Indie Publishing Business Self Publishing

Self-Publishing Scams: Old and New

I’ve been around Internet Marketing for a several years – so I am very familiar with scams.  What I’ve seen in the last 12-18 months is that some of  the  spammier Internet marketers have moved on to self-publishing scams. That’s not a surprise, given the huge growth in self-publishing,  it was  as predictable as a beer on a hot day. 
What does surprise  me though, is that publishing has had self-publishing scams for longer than Internet Marketing has even existed. Vanity Presses, who charge would-be authors thousands of dollars for the chance to see their book in print with the vague promise of the chance of future sales, are not new.
It’s not really that surprising though when you think about. The psychology and the business opportunity, for the ethically challenged, are very similar. 

Internet Marketing Scams 

 The details vary but this usually involves ranking a website(s) in the search engine results and making money from a combination of affiliate sales, pay-per-click and pay-per-impression advertisers. It is a legitimate, even after last year’s changes with Google’s ranking algorithm, way to make money. The problem is the hype and over-promising of the marketers involved. 

 The Dream: 

  • people who can’t get a job or have lost a job and a have no idea how to start a business
  • low start-up costs to online businesses; 
  • the idea of working from home is a huge draw from many;
  • the idea of not having to deal with customers/bosses/colleagues on a regular basis is also very appealing; 
  • being able  to run a business from a beach in Mexico or Thailand has its appeal 

The Reality: 

  • the technology is  made to look harder than it is;
  • the art of ranking in the search engines is  made to seem very magical, only the inner circle know the secretes 
  • people want to believe and they want to  have people telling them they will do alright; 
  • it’s so cheap to build websites online (about $10/year for a domain name plus the under $10/month hosting ) – paying “only” $300 or more a month for the same is crazy; 

The Scam: 

  • consistent income – membership courses provide a much more stable income to theA-list bloggers  than doing what is actually being taught; 
  • over the last 4-5 years many of the loop-holes exploited by these approaches have been closed by Google, you are up against one of the  world’s largest employers of bright PhD’s. 
  • if you look at the track record of the “guru” – you will see very little believable disclosure of their own income, and little evidence of a track record in selling anything except Internet Marketing programs. 
  • there is often a high-pressure, closing-soon, rah-rah-rah, approach, which minimizes the chance for prospects to ask sensible questions or consider the implications of what is on offer before they sign up. 
  • much of the information come from other beginners in the same forum – rather than the “expert”. This results in a lot of mis-information and myths. 
  • almost none of these memberships sites actually run experiments to see what does work in a changing environment
Koh Chang - Thailand Beach
Thai Beaches Have a Lot toAnswer For

Publishing Scam – Traditional Version 

 The Dream 

  • to see your book on the shelves of your local bookshop 
  • to be recognised as An Author 
  • rack in millions, quit day job, write more, possibly from a beach in Mexico or Thailand

The Reality: 

  • it’s always been hard to get published – there have always been more authors wanting toe publishing than books publishers can afford to publish. 
  • there is often a mis-match between what an author wants to write and what a publisher can sell in sufficient quantity to make a profit 
  • as Amazon re-creates the publishing industry more and more physical bookshops are closing and fewer books are published by traditional publishers. 

The Scam:

  • you will pay many thousands of dollars for an often all-inclusive package with will include book design,editing, formatting, printing and publicity. In reality what you get will be cheap out-sourced services from second-rate service providers, and a few print-on-demand books with a couple of press releases thrown in to sweeten the deal. You could do it all yourself for maybe 10% of the cost. 
  • In the worst case you may also have difficultly removing your book from the company, un-authorized charges to your credit cards and non-payment of any royalties due to you. 
  • You are highly unlikely to see the subsidiary press sell any copies for you. 

Self-Publishing Scams – 2013 Version 

 Self-publishing is definitely a gold rush industry at the moment, plus traditional publishing is going through very hard times.  Even before the Kindle eReader, Amazon was a disruptive force in the industry, with Kindle, and eBook sales in general booming, the landscape is being re-written. 
It’s not a surprise then to find some of the biggest names in publishing are getting onto this particular scam – possibly as a desperate act to save their under-threat business model. Simon Schuster launching a new self-publishing arm called Archways Publishing. The unwary may be tempted to hand over the up to $22,000 they are charging in the belief they will be in S&S’s catalogue and bookshops will stock them. No and no. 

