All contracts should be between parties who each have something to offer. A publisher wants your book because they think they can make money on it. They’re not going to offer you a contract otherwise. This gives you some leverage in negotiations. You should never look at any contract as if it’s a gift to you. You are giving them something they want (your book) and they in return will give you something you want (money, distribution, editing, promotion…).
New authors are so excited about being published that they sometimes grab the first thing that comes along no matter how terrible the arrangement. There are many publishing scams out there you need to avoid.
Pay to Publish: Do you have to pay them to publish your book? That’s not how it works. The money should flow one way. If they aren’t willing to invest in you, then they don’t think your book will sell and are looking to make money from you instead of from your readers. Companies such as Author House or Vantage Press are good examples of this.
This includes fake contest scams, where you can submit your poem or story and if accepted it will be published in a new anthology! And you can buy the book with your story in it! Only $60! Needless to say, no story or poem is ever rejected, and that book will never be found anywhere except in the homes of the people it scammed.
Gatekeeping: Do they accept every book that is submitted to them? Once submitted, are you assigned an editor (who does more than just proofread)? For that matter, is there even a proofreader? Legitimate publishers have a keen financial interest in making sure their product is the best it can be. Scam artists don’t care at all.
Pay to Promote: Do they require you to pay them for cover blurbs and reviews? Do you have to pay extra to be listed on Amazon and with other retailers? That’s not how it works. It costs them nothing to list you, and you shouldn’t have to pay them anything to do what a publisher is supposed to do.
Some scam companies pretend that they are your agent as well, but then ask you to pay them up front for their services (something a real agent never does). “Pay us $2000 and we’ll turn your book into a script and give it to top Hollywood producers!” Yeah, right.
They’ll also charge you for “social media services” which means they set up a Facebook and Twitter account for you, which you can do for free yourself.
Oversight: Even scams that don’t require you to pay up front aren’t looking out for your interests. One of the worst offenders is Publish America. There are class action lawsuits pending against this company, which makes promises it can’t keep and charges you for it.
Some of the things Publish America does are amazing to recount:
They once told people if they paid them $100, they’d make sure J.K. Rowling would see their work. Rowling denied it completely, and Publish America admitted that they were just going to mail the manuscript to Rowling.
They mark the price of the books tremendously higher than other books by real publishers because they know the person who will be buying most of them will be you.
They misspell words on the spine and cover and then demand that you pay them to make corrections.
They charge for editing that is never done. One person submitted pages of absolute garbage containing no actual words that was accepted by Publish America without question.
(NOTE: I usually don’t edit posts once they’re up, but this is important. Publish America’s latest scam is simple — they changed their name to “America Star Books.” Don’t be fooled! They know their reputation is shot and so they’re hiding behind a new name. Don’t be scammed.)
Mind you, if all you’re trying to do is make some copies of some book for your family and friends, go right ahead. Self-publish by starting your own company, hiring editors and book cover artists, and making sure that the quality is top notch. (I did something similar with my nonfiction gaming books, which are targeted to a small and specific audience. I used to have my own small publishing house and pay to have hundreds of copies printed at one time I could resell, but now I use Lulu; it’s much easier.)
So don’t fall for these scams. Keep searching. There are many small publishers out there who may love your book, and if you can’t find one willing to invest in you, then perhaps your book just isn’t good enough to be published. (Sorry, but it’s true. Get to work on the next one; you will improve with each book.)