“I Just Landed a Traditional Contract…Or Did I?”

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Below is an email I received from an author last week, with details edited to protect his identity. The author had been led to believe that this was a traditional publishing house.

My new publisher has stopped responding to my messages. Their committee spent a week “reviewing” my manuscript.
They decided to publish the book.

The contract is attached to this email. They would be selling the book at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and would make my book available to bookstores through Ingram. Please take a look at the paragraph I’ve colored in red.

They asked me to “co-invest” in the project – to pay them $900.00.

I declined the offer and told them that I found it to be humiliating. Rather than offering an advance to the author, the publisher asked for it!

I wish I could say this is a new type of scam…but it’s not. In fact, it mirrors other types of scams we’ve read about over the years.

Several BookLocker authors have emailed me over the years, asking to terminate their contracts because they landed a traditional contract. Some of these authors really did land traditional contracts. However, a few were duped.

This is basically how the scam usually works.

1. Somebody puts up a website, claiming to be a traditional publisher.

2. They accept the author’s manuscript after some sort of seemingly high-level “review” process (when, in fact, everybody gets accepted). They then tell the author he or she must immediately terminate any other contracts they have for their book. (As with most scams, they want you to hurry, before you can figure out you’re begin scammed and before you can ask someone else for advice. They will likely state they can’t offer you a contract until/unless you are not under contract elsewhere. Note: They may even send you the text of one contract “for review”, which doesn’t mention fees…but send you a different contract – the real one – to officially sign later.) At this point, the unsuspecting self-published author will email their POD publisher and terminate their contract…basically throwing away all the money they invested to self-publish their book. They are now at the mercy of their new “publisher” and, believe me, the new publisher knows this.

3. The company starts making broad claims about how great they are, how professional their books look, and how successful their authors have been (cough). Lots of glowing emails are exchanged back and forth over the days or weeks, praising the author, and making them feel like a V.I.P.

4. The publisher also makes (false) claims about all the promotion they’re going to do for an author’s book, perhaps including a book tour for the author, a press release sent to thousands of journalists, a book review in a major, nationwide magazine, and much, much more.

5. With each email communication, the author gets more and more excited about the possibility that they’re going to have a huge best seller, thanks to their wonderful new publisher! They’re going to make so much money that they’ll be able to retire on a beach somewhere, and spend the rest of their days with a mai tai in one hand and a keyboard under the other.

6. Only after the “traditional publisher” has elevated the author’s hopes to incredible heights (and separated the author from their previous publisher), do they say, “Oh, and by the way, to show you’re as serious as we are about your success, we need you to invest money in your book, too. Please send us $$$ (hundreds to thousands of dollars) today so we can move forward with your future best seller!”

That’s right. The author has simply been tricked into moving from one self-publishing service to another, at great financial and emotional expense. Yes, emotional expense. Authors who have fallen for this type of scam are deeply ashamed when they realize they’ve been duped. Many won’t talk about it publicly, which, of course, helps the scammer stay in business, pursuing even more victims. Some will even pay the money, either feeling they have no other choice (because they already terminated their other contract), or because they continue to naively and desperately hope the “publisher” will still fulfill all their promises later. Some even refuse to initially believe they’ve been scammed, and remain in a state of denial…until months later, when they finally realize there will be no book tour, no national magazine review, and certainly no mai tai’s on the beach. Only then will they admit that something didn’t feel quite right all along.

So, how can you protect yourself from this type of scam?

1. Don’t blindly trust the publisher’s references. Even some of the authors listed on their website might be the publisher (or his/her relatives), writing under a variety of names.

2. Don’t terminate an old publishing contract until you have a final, signed contract from your new publisher. If they balk, tell them to include a clause that requires you to terminate your previous contract within a certain number of days/weeks before your book’s scheduled (new) publication date.

3. If you think you’ve landed a real “traditional” contract, have a literary agent or your attorney negotiate the details and terms. If an attorney or agent intervenes on your behalf, scam services will likely “change their mind” about your manuscript, and may suddenly decline to publish it. Or, they may simply stop responding to correspondence from you and/or your attorney/agent. Many literary agents will be very happy to accept an author who has already landed a traditional contract. Heck, you’ve already done most of their work for them! If a “traditional” publisher says you don’t need an agent or attorney, or, worse, refuses to correspond with yours, RUN!

4. Google the name of the company with words like scam and complaint. Look through their website for other companies they are associated with. Google those names as well.

5. Ask around! Posting inquiries about these types of companies online will almost always result in feedback from others. Warning: If the company is too new (or if they change their name periodically in an attempt to separate themselves from bad press), you may not find anything about them online. Aso be ware of false praise as many shady companies have trolls posting false positive statements about them online.

6. Take advantage of your research skills and poke around a bit. Get creative. You’d be surprised how much you can find out about a company or a company’s owner/associates/affiliated firms just by following links on their website(s), in search engines, and their DNS information.

With the so-called publisher above, I discovered these tidbits:

– Their homepage states they’re in New York…yet they’re actually located in a different state.

– They have a sister company that is a literary agency. Why would a publisher also be a literary agency? That’s an easy one! If an author is accepted as a client of their “literary agency”, they will then refer that author to their (fee-based) publishing company, leading the author to believe the “literary agent” landed the contract for them! The company then gets the publishing fees AND the literary agent percentage! This is also an old scam in the industry.

– They include logos and verbiage that makes authors think their books will be stocked in the large bookstores.

– I found a warning posted about them that lists more than a dozen company names associated with this outfit – all of them appear to be scams, with hundreds of complaints posted online. Sure makes me wonder why the police haven’t intervened in this one.

Why haven’t I named them here? Because I want to protect the victim that contacted me and because I want authors to be wary of, and investigate, all so-called “traditional” publishing houses that offer them a contract.

Sadly, no matter how many times I publish articles like this, authors continue to fall for these too-good-to-be-true scams…and scammers continue to find new ways to rip-off authors.