April 5, 2023

Red Flags in Self-Publishing

I’ve spent over thirty years dealing with self-publishing companies while trying to get my books out to the public. Over that thirty-year period, I’ve made a lot of mistakes because of my ignorance. Today, I view these mistakes as red flags. I’d like to share some of those red flags with you in hopes that you can avoid my mistakes. First, understand that self-publishing companies are there to make money for themselves and not necessarily for you. They may recommend that you advertise your books in a variety of forums at great expense, yet your return may well be zero. Yes, there is always a chance that your advertising won’t pay off, but when a company continues to empty your bank account with zero results, something’s wrong. Here are some of the Red Flags I’ve learned to watch for during my years of dealing with self-publishing companies.
Self-publishing companies will tell you that they are putting the copyright in your name, and they are, at least the domestic copyright—copyright for the United States. What they don’t tell you is that there is a second copyright, one that covers the rest of the world. In other words, you own the publishing rights for your book in the states, but they can sell your material without your knowledge to other countries and keep all the proceeds. Make sure that you own both the domestic and international copyrights. You might consider registering your material with the copyright office before you even begin working with a company, so you own both the domestic and international rights.
Second, make sure they genuinely purchase those copyrights for you. I thought that my books were copyrighted for years when they weren’t. I had paid a company to register my books with the copyright office, and I assumed they had done their job. I nearly had a cow when I learned that I had been marketing my books for years without even owning them. Anyone at any time could have stolen my material and claimed it as their own.
Before you agree to work with a self-publishing company, make sure they are genuine. When Company ABC (not a real name) called me with an interest in picking up my material, I did a little research into them. They were a genuine company through the Better Business Bureau, they had a webpage (even if it wasn’t that nice) with dozens of books pictured on it, and they appeared to be a valid company. In reality, they were a valid company, but they were still a fraud. They used people like me to make their money. I paid for multiple services through them but never got a cent back. What I didn’t realize at that time was that their webpage was filled with dozens of fake books. They had created fake books to enhance their appeal to desperate authors, pretending to be a successful company. They boosted my ego by always having my books as some of the “featured” items. I didn’t realize that my material made it onto their featured list because it was one of the few books that was real and could be ordered. When I discovered this trick and tried to order several of their other books, ones not on the featured books list, they were all “out of print” or “currently unavailable.”
This company did publish my books for me, but their work was shotty at best. For example, I paid for them to have their professional editor edit my material. After the editing was finished, I gave them permission to publish the book without reading through it because I assumed he had done his job. When I received my copy of my book, I was horrified. Their editor had completely rewritten some areas, reworded other areas, changed the way I notated the angelic/demonic speaking parts, and inserted errors into the material. Some of his changes actually changed the meanings of my sentences. Their editor had taken liberties that no real editor would ever take. After he finished with them, they sounded more like middle school creative writing projects than my writing. Also, I had to wonder if the editor even spoke English, because he changed some word tenses and made them wrong. He literally inserted errors into the manuscripts. For example, one of my sentences included the phrase “… could have won the…” and he changed it to “… could have win the…” When I questioned this, the editor insisted that he was right. That’s when I knew I had been scammed. A kindergartener with basic English skills would have known he was wrong.
Watch out for excuses as to why they aren’t producing a product for which you have paid. I paid for two book covers that I never received. It was near the end of my tenure with them, and I guess when they saw I was getting frustrated and asking too many questions, they decided that they didn’t want to waste time, money, or effort creating my covers. In the end, I just wanted my money back. Their work was so bad that I didn’t want them to create the covers. Of course, I never saw a penny.
Some self-publishing companies’ marketing ideas only create money for the company itself. For example, I once paid nearly $1900.00 to advertise my series in a newspaper that I later learned should have been free.
Another red flag to watch for deals with how a company reports the number of copies you have sold. With one specific company, I waited for over two years for their online author’s report, the report that was supposed to give me this information. That data page was never completed. To this day, I don’t have a clue about how many copies they sold, but I do know how much I made for my thousands of dollars spent with them—zero. When I finally took legal action against them, they disappeared. Even the letter sent to their registered agent couldn’t be delivered, due to the fact that they didn’t exist. Another company inhabited their building—a company that had nothing to do with publishing.
When I left this company, all my marketing materials remained behind. I paid for these items to be produced. I helped oversee the creation of the materials, but because they created them, they kept them. I left with nothing but my manuscripts. I was fortunate, because sometimes authors don’t even leave with pdf’s of their own manuscripts.
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2 Responses

  1. In my opinion, it would benefit everyone to know the necessary steps to recover their lost money from these fraudsters. One should reach out to the authorities ASAP. It’s imperative to put a stop to these scams.

  2. I almost got scammed by one of these random ABC companies looking to get you published, without actually providing the product they promised you. Very rare to find proper self-publishing companies nowadays… I personally would do anything to work with a self-publishing company that genuinely wants me to succeed and would go the extra mile to get things done with quality.

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