Imagine building a company slowly, one that is intended to give authors a place to sell and distribute their own ebooks. You grow that company into a household name in the publishing industry and enjoy a measure of success that goes with it. You even publish a few very helpful ebooks on your site–Smashwords, incidentally–so authors can benefit from years of industry insight and knowledge.
Then, lo and behold! A publisher contacts you out of the blue…they want to publish your book! They’re going to make your book a bestseller! They’re going to make you a household name! With their help, your book will be available on famous websites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and (wait for it) Smashwords!
“I received a call this morning at home from ‘Stratton Press’ offering to republish one of my books, The 10-Minute PR Checklist,” explained Mark Coker, CEO and founder of Smashwords, in a social media post. “‘Your genre is trending now,’ he said. Oh really? Who knew that public relations self-help guides were all the rage now? Oh, tell me more!
“I played a cat to his mouse. I asked how he got my home phone number. He told me Amazon gave him my phone number (a lie) because they’re a ‘Premium Partner’ to Amazon… When I asked why they were interested in my book, he claimed their scout found it at a book event in Miami (another lie), read it and recommended it to him for ‘acquisition’ (another lie).
“Do you pay me an advance, I asked? ‘No, we’re a hybrid publisher.’ … Then he told me that free self-publishing services like Smashwords only pay 10% royalties. Uh… no!!! This one went too far. I finally asked him how he could sleep at night or look in the mirror, knowing that he was ripping off writers. And then I told him who he called.”
It feels wrong to say “thank goodness he called Mark Coker” since no one needs to be targeted by scammers. But in this instance, better someone who knows as much about this industry as Coker does, rather than an author who is starting out.
Unfortunately, this kind of predatory practice is all too common. Author Hugh Howey (perhaps you’ve heard of him) recently shared on Twitter an email he received from a publisher who claimed that his book is languishing in no-man’s-land, but that they can take it to the next level.
There are reputable companies who meet authors’ wide variety of needs, but it’s vital to remember one key piece of advice: if they’re hurting for work to the point that they’re scouring the internet looking for possible clients–and then don’t know anything about you or your book–they’re scam artists. Connecting with other authors and accessing industry veterans via social media are great ways to investigate a company before reaching out about their services.