Chris A. Baird | June 20, 2023
Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid and Ways to Spot Them

As an author, one of the things we need to consider is how exactly we're going to go about self-publishing our book. The problem is, there are a lot of scams out there that you're going to want to avoid.

Because if you choose one of these, it can cost you a lot of money. Today's topic, we are going to discuss self-publishing companies to avoid and ways to spot them. 

The first thing is why authors need to be cautious about scam publishers, and the thing is, there's a lot of money that's on the table. The frustration involved with choosing one of these scam publishers can be so massive that it will discourage you from continuing to write.

Your goal is to get these books onto the market and selling, which is what most authors have in mind when they first put a book onto the market. The challenge is that there are a lot of companies out there that are specifically designed to extract money from you.

Not help you much in getting your book on the market and selling. Or if they do get it on the market, it's going to be a lower-quality book, and they'll continually milk money out of you with every single turn that you make.

In the end, you may even lose control of your book itself, and it will negatively impact your contracts, your readership, and even future books that you're going to put on the market. These are some of the big reasons you need to pay close attention to what you're doing and who you're working with.

Check out this related article: Losing Motivation and Direction in Self-Publishing? Do THIS!

Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid

You might be publishing your books at the wrong companies. Here are the self-publishing companies that you should avoid. 

Publishers With Unnecessary Costs and Fees

When it comes to self-publishing your book, self-publishing companies avoid publishers with unnecessary costs and fees. This is probably one of the biggest and most painful issues. If you aren't aware of how much you should or could be paying for specific services.

They are completely engineered to charge you as much as humanly possible for every little service, even things that aren't even services to you as you go through the process. This can involve charging for formatting, editing, cover design, and more.

They may charge 10-20 times as much as it would cost you to do it yourself or find a freelancer who could provide the same services. For example, when it comes to formatting, I teach in my Formatting Made Easy Course on how to go through the steps to do it yourself.

Instead of continuously paying, you simply buy the tool once and learn the steps to do it on your own. From that point on, you're not paying for these additional services. This is by far the most affordable and flexible way to handle it.

However, they will charge you for all of these things. In addition, they may even charge you for the contracts they create. Another fee they love to impose is charging you to purchase a certain number of your books.

They'll have the books, but of course, they'll go through their channels and take a percentage of the money from the royalties that come back on the books they produce. They'll hit you there as well. They're going to hit you by charging for everything.

They'll charge you for the covers, the editing, and their marketing. Every single phase, every single step will have multiple fees that they'll hit you with, and you need to watch out for these. What you want to see are transparent pricing structures. You don't want to be surprised later on with unexpected costs.

You don't want to hear, "Oh no, it costs this, and then it costs this, and then it costs this." All these additional fees they're charging for your book can leave you wondering what exactly is going on here. 

Vanity presses pretending to be traditional publishers

Another thing to watch out for is vanity presses pretending to be traditional publishers. This is incredibly common. They make it look like they're a traditional publisher in a couple of ways. One way is by saying, "Oh look, we're very strict in our selection process.

Send us your manuscript." Then they review your manuscript and say, "Okay, we've chosen yours. It's so good that we want to publish it." They make you feel special and exclusive, but in reality, it's not like that at all.

They're pretending to choose you when they didn't. Another way to spot these pretenders is when they ask you to pay a fee. There's no advance payment for you; instead, you're paying them to publish your book.

And on top of that, they take all the royalties you earn, and they get to decide how much you make from them. They engage in these practices to appear legitimate, but they are not. As if they are a traditional publisher when in reality, they're just a vanity or hybrid publisher.

This can trick a lot of authors. You might feel like, "Oh, I've finally made it! Somebody has chosen me!" But then they say, "You just have to pay this money." And you're left thinking, "Wait a second, I thought I should be getting paid in advance."

Another trick they use is offering a very small advance and then demanding money from you. So, you get this feeling like you're receiving an advance, but usually, they won't even pay that advance until they've already collected money from you to cover the costs.

Check out this related article: Vanity Press: What it Is & How To Avoid Publishing Scams

They'll say, "Well, of course, we need to cover the cost for this." Then they return a fraction of that money and call it the advance, just to make you feel like you're getting paid to do the book. Meanwhile, they're keeping a significant portion of the book's royalties.

These are sneaky strategies employed in such situations. That's one of the reasons why it's crucial to check their reputation with other authors. I've mentioned this countless times, but it's important.

For any of these companies, you'll want to find an author who has published at least twice with them and has been happy with the results. The reason why I emphasize this is that many authors who choose these companies are initially satisfied with the process.

However, once the process is complete and they assess the book's sales and the company's delivery of their promises, they realize it was a terrible deal. Their book becomes trapped within that particular company, and they may even lose their rights to it. 

Marked-up prices for low-quality editing and designing

Another issue is marked-up prices for low-quality editing and design. These companies will charge exorbitant fees for services that can be done for free or at much lower prices. Some of these services are unnecessary, but they will convince you that you need them.

They may offer package deals and upsell you to the "pro" option, but in the end, they fail to deliver the promised results. Their standards may not even meet industry standards for quality and design in book publishing. 

Writing contests and awards no one has heard of

Another trick they employ is organizing writing contests and awards that no one has heard of. These companies will urge you to enter your book in these contests to prove that their company and your book are of high quality.

However, these writing contests are obscure, and their legitimacy is questionable. How exactly does this trick work? You have to pay to even compete, so they're bringing in tons of money from all of these different authors who are trying to compete.

