Beware of the Self-Publishing Predators … Today’s T-Rex

What a tangled web they weave … It’s a never-ending story … the emails, phone calls, postings within the Author U Group on LinkedIn … and I’ve worked with several private clients and fielded numerous phone calls/emails from authors who have issues with their “publishers.” In all cases, they’ve been duped.

Their publishers are really not “publishers,” at least in the sense that they have the infrastructure to create and support a quality book and its author; that they have their internal team—from editing to some semblance of book design and publishing marketing and publicity; and that they are accountable in the critical accountability departments of actual book sales and responsibility.images (3)

I attended a national conference last month whose members were speakers. Many were well established speakers—a majority was new to the industry, gobbling up information that would hopefully turn them into a star on the platform. Having a book helps. Within the Exhibit Hall, several booths proclaimed that they were publishers … they would publish your book for a small fee. What they were, vanity presses—nothing more, nothing less. The predators of the print world … and they were signing up people … their next victims, left and right.

Are there Red Flags that can help you spot the vanity press in sheep’s clothing? Sure, start with:

#1: We publish your book for ONLY $___. This is called “pay-to-publish”—know it by the true name. When you are told that sheepMoneytreethere is a fee to publish/print your book—that’s what is being done. Quality has zip to do with it; if you want editing, marketing, publicity, redoing mistakes found or their layout, etc., you will pay, and pay for it and anything else to fix, create at a very over-inflated cost.


#2: We list your book on Think big freakin’ deal here. Anyone can list on Amazon—set aside 30 minutes, fill out the form and you are listed. Should you be listed on Amazon? Yes indeed. You can do it … anyone can do it. Vanity presses shot in the arm was Amazon—otherwise, their books never got any type of national/international presence for their authors.
But, and it’s a big BUT, if you dream of getting your book in a bookstore, wake up. The cheap workmanship, quality of what is usually produced will never make it there.

In a phone conversation with a key person at the Tattered Cover here in Denver, CO, he said, “We don’t purchase vanity press books—they usually fall apart … not to mention, they are so costly per unit, and the return policy is usually not available—it’s a clear pass for us.”

#3: We have the solution for author success. So do I—it’s work your tush off, although that’s not what they will tell you. Their success will be to always buy all their add-on packages, driving your “investment” with this enterprise toPrint many thousands of dollars. Success for them, mostly likely, not you.



#4: Publisher looking for authors. Yes, there is always the rare gem, break-through author that the media loves to profile images (2)…BUT here again, this is a rarity. Publishers have authors up the Ga-zoo … what they want is an author with a Platform and a Plan … that’s the part where you work your tush off.


#5: Author Beware notices from creditable sites. Start with a search on Google and put in the name of the publishing entity you are checking out. Follow it with the word: complaints, scam and problems and see what pops up. Websites, such as Rip-off Reports , Writer Beware on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at and Pr-editors and Editors at will become your best friends. Ripoff Reports has a section dedicated to comments from former employees; Pr-editors 7320390406_00e811985d_zand Editors states in red which publishers to avoid; and Writer Beware includes case studies from authors sharing their ill-fated experience.

#6 Bait and Switch. Many of these companies pitch (after all, most have a boiler room type of operation—it’s about quotas) and you don’t realize that you have to pay them to publish your book. Not until you have submitted information—from your name, download (1)contact, book title, even the manuscript—do you realize you need to pony up funds to keep the process going.

#7 Partnering with a well-know name. Let’s face it, authors want their books published and when a vanity press partners, or purchases one that is well known, the assumption is that it’s a marriage made in publishing heaven. Not likely. With the rapid growth of the self-publishing world, both large and small presses are looking for avenues to carry them to the masses of self-published authors that came through the vanity press door. Get out of the book daze and stupor and do your homework before you head down the aisle. See #6 above.

Do “publishers” rip-off authors? And, if so, do they do it deliberately?

The answer is simply yes … and they do it every day. Your best defense: don’t get involved with anything that looks like, feels like, or acts like a vanity press. Companies like Author House/Solutions, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Palibris, Author House-UK, Word-clay and Balboa Press are to be avoided like the plague.

Publishing predators are the T-Rex of the industry—avoid, avoid, avoid. 




Judith Briles is known as The Book Shepherd a book publishing expert and coach. She is the Founder of Author U,  a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the 80s. Judith is the author of 31 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms, Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers  and a speaker at publishing conferences.

