How to Recognize a Publishing Scam and Avoid It - article

Writers must be careful to avoid fraudulent publishing and Hollywood companies.Over the past few years, there have been an alarming number of misrepresentations and scams frequently targeting self-published authors.

Bad actors are touting false and misleading claims and even going so far as impersonating publishing companies. Some even use names of real people and logos as a way to deceive authors. They're also making promises about getting the book to Hollywood, but with no real means to do that in the way the industry actually works.

So, in this article I want to equip you to:

•  Know how to recognize these scammers
•  Understand how genuine literary agents work
•  Understand how Hollywood works when they are interested in a book
•  Get the scammers to quit calling or emailing you

How come these scammers are able to fool really smart people?

As I’ve talked to multiple authors about this issue, I’ve come to see how these scammers have been able to make headway. They appeal to one of our deepest desires as an author. They say they have noticed the book and it has potential. Or, they say a Book Scout has flagged the book. As an author, that’s what we want to hear. Someone liked what I wrote and noticed it. But, these scammers never read the books. They just say what we want to hear or use a fake job title to get our attention.

How to know if you are speaking to a real literary agent

Recently, many of the scammers have used the title literary agent in their signature block, but don’t work for an actual literary agency. Real literary agencies will almost never contact an author. That’s because they typically have a backlog of books they are already reading. In addition, literary agencies will have a website that showcases the authors they have as clients and the books they have sold to traditional publishers. That is different from a testimonial, which scammers may have on their websites.

Most importantly, literary agencies will give very specific instructions about how they want you to submit your materials to them. This is the first key step in getting their attention. So, it’s really important that you pay attention to whether they want a query letter or a book proposal or some other type of summary. Also, it is critical to note what genres they represent. Most agents have a particular genre focus so if the person claiming to be a literary agent doesn’t even mention genre, they are most likely a scammer.
Publishing scammers will request money upfront.

They never ask for money up front or send it to everybody

Another clue that you are talking to a scammer is if they have the title “literary agent”, but ask you for money. Agents earn commissions when a book is sold to a publisher for an advance and on subsequent royalties. In addition, real agents will not send out a blast to publishers. Agents typically focus on particular genres and will only target specific editors, publishers and imprints that focus on the genre of your book.

Pay attention to the URL in the email

One other key thing to look for is the URL from which the email is sent. If it doesn’t match the company name, it is more than likely a scammer. Legit companies almost always have email addresses that have their company name URL in the email address. So if you see an email address that has weird hyphens or additional words or ends in a and not their company URL, they are probably a scammer.

Authors must be aware of Hollywood scammers such as people claiming to be book scouts.What about Hollywood?

Hollywood is looking for stories more than ever so unfortunately scammers are taking advantage of that information to mislead authors with promises to get a book to the screen.  So, how do you know if the person is a scammer or a legitimate company who has interest in your book and the ability to get it to the screen?

The first and most important thing to know is in their first contact, legitimate companies will ask if the development rights for the books are available. Because if you have assigned the development rights to someone else, they cannot do anything with the book. Second, they will not try to sell you any services unless they have a first look partner. A first look partner guarantees that someone will look at your coverage or treatment and evaluate its potential for development. Third, when books go out to potential outlets, pitches are specifically targeted based on the story and genre. Certain outlets are looking for faith-based stories or comedies or stories about women of color or other specific types of stories. Sending out an email to a broad list of companies in Hollywood is of no value and will accomplish nothing.

Using legitimate names and logos in illegitimate ways

Also, be aware that a lot of the scammers use legitimate company logos on their websites, but they do not have permission to use those logos. Nor do they have any personal relationships with people at those companies. It is not only misleading, it is against the law. But, they don’t care. They do whatever it takes to extract money from unsuspecting authors.

Worst of all, some of the scammers will use the names of real people and say they are that person. Once again, it is misleading and illegal.

How to respond to if scammers contact you

So, what can you do if you are contacted by one of these scammers? This is hard, but don't let your emotions get in the way of your judgement and use these guidelines:

•  Remember, you are in control.
•  If it sounds too good to be true, It probably is.
•  If they say, a Book Scout has flagged the book, ask them to see what the Scout has said or why they think this would be a good book for adaptation. I am confident they won’t have an answer for this because there is no Book Scout.

Now, sometimes a company will reference a Book Scout, but they will call to find out if the development rights are available. At that point, they likely haven't read the book because if they read the book and the rights aren't available, they've just wasted a bunch of time. But, they will tell you why they're interested in the book.

If you suspect someone is a scammer and would like them to stop contacting you, follow these steps:

•  Ask them to put you on their no call list and unsubscribe you from their list.
•  Legitimate companies will maintain those lists and so it is a reasonable request. Scammers typically do not.
•  If they don't honor your request, tell them you will report them to the Attorney General's Office for violation of the Consumer Protection code.

In most cases, following these guidelines should get them to stop, but unfortunately these scammers are a lot like dandelions. When one goes away, another pops up. Hopefully you are now more equipped to keep them from causing you trouble and loss.

This article was excerpted from a webinar of the same name. To view the webinar, click on this link,

Photo Credit: Aquir via Getty Images
Photo Credit: BrianAJackson via Getty Images

Share this story
Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn