Author Beware … Publishing Predators Are Breeding

Oh, what a tangled web they weave … publishing predators are breeding with the surge of authors now by-passing traditional publishing. Over half of books published today are by the self and indie publishers. Traditional publishers are taking notice and are now gearing up to offer their own “self-publishing” opportunities. Some, like Simon & Schuster, Hay House and Penguin, have had a “vanity press” relationship for years in place via Author Solutions (ASI). Expect to see all of this push into a higher gear–after all … there is money in wannabe author’s pockets.

sheep predators

It’s a never-ending story … the emails, phone calls, postings within the Author U Group on LinkedIn and my personal group on Facebook: Publishing with The Book Shepherd (join it)  … 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. –Publishing Predators are growing like black mold–almost unstoppable!

When the hot Star Trek movie series kicked into gear, publishing took note. Under the umbrella of Simon & Schuster–Archway Publishing revived the Star Trek: Strange New World Writing Contest last year. Devotees of Star Trek were thrilled, writers discovered what they thought was a fun way to jump on the publishing bandwagon … after all, if Simon & Schuster is involved … it had to be legit. Right? What the majority didn’t know was that Archway Publishing is S&S partnering venture with Author Solutions, the kink of vanity presses and running the contest.

This gave the impression that S&S was less interested in recruiting new authors to publish than in finding new victims for Author Solutions’ high-pressure sales tactics, and that impression was reinforced last month by the form email sent to contest participants.

It was normal for those “who entered” to get the following email:

“Thank you for your recent submission in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Writing Contest. We were honored to consider your short story. We received many imaginative tales that took us on different journeys through the Star Trek universe. After diligently considering each and every entry, we have selected the winners. Unfortunately, your submission was not included in the final group of stories.

If you enjoy writing, Archway Publishing can still help you share your personal or other sci-fi stories as a published book. And because you participated in this contest, you can save 20% on select packages.”

Authors who were wise not to take Archway up on its offer yet don’t be surprised to see it resurface–it’s a feeder for Author Solutions (ASI).

While Archway is actually a front company for ASI, a vanity press with more grumblings and complaints than Hogan has goats. In my experience in working with others, fielding zillions of phone calls and emails of complaints,  I’ve concluded that ASI and all its offspring are out to exploit authors rather than help them sell books.

ASI operates under many imprints, including AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Archway (Simon & Schuster), Nook Press (Barnes & Noble), Partridge (Penguin), MeGustaEscribir, Book Country (Penguin), Westbow (Thomas Nelson), Trafford, Xlibris, and Balboa Press (Hay House).

Like S&S’s Archway, some of those imprints appear to be owned by an independent company, but they are actually front companies for ASI and are run by that vanity press. ASI partners include Barnes & Noble, Lulu, Penguin Random House Spain, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hay House, Penguin India, Penguin Singapore, and Penguin Africa. Jeeze, you need to really know who you are getting in bed with.

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.

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.

red flagsAre you protected? 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 there 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. Just this past week I got an email from an author who signed up for one of these We publish your book for ONLY $____ … and he is $3,000 into his few hundred dollars lure and still NO Book … thanks to Author House.


#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 …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 ycash-cowou are checking out. Follow it with the word: complaints, scam, con, lawsuits and problems and see what pops up. Make sure you read past page 1 of Google (90% don’t–and many pages are “loaded with ads” meaning that content, blogs, and comments are pushed way down and off the first few pages of your search). Websites, such as Rip-off Reports ,Writer Beware on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at and Reedsy will become your best friends. Ripoff Reports has a section dedicated to comments from former employees; Reedsy has an excellent blog to read; and Writer Beware includes case studies from authors sharing their ill-fated experience.

And know that these companies change their names–meaning you need to do digging. For example, Publish America–another that has created mountains of complaints recently changed its name to America Star Books. Same dog, different fur.

#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---promo-8Judith 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 35 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. How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos has just been released.

Next year’s Judith Briles Book Publishing Unplugged will be held in Denver, CO June 22-24, 2017. The annual PublishingAtSea cruise is held each January. 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

48 Comments on Author Beware … Publishing Predators Are Breeding

  1. Pingback: Beware of the Self-Publishing Predators |

  2. Pingback: Beware of the Self-Publishing Predators | ebook experiment |

  3. Pingback: Beware of the Self-Publishing Predators | Publishing iPad Book Apps for Kids |

  4. Pingback: Blogs for Self-Publishers for August 28 – September 3, 2011 — The Book Designer

  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.

  23. Interesting, informative post but I’m surprised there was no mention of Tate Publishing, a HUGE vanity publisher in my area. Any thoughts about them?

    Thanks for all you do for the publishing industry!

    Donna L Martin

  24. Lol, years ago, knowing enough to be dangerous, I was trying to help a friend publish a book. Somehow I came across a publisher with a division called “Rose Dog.” Even for someone like me, the company name was a dead giveaway!

  25. Thank you very much for the warning. An excellent article.

  26. Good tips and warnings here Judith. I had researched the Vanity press and was suspicious of the quality of the end product, my book. It wasn’t clear what I got for my investment. Your article punctuates this, Judith!

