Online Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid
Barbara Brabec’s research on self-
publishing companies authors should avoid.
I FIRST BECAME AWARE of how many self-publishing companies there actually were when I bought a copy of the third edition of Mark Levine’s book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing—A Primer on Contracts, Printing Costs, Royalties, Distribution, Ebooks, and Marketing. In that book, Levine analyzed, ranked, and exposed the contracts and services of 45 self-publishing companies. I see now that he published a 6th edition of this book in 2016, which is too old to be of much use now, so I’m not encouraging its purchase. But this was where I turned up his list of 21 “Publishers to Avoid,” which I appreciated and used to help others at that time.
Further research on my part led me to discover that five publishers on Levin’s list of of undesirable companies (Authorhouse, iUniverse, Tate Publishing, Trafford Publishing, and Xlibris) were owned by the same company: AUTHOR SOLUTIONS. They are all still in business today, and what all of them have in common are numerous complaints about their services on the web. (Last I checked, there were more than 57 million results for “Author Solutions+complaints.”)
Another web search in late 2021 turned up this new article: “Author Solutions Review: Scams, Complaints & More.” It includes information new to me about this company’s affiliation with many other companies.
Believe it or not . . . Author Solutions was bought by the world-renowned Penguin Group in 2012. Mark Coker, owner of Smashwords.com, wrote about this in his July 25, 2012 newsletter, wondering why this traditional publisher paid $116 million for a self-publishing company that “… put the ‘V’ in ‘vanity’ and earns 2/3 or more of their income ‘selling services and books to authors, not selling authors’ books to readers.’”
TIP: To find out if any publisher or self-publishing company you’re thinking about working with, simply type the publisher’s name, a plus sign, and the word complaints into a search engine. You’ll be astonished by how many authors have documented their sad publishing experiences with companies that are not mentioned above.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on writer complaints about other self-publishing companies, acquaint yourself with the “Writer Beware” department on the the website of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Their blog alerts writers to publishing and marketing scams targeting Indie Authors.
One book publisher not discussed in Levin’s book but exposed in considerable detail on the SFWA site is Strategic Book Publishing Group and its owner, Robert M. Fletcher. Read this article to see the list of publisher names and literary agencies this man has operated under through the years.
In 2009, Fletcher was sued by the Florida’s Attorney General’s office for using more than twenty websites and related companies to fleece unsuspecting authors. Apparently this company is still operating today under the same name and website URLs.
A Cautionary Note about Vanity Presses
(Also Known as “Subsidy Publishers”)
CLOSELY RELATED to self-publishing companies authors should avoid are vanity publishers who feed on people’s egos and wallets, often charging outrageous fees to get a book into print. As Tom and Marilyn Ross explained in their Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (2010), it’s easy to be taken in by one of these publishers. “The advertising copywriters hired by subsidy publishers are the best in the business,” they said, adding that they could “charm the lard off a hog.” Further, the Rosses pointed out, “In most cases, after paying thousands of dollars to print your book, you won’t even own it. Instead, you’ll get a ‘royalty’ on any book that happens to be sold, and if you want copies for yourself, you’ll have to buy them. The really bad news is that no one wants to buy books published by a vanity press, so if you want to sell many books and make a good profit, look for another way to get into print.”
This excellent overview article, “Blurred Distinctions: Vanity Publishing vs. Self-Publishing” will add to your education on this topic.
The vanity publishing industry continues to grow, as indicated by what I found when I Googled the words “vanity subsidy publishing.” In late 2021, I got nearly 11 million results, compared to 666,000 web pages with those keywords in early 2020, compared to 250,000 when I checked about four years earlier.
Of course my advice to readers is NEVER to publish your valuable writing with a vanity publisher. And, if you don’t feel capable of self-publishing your own book and think you need to work with one of the self-publishing companies on the web, be cautious about signing a contract with them until you’ve carefully researched them. If you’d like some feedback from me, note that I do offer an affordable book contract critiquing service. You’ll find more information about it below.
(This article was last updated in 2021.)
Contracts from Online Book Publishers. Barbara’s book contract critiquing service. (Don’t sign one of these contracts until you read this article.)
The Changing World of Book Publishing. Past and present perspective for today’s book lovers and self-publishers. Includes contract changes book publishers have made since 2012.
Writing & Publishing T/C