Step Right Up

"Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! The show's about to begin! For the price of one thin dime see wonders beyond imagining. Sales beyond your wildest dreams and begin earning good money right out of the box! Hurry, hurry, hurry."

Yeah. No.

P.T Barnum gets the credit for "There's a sucker born every minute" but it's more likely author is a Chicago conman named Michael MacDonald(1). With the rise of self-publishing and the subsequent success of self-published titles, the hardcore scammers and Johnny-Come-Lately wannabees have proliferated like daffodils in the spring--each eager to fleece the hopeful, the earnest, and the gullible.

And they keep finding new flocks to fleece every day.

How to keep from being clipped.

  1. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Whose books does this company publish? If they call themselves a "self-publishing company" and they want to publish your book, it's a rip-off. The degree to which they're willing to fleece you is the only differentiation. If a company publishes books, it's a publisher. If they only publish their own books, they're a self-publishing company and they're not going to publish yours. If they're trying to say they're something they're not, they're warming up the shears in the back.
  2. Do your diligence: Google the company name with "scam" as an additional identifier. There's a wealth of data which should be making it more difficult for the shearers but too many people see a glossy website and a promising pitch without remembering the golden rule of grift: If it seems too good to be true, save your gold.
  3. Who pays whom?: If you're paying them, it's a scam. This shouldn't be confused with a self-publishing author who pays an editor or cover artist for their services. Of course you'll pay but the editor will give you your file back and the cover artist won't try to upload your books to the storefronts for you. That's on you, as it should be.
  4. Ask around: If you're still not sure about a company, even after exercising a bit of Google-fu, then ask somebody you trust. There are whole communities of people who can give you guidance--people with no vested interest in separating you from your money--or your book.

The whackamole process of avoiding scammers while still trying to self-publish can seem daunting. It's not really that difficult as long as you remember that anybody with a few bucks and a willingness to lie to your face can make a good living. Some of the worst offenders have been around for decades as vanity presses. They've only changed their storefronts, not their businesses. They're expert in separating the sheep from the goats--and the gullible author from his money.

Just because there's a sucker born every minute doesn't mean it has to be you.


1. Asbury, H. (1940). Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. New York, NY: Knopf.
Image Credit: W C Fields as Gabby Gilfoil in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount, 1927).
Image Donated by Corbis-Bettmann to Explore PA History.
Nathan Lowell
Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007. He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full-time self-published author.

3 thoughts on “Step Right Up

  1. Well said, Nathan! A friend of mine resisted the siren call until he was shown a “conference” brochure featuring two famous directors who would be speaking. If my friend published with them, he would be welcome to attend the conference in LA and have a private meeting with both directors to discuss movie rights. $5,000 to the scammer, $1000 to the conference and another $1500 in travel expenses later, he held his depleted savings account statement and his “published” book in his hand–unedited and sick with errors.

  2. The above is why every writer “should” keep informed and subscribe to the WRITER BEWARE blog. With the advent of on-demand printing, the criminals out there defrauding writers have increased in number and boldness. Other than paying a professional editor, and perhaps paying a reasonable “reading fee” ($20 or so seems reasonable to me), requirements that a writer pay for publishing is a dead give-away that a scam is likely involved.

    A friend of mine paid around US$3,000 for a professional to edit his manuscript before sending it to his agent, which sent it along to the publisher. That book is still in the top ten list of the New York _Times_ best seller list for non-fiction, and stayed #3 for about six weeks— a fine return on his investment. 🙂

    Another friend of mine paid a “ghost writer” to work on her idea, and produced an utterly horrid manuscript. Her idea was hackneyed, and unsellable, but the “ghost writer” agreed to hash out a rough draft anyhow— a good sign the “ghost writer” was not and is not legitimate.

Comments are closed.