From Rick:

I often receive inspiration for these blog posts from questions I am asked. Last week, someone asked my advice on a publisher who contacted him about re-publishing a book. I had never heard of the publisher, but there are many small publishers I’ve never heard of because in the past few years new ones have been popping up all over.

As an author, your first thought when a publisher contacts you is usually one of elation, perhaps even to the point of ecstasy. After all, someone wants to publish YOUR book! Your dream is about to be fulfilled!

Let’s take a step back and think about this. If you did not submit your book to that publisher, how did they hear about you? Publishers only contact you in one of two instances. Either you actually submitted your work to them, or (much less likely), you are an indie author who self-published and your book has become a big enough seller that a big publisher sees dollar signs and wants a share of your profits (think Fifty Shades of Grey or The Martian, both of which began as self-pubbed books). That latter case raises a big issue in my mind. If your book is doing so well, why would you want to hand over 50% to 75% of your profits to someone else? If you’re already successful, there is not much a publisher can offer you, aside from taking control of your book away from you.

So, why would a publisher you’ve never heard of approach you? I can think of only two reasons: (1) It’s a foreign publisher and they think your book will do well in their markets (rare, but this has happened to some authors)—and this might be good because it could open up a new outlet for you; (2) It’s a publishing company (meaning Vanity Press or similar, not a traditional publisher) looking to sell you their services. Who knows how they got your name, but somehow they did. (Think all of those insurance and credit card solicitations and junk email you get.)

And this latter case (2) is precisely what happened to the author in question. How do I know this company is a Vanity Press, as opposed to a traditional publisher? All you need to do is look at the home page of the publisher’s website (www.okir-publishing.com) to spot the clues. The biggest one is in the upper right corner: SERVICES.

Traditional publishers do not offer “services.” They publish your book at their expense; they handle the marketing; and, most of all, THEY PAY YOU, never the reverse. And if that one word (services) wasn’t enough, in big letters on home page of their site you’ll find these words: “Start your self-publishing journey with us and allow us to be a hassle-free guide for you to wade through every stage of publishing your book.

The key phrase here is “self-publishing journey.” Oops. If they are a true traditional publisher, then they, not you, are doing the publishing. Yet they say “self-publishing.” And I promise they’re not doing it for free. Click on that “services” link. What you see next looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Getting your book to Hollywood agents, for example? If you believe that’s going to happen (or that any Hollywood agent won’t simply brush it off), then let me sell you some prime Florida swamp land where you can retire to with all the millions you are going to make off your book by letting them help you publish it.

I’m not singling out Okir Publishing, nor am I suggesting that their business a scam. They are a seller of services trying to lure you into buying their services in the hope that, as a naive new author, you don’t understand how traditional publishers operate, that you never pay them for publishing. Pay-to-publish companies make it sound promising and plant the suggestion that, by going with them, you will make money as a published author. But they offer no guarantees, and if they bother to mention that fact, it’s in the fine print you likely won’t see.

On the flip side, there is nothing inherently wrong with reputable pay-to-publish services, ones that do provide quality services at fair prices. But you have to do your research to find them and, frankly, I’m skeptical of those services that claim to provide everything under one roof because it means they either have to employ individuals with those skills, or else they have to hire out those skills. This means the company is a middle man and needs their cut. If you deal directly with an editor or cover designer, not through an intermediary, you’ll probably pay less.

That said, there are places (like Reedsy) that serve as clearing houses for professionals and put you in contact with those professionals. And that’s how it should be.

If you’re going to self-publish, then you need to be in control and understand what’s going on every step along the way. Otherwise, you risk being taken advantage of and will learn the hard way.

Sadly, too many authors with traditional publishers have gotten burned in the past because they believed that agents and publishers had the their best interests at heart. Some did, and maybe some still do, but you can’t assume it, especially not today.

The only way to avoid heartache is to be informed and involved in the entire publishing process. If someone is offering to publish your book and offering all kinds of services that you have to pay for, run away as fast as you can and get advice from someone you trust.

It constantly boggles my mind that, with all the information and good advice readily available on the Internet, many authors get burned because they don’t bother checking or asking. This is why business for Vanity Presses and publishing services is booming.

But I’m very glad that the writer whose query prompted this blog post did ask. I hope I saved another soul.

–Rick