Publishers Who Prey, Part Two: How to Spot Predators

Although this list of red flags isn’t exhaustive, if you spot any of them during your search for a publisher, watch out!

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Red Flags

  • Predators charge exorbitant fees. As indicated in last week’s post, authors should not have to pay fees to publishers or agents, except for necessary things such as postage. Authors who fall victim to these predators pay thousands of dollars for their book’s publication. On the other hand, legitimate publishers and agents earn their money by taking a cut of an author’s royalties. This is explained in their contracts.
  • Predators promise to edit and proofread an author’s manuscript. Well, their editing is often shoddy, as is the proofreading, and this can embarrass authors once their book is in print.
  • Predators promise high royalties (such as 70%) and say they’ll put your book in bookstores. They’ll put it on their website’s online bookstore and on other online bookstores, but no brick-and-mortar store will carry their books. Why? Because nine times out of ten, the writing is poor. These predators accept practically every manuscript that crosses their desks. It’s how they make money—from authors, not from the reading public. They can promise high royalties because few readers will buy their books.
  • Predators promise to make an author’s book a bestseller. How many wannabes have fallen for this line? I shudder to think of a number. The fact is, no one can make this promise, not even a traditional publisher. Lots of factors must fall into place for it to become a bestseller. If a publisher promises this— beware!
  • “Publisher looking for authors.” Wow, this sort of predatory advertising is a dead giveaway—predators hunting for victims. Actually, it’s authors who look for publishers, not the other way around.
  • Predators promise to get your work registered with the copyright office. This isn’t a false promise. I’m sure they do this. Hey! I’ve registered my work with the copyright office too. It’s super-easy to do, yet it sounds complicated to inexperienced writers.

Some Legit Self-Publishers

There are legitimate self-publishing companies out there. Below, I’ve listed a few, but once again, it’s not exhaustive. I’ve only listed those I’ve had experience with and/or those I know something about.

  • Book Baby:  Book Baby does charge authors, but its prices are not exorbitant. It has a very good reputation in the self-publishing industry.
  • Amazon KDP: Amazon doesn’t charge authors to publish its books. I’ve used it for all of my self-published works.
  • Barnes & Noble Press: This press is relatively new. An earlier version of this was Barnes & Noble Nook, which was similar to Amazon Kindle.
  • Kobo:  It publishes ebooks.
  • IngramSpark: Although this company is primarily a book distributor, authors also use it to publish books. A cost is involved but again, it’s not exorbitant. The owner of a  local independent bookstore in my hometown told me she orders all of her books from IngramSpark. It’s great to use if you want your book in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Draft2digital: This company will format and update an author’s manuscript for free. It makes its money in a manner similar to traditional publishers, that is, when a book sells it takes 10 % of the book’s retail price.

Be sure to research a company before spending your hard-earned money.

A Tip for Finding a Literary Agent

Be sure the agent is a member of AALA (American Association of Literary Agents), which used to be called AAR (Agents and Authors Representatives). The AALA is like the Better Business Bureau of literary agents in that it requires them to abide by certain ethical standards. For more information, here’s a good link:

Next Week: Self-publishing: How I Do It

Publishers Who Prey, Part One: Don’t Be a Victim

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When I began writing for publication, in the mid-1980s, serious authors (myself included) frowned upon self-publishing. Ah, but times have changed! In today’s literary world, many traditional authors have also self (indie)-published. Writers’ magazines sponsor indie contests, awards are given for indie books, and so on. No longer is it frowned upon, at least not like it was in the old typewriter days.

I applaud indie publishing. It’s opened numerous doors for authors such as me, and it’s great for those who’ve learned how to write and produce quality books. These authors take the time and effort required to study and learn the craft, and they work hard to make their books the best they can be.

However, self-publishing has a downside. What is it? Scams. Thanks to modern technology, they inundate the internet. Nowadays, most anyone can write and publish a book. Scam artists touting themselves as publishers and/or agents prey on eager, inexperienced authors who’ve longed to see their books in print. In short, these authors become victims.

Many wannabe writers think all they have to do is put words and sentences together. They don’t revise, because they haven’t studied the craft to know what to look for. They don’t edit and proofread, because they don’t know how, nor do they hire those who know how to do it. They just want a book out there. The quality of their writing is of no concern. They pay these scam artist publishers lots of money—in the thousands of dollars—and often endure emotional pain in the aftermath of publication. We’ll go into more detail on this in next week’s post.

