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Spotting Self Publishing Scams

Imagine this: out of the blue, you get an email from the director of a powerful, well-known publishing company. They inform you that the book you self-published on Amazon last year has come to their attention, and they want to give it a national release that will elevate it to best-seller status. Not only that, but they promise you’ll receive a substantial cut of the royalties—way more than that three-dollar monthly deposit you’re currently getting from Amazon—and all you have to do is invest some of your money upfront.


What would you do? Would you jump at the chance to achieve your publishing dreams?


Or . . . would you stop and think first?


There are numerous problems with this scenario, and we will explore them all in just a minute. But there’s one big thing I want you to be aware of at the outset.


Depending on what figures you’re looking at, there are anywhere between 500,000 and 2 million self-published books released every year. That means that the odds of someone reaching out to you personally to talk about your brilliant book are extremely slim.


Like, fantasy land slim.


This kind of thing just doesn’t happen. While it’s true that some authors have demonstrated through their sales at the independent level that their books can perform with a larger audience, this, too, is rare.


I realize that this is probably a dream-killer for some of you. But my job is to help writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers, and that means I need to help protect you from the wolves in sheep’s clothing that are out there.


I’m also, unfortunately, seeing more and more of this kind of thing. Just last week, two author friends contacted me for advice about offers that seemed too good to be true.


Because they were.


You need to be able to protect yourself and the projects you’ve worked so hard to create.


So, let me give you some tell-tale signs that the email you just got from Simon and Schuster offering you fame and fortune is probably fake, and by probably, I mean definitely.


They Contact You First

There's a hierarchy in traditional publishing models: the author seeks out the publisher, not vice versa. If you receive an unexpected outreach from a “publisher,” tread cautiously.


Authentic publishers are usually too busy to cold-contact potential authors. They have enough agents and authors to deal with who are soliciting them.


In the landscape of self publishing, you should be the one spearheading any business connections or partnerships. One of the dangers with this self publishing scam is that it sends the message that you can sit on the couch eating chips and watching The Bachelor while waiting for your ship to come in. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. You are your own best advocate. If you don’t talk about your book, nobody else will.


These offers from industry giants also border on seeming “too good to be true.” They’ll offer a book deal that will instantly upgrade you from a one-in-a-million self published author to a literary legend. They’ll tell you that they’re from Netflix and want to option your book for a limited series (this is a real one I’ve recently come across).


They are empty promises and these people sit on a throne of lies.


They're Pretending to Be a Well-Known Publisher

Beware of those who masquerade as reputable publishers. Some scam artists employ this tactic to appear legitimate and win your trust. They may use a name that bears a striking resemblance to a respected publisher, or they might claim they are a branch or affiliate of a large, recognized publishing entity. When faced with such scenarios, it's crucial to do some homework.


Go to the official website of the publisher they claim to represent and contrast it with the site or information they provide. Online communities and review websites can offer invaluable insights about their reputation. If there's a discrepancy between the name they're using and the one you find on the official site, or if their reputation is questionable, there's a good chance you're dealing with a scam.


However, even this can’t provide enough proof. Scammers do their homework—sometimes, they even grab the name of the actual contact on the website and create an email address that looks like it’s from the real person. Here’s a tip: type the website extension from the email address into your browser and see what comes up. Usually, it ends up being linked to a book marketing service that is pretending to be someone else as a means of gaining clients.


They Charge You for Their Services

It’s normal for a self-publishing author to invest in services like editing, cover design, or formatting. However, if a “publisher” requests a hefty fee upfront to publish your book, this should raise a red flag.


Authentic publishers earn revenue from book sales, not by imposing charges on authors. Furthermore, they should furnish you with an explicit, itemized list of costs for their services. If they're evasive or unclear about their fee structure, run the other way.


And finally, be on guard if the publisher is overly eager to get you to sign a contract. Legitimate publishers understand that authors need time to review contracts and consult with a lawyer if necessary. If they are rushing you into signing an agreement, it's possibly because they don't want you to have time to notice any unfavorable terms or conditions.


These are all warning signs to look out for when dealing with potential self publishing scams. It's essential to be vigilant and well-informed to protect yourself from getting in over your head.


They Make Their Services Sound “Essential”

One common tactic employed by fraudulent entities is the exaggeration of the importance of their services. They may insist that every element they offer, no matter how costly or seemingly irrelevant, is vital for your book's success. The road to self publishing indeed requires several steps, but not all services presented to you are indispensable.


For example, while professional marketing services can undeniably add value, they might not be necessary if you're equipped and willing to promote your book independently. Similarly, expensive add-on services like video trailers or elaborate press releases, though potentially beneficial, might not align with your specific needs or budget.


Scammers might sometimes pressure you into buying a package of services, asserting that it's the “complete solution” for your self-publishing needs. They may even guarantee results that seem too good to be true, like hitting the bestseller list. It's important to remember that while strategic planning and execution can boost your book's visibility and sales, there are no guarantees in the publishing world.


Your self-publishing journey should be tailored to your needs, budget, and goals. Any provider that tries to make you feel otherwise, insisting that their expensive, all-encompassing services are absolutely necessary for your book's success, should be approached with skepticism. In the marketing sense, this is bullying. Instead of blindly accepting these assertions, take the time to understand the purpose and value of each service and decide for yourself what you truly need.


They Use Language That Preys on Writers’ Egos

Be cautious of those who shower you with flattery or make grand promises about the success of your book. Scammers may use phrases such as "your manuscript is exceptional" or "we envision your book topping best-seller lists" in an attempt to appeal to your ego.


Also, allow me to just state the obvious: they’ve never actually read your book. This is blind praise in the form of a boilerplate email that is getting sent to thousands of unsuspecting authors, and they’re counting on you being too uninformed to connect the logical dots.


When you think about it this way, these self publishing scams become downright offensive. These people don’t respect your ability to think logically. They don’t even respect your writing.


I’ve said this before . . . but if your sole motivation in writing is to get attention or become well-known, you need to revisit why you’re doing this. Becoming a bestselling author can happen—but it’s exceedingly rare.


And besides, there are so many better reasons to create. You have the chance to gift readers with something that will bring them joy and provoke thought. You are able to work hard to develop your talent and see the rewards of that work even if they don’t come in the form of a book deal or a big check.


There are no shortcuts to being a great author. It takes dedication, effort, and the willingness to learn and be teachable. These are traits that are not for sale.

This Self Publishing Scam Just Happened to Me MONDAY.

Want a case study? I didn't have one for you . . . until yesterday morning when I got this email:

Here's just a brief list of things that are wrong with this email:

  • The copious exclamation marks: There are more exclamations in this email (including the subject line) than a teenage girl's diary. Not professional style for a corporation like Amazon.

  • Inconsistent capitalization and spacing: Someone doesn't know what common and proper nouns are.

  • "We can assist you in finding a literary agency": More than likely, this email is a front for a company that offers this as a service.

But that's not even the worst part.

When I clicked on the sender information, I got this:

Because Amazon DEFINITELY uses a gmail address.

Guys, you've written entire BOOKS. You're smarter than this. Show these scam artists that you are.


Want to Learn More About Self Publishing?

Schedule a complimentary Zoom Virtual Meetup to talk about your publishing aspirations, learn how to share your work with others, and get answers to your burning questions about the process.


I make this free service available so people can book time with an experienced author to have these important conversations.

Grab some time on my calendar, and let’s navigate these challenges together.

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