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How do I avoid being scammed by publishers?

Publishing is a very confusing business. Many new writers in Malaysia have been burnt by vanity publishers. They’re convinced to pay thousands of ringgit (usually around USD3,000) to print hundreds of copies of books that don’t sell. Instead of getting the marketing support they’ve been promised, they end up having to do it all alone. Then they complain that publishing and self-publishing is a scam and a waste of money. But is it?

How do I avoid being scammed?

The line between self-publishing and vanity publishing is sometimes blurred—and many often confuse the two. Vanity publishing used to be synonymous with self-publishing. However, vanity publishing in 2018 is part of self-publishing only where “independently” and “own expense” is concerned—in its current form, it straddles a strange mix between traditional and indie publishing.

What’s the difference?

With self-publishing, you publish the book by yourself, essentially doing everything a publisher is supposed to do on your own. To produce the best book you can, you’ll have to spend on editing and cover art plus printing costs. Whilst editing services and cover illustrations aren’t cheap, they shouldn’t cost you tens of thousands either.

With vanity publishing, you pay a company/publisher to publish the book on your behalf. Sounds the same, right? You’re still paying for services … and even better: someone’s going to do everything for you! However, most vanity publishers (at this time) do not offer value-for-money services. Some of the big vanity publishers out there that we are aware of are Partridge and Author Solutions.

What if cost isn’t a big factor for me?

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t engage them. If you do engage them, however, go into the contract with your eyes open and understand that you’re paying premium prices for services which may not really be the best.

Review all the options you are purchasing as part of the package and ask yourself if:

  • you are able to do this on your own, and/or
  • if you can outsource these services to freelancers at a much cheaper rate, with better outcomes/results.

So far, all this looks like it’s just about the costs and standards. The confusing part comes when the vanity publisher tries to disguise itself as a traditional publisher or is an offshoot/branch of a larger, established publishing house.

This is where poor, confused new authors sometimes get scammed.

How do I recognise a publishing scam?

If you receive an offer from a company to publish your book or “win” a contract but you have to pay them for it (or “invest in their business”), then this is a vanity publisher, or at least someone trying to scam you in the name of publishing. A proper publishing house, whether they’re a big company or a small press, will NOT ask you for a fee. Even an agent that decides to represent you will NOT ask you for a fee. A publishing house will negotiate to PAY YOU royalties and/or an advance and an agent will take a percentage cut of whatever price they manage to sell your manuscript for. If an agent doesn’t sell, he/she doesn’t get paid.

The rule of thumb is this: Money should flow towards the author—if it does not it’s likely a scam.

What often seems enticing about a vanity publisher is the promise of a larger distribution channel than you can get on your own. However, this promise usually doesn’t materialise. Yes, they have a network, but they aren’t invested enough to push your book through it. As their main goal is to make money off YOU, their job is done once they’ve convinced you to sign up and pay for their publishing package. They don’t care if you never sell anything because they’ve already made their money!

Also, because of the prices they charge, you end up having to sell your book for ridiculously high prices just to cover costs. We’ve seen thin, badly edited volumes published via vanity publishers sold at prices between RM40-RM55 when other self-published books of similar length and proportions (and better quality) were priced at RM20.

What do I do then?

If you ever come across a publisher that seems just a little dodgy or a deal that seems just a little too good to be true, do a quick search for reviews. You can also check out the Writer Beware website at http://accrispin.blogspot.my/ to see if anyone has complained about or reported them. The Malaysian Writers Community on Facebook may also have discussed some of these publishers before. If you don’t find anything negative, then feel free to make a decision based on your gut feeling.


At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help!

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