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It was bound to happen in a once relatively quiet industry of readers, writers and thinkers. With the digital revolution came a large army of mercenaries, apparently keen to prey on the ever-fragile ego of an author.

Aside: It is in fact the scoundrel aspect of publishing (or rather author marketing) that birthed Where Writers Win. I grew tired of seeing authors pay thousands for a website they couldn’t even manage themselves, and more aggravated still when learning they had to pay someone every time they wanted to announce a book signing. I was floored by prices being charged to “manage” social media, when in fact social media is about being social, and most of it’s free, so, um… (And let’s be honest – does anyone go to a book signing to meet your typist?).

Nowadays I see people charging hundreds of dollars an hour to “coach” social media or help an author set up a Facebook page. I recently met an author who was thrilled that she got her website for “free,” but the “free” came with a $95 a month “hosting” pricetag, where it should be about $5. Sigh.

Okay, these aren’t all outright scams. But an author needs to stop and think about just how many books they’ll have to sell to recoup such “investments.” Sure, a Rolls Royce will get you to the theater. But so will more economical vehicles, without the buyer’s remorse.

Along came blog tours and I thought, here’s something we want to add to our service menu. Until we  discovered that again, this had too often become a predatory way to part authors from their cash, both from “paid reviews” on pointless sites, and exorbitant fees for organizing “tours” that are really just your review/interview appearing on a series of sites over a specified amount of time. There’s no “tour” involved, though for the price you could fly to Paris for a live book signing.

And so, sadly, we decided we didn’t want to be anywhere near blog tours, lest we get splashed by the invariable mud-slinging. They’re not all bad, true. But we see too many charging too much to put authors on sites that either A) don’t even match their genre and/or B) have little more following than the online reviewer’s friends and family. That frustration gave birth to the whole idea of the Winner Circle and instead establishing a vetted directory where authors could go out on their own and pitch the reviewers in their genre with some traffic and following, without paying someone a thousand dollars or more and wasting their time and money. Obviously it grew from there, but that’s how it all began.

But of course that’s all in what we call publishing’s “after-market.” Now we’re seeing harsher light shed on the scams and scoundrels within the actual road-to-publishing arena. Authors are becoming savvy to contests that are really just looking for lots of big entries with a tiny payout and no road to a published book. We’ve begun vetting contests, too, and weeding out those that are just a sneaky way to lure you into a publishing deal with yet another vanity press.

And speaking of vanity presses – yikes. We read a scathing post on May 4 from author David Gaughran, titled The Author Exploitation Business. I’m excerpting a bit of that article here, but I’d encourage you to click on the title link and read the entire post AND the nearly 150 thoughtful comments that followed. David says:

“Before the digital revolution made self-publishing viable on a wide scale, the dividing lines were easier to spot. Traditional publishers paid you if they wanted to buy the rights to your novel. Self-publishers were people who filled their garages with books and tried to hawk them at events. And vanity presses were the scammers, luring the unsuspecting with false promises and roundly condemned by self-publishers and traditional publishers alike.

“Today it’s very different. The scammy vanity presses are owned by traditional publishers who are marketing them as the ‘easy’ way to self-publish – when it’s nothing more than a horrifically expensive and terribly ineffective way to publish your work, guaranteed to kill your book’s chance of success stone dead, while emptying your bank account in the process…

“And it’s much harder to tell the scammers from the legitimate organizations when they are owned by the same people.”

Again, I urge you – especially if you are considering self-publishing and haven’t decided on a publisher yet – to read the entire article and the comments (some great ones there from other authors and even agents). And we’ll be linking the article to our social media as well. Because, while the brave new world of self-publishing is indeed opening up worlds of opportunities to many authors, self-education will continue to be your best defense against making a bad deal.

Have you been a victim of a scam or scoundrel in the publishing world? Do you have advice for aspiring and emerging authors? Sound off with your comment below. Together, our voices can shout louder…

ShariStauchCreator of Where Writers Win, Shari Stauch has been involved in publishing, marketing and PR for 30 years. She is a past producer of the South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW) Conference and current Co-Director of Programming for Words & Music: A Literary Feast in New Orleans. Stauch is a certified executive coach, an award-winning essayist and fiction writer, and author of four non-fiction books. She is also the principal author of the WWW blog, with new posts published on every odd day of the month, and speaks at conferences around the country. The Where Writers Win team’s newest collaboration is The Winner Circle – vetted book review directories, book clubs and other cultivated resources for emerging authors.

25 thoughts on “Authors Beware: Scams and Scoundrels

  • June 29, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Thank you soo much for writing this article. A few years ago I got involved with a very dodgy small independent publisher that sold the dream, told me exactly what I wanted to hear, sold me promises. She didn’t fulfill any of them. After I signed the contract I found a number of her authors that were hiding in the woodwork scared out of their minds to approach her. To this day I have yet to receive any royalties from her.

