Self-Publishing: Am I Being Scammed?

There are some things about self-publishing that anyone entering the industry needs to be aware of. So, today, I’d like to write about losing money and being scammed.

Going the self-publishing route, there’s a greater chance that you’re going to be scammed. In traditional publishing, the author isn’t making a payment in exchange for goods and/or services. In fact, Writer’s Market specifically warns against any literary agent or publisher that does, and most reputable literary agent or publisher will often be a part of a guild with ethical guidelines. Self-publishing doesn’t really have those ethical guidelines.

Most of the time when traditional publishers talk about disreputable publishers, they tend to be talking about vanity and subsidy publishers. These are not to be confused with on-demand printing. With on-demand printing you pay for the printing of each book, most of the work is done by the author or those hired by the author. In contrast, vanity and subsidy publishers will publish your book for a fee, which is usually exorbitant. If you wanted to print something completely blank, as long as you’re paying, they don’t care.

So, is this a scam? It depends on what your definition of a scam is. I’ve always defined a scam as something fraudulent meant to swindle you. The key word here is “fraudulent”, something meant to deceive and in extreme cases something fake. I don’t believe that self-publishing in any of its forms would fall under that definition. Is it ridiculous to pay that much for what you get? Maybe, but in the end, you’re still getting something that you paid for. Technically, they’re doing nothing wrong. What about untechnically? I will not deny that it is exploitative and rides that line of being unethical. Even on-demand printing somewhat preys on the desire to see one’s hard work in print, especially if pursuing traditional publishing has proved fruitless.

However, if we define a scam as separating you from your money for inadequate goods and/or services, here’s where the line gets a little bit blurry. To illustrate I have a story from personal experience. It’s not MY personal experience, but it’s someone’s.

In April, I went to my first author meet and greet. There was only one other author there near my age, so we got to talking. He had written two novels through CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I asked him about how he had coped with putting the book together, what promoting he had done, how large his readership was, etc. He told me that he had about two hundred regular readers, and he’d done very little in terms of promoting (not the norm, I assure you); however, he’d paid someone to make a commercial for his novels on YouTube. He told me that it had cost a lot, and in the end, it hadn’t been worth his time. Since he brought up cost, I asked him, how much he’d spent on the novels. In the back of my mind, I thought my parents’ initial investment was going to be surprising figure for him. Then, he dropped it on me.

He’d spent $7000 on his novels.

As I picked my jaw up off of the floor, I admitted that I would have given up a long time before I spent $7000. (I bought my Ford Escort for less!) Once we parted ways, I started doing the math. He’d told me that various disgruntled individuals had objected to spending $2.99 online for a book, so I had a good place to start. The price gave me a clue as to which royalty rate he’d chosen. Kindle Direct Publishing offers a 70% royalty rate on novels priced $2.99-$7.99. So, knowing that he makes approximately $2 per book… $2.00 a book X 200 readers X 2 novels = $800. Wow, having two hundred readers didn’t even make a dent. Yikes.

So was he scammed? Being out $6200 kind of sounds like it. How much money do you have to lose before it’s considered a scam? I don’t know. This author didn’t seem to have any regrets except for the YouTube commercial. You’ll have to decide for yourself how much you’re willing to spend. Where investing in yourself becomes a waste. For a traditional publisher, any amount of money you spend is a scam. And for my parents, it was $600.



One thought on “Self-Publishing: Am I Being Scammed?

  1. “Buyer beware” comes to mind… If you’re going to self-publish, it definitely behooves you to do your research. As you’ve mentioned in this blog before, self-publishing is an investment in yourself and your work, so as long as you’re comfortable with the amount of money spent and what you get in return, even if you spend more than you “should” it’s not a scam.

    If you pay all the money but get no product in return…? Now THAT is a scam. And I have known one person that happened to, but that was 10 years ago now. Things have changed a lot since then.

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