Red Flags: A Guide to Avoiding the Wrong Publishers

Written by Emily Harstone | May 29, 2014

Updated February 20th, 2016

This article is all about how to avoid signing a book contract with the wrong publisher. It is hard to find good publishers, and it involves a lot of research just to find a legitimate publisher that accepts work if you do not have an agent. However, there are great options out there, particularly for genre writers. Although Authors Publish reviews one publisher a week, we want to make sure you know what to avoid when looking for publishers on your own.

The first thing you should do when considering submitting to a specific publisher is to do research. We used to direct readers to Preditors & Editors a website that was devoted to listing publishers, agents, and book distributors. However for the past years their information became increasingly out of date with few updates even for major publishers. About six months ago they officially pulled their content offline and are looking for a new individual to take over. They still run reader polls but those are unreliable and should be avoided.

Instead I recommend using the index of agents, publishers, and others at Absolute Writes. A lot of speculation occurs in the forum, so take unverified information with a grain of salt. But there is lots of good legitimate information. Although not all of it is up to date. Absolute Writes is my primary research source when considering which publisher to review.

The site Writer Beware, also contains a lot of  information. They have a lot of detailed information as well as this helpful list. Although they cover a lot fewer publishers than the Absolute Writes Water Cooler forum.

This may seem obvious to most, but no legitimate traditional* press will ever charge you money. If they charge you money, they are a vanity or assisted publishing company — there is no way around that

A good way to spot a vanity publisher is to look for the word “packages.” It is not that all self-publishing should be avoided, but you should know what you are getting into. Even in the world of assisted publishing there are reputable publishers and disreputable ones.

Another thing to look for includes publishers that are forward about how much they pay their authors in terms of royalties. If they are hiding this the amount of royalties, the pay could be minimal.

Preditors & Editors, Writers Beware, and Absolute Writes sometimes don’t list publishers or their listings are not up to date. If you don’t know very much about the company or feel as if your information is out of date, Google the company name. It sounds so simple, but I have been shocked by what I have found by doing this. Sometimes you will find lawsuits or big newspaper articles about what a company has done that was never reported on any of the literary watchdog sites.

I am not telling you all of this to scare you, but to help you protect your writing. You should be confident when submitting that your work will go to the right publisher. Research helps reinforce that confidence.

I wrote this follow up article that focuses specifically on evaluating a companies website based on the information that is there. If you come across a publisher where you can’t find much about them online you can still get a better perspective on if you should submit to them or not.

*Some established non-profit poetry presses charge reading fees, but have no other fees attached. Other respected literary presses have also started charging reading fees. We have a list of some of these charging publishers here.