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Despite an identical title: This question is in no means duplicate of this question.

In my local area, there have been various ads running on social media that invite novice writers to contribute their original writings for their upcoming anthologies, books, and novellas that will be published both as e-book and as paperback. In return, the writers would get the e-certificate. Each submission is to be done with some x Rupees to them.

I checked out their social media pages and I found that these publishers are kinda startups in this field, I could see their address, contact number, as well as photograph of the team working their on their pages. These all look genuine to me. So I am confused, what parameters does a writer have to keep in mind to identify if a publisher is genuine, and not fake?

Follow up question #2

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    What is an e-certificate? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Sep 24 at 11:09
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    E-certificate - A certificate awarded in PDF (mostly via a link) online and not a hardcopy. – Karan Desai Sep 24 at 13:10
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    I think Lauren was asking what the certificate certifies. If not, I'm asking. I'm not aware of certificates of any kind being required or exchanged in publishing contracts in the jurisdictions I am aware of. Is this a legitimate thing in your jurisdiction, of just something the "publisher" made up? – user16226 Sep 24 at 13:19
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    I agree with several answers that point out this is at best "vanity publishing" and at worst an all-out scam. At least in academic publishing (as mentioned by @Amadeus), I've seen many, many such scams. Such scams are not something you might be unlucky to run into, they are something you have to be careful to avoid, because they are ubiquitous, and evolve ever better deceptions as potential victims become more wary. – sesquipedalias Sep 24 at 15:40
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First, real publishers don't advertise. It is really as simple as that. No legitimate publisher advertises for submissions because any real publisher is bombarded with manuscripts on a constant basis. Their concern is not to find more. Their concern is to make the barrage stop. If real publishers are looking outside of the slush pile for authors, they look to agents or they go after established writers or celebrities directly. Real publishers don't advertise. End of story.

Second, real publishers don't charge writers money. Real publishers give writers money. If you are giving them money, they are not a publisher. They are, at best, a publishing services company that performs some of the mechanical aspects of publishing for a client. It is the client, and not the services company that is the publisher. Thus the term self-publishing. Notably, such companies do not perform the single most important function of a publisher, which is determining the market potential of a book before publishing it. If they ask you for money, they are not a real publisher.

There are plenty of other ways to check as well. Multiple sites keep track of the industry and report on dubious practices. There are probably different ones for different markets, but https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/ is one of the mainstays.

Finally, there are directories like Writer's Market, the Writers and Artists Yearbook, and Duotrope that list legitimate publishers and put some degree of effort into verifying them. Again, there are probably different titles in different markets.

To determine if a publishing services company is at least honest in their business practices, you would do the same kind of consumer research that you would do before hiring any other kind of services company. Google them, look for reviews, check with other clients, check that they have a physical business address, check how long they have been in business, check with the Better Business Bureau, etc.

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    Thank you for the answer and for that helpful link. However I would like to clarify that, the counter point that is put forward for "real publishers don't advertise" and "real publishers dont charge" is that they are new (start-up), so they are informing writers via these ads that they are accepting submissions and as they are new, they are charging some bucks. How far should I fall for such counter arguments at all? – Karan Desai Sep 24 at 13:21
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    @KaranDesai Not at all. If you legitimately want to start a publishing company, you go about it the same way you would starting any other company. You raise capital from investors and use it to pay your suppliers (writers, in the publisher's case). There is the Kickstarter model that raises capital from potential customers. But pay-to-publish is raising revenue (not capital) from suppliers (writers), and that is not a legit model. (The writer is the customer of a publishing services company, but the supplier of a true publishing company.) – user16226 Sep 24 at 14:19
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    So it seems it's very similar to scientific journals. Those who ask for money up-front will usually publish an article even if contains nothing more than the sentence "take me off your f***ing mailing list" over and over. – vsz Sep 25 at 4:07
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    It's basically like Walmart asked all the companies that produce products to pay them to put them in their stores and than didn't bother to hire any staff or install any cash registers. It's a great business model for WalMart. Not so great for the product companies. – user16226 Sep 25 at 4:28
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    @MarkBaker Slotting fees do exist. I'm reading conflicting things about whether Walmart use them though. – curiousdannii Sep 25 at 6:36
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Anthologies are often different from other publishing. It is common for small publishers or even individuals to put together a call for an anthology to include any short work: comics, artwork, poems, short stories, essays, even novellas. The author never pays the publisher for this. It is normal for the publisher to offer a flat payment (usually token) or a royalty on net profits. It's also normal to be paid in nothing but a free copy or two (usually one gets free e-books at least).