    The silver lining is that it launched me into learning all about the publishing world — and keeping up with it. I tell authors now that it’s not necessarily learning HOW to put the book together, but rather WHO to get involved along the way. The people that get involved with this process are creative types who generally have no concept of timelines and budgets. So WHO is both good at what they do AND reliable when it comes to editing, cover design, interior design, et al.

    This is a new industry and we’ve got to expose the people that are not who they say they are, as well as forewarn wide-eyed authors to choose carefully.

    Thanks a million for bringing this topic to the forefront — it’s one I’m passionate about.

    • June 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      Bravo to you, Polly, for finding the silver lining and sharing the threads with others. It is a brave new world for authors, to be sure – but helping each other out can only lead to a stronger contingent of successful independent authors, publishers and book stores alike – about time they all made independence work FOR them, eh?! Cheers to you and continued success… We’d love it if you’d link our Winner Circle to your site, too 🙂

  • May 22, 2013 at 12:19 am

    I wanted to say hi, and that I’m so glad to have found your site, Shari. I’ve just finished writing my first book, A Return to My Soul, to be published by Balboa Press. Up until yesterday I was very happy about having Balboa Press as publisher. Everything has gone very well so far. However, yesterday I stumbled across warnings about the company, that they are a vanity press, a rip-off and that they don’t do a good job. I was shocked!! Now I’m wondering what this will mean for my book. To be fair, I haven’t seen the proofs and cover design yet, so they may be good. But given that the design and production of the book go well, I’m wondering what publishing my book with Balboa Press will mean for the book itself.

    In your article above, Sharri, you quote David Gaughran as saying that publishing with a vanity press “is guaranteed to kill your book’s chance of success stone dead.” What does he mean by this?

    I have an important story to tell, and I want my book to do well. I’m willing to work hard and to learn all that I need to know.

    What advice would you give me?

    Thanking you,

    • May 22, 2013 at 9:57 am

      You can learn more about David’s article and the responses at the link provided where he explains what he means. The best you can do is to understand your contract fully, what rights you have and don’t have – to set pricing, to take the book back if it’s not working there, etc. I’m not aware of Balboa’s fee/royalty structure or what they promise to promote except that I’ve heard their packages do offer inclusion into the Hay House publishing catalog, which is no small thing as you likely already know.

      That you’re willing to work hard is the most important aspect – With a good author website and social media skills you can do well with most publishers, even vanity presses, so long as they’re not charging you too much for subsequent copies of your book. You’re off to a fine start with your website and would suggest you pick a scheduled blog time (weekly, daily, whatever, but make it consistent) and if you have more than one blog in you, preschedule it… Then get hold of that cover art and incorporate it into your site, your social media, your email signature, everywhere you can!

      If you’d like to schedule a chat about what we do, email me at and/or learn more at Write on! Shari

  • May 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

    I tweeted, I posted everywhere. This message needs to be heard by all writers everywhere. We must help each other remain solvent while also remaining hopeful. Legitimate services ARE out there. Let’s find and recommend!

    • May 8, 2013 at 10:22 am

      Thanks, Sharon – solvent but hopeful – well put!

  • May 7, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Having just had a long email exchange with a fellow author asking about “book buyback requirements” by a publisher she heard speak at a writing conference, this was great and timely! (I forwarded it to her.) The “legitimate publisher” provided a $4000 advance, but required authors to buy $5000-$10,000 worth of books for the author to then sell themselves! They (publisher) insisted it wasn’t vanity publishing because they gave an advance. But that’s only true for people who are bad at math! I chose to go with a small, indy publisher rather than self-publishing for a number of reasons. They are highly regarded (have had some agents and reviewers mention what a great publisher they are) and while my returns are much smaller than if I did it myself, as my publisher says, “All money flows to the author.” I’m not required to put out any $ for anything, unless I choose to for promotion (business cards, post cards, etc).

    • May 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks for weighing in Lynne, and yes, definitely seems the indies will be the rose to emerge from the thorns of vanity and big guns surrounding them… Keep up the great work!

    • May 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

      Hi Victoria and thanks for weighing in – this group is actually mentioned in David’s article, though he doesn’t seem to think they’re touching this issue. The post was getting long and so we’re actually doing a follow up on Saturday talking about and also preditors and editors… Stay tuned!

  • May 7, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Shari, you are providing an incredible service to authors, both self- and commercially-published. What WWW really is, is the BBB (Better Business Bureau) for writers!

    Anytime, anywhere I can put in a good word for WWW, let me know.


