Any budding authors out there?

Have you written a book?

If you have, or know someone who has, read on. You or your acquaintance could become the victim of a publishing scam. I decided to write this column when a friend had a book accepted by an American publishing house. Before signing the contract, the friend came to me with the news. When I heard the name of the publisher, I shuddered. “Before you sign the contract, look up the publishing house on the website,”

It took only a brief look at the website for the budding author to avoid falling for a scam. It works this way. The new author searches for a publisher and finds one on the web who will look at manuscripts by authors who do not have a literary agent. The author submits the manuscript and the publishing house accepts it, regardless of the quality of the writing. Sometimes they suggest that a book requires editing for which they will charge; sometimes they offer to do minor editing at no charge.

In fact, they will publish just about anything and list it on their web bookstore. They produce books using modern print-on-demand (POD) technology. In other words, they make books only when they receive orders -whether for one book or 100. They count on a new author selling 100 to 500 books to friends and relatives.

Typically a POD book costs about $5 per copy to produce. The publisher sets a retail price of about $20 and gives the author a discount of 50 per cent, meaning they make $5 per book. If the author personally buys and sells or gives away 500 copies, the publisher picks up a good profit. If the author manages to promote the book satisfactorily and gains sales through bookstores or internet stores, the publisher will do very well, and the author will get royalties. The publisher does nothing illegal. He just doesn’t expect to sell books to anyone other than the author, giving the author false hope.

Some website-based publishers ask authors to pay money up-front – in one case $4,000. They promise to refund the money if the book sells over 5,000 copies, a rarity for a book published in this manor. A basic rule applies here: if the publisher tells you what a great book you have and then asks for money for editing or any other purpose, turn and run.

A legitimate royalty-paying publisher refuses most manuscripts, and often tells you why. Only about two percent of manuscripts ever find a home with a traditional publisher.

Don’t confuse the companies discussed above with the legitimate self-publishing companies that now exist to help authors publish their own books. In this case, authors become their own publishers, getting help and advice from the company to prepare their books. Authors expect to pay all costs and assume responsibility for the end product. The company will usually get the books listed with on-line booksellers and make them available to bookstores. However, if they see a book as a real loser, they will tell the author, and in some cases refuse to become part of the publishing process. The self-publishing concept works for authors who have the money to pay the costs, and the time and knowledge to promote the book. Sometimes it’s the only way some books will ever see the light of day.

So, if you have written a book, don’t get caught in a scam.

If you decide to self-publish, think it through carefully and look to a published author for advice.


Ray Wiseman