Become part of her inner circle by joining the Author’s Ark and exclusive monthly webinar and coaching event. Her audio and workbook series, Creating Your Book and Author Platform is now available. Join Judith live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. EST for Author U – Your Guide to Book Publishing on the Toginet Network at  . Follow @AuthorU and @MyBookShepherd on Twitter and do a “Like” at AuthorU and TheBookShepherd on Facebook.  If you want to create a book that has no regrets, contact Judith at

25 Comments on Beware of the Self-Publishing Predators … Today’s T-Rex

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  5. Gary Snyder says:

    I have published two books, but the latest by Xlibris was a nightmare. After receiving assurances from my initial contact person, I have experienced one problem after another. Once they received my money, I was met with extraordinary incompetence from editing, marketing, production and even mailing my already paid for books. No apologies, no email responses, no return phone calls were the norm and blame for not understanding their rules. As I understand it, Xlibris is part of a venture capitalist attempt to corner the self-publishing market which includes iUniverse. Please take note, you have been warned.

  6. Ann says:

    Hello: How are you different and what is your price? Are you listed under the BBB in your state?

  7. The Book Shepherds says:

    BBB–please … you always get references from authors who have worked with coaches and advisors. Just ask them for them… and make sure you ask if he or she works with your specifi genre. Be really clear on what you want from them from the get-go.

  8. Pingback: Self-Publishing Resources, pt 1: Why & How – - Monica T. RodriguezMonica T. Rodriguez

  9. Nick says:

    This a sincere inquiry.

    I stumbled onto this particular blog during “reviews” of certain publishers I’m interested in speaking with about my project. I’m sure you can understand being selective in research especially with a book as near to one’s heart as mine is mine.

    I was essentially looking up Morgan James which somehow led to this article and though I didn’t see much about them I noticed a disdain for “vanity publishers”, which they turn out to be. Through looking further, you seem to be affiliated with them in a few ways, so I’m confused. Would you be so kind as to offer your feedback on them. They are located near my hometown and would seem to be a convenient place to start after my editor wraps up in the very near future.

    Thanks so much!

  10. The Book Shepherd says:

    Daily, I get phone calls and emails from authors who have been duped, taken to the cleaners, etc. I get that the author to be is bombarded with phone calls that are never ending–understand that the predators, usually in some form of a pay to publish, operate a boiler room operation. Dial, dial, dial–hound, hound, hound. Some even sign up to stop all the calls … then regret it. Always, it’s the Author Beware factor… Google the name of the person, company pitching. Add “complaints” “problems” “scams” “lawsuits” after their names. read everything. Never, EVER, go into a contract without doing your homework.

  11. Brian says:

    Have a book ready to publish and have shopped numerours self-publishing companies. What does anyone know about Morgan Stanley? Are there companies you would recommend?

  12. Brian says:

    It’s “numerous.” Obviously I need an editor!

  13. Peter van Westerloo says:

    Judith, I am a bit confused here. You clearly state that these paid-to-publish companies are to be avoided for a variety of reasons and your advise was very helpful to me. Yet you are very close to Morgan James’ Rick Frishman, which is a company that meets your “avoid at all cost” criteria. They want me to pay them $5000 just to play and force me to buy 2500 books at a price point they determine.

    I would really appreciate you honest opinion of why MJ is not an “avoid” company. I truly respect your opinion and experience so I could really use your advise.

  14. Peter … I would rather discuss this privately with you…At this point, I’m not supportive of the deals that force you to buy a specific number of books. Rick is a personal friend and someone that I’ve co-authored a book with. The reviews on MJ are quite mixed. It’s not that people don’t like the product over all when they get it; most feel misled as to what the real services really are.

  15. Publishing predators promise to do “everything” for you, get your book “in bookstores nationwide,” “market” your book, and pay authors a “royalty” for every copy sold. All for about $1,000 — until you’re in, when the story changes and the costs skyrocket.

    In a long but brilliant post some time ago, book editor Dick Margulies explained the illegitimacy of the vanity presses to another service provider this way:

    >>Stephen, vanity presses do not sell books. They use deceptive marketing to persuade authors that they are going to help the authors sell books, but they don’t make their money from selling books. They make their money from what authors pay them.