Small anthologies may use Kickstarter or similar programs to raise the capital needed to print the books. Even e-books may have fixed costs. Authors could contribute to these, but wouldn't be expected to.

What you're describing though isn't just anthologies. You talk about books being published. And a fee to the publisher for doing so.

This is called a vanity press or author services, depending what they're doing. Nowadays we also have print-on-demand publishers. In each case, the author is self-publishing but doing so with the help of a business. These businesses can be completely legitimate (or not, like with any type of business). But that doesn't mean you want to use them.

The companies you're coming across might be providing slightly different services and might be a cross between a vanity press and a small press (which is a traditional publisher who is just small), or they could be a vanity press pretending to be a publisher.

You have two separate tasks here:

  1. Figure out what the business claims to do, with what financial arrangement, and if that's something you want.
  2. Figure out if the individual business does what they claim (if they're a scam or not).

If you want a traditional publisher, then these aren't it. If you want to self-publish but with some professional assistance, then a company like these might be helpful (but research them thoroughly).

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    Thank you. I need to checkout whether they are vanity press pretending to be a publisher. I shall add those two task in my checklist :) – Karan Desai Sep 25 at 8:00
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A publisher that primarily makes money from authors, not from sales, is called a "vanity press." These are generally not considered real or legitimate publishers in the industry. However they do serve a niche --for writers who just want to see their work in print, who aren't looking for the prestige of a "real" publisher, who don't want to do the work themselves to self-publish, who don't expect or care about any further outcome, who know not to expect outside sales, and who are willing to pay a steep upcharge in order to make it into print.

Where these groups cross the line into being unethical is when they promise fame, fortune and prestige to writers for "just a small initial investment," despite the fact that most vanity press books never sell any copies (except to the author's friends and family), that next to no customers of these presses ever make their money back, and that the prestige of being published by one is nil (since it's always open to anyone willing to pay for it.)

It's worth noting, however, that a new trend in publishing is cooperative presses, where multiple authors contribute to an anthology, and then commit to selling copies to cover the cost of the printing. This is a bit of a gray area overlap with vanity presses, but the difference is that prices are not inflated to make money off the participants, and the sales pay for the printing. A setup like that is not necessarily unethical, as long as all the participants are very clear about the terms of their participation (although -- not unlike Girl Scout cookies, or other direct sales ventures -- it does tend to put an extra burden on the writers' friends and family members).

  • Perhaps not unethical, but certainly unprofitable, and therefore still vanity publishing. In fact, unless an agent, publisher, or professional organization would consider it a publishing credit, it is vanity publishing, no matter what the financial arrangements are. – user16226 Sep 24 at 15:19
  • It's not necessarily unprofitable --I participated in one locally, and netted about $40, even after purchasing my own copy. Also, it was a process with some actual vetting, so not just a pay-to-play. But yes, there is some definite overlap with vanity publishing, as I mentioned. – Chris Sunami Sep 24 at 15:40
  • Great point. it's not a good idea to fall for such presses if they aren't going to make any copy generally available or print any copy at all. – Karan Desai Sep 25 at 8:05
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    @LaurenIpsum -It's all said in love --I'm the parent of a girl scout myself! :D – Chris Sunami Sep 25 at 14:26
  • point taken. ;) I didn't remove the whole line because cookie sales often do fall disproportionately on friends and family. I just ::record-needle scratch:: at the use of "scheme." – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Sep 25 at 17:01
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I agree with Mark Baker, and Chris Sunami. It sounds like a scam.

