The hardest part of being an author (or any kind of artist) is knowing who you can trust. There are so many people out there waiting to take advantage of people who are just getting started in their chosen industry and don’t know better. I recently had an author approach me to do a feature on my Renee’s Author Spotlight blog, and she had to cancel. It turned out her publisher was refusing to pay her royalties. Thankfully she didn’t sign a contract with them, and she was able to pull her book from their database and remove it from the bookstores. Now, I’m happy to say, she’s back on track and things are going well for her, but it could have been much worse.
It’s so important to be wary about people and companies offering services. Most of them are likely sincere and legit, but the bad ones make themselves stand out more. They will approach authors or make their offers seem too good to pass up. So here’s my advice to everyone, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been around for a while:
1) If it seems too good to be true it probably is!
Take the time to do research on an individual or company before using their services. It’s as easy as doing a Google search using their name or company name with the words scam and complaints. If the search turns up a lot of bad stuff about them… don’t use them!
Another good way to check someone out is search for them on Editor and Predators. They list everything from agents and publishers, to editors and promotors. Not only can you use them to research the people to watch out for, but you can browse their database for potential service providers to use.
Of course, if the scam artist is new or taking on a new identity after being caught, your research may show nothing. Make sure you check and see how long they’ve been around and if they’re fairly new, be wary. Try to find others who have used their service and trust your gut. If they give you a bad feeling, don’t ignore it.
Bottom line is, don’t jump at the first opportunity no matter how great it seems. Do your research first, and choose the individual or company that is best suited to your needs.
2) If a publisher or agent is asking for money up front, alarm bells should be going off.
You should not be paying an agent or a publisher. They should be paying you!
Even if you’re self-publishing and looking for a company where you can self-publish your book, you should not be paying for publishing. There are plenty of reputable places, like Amazon Kindle, Createspace, Lulu, Smashwords and Draft2Digital, where you can publish for free. The only services you should pay for as an indie author are editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing and promotion.
Another way to look at this is if publishers and agents are being paid by the author, where is their incentive to promote their authors? They’ve already got their money. Why should they care how well your book sells or if it sells at all?
3) Unless a contract or agreement is written in layman’s terms, don’t sign it without having it checked over by a lawyer.
In other words, if you don’t understand what you’re reading, don’t sign it! You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide loopholes and other scam-like devices in lawyer speak. This is the biggest way scam artists get away with what they do. When you sign, you’re agreeing to their terms.
That goes for online contracts you are automatically entered into once you submit your work. The only difference with these contracts is that you can remove your work so you’re no longer bound to the terms of the contract. Just be aware of what you’re agreeing to!
4) If they are over-eager to gain you as a client, there’s probably a reason (and not a good one).
I’ve seen people fall into the trap of having someone dazzle them with compliments. “Your book is the best I’ve read in ages.” Sure you want to believe this is true, but the simple fact is, you can’t know if they are being sincere, or if they’re trying to butter you up and draw you in. If someone approaches you with a shower of praises and promises of turning you into a bestselling author if only you give them $1000, you should probably run for the hills.
I’ve even seen organizations claim they are very picky about who they choose to work with and then come back claiming that I’m exactly what they were looking for. This is a common tactic used to make you feel you’ve passed some kind of exclusivity test and give you a sense of accomplishment, when they probably didn’t even look at whatever you sent them.
Don’t fall into the trap of having someone play on your desire to succeed. They may be sincere, but if you don’t take the time to do your research, you may learn the hard way if they’re not.