Avoiding Predatory Publishers
About a week and a half ago I attended Imaginarium, a convention for book lovers, publishers, editors, illustrators, film makers and writers of all formats and genres. For those of you who don’t know me, I also provide publishing business coaching. When I am at publisher or writing related conferences and conventions I have a policy of freely sharing what knowledge I have gained (sometimes through my own trial and error) with those in attendance that stop by my booth or during panel discussions. Attending events like Imaginarium and talking firsthand to attendees gives me the chance to gain a better insight into the kinds of issues that writers and other publishers are dealing with.
This year, at Imaginarium, the number of questions that topped the list for me was the issue of predatory publishers passing themselves off as a traditional small press. In the future, I plan to write a more in-depth post on the benefits of small press publishing for authors and businesses. But for now, I’d like to focus on the growing issue of predatory publishers. And let me just say, Imaginarium does a great job in making sure that this element is not represented at their annual show.
What is a predatory publisher?
The term predator may sound a bit harsh I know, but it is a word that gets attention. When we think predator, we tend to think of being chased. Not all predators chase down their prey. Sometimes they lay in wait, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting passerby. Just waiting there for the unsuspecting author to happen by or take the bait.
The predatory publisher that lays in wait is more dangerous than the one in plain sight. The ones dressed up as a traditional publisher, an orc in sheep clothing, are even worse. (I like wolves so did not want to denigrate them here. My apologies to any orcs out there.)
The true nature of predatory publishers is often under digital page after page of hidden costs and upsells or explanations of how much money the author can make. The main purpose of their publishing operation is to make money off of the author. As a publisher for a traditional small press publisher, yes, I know that publishers make money this way as well. However, there is a difference between the publisher making the bulk of their money from author book sales and that of making the majority of their income from selling books to the author. Then adding on services for which they charge the author. There are a multitude of variations in how this is presented and would make a much lengthier post. Feel free to ask a question in the comments section if you like.
Identifying predatory publishers
Before I go deeper into how to identify a predatory publisher, there needs to be some explanation. Not all publishers that charge are predatory. Many are simply a self-publishing company that you the author pay to publish your book and make it available through sales channels. Simple enough right? There is no problem in that at all. Unless you are paying a higher more inclusive fee, even legitimate self-publishing companies will not edit your book for free. Many will not even touch your manuscript, but simply feed it into a preformatted interior layout design and press print. Yes, I left out a bunch of other steps in the middle there, but you get the point.
The main issue that point to a predatory publisher are those companies that outright lie about their services, or hide them so deeply in their website that you need to be a forensic IT expert to get at them. I don’t know if forensic IT is a real thing, but again, you get my point.
The publishers that prey on a writer’s desire to be a published author may not be hidden. Some will put their costs right up front and easy to see. However, their honesty doesn’t mean that they are the most cost effective. Comparison shopping is important. It is the author’s responsibility to shop around for a fair deal and to remember that no publisher can guarantee actual sales of your book. In addition, always remember rule number 1, Stop-Think-Act, before you sign any agreements and shell out more money than your book will ever conceivably recoup. Don’t let that last statement discourage you from publishing. Only you know why you are publishing and the value that you receive. But, it is not really predatory if you avoid all the posted warning signs and still walk straight into the mouth of danger.
Simply put, the easiest way to identify if you are working with a publisher or a predator is to follow the money. A publishing company’s money is made when they sell one of their authors’ books. They do make money when they sell copies of the book to an author who wants to purchase copies to sell on their own or giveaway. However, those copies should always be at a discount at least equal (in my opinion) to that which would be offered to a bookstore or distributor. Depending on the store or distributor and publishing model, that discount might be around the 45% off the retail list price for a small press. The publisher’s main source of income should not be solely derived from the sale of books to their own authors.
Even as a traditionally published author, you are still going to spend some money on editing before submitting to a publisher and on marketing before and after the book is released.
Take a breath and don’t be in such a rush. The main way to avoid falling prey is to arm yourself with knowledge and to talk to people. Do a little research in advance.
Always ask yourself . . .
It is hard to cover every aspect that an author might deal with in single post. Feel free to add a question to the comments if there is something specific you would like to know. I am currently creating an online workshop called EntrePublishing (Entrepreneurial Publishing) that will be launching soon. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about publishing or starting your own publishing endeavor, I invite you to add your name to the wait list (click here) to receive notification when the course goes live.
As a gift for signing up for the EntrePublishing course release notification, the first twenty-five people will receive the course for free before it goes live in exchange for helping to test the course and provide feedback. You will also receive a free EntrePublishing Community membership for one year, a place where publishers and writers go to connect to get questions answered, feedback, support and encouragement. In addition to our private Facebook group, you’ll have access to our weekly live Q&A calls to help you build your publishing business.