We have an equivalent thing in Academia, unfortunately it IS common for scientific journals to charge authors for publication, and there are some out there (junk journals) that will take anything, including complete gibberish (that has been tested multiple times), they will publish it online, charge the author, and the author can link to it as a "publication."

That is why we have to rank journals.

In non-academic fiction and non-fiction, never pay a publisher. Never pay an agent, either. I strongly recommend you GET an agent, but not one that charges you anything up front. They work on commission, or they aren't an agent!

(You can pay for editors and other professional reviewers, but shop around and see what the prevailing rate is and what they promise to do.)

You should even check any publisher that makes you an offer, find out what they actually have published and how well it did. As far as keeping their promise to publish online and in paperback: Sure, they can meet that contract and keep their scam legal: It is just that they will create a print-on-demand minimum quality paperback with a free clip art black-and-white cover, and print exactly as many paperbacks as they need to send to authors. They won't go to the expense and effort of actually trying to sell them to bookstores.

Because the scammers accept anything and they know their book is full of crap that no store is going to allow on their shelves. The fee you paid them is also paying for the books you get.

  • Thanks. Very true. Coming from technical background, I was aware about publications in research paper accepting papers with fees. I thought that same would be the norm in literary world. But thankfully I am now enlightened – Karan Desai Sep 25 at 8:07
  • Open Access can be a valid publication model, though; it's not fair to tarnish the whole of OA with the same brush as the predatory journals. – nick012000 Sep 26 at 4:59
  • @nick012000 If nobody is making a profit then I am fine with covering the normal, uninflated expenses of a venture, otherwise I consider it a scam. As soon as someone starts getting compensation and perks greater than the median in their area for the position, or a position (like CEO) nobody would hire them for elsewhere, they are scamming. I see this in "charities" all the time, the majority of them are scams. A similar thing holds for academic publishing: it should not be a for-profit business in any sense for anyone. There are costs in disseminating knowledge, that is all it should cost. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Sep 26 at 13:56
  • There is a third category: the hobby press. Some people with dreams of being a publisher do set up micro presses meaning to be entirely fair to writers. Trouble is, they don't have the capital, the experience, or the connections to actually run a publishing business. They can't provide the services writers expect and quickly go out of business often leaving a mess behind. They are not scams, just incompetent, but serious writers should avoid them all the same. – user16226 Sep 26 at 22:00
  • @Amadeus Are you seriously saying that all academic publishers should be non-profits? I don’t think that’s realistic. Academic publishing has two real options for its business model: either they charge authors a fee and then give copies of the works away for free (Open Access), or they charge authors nothing and then charge thousands of dollars for access (e.g. Elsevier). – nick012000 Sep 26 at 22:39
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I’m not disagreeing with any of the other answers, money either goes one way (from publisher to author) or it is a scam, but I do want to address one point: these being startups.

That may seem to give a semblance of plausibility to this scam, but it doesn’t. A publishing companies product is very simple — a story, and stories are easily acquired: you identify a writer and offer them money. The hard part isn’t getting a story, the hard part is identifying a story will be successful. The writer's willingness to pay to have their story published has no reasonable connection to how many people are willing to pay to read the story.

Ask yourself why they want money from the writer. How does that help them sell better or more books, and how does that benefit you as the writer?

3

What you are describing sounds like a variant on an old scam -- the vanity poetry anthology. Up until 2009, a group calling themself the International Library of Poetry (also known as the International Society of Poets, International Poetry Hall of Fame, Poetry.com, etc) operated a scam along these lines in which they would solicit poetry submissions to contests they ran (to which almost all submissions were "semi-finalists"), then would sell anthologies of the "award-winning" poetry, as well as other merchandise, to the winners. The anthologies had essentially no circulation outside of the contest participants.

Do not pay for inclusion in an anthology. This is even more brazen a scam than the International Library of Poetry contest was, as you will not receive anything of value for your payment. (An "e-certificate" from the publisher is a worthless computer document, and your work's inclusion in the anthology will do nothing for your writing career.)

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