Here’s The Reality – For the Wannabe-Authors

 If you want to “just write” and not bother with the whole marketing thing – then make sure you have a well-paying career, or a generous partner. Even trad published authors need to be involved in publicity and marketing campaigns. They do book signings, media interviews. Increasingly they are expected to be active in social media. 
If you self-publish – then it’s all up to you: you have total control.  Don’t therefore sign an incomprehensible contract and hire a “self-publishing company” – because – let’s face it – that’s kinda a contradiction. YOU are self-publishing. You can’t delegate that over-all control to someone else. You get to take responsibility. 
Which doesn’t mean that you have to do it all yourself. In particular I think most would agree that we don’t have the skills to: 
  • design covers;
  • edit our own work (even if you can edit others). 
Many others will choose to outsource book formatting, and may hire a virtual assistant to help with the admin and the social media. Most of us who are in business don’t do it without a book-keeper or an account and many have access to a lawyer. 

Here’s The Reality – For the Internet Marketers 

 Your product is key. All the promotional skills in the world won’t get you very far if your book is rubbish. For all its flaws, the Amazon review system still works. You can pay for or get your mates to provide all the 5-star reviews for the launch, but once the real punters leave their 1-star reviews it will go awfully wrong. 
 Which is not to say you have to be an awesome writer, or even prepared to become one. Ghostwriting has long been a legitimate profession and there is nothing wrong with paying someone for their words and then putting your name on it. But if you are paying 0.01c/word for an English-as-a-second-language writer – then see my comment above about quality. 
Gaming Amazon in terms of getting fake reviews, or even genuine reviews, from mates, is a short-term game, which Amazon has already started closing down. It’s now against the Kindle Publishing Terms of Service for authors to review other writer’s books. Joining a paid forum or other online group and then reviewing each other’s books just makes it even easier for Amazon to find and remove the reviews in question. And yes they have banned people before for abusing their platform – look to see that increasing in the future. 

 Last Words 

 Basically self-publishing a book and making money from it is entirely possible the success stories are true. They are also the minority. It’s not easy to do this successfully. I’m certainly not selling enough to retire that Thai beach yet. It is however, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the most exciting times in all of history to be either a writer or an online entrepreneur. 

15 replies on “Self-Publishing Scams: Old and New”

Thanks for writing this Lis.

Hopefully more people who want to enter the realm of self-publishing will simply pick up Guy Kawasaki’s new book ‘APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book’.

It’s hundreds of pages of useful information, well-written and only 10 bucks. No monthly memberships fees and Guy himself started an awesome community on Google+ and he’s on there every day.

Oh, it probably took couple years until I understood A-bloggers scam. I was following on of biggest blogger in Australia who is teaching how to make money from blogging, but he never disclosed how much black seo he was doing in early days. Now he is too big to be hurt by google updates.

Very true that Vi – very few people reallise how the rules change with Google depending on who owns it and the site’s history

” It’s now against the Kindle Publishing Terms of Service for authors to review other writer’s books. ” I was looking for that in the TOS, but couldn’t find it. any hints where exactly it is? Another scam I came recently across is good old short story competition scam. You know the one where you submit your short story and some $ in the hope to get the “big prize” and be published in an anthology. If the later happens you might or might not get royalties, but you not have only paid for the privilege of getting published, you also sign your own publishing rights away …

So true Liz. Authors have always been part of the product, and the buyers want to see the author. Bands have to tour and authors have to do book signings etc. That is just the way it is. Agree people get carried away with the dream of having their book published and there is no shortage of scams on the internet, including the self-publishing industry, and self-publishing scams have been going on long before there was the internet! A brand is worth something because people trust it, so if an existing publisher has a name that people will trust it is going to thrive, but if they don’t give reasonable value, then their name will suffer eventually. No need to spend thousands on outsourcing although there is definitely room for outsourcing on things like design and editing. Publishing companies often want complete assignments on copyright including moral rights waivers, and authors who aren’t J.K. Rowling have less bargaining power. They can go to a different publisher. The fact is that an author that doesn’t have a track record isn’t worth much to them. Whilst it may be easier to sign up an established author the internet has opened up a lot of opportunities for self-publishing. If you know what you have has a market, if your writing is credible, informative, and evergreen, with an idea of marketing your book, it makes a lot of sense to self-publish it. The cost of doing all these things is much cheaper now. I look forward to more posts Liz in this area. You always offer value. The value is in the information and knowledge you have, and the fact that people who follow you know you are not selling them the dream, but giving them the reality without the hype. 🙂

