The number of scammed victims is the best kept secret in self-publishing. In writing groups, large and small, fellow authors sit with dark secrets and, like the elderly woman down the street who hasn’t told anyone she sent all her savings to a fake online preacher, you won’t know who they are. Protecting their fear of being labeled gullible, and subjected to pitying glances, they help unscrupulous self-publishing companies to flourish.
A member of a small writing group posted in the monthly newsletter that he was excited to have found a self-publishing company for his novel. Upon receipt of his check for $2,500, they would publish quickly. I checked out the publisher online and search information proved the company to be disreputable. The author tried to put a stop on the check but it was too late. His book was not published, and emails remained unanswered.
Promising not to share his name with fellow writers, I encouraged him to disclose the experience. Checking out POD and self-publishing companies used by other members I found, in a group of 20, around $13,000 had been lost to these unscrupulous firms. The president of the writing group said he would address the subject at the next meeting. After a lengthy pause, he said he could speak with authority on the subject. He had lost $2,500 himself to the scammers, and had been too embarrassed to share the information.
I made a list of spurious publishers, and checked out two larger writing groups I belong to with between 100 and 200 members. Not everyone contacted was prepared to share their story but the change of tone in their voice clearly indicated a self-publishing experience that had not gone well.
One gentleman, on the promise of anonymity, decided to tell his story. He’d paid $4,000 for editing, printing and marketing services. His family and friends were proud of his achievement. He had written his novel while holding down a full-time job. The books arrived. Tearing open the box, he wished his wife was at home to share the excitement. He was stunned, however. The cover art was garish and bore no resemblance to the storyline. Pages came loose when a book was opened due to poor binding and some pages were upside-down or missing. Taping the box closed, he took it to his wood-shop, pushed it into a dark corner, and threw a tarp over it.
Promises by the publisher to reprint never happened and phone calls and emails became more acrimonious, and without resolution. He told his wife and friends he had cancelled publication because of buyer’s remorse. He thought it too expensive. The hidden box created anger and frustration and it took away the pleasure of working in his wood-shop. He had to get rid it. Confiding in a friend, he asked if he could add the box of books to a bonfire of downed tree limbs the friend was building in a field. Flames curled around the box, books fell out, and puffs of hot air flipped pages open. His friend said it was the most expensive bonfire he’d ever lit.
By the end of our conversation, the author laughed at the absurdity of his actions, and suggested he might start a club, Self-Publishing Scams Anonymous (S.P.S.A.). I reminded him that it was anonymity that kept dishonest self-publishers in business. The stories I listened to were many and varied, but all had the same ending – the writer had been scammed. Some agreed they were partly to blame for what was set in motion. In the excitement of having a book published, they did not check the legitimacy of the publisher. Not one person had considered taking legal action.
If you have been scammed, you should openly share any predatory publishing information with your writers group, or with one of the sites below. Scammers rely on the embarrassment and silence of their victims.
Don’t be consumed by shattered dreams. Keep writing, and be optimistic. It will see you through the tough times. We all have tough times. The question is how you respond.
To avoid being victimized check out:
Name not published on request