  • May 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

    As an independent publisher who has more than 30 years in this business, both with traditional houses and independents, I have to say that many aspiring authors and self-published authors particularly, tend to tar all publishers with the same brush. But wanting to make money, and seeing opportunities to make money in a thriving industry is not a scam per se. Penguin is simply operating on the much touted “abundance model” that traditional publishers have always used. Sign enough books, throw them out there and depending on how hard the author works for his or her own success, you might squeeze out a bestseller or two.
    Some of us, my own company included, operate on a different model. We offer services that are desperately needed, editorial, design, publicity, how to write a query, how to use social media, etc.I don’t sign up anything that I don’t feel can compete in a very crowded market for my imprint and I do charge for my editorial and other services;I give solid and honest advice to those who want to self publish, those who want to go tradish, and those who don’t have the faintest idea what they want or need, save to get their books out there. Unlike those publishers who see prospective authors as little more than cannon fodder, I evaluate EVERY book on an individual basis.And I’m not doing that to exploit anyone. I do that because nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see good books get published.

    • May 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Good for you, Teresa and we definitely embrace the indies who are doing it “right” – and why we have a whole tab in the Winner Circle dedicated just to indie and hybrid publishers who are indeed doing their best to adjust models with changing times whilst still keeping the author front and center! Continued success…

  • May 7, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Thank you for passing this along. If we didn’t love to write for the act of writing itself, it would be easy to throw in the towel after reading some of the writers beware articles. Then there are the scammers who are the scums of the earth. Thankfully, there is some good out there with social media reaching many more than was possible before and places like WWW to get valuable information that is tested and true.

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:21 am

      Thanks, Deb – and at the end of the day it’s good to know that writers themselves are the best people on earth – always helping each other and encouraging each other – that’s what’ll keep y’all strong!

  • May 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Great article. I am amazed at the number of scammers and more so at the number of authors who succumb to them. We all need to watch out for the scammers and call them out publicly on social media. I am also a huge fan of the PR you have done for SCWW and Words and Music, two great organizations I am proud to have been part of over the years.

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:22 am

      Thank you and thanks too for taking up the virtual megaphone with us!

  • May 7, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Thanks for the great advice and informative site. I’ve not found another like it and feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I’m signing up for the winner circle right away.

    I was at a writer’s conference recently and sharing my experience so far with self publishing my ebook on Amazon. I was shocked at the questions I got. “How did you do that yourself? How’d you even know how?” I was speechless because the answer seemed so obvious. I Googled “How to create an eBook.” I think so many people are intimidated by the unknown. I say JUMP, build those wings on the way down. The decision for me was easy. I’d rather spend my time maneuvering through self marketing than sit on my hands frustrated because my publisher was doing nothing.

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Thanks, Kimberli and you’re so right – it’s surprising the intimidation factor. At the Tools of Change conference in NYC folks asked me what I do with authors; I got used to saying, “Well, think of us as the translators between the young digital natives and all the rest of us over 40 digital immigrants.” It’s true, even if digital and Google are your 2nd language, the world ain’t gonna change back.

      Thankfully, once folks do get the hang of it and realize that any mistake can be undone by a keystroke as easily as it was done, well then they tend to get more comfortable in that space. Two things we immediately tell clients: 1. We’ve ALL been there and had to endure the learning curve (I have the dinged up walls and smashed keyboards to show for it) and 2. This time and online space WAS MADE FOR WRITERS – it’s writing and it’s free 🙂

  • May 7, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Okay…I just have to shout…BEST POST EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Think I’ll share this every day for months because fellow writers and authors, wake up to this…grab the reins and gallop into YOUR future fully seated on your own mount. Partner with people who share your vision, champion your work and are willing to take a few on the chin with you and for you.

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:35 am

      Aw, thanks good lady – we heard your shout all the way from here! And love the riding analogy… I do wish the big trads could see the advantage of BEING the trusted sources for authors and eventually perhaps they will… ‘Til then, we all watch each other’s backs, eh?

      • May 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm

        Thanks for again bringing old information to a new height. Writers and emerging new authors , exciting as it is to see your work in print, need to be aware of all the dangers of publishing too soon.
        Not every self -publishing avenue is in the best interest of the writer. And, this can happen before the writer knows what goes on. Have a great writing partner to ask questions and get feedback. Research and research before your signature is on any dotted line. Keep up with the new trends with such sites as Writers Win and any writing group you belong to. As writers, we have valuable information at our fingertips and remember no question to better our writing or publishing is a stupid question. What’s stupid, is not asking the question.

        • May 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm

          Thanks, Patricia – you are absolutely right – no such thing as a stupid question (though once in a while the answer might not be so brilliant, lol) Write on! S

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