Authors beware of scam agents

Beware of the scam agents and sharks in self-publishing.

Publishing a book today is easy with self-publishing services that are generally offered for free online, or if not free, they are very cheap. This low-cost simplicity, however, has made it a goldmine for shady scam agents and scam publishers to deceive new authors who are trying to get their book published. I received an unsolicited email today from a long time publishing scammer, which reminded me that the publishing seas are still infested with these untrustworthy sharks.

In general terms, these scammers prey on either an author’s dream of becoming published, or on the fact that an author may not know how to self-publish and has given up on traditional publishing, but still yearns. Don’t fall into their expensive traps. Here are a few clear warning signals of a possible publishing scammer.

Don’t be fooled by scam agents. Here are some warning signals.

Unsolicited invitations to submit your manuscript

Literary agents and publishers all have huge slush piles, so none would be asking to make them even higher. If you are asked to submit your manuscript by someone you don’t know, especially by unsolicited email, DO NOT reply. It’s 99.9999% sure to be a scam.

beware of publishing agents and publishersOffers to help you get published

Social media is full of helpful people, but there are also many who charge a lot of money for their helpfulness, and may forget to tell you this upfront. The term ‘there are editors and predators’ is now a common in expression in self-publishing circles. Self-publishing is basically free, so DO NOT pay for what you can do, or can quickly learn to do yourself.

Marketeers and racketeers

Advertising and marketing a book is time consuming and there are costs involved in paying for reputable services such as Facebook advertising, Google Adwords, paid blog posts or perhaps even an advertorial in a local newspaper. These are all normal expenses, and they are relatively cheap and beneficial. Offers to market a book for a package price by someone you do not know, and guarantees success, is a sure sign of a scam. DO NOT pay for book marketing services packages. Arrange and pay advertisers for your book advertising directly with reputable and well-known advertising service providers.

I’m a publisher

While there are many legitimate publishers, especially in niche markets, always check the reputation of a publisher before doing anything. A comprehensive list of publishers and distributors, with comments about dubious companies, is maintained by Preditors and Editors. DO NOT enter into any agreement with a publisher without checking their background, history, reputation and ethics first.

Writer, reader, editor, copy editor, proofreader, publisher, cover designer, book marketer, self-publishing consultant

No one person can supply all these services. Beware of failed writers trying to make a buck on the side by offering services that they are not qualified to provide. DO NOT pay for amateurs. If you have to pay for a service, pay for professional services offered by reputable providers.

avoid scam agents in self publishingMake informed choices

There are no easy ways to become successful in book publishing, so the best way to avoid scammers and the possibility of being ripped off is to understand from the outset that publishing a book will be a tough job. For those authors and writers who are trying to publish for the first time, there are three established and safe avenues to getting a book published.

Traditional Publishing

This means approaching literary agents with the hope of being contracted and having your book published and then promoted by one of the large publishing houses. This, of course, is the most difficult and time-consuming method and it will involve sending submissions to a number of agents, and then waiting and hoping. The rejection rate is so high these days that a new author will need a lot of luck. It is not impossible of course, but for new writers, it is not very easy at all.

Pros: No publishing costs to an author and an advance is often paid.
Cons: Difficult to get published and royalties can be quite low. An author also must sign away rights to a book.


As the name implies, self-publishing means that an author will have to do everything that is necessary to get a book published, and then to market it and hopefully sell enough copies online to get a return on the time invested in writing and self-publishing a book.

For those authors who are totally new to electronic self-publishing, it will be a learning curve to begin with and it is necessary to have a sound knowledge of basic word processing, computer and Internet skills. These basic skills include uploading and downloading files, formatting Word documents styles, converting Word files to pdf and epub files, image resizing, as well as having a good understanding of file management.

Although publishing is generally free, there will be some costs in preparing a book for publication. These could include expenses for a book cover, editing and proofreading. If you find self-publishing technology beyond your ability and need to use a self-publishing service, always make sure you retain all rights to your book, and that all royalties are paid to you directly by the online retailer.

What to expect to pay for reputable services:

Pre-made e-book cover. US$30-60
Custom made book cover. US$250-500
Proofreading and correction – basic. US$ 200-400 for approx 80,000 words.
Self-publishing services. Preparation of manuscript files and publishing for you on Kindle, Smashwords and Createspace. US$200-250.

Pros: Quick to publish in e-book or paperback. Free or at least very cheap depending on preparation costs. Authors own all their book rights.
Cons: Some computer skills to learn. All facets of publishing, marketing and selling are the responsibility of the author.

Vanity Publishing

Although vanity publishing has been frowned upon in the past, there are a few large vanity publishing houses, and a number of traditional publishers use their services to offer this method of publishing to new authors. Unfortunately, some have re-branded and re-named this service as self-publishing, which it definitely is not. No matter how well-known or established vanity publishing is, or if it has a new name, new authors need to be aware that it will be a very, very expensive way to publish a book.

Vanity publishing means that the author pays for everything for a book to be published, which can often amount to thousands of dollars. This cost does not normally include marketing a book other than it being available on the vanity publisher’s website. Vanity publishing is easy, but it is an awfully expensive way to fill your basement with 5,000 copies of a book, which may or may not sell.

There have also been many complaints about the business practices of certain vanity publishers. Be careful, and search the Internet for customer feedback on any company you may consider before committing to a publishing contract.

Pros: Trade publishing quality books with paid editing and cover design services.
Cons: Very expensive and no effective marketing support. 


As an author, if you receive an offer that is too good to be true, it surely will be. In publishing a book, there is only one way to succeed –the hard way, and no amount of money thrown at people will make it any easier. In my opinion, a new author has two sensible choices when it comes to getting a book published – either try to work with a literary agent and a publishing house or self-publish and enjoy the learning curve and the journey. Both are tough, but that’s the reality of book publishing today. There is no easy way.

Helpful links for new authors

List of Literary Agents UK & US
List of publishers
Kindle Direct Publishing
The Creative Penn

One thought on “New Authors Beware of Scam Agents and Publishing Sharks

  • December 26, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Eons ago when I first started my writing career, I, too, received a letter from an agent who wanted to represent me. Of course, there were minimal fees. I was about to jump on it when I realized, the only way she could have found me was via my website which was MY first amateur attempt at website design programming. The only information I could find for this person was a PO box and city. I decided to keep my cash and waited. Years later when I was the coordinator for a local writing conference, I received a letter from an agent who was willing to come – for free – to talk and mingle. I, to say the least, was quite ecstatic. I was about to offer her the spot when I decided to check her out. Hm? Same city and another PO box. My curiosity piqued, I dug a little closer. Over the years I had become quite a web sleuth. Come to find out she was quite the scam artist, including faking her own death and fleeing the country to avoid retribution. She was back and had almost nailed me. I, once again, withheld the monies, the organization’s this time, and moved forward with a more reputable agent. What I’m trying to share with many words, no only the newbie, but also a “been around the block at least once” author can be trapped by a scammer if the bait is really good. Always step back if it seems too good. It could be, but it might not be. My friends have been scammed, one by an publisher who absconded with all his money and the other, scammed by an agent who billed her $350 quarterly for services rendered. It wasn’t until she asked to see where the agent had been submitting did she get poor photocopies of obviously doctored rejects. She had decided to submit on her own, too, and didn’t want to duplicate efforts. That was after 3 quarters ($1050) of supposed rejections for a total of 4 reject forms. As you said – the waters are full of them. Swim cautiously.


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