Recently, a slight brouhaha flailed at my publisher, the Wild Rose Press, when a writer whined to the Romance Writers of America that the company was “predatory.” This is serious charge. I’ve been associated with WRP for several years, and have five books with them. They are reputable, squeaky clean, aboveboard, and known for being open and honest in all their dealings with writers. RWA dismissed the accusation, so what got this writer’s shorts in a knot? He or she seemed to have a poor understanding of contractual obligations versus options offered by the publishers, and absolutely no idea what constitutes a real predatory publisher.
Warning Signs of a Predatory Publisher
Everyone who’s ever written a book has high hopes of seeing it in print and predatory publishers prey on that. They make their money by charging potential writers for services such as editing and marketing and may also withhold a percentage of sales royalties to supposedly “cover their fees.” There are a ton of these leeches out there ready to steal your money or manuscript and any writer must know the warning signs.
When a manuscript is accepted for publication, a legit publisher (small or large) never charges a writer a fee of any kind. Even a legit vanity press, like Kindle Select, where a writer pays to publish, doesn’t charge a submission or reading fee. A good publishing house never charges for editing, a book cover, or formatting the manuscript into print or an ebook. A vanity press will give you the option, but it’s an option. You don’t pay to distribute the book to outlets. To cut it short: you don’t pay for anything up front. Royalty amounts are always clearly stated in the contract.
This doesn’t mean you can sit back and clutch your wallet to your chest. Small companies can’t promote like big publishers. They do some marketing, but if you want to get your book out there, you must market on your own. Over four thousand ebooks are published each day. If you don’t market, yours will be buried in the avalanche and no one except family and friends will ever read it. This costs money, but how much to spend should always be your decision. A predatory publisher will have mandatory marketing fees. An honest publisher may offer marketing opportunities, but they are never required. This is common practice and shouldn’t scare you away from a company. Wild Rose Press often has marketing options for writers such as having a book listed for a discount rate in NetGalley or a library distribution catalog. I’ve taken advantage of some and passed on others. The choice is always mine. If I decline, it never affects my standing with them.
Rights “in perpetuity”
Run, do not walk, from any contract that has you sign over publishing rights in perpetuity or uses those words in any manner. This mean you never get rights back. No legit company ever does this. All honest contracts have a clearly defined time limit.
Hi,There. We Want to Publish Your Book
You’re contacted out of the blue. Unless you’re famous, no legit publisher ever contacts you first. Predators buy email addresses from all sorts of companies and websites. Consider it spam and do not respond.
Everybody’s Work is Terrific and Welcome
No. It isn’t. Legit publishers are selective. They require a writer to submit a manuscript for review, and not everyone makes the cut. People often confuse a vanity press with a predatory press. A vanity press makes no judgment on the quality of work and offers a variety of services for a self-published writer. A vanity press can be predatory, but plenty are legit. Kindle Select is a good example. It’s free to use and they’re completely upfront about services (such as layout design) you may wish to pay for. A predatory publisher will dump a pile of praise on your head and then stick you with fees, preying on a person’s desperation to get a book into print.
Other Warning Signs
Is the publisher affiliated with another fee-charging business involved with editing or marketing? Do they pressure you or require its use? Are they secretive about distribution? Do you know how a book will be distributed at home or in foreign markets? Do they clearly define ownership of audio rights? If the publisher produces a print edition along with an ebook, does the author get a free copy? A small press may only offer one, and that’s okay, but being required to buy a certain amount is a sign of a predatory publisher.
May small publishers are totally legit, but you may not have heard of them. Google them first and check them out in writer's blogs. Below are other sites I've used.
Association of Author Representatives (For agents) They maintain a list of agents that must adhere to standards
(Predators and Editors used to be a good site, but has gone through ownership changes and aren’t as reliable any more. I don’t recommend it.)