Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

What to Look Out For to Avoid Scams

70 years of Penguin design - the logo

70 years of Penguin design – the logo (Photo credit: rich_w)

Penguin and Authors Solutions are being sued for deceptive practices, including the withholding of royalties from writers, breaching contracts, establishing web brands that just lead back to Authors Solutions, among other deceptive practices that have brought about this lawsuit. Forbes wrote about it here.

This incident brings me to the topic of scams and how writers can best avoid them. I am with a partner publishing firm, wherein earnings are split among author and publisher. Your publisher isn’t some mysterious entity, but you actually work with your publisher to produce your book. Partnered firms are also the most flexible among publishing presses because you have control over your cover art (granted it is within reason, as in an accurate reflection of your book and as well as marketable) among other things involved in the process of creating a book. Heck, you can hire your own editor if you want to if you do not like the current press’s edits–within reason. It leverages existing self-publishing options, is much cheaper than self-publishing (you might not be spending anything at all if you choose not to), and you get marketing support to boot. There are no fees involved. I mention all this because someone was curious about partner publishing firms, and I want to talk about some important clauses in publishing contracts when you’re choosing presses that can help you avoid scams. These aren’t surefire ways, as publishers can still run off with your money, but when you sign the contract, and they sign it agreeing to what I’m about to list, you have every right to sue.

For one, when it comes to bigger houses, agents exist for the purpose of helping you negotiate contracts, such as making the copyright yours and being able to get out of a contract if you don’t like how things are going. But if you’re on your own, you’re going to want to know some major things to look out for in contracts that could raise red flags, especially with smaller presses or newer presses.

You deserve to know your amount of royalties, and especially with small presses, you should be receiving more. I would say 50% or more is fair, especially if you’re not getting an advance. Otherwise, take your stuff elsewhere.

You’ll want your copyright, especially if your book goes out of print or whatever that way you can self-publish it and still sell it. This is a big problem among larger publishing houses because oftentimes you give up your copyright, your book risks going out of print, and then once that happens, you can never do anything with that book ever again. Just because a book doesn’t sell now doesn’t mean it won’t sell later, so you deserve your copyright.

Look out for no competition clauses. Some publishers do not want you publishing with other houses because they consider it competing against your own book. Negotiate those or get out.

You should be able to opt out of your contract should you decide that you don’t like how things are going.  If this isn’t an option, either negotiate or get out. It is your book, your sweat, blood, and tears, and so you shouldn’t immediately jump on the first house, agent, whatever, that decides to take you on. You need to read your contract carefully, ask questions, negotiate, and then decide from there.

It is my opinion that no one should use a vanity press. That can save you a lot of grief that people constantly experience going with a vanity press. If you’re going to self-publish, do it yourself. Plus, vanity presses often employ editors who work like they’re in a factory line, so it becomes about quantity instead of quality. And you end up spending more than anyone should have to.

It’s a shame that such a well-known publishing establishment bought out a vanity press that has always been known for scams, but this becomes one of those buyer beware situations. So the above points are just some things to look out for in your own contracts.

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10 comments on “What to Look Out For to Avoid Scams

  1. Lilith Colbert
    June 1, 2013

    Can you recommend some partnered firms that are on the up and up? I’m looking to publish for the 1st time and really want to avoid the BS 😉

    • amberskyef
      June 4, 2013

      AEC Stellar Publishing is pretty awesome. I love that I’m being given a solid glimpse into the business side of things and it’s not something that’s being kept under wraps from me. There is also Village Green Press LLC, which offers a wide range of services for authors interested in either traditional or self-publishing–traditional if you are accepted, other options if you are not. You can probably type partner publishers in Google and find loads of them. I would search for ones that don’t force you to spend money UNLESS you want to. You are literally working with the publisher to produce your book, so you are given options to spend money should you not like what is currently being offered because partner publishers allow you control while having that safety net.

      • Lilith Colbert
        June 4, 2013

        Thank you SO MUCH for the tips 😀

      • amberskyef
        June 4, 2013

        Your welcome! Also, I hear Spencer Hill Press and Entangled are pretty good, though they are niche.

  2. ghostbusterbev
    June 2, 2013

    Good advice – thanks for this post! I will soon be looking at publishing options for my second book and I am leaning towards self-publishing. Thanks for visiting my blog and for the follow!

  3. sabcooke
    June 2, 2013

    I think a lot of the problems arise because there aren’t enough business-minded authors out there. A contract should always be read thoroughly and negotiated, preferably by a third party on your behalf. In most cases. If a company doesn’t offer to run you through your contract, there’s a good chance it’s because there’s something they don’t want you to see in it. Authors tend to forget to push for things, too scared that they’ll damage the author-publisher relationship or that they’ll blow their one big shot because of greed.

    It’s funny, really, because a lot of writers forget a very obvious fact: publishing houses are businesses.

    Nice solid post with the often missed message being quite firmly in place here: Negotiate or get out.

  4. jennpower
    June 2, 2013

    I agree with retaining your copyright. Just look at J.K Rowling- She kept her copyright- even with the movies- she became a producer of the movies (I think?) and now she’s one of the wealthiest people in Britain! Smart move on her part- very smart move.

  5. Katie Sullivan
    June 2, 2013

    These are excellent points – sometimes I think excitement and a hurry to see a work published have the potential to push an already non-business minded individual into making mistakes. Always read the contract, and if you don’t understand it, find someone you trust who does!

  6. nancyotoole
    June 2, 2013

    This is very helpful! I am currently trying to get my novel published and want to make sure I explore all options

    • amberskyef
      June 2, 2013

      Just make sure the publisher goes over the contract with you, first and foremost.

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