially, the less you know about the product or service you need to get, the more easily you’ll fall into a scammer’s trap.
So then? What’s another way you can tell if you’re leading with a legitimate business or a scammer?
#2 read the fine print
Many scam artists that put in a decent effort to appear legitimate will advertise actual services. Much like that example I gave you about that swindler press, it isn’t until the very end that you’ll find evidence that the company is trying to swindle you or scam you.
Getting everything in writing and signed is a perfect way to make any contract or business agreement legal. This is why receipts, contracts, business agreements, and other documents of the sort exist.
It’s just not enough to know all the details on what you’re buying. You need to read the fine print and all terms and conditions.
In those sections of a business document, the scammers will most likely reveal themselves for who they are. They’ll tell you how much of your author’s rights to your novel they’ll be taking, they’ll note any price changes or hidden fees that will drastically affect what you pay, they’ll even state that they have the right to refuse the work your buying and not give you a full refund if they chose to do so.
Some will find loopholes that will allow them to get more money from you as they offer you an actual service, even, like hidden fees, which isn’t technically a scam, but it’s something to watch out for nonetheless.
In the end, if there’s any part of that business document that you don’t like or seems fishy, go with your gut and pass on their offer. The risk is just not worth your work.
#3 When in doubt, ask for assistance.
It’s not for nothing that all sites worth their salt have a ‘Contact’ page. I found that the legitimate businesses were always willing to answer my questions and answer them clearly and concisely. Those that either don’t respond to your questions or don’t cave a ‘Contact’ option aren’t worth your time. After all, you would be going into a business partnership of sorts or at the least - making a business transaction down the line with them - in order to get that service or product that you want. Without good dialogue happening between yourself and the company, there can be no good business relationship because they’re just in it for the money, not for their customers.
Adding to that, those that can’t answer questions concerning their own products and services properly are companies you shouldn’t go into business with. This means that they don’t have a good handle on what they’re doing - or - that the product or service doesn’t actually exist.
There are a few exceptions to the latter. For instance, you find a company that has amazing prices, but that’s because they’re new and still in the BETA stage of their company, which means they’re still trying out different products, services, and tweaking them to perfection. Again, good dialogue is key to forming any good business relationship. If the business is offering low prices because they’re new and still finetuning their products and services, then they should be telling you this before you make any purchase.
On another note, the best piece of advice I can give you on the topic of asking for assistance is DO NOT BE AFRAID TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA OUTLETS.
Sure, there are a lot of... strange, people who are - for the most part - all strangers on those various social media platforms. Using a new social media platform can also be as daunting for some as jumping in a frigid Alaskan lake in the middle of fall with no dry clothes around to warm yourself up after you get out.
Just know this: those outlets can become an author’s best tools. So long as you respect social etiquettes, you can successfully run your own ads through free posts, get to know new readers and writers, and even make sales through social media stores like the Facebook shops.The low-cost business and marketing opportunities that are newly becoming available through social media are immense, not to mention you can let thousands of people know that you and your work exist by simply creating one post about yourself.
Connect with groups that are tailored towards either authors, readers, your genres, or your themes. You’d be surprised by how many local, national, and international groups there are on Facebook alone that cater to authors. Look for those groups, type in those keywords, check out what relevant hashtags (#) are trending, then make your appeal to the masses.
Once you introduce yourself to the group and/or are accepted into one, you can ask them for advice if you hit a roadblock on that self-publishing journey. More often than not, you’ll get answers from people whose answers vary as much as their experiences in the writing and publishing industries which will paint for you a wonderful image of what you can expect in the future. The best part of it is that if ever a person gives you an answer that isn’t quite legit, then normally, group moderators or other group members will correct them and tell you what’s what.
With just one question asked, you’ll probably be able to get all the answers you need and more on the subject of the latest scams in the writing and publishing industry without having to visit a multitude of websites.
As much as publishing your novel on your own is a very independent journey, you won’t be travelling on that path alone. You’ll get to meet lots of independent authors just like yourself and discover a number of companies that can help get you from point A to point Z.
Take the time to forge those bonds because they’ll be the most useful resources you’ll have at your disposal.
#4 If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There are a lot of products and services out there from book formatting software to proofreading companies. In each country, each one of those products has an average price range that you’ll get familiar with as you shop around. For example, in Canada, is costs on average 10.99 to 20.99 to print a paperback, and those prices are all relative to the quantity you order as well as the quality of the product you choose. Now, this is just the printing cost of one book. That price will essentially dictate how you’ll price your novel to make a profit.
WHile I was shopping around, I found this one company that did small batch orders. The price he gave me was phenomenal! 7.99 per book, just about. It was beyond perfect - even competitive with printing companies from the US like Blurb, which got me thinking, what’s the catch?
Sometime’s, there’s a catch. Sometimes, you’re getting swindled.
Our business interactions lasted almost a month. He assured me many times that the quote price he gave me was the right one. When it came time to seal the deal, an “unexpected” price modification was done to the original price I was quoted. that 8$ per book cost became 28$ per book nearing the checkout point. What justified the 20$ increase? Apparently, I was going to pay extra for custom artwork when I was providing all the cover art and pre-formatted cover, all ready for print.
Politely, I ended our transactions and kept searching for the right printer for me.
POPULAR SCAMS CIRCA 2020-2021
Note: this only goes for Canadian authors
Here are two of the scams I've seen the most when browsing for services. There are more out there, but like I mentioned before, I haven't spent all that much time looking for them either. If you'd like more information on current scams, cons, and swindles, I'd suggest looking up the topic on Youtube or asking members of an authors' group from a social media outlet.