For now, let’s learn the basic difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing.

Vanity Publishers

  1. Vanity publishers publish books in a manner similar to traditional publishers, yet unlike traditional publishers, they accept most every manuscript that crosses their desks regardless of its literary quality.
  2. Vanity publishers make money from the exorbitant fees they charge authors. Traditional publishers take a percentage of authors’ royalties, which they specify in their contracts. Traditional publishers do not charge fees.

Self-Publishers, aka Indie Publishers

  • From cover design, interior format and back copy to finished book, self-publishers have total control of their book, even in regards to pricing.
  • Self-publishers do spend money for their book’s production, but they hire qualified people to do this work. Traditional publishers have their own people they pay to do similar things: proofreading, cover design, formatting, etc. So, in a sense, a self-publisher is his/her own traditional publisher.

Are There Legitimate Self-Publishing Companies?

Yes. We’ll discuss these in another post. For now, be sure to research a potential publisher before signing a contract. Many a “wannabe author” has had his/her potential career ruined by these scam artists.

NEXT WEEK: Red Flags of a Scammer. What to look for.

Characters and Their Arcs

As you work on your story, does it have events that change your main character(s), for better or for worse? Most stories should. This change is called a character arc. There are three main kinds: positive, negative, and flat arcs.  

Why Use Character Arcs?

  • They make characters interesting and relatable.
  • They make characters three-dimensional. A perfect character with no need to change becomes boring.

Must All Characters Change?

No, but the main characters should. There is, however, an exception to this which we’ll look at later.

Three Types of Character Arcs

Positive Arc

Three main ingredients of a positive arc: (1) the character believes a lie, (2) circumstances, conflicts, and events bring the character to a realization of the truth, and (2) the character changes for the better.

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is an excellent example of this. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a greedy fellow who doesn’t believe in Christmas. He believes the lie about wealth’s importance and the need to constantly work and make money, even during holidays.

Then the three ghosts arrive and show him his life and its events – past, present, and future – which result in his change of heart. By the story’s end, Ebenezer Scrooge has become a pretty nice fellow!

Negative Arc

Trailer from movie Anna Karenina

In this arc, the character starts out good but by the story’s end, he’s changed for the worse. In other words, he doesn’t grow into a better person. Just as in the positive arc, the events and conflicts that change this character must be believable. Negative arcs do not end “happily ever after.”

Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, provides us a good example. This novel has lots of themes, but I’ll focus on one of them: adultery. In the beginning, Anna is a popular socialite, the perfect model of a Russian lady in the 1870s. But she has a fatal flaw: her passions. These drive her to commit adultery with a character named Vronsky, and she abandons her children. As the story ends, she kills herself by jumping in front of an oncoming train.

Flat Arc

Sherlock’s First Appearance

Although I don’t recommend this arc, it can and has been used successfully. In this arc, the main character doesn’t change. Sherlock Holmes, who is actually too perfect and too smart to be believable in my opinion, is a good example. From one story and novel to the next, Detective Sherlock never changes. These arcs may work in a series that features characters such as Sherlock, but the character must interesting and the stories must have an interesting plot.

Do your characters change, for better or for worse? Or are they flat, like ole Detective Sherlock?

Edward Troye: The Horse’s Artist

Edward Troye, 1808-1874

For horse lovers and those who love Thoroughbred racing along with the sport’s history, we can thank a famous artist who played a pivotal role in chronicling many of the nineteenth century’s famous racehorses. His name was Edward Troye (1808-1874). According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, he was “nineteenth-century America’s first important portrait and landscape painter.”[1]

Though born in Switzerland, he eventually moved to the United States and later lived in Mobile, Alabama (1849-1855), where he taught painting and French at Spring Hill College[2]. He painted horses as well as people, but his horse portraits are what earned him fame. His accuracy and attention to detail are stunning, to say the least. His work included not just the horses, but jockeys and trainers as well, providing us with a visual chronicle of the antebellum era’s favorite sport.

In 1869, he retired and moved to a farm in Owens Crossroads, Alabama. Even though he’d now turned to farming, he never quit painting and died of pneumonia in 1874.

To view some of his paintings, visit the National Sporting and Library Museum at

[1] Genevieve Baird Lacer, “Edward Troye,” the online version of the  Encyclopedia of Alabama,  accessed Jully 16, 2020,

[2] “Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye,”  Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, accessed July 16, 2020,