Predatory Publishers   13 comments

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?


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As a libertarian who believes in free-market principles, I categorically support the right of a publisher to engage in whatever business practices they think will make a profit.

Now, turn that around. I also categorically support the right of the authors who deal with that publisher to engage in critical thinking and to reject business practices they think might harm them.

Members of the publishing industry—authors, publishers, peer reviewers—should be held accountable for maintaining ethical practices. We’re not talking laws here, but voluntary exchange between parties. Yes, it’s not always easy keeping others on the straight and narrow. Whether in search of financial or personal gain, some bad eggs do exist within the industry, attempting to bait-and-switch unsuspecting authors.

Stop being unsuspecting. Educate yourself so you are not taken advantage of. That is wholly within your control, though I readily admit it’s not a fun process.

How do I know this? Well, I encountered some of those bad eggs in my journey to self-publication as a novelist.

Predatory publishers, publications, and conferences proliferated in the past decade amid the increase of self-publishing (sometimes called open-access publishing). These predators offer various “pay-to-play” models with benefits that you can’t possibly refuse – and a lot of authors fall prey to these con artists.

Predatory Publishers

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So, let’s say an author stumbles upon this brand-new, full-service Open Access publisher. It looks stellar – cheap and convenient. Nice. But, hold on. How do you know it’s not trustworthy – otherwise known as predatory?

Predatory publishers don’t care about quality. They care about netting a quick profit through various charges or a one-size-fits-all fee that equals your mortgage for a year. These publishers may even willingly take unpolished work, especially if they offer in-house peer review and/or copy editing services. Be cautious of publishers guaranteeing acceptance after paying a fee. Be double-cautious if the publishers lacks review transparency and/or offers a short turnaround for publication. Although this all sounds wonderful, it is not sound publishing practice. If they’re promising your novel will be published for a low-low fee of thousands of dollars and they have the juice to make it a best-seller, hit pause and think.

Too good to be true = con artist.

In the end, after about my third query with one of these wolves, I decided to self-publish. I wanted to maintain control of my product, to assure its quality and to own my publication rights. I had a bit of an advantage because I had worked in an adjacent field of publishing, so I already knew such practices existed — there have always been predatory vanity presses out there. But, man, it’s scary out here in the cold and dark by myself.

Learn to Trust Someone

I eventually started a discussion with an author friend who is part of the author cooperative Breakwater Harbor Books which is my publisher of record. We each still own our books and we each still have to find editors, cover creators, format-services and marketing firms to help us where we need it, but we also can help each other from time to time and if a reader cares about whether a book has a “publisher” they will see a dozen other authors published under this boutique publisher.

Which, by the way, is the only advantage of most self-publishing companies. You give them your money, they take control of your book, they may screw it up or improve it, they may stick a great cover on it or a bad one, they may market it or they may expect you to do all of it (and that’s usually the case), and you will get five percent of the royalties rather than 70 percent … after you pay them thousands of dollars.

I held onto my rights and the quality of my work. What did I give up to join the cooperative?

Some trust. Because we use each other as beta readers, we have to trust that our fellow stable members are not going to steal each other’s copyrighted manuscripts. My ISBNs are listed in my own name, so BHB can’t claim to own them, but I have to trust that Scott and Cara and the other authors are not going to take me to court to claim they own my published books. Although we have verbal agreements to that effect, we didn’t involve lawyers and frankly, we didn’t need to.

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Ethics absolutely matter

Far more important than the law, ethics (or morality) are the foundation under-girding society. The law can be absolutely on the side of the predatory publisher who has taken your money, somehow relieved you of the rights to your book, and is now letting it languish in their basement. Ethics, however, are on your side, so it’s best to avoid those unethical publishers and be brave – step out on your own and make your own choices, accept your own risks, and leave the con artists standing there with their hats in their hands.

Posted February 24, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

13 responses to “Predatory Publishers

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  1. I found this post very interesting. I have not had the misfortune to come across a vanity publisher who takes authors for a ride, but found a lovely publisher right at the beginning of my writing journey. Anne has been amazingly supportive and is very ethical. That is actually why she started her publishing company, the help authors and provide an place with ethics for them to publish their work through.


    • That’s great. I think as authors have become more aware, some publishers have become less predatory — or competition has grown up that stresses ethics. It’s the beauty of the “free” market in a largely unregulated industry. Predatory publishing can’t keep market share if their behavior isn’t being protected from competition.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Other authors are our greatest source of information, warnings and advice. I value all I’ve been taught and try to pass it on where possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve run into an author or two who has a stack of their books in the garage or the basement because they had to buy a certain amount from their publisher when their book was released. I immediately try to sway them to come to the indie side of the world.


    • I know a couple of people at the local author’s guild who went that route – which is why I almost went that route. I’m glad Scott Toney talked me out of it. The one gal has an Alaska-based mystery and she has made her money back selling to the tourists, but the other guy just has boxes to keep moving everytime he needs to get the lawn mower. His book’s good, too, it just isn’t something that appeals to Alaskans. I’d be a fool to have a bunch of physical copies of a book that isn’t about Alaska, but I’m doing okay over the internet.


  4. i’ve fallen foul of a couple of small publishers over the years, and now I’m somewhat wiser and just stick to self-publishing. It’s safer!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Marketing equity belongs to the big guys. We can only hope to sell our wares like the digital equivalent of a flea market. A flea market where we can trust our fellow vendors as described above. One of these days someone will find a way to open an Amazon type of bookstore without the bullsh*t force-fed formatting etc. A level playing field where we can upload our books and they are free to sink or swim on merit and popularity. I’m not talking friend farming, I’m talking about a panel of readers, authors, and editors who will say “Jim Bob’s new book rocks if you like genre X.” Or will send you a personal note saying our amateurism is showing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amazon’s monopolistic practices are what bothers me. Choosing to not participate means relegating our books to the back bench, because so the Amazon market is huge, which is why it has no real competition, but it’ll come. Facebook is now asking for regulation because competition is starting to threaten his market share. The free market abhors monopoly. You’ll know someone has come up with an alternative when Bezos asks for regulation on the publishing market.

      Liked by 1 person

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