It’s a Dangerous World, Filled with Predatory PublishersLots of publishing companies prey on the dreams of writers to take your money and, sometimes, your work. How to spot them.
The world is filled with aspiring writers longing to be published, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that any industry filled with aspirants must necessarily be overrun with crooks and scammers. Publishing is no different. There are, sadly, a lot of scammers out there.
Before I go any further: I know this information is in the footer of all these writing pages, but it bears repeating:
If you’re a writer looking to be published, whether you’re an amateur or a professional, whether you’ve been published before or not, never, ever, ever, ever sign any publishing contract without first emailing email@example.com.
This is a free service provided by Writer Beware®, operated by the Science Fiction Writer’s Association.
How can you spot predatory publishers? Two red flags immediately jump out:
- In publishing, money flows FROM the publisher TO the writer. Any so-called “publisher” that asks you, the writer, for money, isn’t really a publisher. At best, they’re a “vanity press,” an expensive print shop that will sell you on the dream of being famous and then produce a stack of unedited books that will sit in your garage. At worst, they’re outright scams. And falling for these scams can make you toxic to real publishers, shattering your chance of a real publishing contract.
- Even nominally “legitimate” publishers might pull shady garbage when it comes to copyright, accounting, open books, or royalties. The Writers Beware email is your best defense against disreputable, dishonest, or shady publishers.
Special attention deserves to be pointed at Webnovel, Goodnovel (there’s a writeup on the problematic aspects of the Goodnovel contract here), and similar enterprises like Webfic and Novelcat (discussed here) that offer you money for serial writing on the web. These companies are all scams. Many of them are headquartered in places like Singapore, and if you sign a contract with them you’re bound by the laws there, not where you live...laws that allow them to get away with behavior they would not be permitted in the US or Europe.
For example, many of these web serial contracts claim copyright not only on what you write, but on anything you might write in the future. They also give you no provision for auditing their books or seeing sales records; you must merely accept their word for your royalties and their expenses.
Even worse, some of them reserve the right to get rid of you and bring in another writer to write in your world if you become popular (and no, they won’t pay you). The contract assigns all rights to your work and your world to them. If you want your rights back, you may have to pay them as much as three times the total money they’ve paid you! Plus, since they claim rights to your future work, legitimate publishers won’t touch you once you sign with them.
The Webnovel ecosystem has given rise to parasite companies that prey on the people already being preyed on by Webnovel. The Writers Beware blog has an entire article on two such companies...and those contracts are almost unbelievably toxic.
As a general rule: Publishers do not seek you out. If you receive an unsolicited “publishing offer” that you didn’t specifically query, it’s a scam.