Landing that first book deal or seeing your writing come to life is an exciting moment worth celebrating. Every author dreams of seeing their work published. But how can a first-time author avoid being ripped off of by unethical people and practices in the book industry?
We all have heard stories about authors being taken advantage of. I remember getting a pit in my stomach the first time I heard one of these stories. A big reason why I started helping indie authors was to empower them with knowledge and set them on a path toward success. But the stories continue, and I always think to myself we can do better.
Anyone with a conscience would cringe hearing about the author who paid $8500.00 to get published through a hybrid publisher. Or the author who is currently experiencing ten months of delays trying to get their book designed and printed.
So how can we, in the book publishing industry, keep this from happening?
Industry professionals to include reputable publishers must do a better job of educating authors. Since publishing is the first stop on the author’s journey, it is essential that we educate the author before and during the publishing process. But this is not just the publisher’s responsibility. Anyone working with authors needs to be aware that they are susceptible to being taken advantage of and focus on helping them avoid being ripped off. The more we educate them, the more we can shape realistic expectations. Knowledge is power and will avoid misunderstandings resulting in a better experience for all.
First-time authors are excited at the prospect of seeing their hard work on the printed page. And they should be. That enthusiasm is worth preserving.
Having a good experience publishing a book will encourage the author to stay in the industry, continue to write and possibly make their dream a career. The opposite is also true. When the author feels as though they have been taken advantage of, it not only affects others trying to help them, but it leaves them feeling hesitant and distrusting.
Any industry is plagued with bad apples. It’s usually a tiny percentage of the overall number, but unfortunately, if it exists and is not dealt with properly can put a black mark on the entire book industry. When we remain silent about companies ripping off authors, we are essentially rewarding the bad guys and losing authors.
Scams promise the world and provide just enough not to be liable. To combat this, reputable publishers need to provide education around the publishing process, transparency regarding their company, pricing, and process. This will only lead to more business. Every publisher has a right to make money and grow their business in a way that fits their goals. Some authors are more demanding than others, but an author who has an overview and understanding of each step of the journey is less likely to have issues.
The same holds true for any other service provider who works with authors. Ethical companies get rewarded with referrals, endorsements, growth and hopefully the feeling that they are helping someone achieve a goal. Anyone who intentionally takes advantage of authors should be exposed and black-listed.
Authors must become their own advocate. While it is exciting to receive an acceptance letter, it is important to pause, step back and evaluate what is being offered. Do not let the possibility cloud your critical thinking. Before signing the dotted line do your research. There is a lot of information online to assist in this process, especial from industry leaders and organizations. Start by researching several companies and ask them all the same questions to evaluate their responses. Talk to other authors who have used that service and ask for their experiences. Ask friends to look at the contract, and most importantly go with your gut. If you sense there is something off, no matter how sweet the deal sounds, know there is a reason for that feeling.
The publishing industry has the unique advantage of knowing what is and isn’t a scam. This information needs to become public knowledge. Through education, workshops, articles like this, and calling out the scammers for what they are, future authors will become more aware and less likely to fall victim to a rip off artist.
All of the organizations that support authors throughout the publishing journey should have resources that call out the bad actors. There are some available from organizations like the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) who has a list of the Best and Worst Self-Publishing Services, and others who focus on book agents like AgentQuery.com. The Science Fiction Writers of America have laid out in Vanity Publishers in Small Press Clothing what to look for to avoid becoming prey to one of these companies. What we might be missing is an industry-wide website where businesses get rated and ranked for their service. This could create a central focal point for authors to search through before they engage in services.
Although this article focuses on the bad actors, a vast majority of companies are providing excellent services, employing high integrity professionals and doing fantastic work for authors. We all should feel a responsibility to keep focused on quickly and efficiently snuffing out the bad guys. After all, publishing should be a momentous occasion, and we all have a part in making sure the integrity of the industry is maintained.