    Book production and publishing is a business. Treat it as one. I went the Indie publishing route, and didn’t use Createspace. While it’s a viable option for many, I have yet to see a Createspace book that looks great.

    You need to think about your professional reputation when you publish a book. Mine is a business book, and my competition is mostly male writers and they are not Indie publishing. So my book needed to look like New York to compete. Judith Briles and Rebecca Finkel helped me get there!

  27. Oh yes, do add Tate Publishing ot the list … I’ve had numerous complaints about them … in fact, one of my clients got into bed with them on a childrens book that we had to unscramble!

  28. Angela Silverthorne says:

    Excellent article. I got a call from an author friend two days ago. She was so excited. The so-called publishing firm calling her said for $5,499.00 they would get her on the New York Times Bestseller List. What a scam! I told her so and hope she didn’t send them a check. I’m sending her this article. I’m so glad you’ve issued this warning.

  29. Lynn says:

    Hi Judith! I have the same question as others re: Morgan James. I, too, was offered a contract with them and it just felt iffy. Would you recommend giving them a chance?

  30. ANY guarantee like that is a red flag with neon lights flashing around it. The sad thing is that too many are roped into this nonsense on a daily basis.

  31. Salutory lessons for us all here – thanks for posting this!

  32. I’m amazed that so many people will pay these sums to be published when CreateSpace will do it for free. All you need is a Word file and a cover. Sorry, my CreateSpace book looks just fine. I suppose there are genius cover designers out there who could have done a better cover than DigitalDonna,com did for me, but I’d be surprised to discover them at a reasonable cost.

    I went with Ingram first; again, nothing wrong with the 22 books I purchased at cost ($168). At Ingram, you will pay $49 for publication, and you must, indeed should, buy your own ISBN, since if you choose CreateSpace first, they will own the ISBN. Three hundred dollars for 10 ISBNs you can use for your entire series is a lot less than the numbers being discussed in these comments.

    I formatted my own interior, which cost me $20 a month for my subscription to Adobe InDesign. On my blog, I’m doing a series on how I conquered InDesign:

    Believe me, it’s not that hard.

    I hope writers will use the funds they are paying for these services to find good professional editors and cover designers. And I second Judith’s point that being traditionally published does NOT mean that you will get stellar marketing. In the end, you will do that for yourself. Why not do it all?

  33. @Ellen Naylor. As to Create Space book covers. You can use your own cover, have one designed by them or by another party or you can use what they have. I agree, not the best. Many authors don’t invest in a cover, not realizing that first impressions are important. If your book cover doesn’t draw the reader, then that perfect blurb and fantastic story is all for naught. As I continue my endeavors at self-publishing, I’m learning that the proper book cover is the most important marketing strategy to grab the reader. My last few books have been done by professional artists and photographers… check them out at Amazon under my name.

  34. christine says:

    A number of the commenters brought up Morgan James. One of the most tell tale signs is found on their “compare” page, where it is stated, under the “Traditional” column…
    “Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release, usually at a 50-60% discount off retail”

    NO traditional publisher, large, medium or small, ever requires or even desires their Author buy their own books back, let alone 5000 of them. They send YOU Author copies, in fact most send you more copies when the book goes to paper back and any copies of foreign/translation licensing.

  35. jo says:

    The list is endless,
    it is not only those ones that you listed here; 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.

    Morgan james is also among them.
    In fact, i nearly fell victim of the company.

    You could imagine,i wrote a book a best seller, i am telling you. That book has a rare plot different what people are writing.
    Then i made few query letters to some publishing companies.
    Then i received a message from one of them. to cut the long story short, in fact i was asked to 2,500 copies at print cost plus $2.

    For really irritated me was that the guy, editor said that they were going to pay me 100 dollars as an advance fee, could ou imagine?, with the amount of time that was involved in writing. My age, 41 years old, master degree holder. i have my other means of livelihood, but i just love writing, it runs in the family, my father was a journalist and a good writer, i got pissed off.

    They are thieves

  36. Morgan James is a complete ripoff. They sound so good and produce a good looking book but do nothing they promise to sell and promote it. Out over $6,000 with fewer than 50 books sold in 6 months. They won’t even return my calls.

  37. Susan says:

    I’ve been researching different self publishing companies to publish our hard cover children’s picture book with a dust jacket. With so many negative reviews, including from your website, who do you or your readers recommend, other than Create Space? Thanks!

  38. PJ says:

    I published two books in 2002-2004 with Publisher America, a POD publisher. I was totally ignorant of the publishing world and was thrilled to have my books accepted for publishing. They did not ask for any money at all. They did a beautiful job: attractive covers, and I had book signings and sold a few hundred books. The problem was I had to do all the publicity, including getting my books into brick and mortar stores. The books were priced too high, in my estimation, but in my church and hometown, I received much good feedback and sales continue even today. Publish America has now suddenly gone out of business and changed their name to America Star Books. They cannot be contacted at all and I cannot recover the digital files of my books for reprinting. I cannot spend thousands getting my books into print again, but really want to be able to get copies and sell them myself and have them available on Amazon, etc. What do you suggest I do in this situation? I have a couple copies of the books and my original typed manuscripts, but no digital files.

  39. Pingback: COMPLAINTS and Criticism about Archway Publishing |

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you're human: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.