Author Beware: When In Doubt, Check It Out

Several fellow authors and I were approached via messages on various writing sites by a company called DIP Publishing. While something like this appears flattering to the untrained eye, the reality is that publishers rarely – if ever – approach writers or send unsolicited messages. As authors, we know how the process of finding a legitimate publisher (or agent) actually works.

A few red flags rose after I’d read the DIP Publishing note in my message box on Authonomy.Upon doing a bit of online research, DIP appeared to be nothing more than a vanity publisher. No matter how legitimate a site may look, any publisher or agent that mentions the word “partnership” is a clear sign an author is going to shell out an amount of money – which vanity publishers are known to do, no matter how fancy they may word their contracts.

The same goes for agents. It’s no question many writers dream of being published and earning substantial royalties. With this in mind, there’s going to be at least one person who will attempt to siphon our cash with a “deal.” One story I’d read was about an agent who not only wanted to charge a yearly “fee,” but also wanted a percentage of their authors’ earnings.

While known literary agents do earn a commission from their clients (the same applies to talent agents, who usually take between 15 and 30 percent), agents and publishers, be they the Big Six or smaller independent presses around the world, never charge for their services. They focus on making the author money – when the author earns, the publisher/agent earns.

If you are approached by a potential agent or publisher and any doubt exists, it’s a good idea to do thorough research on them before agreeing to anything. If someone is legitimate, they’ll have no problem answering your questions and providing additional information.

Sites such as AbsoluteWrite and Preditors and Editors offer information on everything from publishers, agents, and other literary-related listings. They will usually show companies to avoid as well as those recommended. AbsoluteWrite also has a forum where writers can ask questions on various topics. Sites such as the aforementioned aim to help writers avoid parting with their cash and aggravations associated with not-so-legitimate “book contracts.”

While we may experience initial excitement over the idea of being approached by someone who appears to be in the publishing business offering us all but the moon, it goes back to the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

Any unsolicited offers received from “agents” or “publishers” should always be checked out before agreeing to any terms. There may be a few angels who mean well, but like anything else, there’s a lot of devils waiting to rip you off. Remember, your best bet is to follow your head instead of your emotions.