    >>So far that’s fine. I sell services to publishers, including authors who are their own publishers. You sell services to publishers, including authors who are their own publishers. So what the vanity presses are doing is superficially similar to what you and I do. But there’s a big difference. Whereas you and I accept money for doing actual work, sitting in front of a computer and laying out pages or designing a cover or editing a manuscript, the vanity presses do something entirely different. They farm out the actual work to low bidders, under job specifications that actually prevent people from doing work at a professional level. A good deal of the editing work, because of the low prices they’re willing to pay, goes offshore. When it comes back, spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation is inconsistently changed to UK English (maybe in some chapters but not in others, depending on how the job was split up), and obvious errors are overlooked, because all that was really done was to run Word’s grammar checker and accept whatever the first suggestion was at every green squiggle.

    >>Designs are selected by the author from a gallery of templates. There is no attempt to do professional-level composition. Just pour the supposedly edited ms. into the template and ship it.

    >>When authors complain, upon seeing their proofs, about the low quality of editing or typesetting, they get lip service about fixing everything before publication, but then the corrections are not made and the book is printed uncorrected—with a separate charge to the author for making changes after the fact that should have been made in the first place.

    >>”Marketing” consists of sending the book to LSI so that it is automatically uploaded to Amazon and, with the vanity house’s imprint. If a book sells, the vanity house charges the author for the printing and then pays a “royalty” out of the profit margin. This is after providing substandard services that the author paid for. The vanity house has no investment in the book, no money at risk. All of the capital at risk came from the author. So why is the vanity house entitled to anything? When an author pays you or pays me, they own the book and are entitled to the entire profit. We get paid for the work we do, not for swindling authors.

    >>I don’t know why this is so hard for people to see. I really don’t.<<

    Legitimate, qualified editors and designers are judged to be "too expensive" as authors flock to these dishonest companies. It's just astonishing, and all we can do is keep shining a light on the situation and hope to change it, one author at a time. Thank you, Judith.

  16. I really wish I had read this before signing up with Xlibris publishing company. I had already send my money to them, its the more money they wanted which it can be very stressed out and annoying. I had spend the rest of my refund with this company so my book can be published. I just hope they had received the money but wont distribute the money like they had promised. I am glad you had discussed these red flag signs. I wish I had knew about it soon.

  17. Doris… get involved with the Author U group on Linked… there are two active streams that deal with the publishing predators. Beware, avoid, get out.

  18. And thank you Michele. All–Michele was a guest on my radio show, Author U- Your Guide to Book Publishing on June 26th. Click on the “On the Air” icon on the Home page of this site and listen in–it was excellent. The topic, publishing predators–we both deal with authors who routinely get sucked into their mazes–and rescue them.

  19. I am being offered a contract from Morgan James. They are saying they are very selective but they want $15,000.00 from me to purchase 2500 copies. I am new to the literary world but I am not new to being cautious. I thought that if a publisher loved what they see they would invest instead of wanting the author to do all the a work and put up the finances.

  20. Can I please contact you about Morgan James? I am in conversation with them, while I am also querying agents. Many thanks, Rob 570 242 9299

  21. “In the beginning” there were only 2 print-on-demand (POD) publishers; iUniverse and Xlibris and they were both very, very good. Then anyone and EVERYONE who wanted to be called a “published” author jumped on the POD bandwagon and hundreds of these pay to publish scams flooded the market in print and in ebook digital and the entire industry went downhill.

    POD is an author’s “easy’ road” to publication. You do avoid agent submissions and rejections and all of the tiny control details with a “traditional” publisher if you are fortunate to have your agent find one and yes, some POD books “make it big”, but so does the chance of winning the lottery!

    Bottom line is very simple: if you are asked to pay ANY amount to have your book “published” other than a % of the royalties, DO NOT SIGN. For ebooks; Smashwords is a totally FREE service. Mark Corker, the founder and owner is totally honest. For print, Amazon’s FREE “create space” will have your book ready for print in a matter of days. Caution: you WILL have to do your own editing, proof reading and, unless you’re a graphic artist, you might want to hire a cover designer.

    And, with any book in today’s market, the promotion, marketing and PR will be left up to you.

  22. Agree Raven … if there is are TWO things authors must get … this is a business — no matter who publishes and MARKETING … if book sales are to be .. it’s up to the author–being published by a traditional publisher means zip in marketing today.

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