Hi Adele, how nice to see you there. Coincidentally I;m currently doing a writing course (my first ever) and its fscinating to see how outsiders still see the whole “publishing” thing as close to magic. There is definitely a market for cutting thru the bullshite and demystifying – that’s what I’m trying to help with!

Right you are that scams have always abounded in self publishing. I bet the old, established vanity presses like Vanguard are hurting, since their business model was based on selling hard copy books to the author instead of the public, at an outrageous profit margin for them.

Here in the USA, at least, one thing Simon & Schuster can offer an author is space on the shelves of the larger chain bookstores. I’m not saying it’s a good deal for authors (although I can think of a few examples where it might be); just that if you write books, you have to cover all markets in order to get sufficient sales volume to make a decent living. People here still shop in bookstores.

If an IM guru gives honest sales figures (always a crapshoot), then you can bet they’re gross, not net. By the time they slice and dice the affiliate or JV pie and pay the enormous support costs that come with sending out hundreds of thousands of offers and dealing with the refunds (well over 50% for many MMO products), there’s not a lot of profit left. You could gross over $1 million a year and end up with $250k after all of your expenses – decent money, true, but for the hassle I could open a chain of laundromats in my hometown, work the same hours, and have a far more consistent income.

Good to see you’re back, Lis!

LC I’d take the $250k – but you are quite right revenue is not profit! Yup S&S can offer that – but this Archway Press doesn’t offer their authors access to the main S&S catalogue from what I can gather. You’d know better than I but I don’t believe they are offering any more visibility to mainstream bookshops than createspace is ie none

It is really nice to be reading your posts again Lis. I have always respected the way you tell it like it is (even though you would be richer if you lied more, LOL)

Hey Andy nice to see you back too – that pup doesn’t look a day older.! Too lazy to lie – and it takes a better memory than I have too – to keep the story straight. Defo focussing on some more income this year though

Hi Lis,

Nice post. Remember I got scammed by them when I was just a wee 16-year-old wannabe poet. “Just send £15 and we’ll send you your hardback edition containing your poem! Why not order a few more copies for your friends and family?”

And I did – and oh god the shame of realising I’d just forked out £50 (75% of my weekly wages at the time) in order to guarantee my deathless verse would appear in the same volume as a bunch of crap that wasn’t fit to line the cat litter tray with.

With the success of that appalling Fifty Shades of Vomit book last year, the influx of people who think they’re going to self-publish and become the next bestselling author must be huge. The scammers must be rubbing their little paws together in glee.

Keep telling it like it is!

Oh yeah there’s as always there is heaps of money to made selling the gold pans to the hopeful miners, particularly over-priced gold pans and over-rated mining claims!

I like this post a lot. It’s funny b/c I sell an e-book on how to get started with online publishing. It’s mostly a guide to help people transition from traditional work to becoming a writer for online publishing companies and private businesses. My target audience was people who have an expertise in something but need to learn how to translate that online. One of the first things I say is that you won’t get rich fast, but it’s possible to make decent money if you learn the language. I talked about setting up blog basics and emphasized how content is king as well as grammar.
Here’s the interesting part: I wrote that book in 2010. When I wrote it, there were still all those get-rich-quick Google algorithm schemes going on and people wanted you to pay $47 or more per month to do what I said for less than $5. Their algorithm schemes were beat by those Ph.D’s you mentioned; my basics-which are really just the fundamentals of balancing keywords with writing for “humans” and not math formulas- still win because they are the fundamentals. I’ve written so many articles for my own sites and other companies I can’t even read a blog without editing it in my mind.
In basketball terms, the ability to dunk a basketball in the 1st half pales in comparison to hitting free throws in the second.
Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading about more “scams” you bust!

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