Run, Run, As Fast As You Can …

31 Dec

Because you don’t want to be tricked like the gingerbread man!

I apologise for the doggerel, but there is a point here.

A couple of days ago, a friend of a friend posted a question to a writer’s group on Facebook. The good news was that he’d been offered a contract by a traditional publisher. The bad news was that that the publisher wanted him to pay in advance. The editing, marketing, and publishing would cost $350, they said; the contract stated that they wanted $395 as the first payment, then ten more payments of $295 every month regardless of the book’s actual status (published or not.)

I took one look and wrote a simple response. “Run, run, run!”

Greater writers than I have said this before, but it needs to be repeated time and time again. In traditional publishing, money flows downhill to the author. The publisher pays for editing, marketing and suchlike in advance (and then takes it out of earnings before they pay the author anything more than the advance). The author does not pay a single penny (or cent) to the publisher. Full stop.

Put bluntly, if the publisher expects you to pay in advance, they’re scammers.

Writers want to be published. We want to see our name in print. And that can make us suckers, ripe for exploitation. It is very easy to fall for the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy and keep shelling out cash, while the so-called publishers do nothing – or do it very poorly. Writers who get into these sort of messes often discover that the editing is sub-standard, the marketing consists of a handful of Facebook ads and the printing is terrible. Worse, they are often expected to buy huge print runs of their own books – which are then unsellable – or discover that their contracts entitles their publishers to first call on anything else they happen to write. Getting out of these contracts can be a nightmare.

Let me say it again. If the publisher expects you to pay in advance, they’re scammers. You are being scammed.

These companies do not make money by publishing books. They make money by exploiting hundreds of people like YOU, people who were so captivated by the idea of having their name in print that they didn’t recognise or heed the warning signs. Their whole business model is based around insisting you need services and then forcing you to pay for them. I know what it’s like to be an unpublished author, desperate to break into a hard market; I understand exactly how a newbie writer feels. But it is important to recognise that any newbie writer is a potential target for exploitation. A publisher who wants you to pay is not your friend.

Now, this obviously isn’t true of indie publishing. There, you buy services on contract – I hire editors and cover designers for my books. (I think the most expensive book I ever put out cost me around $1500.) But I also don’t have to split the proceeds with an agent or a publisher. Nor do I have to stick with a contractor whose services are not up to par.

If someone offers you a contract, do your due diligence. Check out Writer Beware and other online resources for writers. Read reviews of work your publisher has put out – not paid reviews, real reviews. Insist on reading the contract – perhaps even chatting with other authors (and make sure you find their contact details yourself) – before you do more than express interest. Perhaps even check out the free samples so you can see their editing for yourself.

If you get involved in a scam, it will cost you your book (and perhaps any future books) as well as your reputation. You do not want to look like a sucker. I’ve seen far too many authors shrilling for their scammers, all believing that a great payday is just around the corner. It’s an easy mistake to make, but you don’t want to make it.

So … warning signs.

If a publisher asks you to pay for having your book published, RUN.

If a publisher insists you sign a contract giving them complete and open-ended power over the book, and/or demands first refusal rights for anything else you might happen to write, RUN.

If a publisher asks you to pay for services (editing, cover design, etc), RUN.

If a publisher promises you the sun and the moon tomorrow, but never today, RUN.

If a publisher tells you that he isn’t one of those evil vanity publishers, RUN.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. I understand the urge to get published and see your name in print. But it is important to remember that the urge makes you vulnerable and there are people out there who will try to exploit you. Do your research, keep a wary eye on anyone who claims to be your friend instead of taking a business-like approach and, for the love of God, learn from other experiences before you become the next cautionary tale for new writers.

Believe me, there are plenty of those out there already.

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3 Responses to “Run, Run, As Fast As You Can …”

  1. Anarchymedes December 31, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    This kind of scam is very common in computer arts, especially in 3D modelling used to create assets and characters for games. You constantly hear about ‘epic’ projects which promise you glory and riches in the future, but ask you to work for free now. Promises too good to be true are just that: too good to be true, and these ‘publishers’ are not better than the originators of the BitCoin spam I’m sick and tired of safely purging from my mailbox without opening it.

  2. Billy December 31, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

    I don’t know why someone who writes a book would pay anyone anything about anything.

    At least for the first several books, when you can put a book on Amazon for free.

    I put one on there and even sold 5 copies.
    (It took a couple years to sell that many ) 🙂

    Of course I used the generic cover and I did pay some random person 75 dollars to edit the book somewhat.

    If I was younger I might even do it again.
    (I do have a idea on a How-To book)

  3. Wolfcry January 1, 2018 at 12:19 am #

    Don’t forget the “We’re going to make your Novel/webcomic/story etc into a movie!” scam. In which a company does pay you something for the rights to your work. The problem is that they have the rights to it forever, so you the author can’t do anything more with the IP you’ve created. The company just sits on the rights forever and/or sells them to another rights holding company. Nothing else ever comes of it. People are just overly excited at the idea that their story could be made into a movie and getting a bit of cash in the process.

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