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When looking to self-publish, how do I avoid being scammed?

Many new writers in Malaysia have been burnt by vanity publishers, where they pay thousands of ringgit (usually around USD3,000) to print hundreds of copies of books that don’t sell. And instead of getting the marketing support they’ve been promised, they end up having to do it all alone.

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

So … 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 at the minimum, not counting the cost to print the books. Whilst editing services and cover illustrations aren’t cheap, they shouldn’t cost you tens of thousands either.

With vanity publishing, you’re paying 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. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t engage them. However, if you should decide to work with them, go into it with your eyes open and the understanding that you’re paying premium prices for services which may not really be the best. DO 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, or if you can outsource them to freelancers at a much cheaper rate, with better outcomes/results.

So all this looks like it’s just about the cost and how much a company can cheat you of money whilst giving you sub-standard products. However, the bad and confusing part comes when the vanity publisher tries to disguise itself as a traditional publisher, or is an offshoot/branch of a larger publishing house. And this is where poor, confused new authors sometimes get scammed.

So how do I not get scammed?

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. Heck, 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, the author, 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!

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

If you ever come across a publisher that seems just a little dodgy to you or a deal that seems just a little too good to be true with amazing promises, do a quick search for reviews or check out the Writer Beware website at http://accrispin.blogspot.my/ to see if anyone has complained about or reported them. You can also search the Malaysian Writers Community on Facebook to see if those publishers have been discussed 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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