#1 ISBN purchases
So. You’re an author, self-publishing your work. You’ve reached the point where you need to get an ISBN number for your novel. You open your browser, look up how to get an ISBN and a number of websites appear promoting sales on ISBN numbers and the lot.
ISBN NUMBERS DO NOT COST ANYTHING! THOSE ARE ALL SCAMS!
As a self-published author, you qualify as a business owner. You create and sell your own products under a given name.
What you need to do first to get those free ISBN numbers AND to sell your book on various platforms like Amazon - and then some - is register your business name. You’ll register as the sole proprietor of a business in your given province or territory which will give you access to a number of things you’ll need to accomplish your self-publishing goals. That part, unfortunately, isn’t free, but it should be fairly inexpensive, nothing in the 3 digit range at all.
Once that’s done, head on over to this website of Library and Archives Canada:
Create an account with them. Register as your own publisher. Once your account is active, you can create as many ISBN as you’d like at no cost.
Just to put things in perspective, the fee to register your business in Ontario is about 50$. The price people are asking for ISBN numbers are 30-50$, approximately. When you finish your novel, you'll have 3 to 5 formats of it, each and every one of them requiring an individual ISBN. That tallies up to roughly 90$-150$ for your ISBNs at the least, if you were to purchase them from one of those sites. Get your business license and you can get an infinite number of ISBNs for free, you'll have the right to independently sell your own books online and in bookstores, and that's just for starters.
After all that, what exactly does ISBN stand for? That would be the International Standard Book Number. One is given to every book that goes on the market.
# 2 Publishing packages
There are publishing companies out there that will offer you specific services like proofreading or editing or combine many of them in a “bundle” or “package”. It’s true that not all who self-publish have every skill set necessary to get from the starting point to the finish line on their own, which is 100% OK. That's why those services exist.
The first thing you need to know about those services is their general price range. Shop around a bit. See what people are offering. Sometimes, companies will offer you sales that actually price the service or package at a MUCH higher cost than it ought to be. Other times, those prices are far LOWER which is always a sign that you should be doing some research to find that catch because more often than not, there might just be one.
The second thing you need to know is that YOU OWN ALL THE RIGHTS TO YOUR WORK. The moment you write something, it’s yours. That being said, the surest way to make that fact uncontestable is to get a registered copyright through the Government of Canada that will officially protect your work from thieves. This way, if anyone tries to take parts or sell your work as their own, you’ll have the paperwork that will instantly win you that lawsuit.
READ THE FINEPRINT Some scammers will try to get you to sign a contract that will get you to hand over part or all of your rights to your work over to them so they can use, change or sell the work as their own which IS NOT OK.
The third thing you need to know is that any company that asks you to pay for their services before they officially accept to take on your manuscript is a scam! Sounds simple enough, right? Well, most of the time this little clause only appears in the fine print or the terms and conditions of your contract. The best way I can properly explain what I mean by that is by sharing with you an experience of mine.
I was looking for service packages to help with publishing the novel, hoping it would expadite things. I found a company that seemed legitimate. They even went as far as to say that they were a branch of a big, well-known publishing house. They were riding on the back of that Publishing house’s good name and excellent reputation - it was their smokescreen.
They offered me a package that was perfect. Compared to the prices available out there of the services I was looking for, it was almost too perfect, which got me paying very close attention to what I was getting into.
When it came down to business and the time to sign a contract with them arrived, I took all the time I needed to carefully reach that 11-page contract they had written up for me - no word skimmed.
Had I signed it, they would have gotten about 2600$ of my money, my manuscript, partial to full rights of different areas of my work, right along with the right not to distribute it independently from myself. If they would have “read” the manuscript and found it didn’t “fit their bill”, they would have kept nearly all the money and the rights to the work without needing to provide any one of those services.
I looked them up on youtube and the first thing that popped up were videos of how to identify scams. Good reading and thorough research on the company was eventually what saved me thousands - and the rights to my work itself.
In the end, it turns out that I had the skills set needed to go through the self-publishing journey from start to finish without having to hire an expert to help me with any part of the writing and publishing process. It took me more time to publish the novel than I had originally planned it would, but better be safe than sorry, especially after that experience.
Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the fine print of EVERY CONTRACT AND BUSINESS AGREEMENT you’ll make along with all of those tedious and lengthy TERMS AND CONDITIONS listed when you sign up with a printing company like Blurb or LULU. The latter two are legitimate businesses, but the costs they'll demand to put your book on the Global Retail Platforms like Ingram or in their own online bookshops are quite different. Shop around, compare prices, and reap the rewards of a job well done when the money gained from selling your novel starts to come in.
Only fools rush in: take the time to do proper research of what you're getting into, be thorough, forge allies and connections with other authors and publishing agencies in the literary world, and be patient.
For more information on current publishing and author services scams out there, I highly recommend you consult YouTube and/or join one of Facebook’s aspiring author pages and ask their group members for their advice in any questions or queries you might have about writing and publishing a novel.
Like I said before, the number of scams out there are innumerable. The handful that I’ve been able to identify on the web are few, but I haven’t spent all that much time looking for publishing services either. My knowledge on all of them isn't complete, but between all of the knowledge us indie authors have on the matter, there should be both answers and solutions to every one of your questions out there. You only have to know where to find them.