And even if somebody wins, the fact is, like a lottery, they'll just pay out a small percentage. So they don't even care who wins or loses. You would want to know who exactly the judges for these contests are.

Have they even been recognized? Is there anybody else who vouches for these contests? Or is it just, at the end of the day, all these authors compete, and their judges randomly pick a winner? The winner gets paid a small percentage of the total money that came in, and the person who ran the contest just walks away with a lot of money.

What they're doing is just figuring out ways in which they can maximize the money. The way that they're making money, they're making money on literally every single twist and turn of the entire thing. Does that make sense? 

Publishers With Deceptive Claims and Advertising

The next thing is the publishers with deceptive claims and advertising, where they're going to be telling you you're going to be an Amazon bestseller. And I should comment, they can deliver on that one.

That doesn't require too much effort to be an Amazon bestseller, because all they have to do is put your book into a minor category that has at least 100 books in it. Then, what they do is they make sure they get about 30, 50, or 100 purchases.

They're using the money they've already milked out of you earlier in the process to ensure those sales are made. And then that will bump your book up, it'll get you the bestseller flag on Amazon. And then look, they delivered on the promise, but it's completely meaningless.

Because it isn't going to transfer into actual sales. You're in some minor category that isn't even relevant for your book, meaning Amazon could target your book and your account for termination if they found that you were using this deceptive practice of choosing a minor category unrelated to the topic of your book to get that bestseller flag.

This is a common practice, so you need to be wary of them doing this. In addition, they're using high-pressure tactics, and you need to do this if you want your book to sell. You have to do this to get it to be a bestseller.

And they don't have a proven track record. They don't seem to have other authors who can vouch for what they've done. They're simply making a lot of high claims, and in the end, the reason why authors don't go back to them is that they're not able to reproduce these results.

ISBN Charges

The next issue is ISBN charges. They can charge a lot. Now, keep in mind, for ISBN charges in the United States, Bowker will charge you $125 for a single ISBN. If you buy multiple ISBNs, you can decrease the overall cost.

I would also recommend going on Fiverr and finding companies that will publish your book, assigning their ISBNs to it. I also offer services like this at a lower rate. We can assign an ISBN to our publishing houses.

And then you can decide which one matches best for you. So, those are services that I offer, and they are completely legitimate and within the terms and services. But it also doesn't involve using some of the free ISBNs that you would find on Amazon, which can be targeted by smaller publishing houses that don't want to use Amazon's books inside of theirs.

They want to publish handbooks that were done by Amazon. So, that is a way of getting around that but at the same time staying within the terms. So, in other words, you can have ISBNs from smaller publishing houses used for your books. I would suggest going on Fiverr and looking for that.

However, you cannot buy ISBNs. It is illegal to sell ISBNs, as it is a violation of the terms of the contracts. But assigning ISBNs and putting books underneath these ISBNs for these publishing houses using their ISBNs is completely legitimate.

But you have to watch out, as some companies are saying they want to charge you $500 for an ISBN. They're taking advantage of the fact that you're not watching videos like this one, which is telling you exactly how to avoid that specific scam. It's not a scam in a sense because you're the one who's paying overly high prices.

So, it's not a scam; they're not cheating or lying to you. They're just overcharging you for services that you don't even really need. Because if their book is only going on Amazon anyways, you can just take one of their free ISBNs and go that route if you so desire. 

Copyright Hijacking

The next concern is copyright hijacking. That means if they publish this book under their publishing house and claim it as their own, they can take control over the copyright for your book. Even if they do give you the copyright for your book and claim that you still maintain rights to it if it's published under their name on various platforms.

The challenge is how exactly you regain control of that book. You could take the book and republish it, but then we have duplicate content, and Amazon may target your account and potentially terminate it based on the presence of duplicate content.

You have to be careful about this and consider how restrictive these contracts are. I've worked with many clients who have taken this route, only to find their books trapped within the confines of these companies.

Moreover, to have it released from this "prison," they often charge additional fees amounting to hundreds of dollars, and this is just for them to remove the book. This process takes them a mere quarter of a second to unpublish the book from Amazon.

However, in doing so, you will lose all the reviews you had accumulated for that book. Once you take it down and republish it yourself, it's as if you're starting from scratch, and all your previous reviews are gone. All of this is in addition to the copyright issues.

When they have it published under their name, they receive all the reports and decide how much they want to share in royalties. In reality, they may even charge you a fee just to send you a report on your sales. It's unbelievable how you can get screwed in so many different ways with this particular strategy they're using. 

Pressure to Order Books

Another issue is the pressure to order books, which is employed by most of these companies. After you've gone through the whole process, they'll say, "Oh, you really should order books and give them to your friends and family.

Ordering books will increase your total sales. You need to get in there and start buying these books." They'll keep putting pressure on you. So, if you ask why your book isn't selling at all, they'll say it's because you need to order more books.

And since they're making money off every order you place, it creates an endless stream of revenue for them while you're just bleeding money. You can't recoup this money. That's another issue you might encounter.

Some companies will tell you that if you get their free ISBNs, you have to send them lots and lots of copies of your books. Be very careful because they'll bleed you in that way. Their goal is to make money, not to lose money. There are so many mistakes you can make here if you aren't careful.

That's one of the reasons why I offer my 1-on-1 program. I show you exactly how to navigate through all of these common mistakes to ensure that you don't become a sucker for these companies. They're simply taking your money, and my goal is to help you avoid making those mistakes. 

I don't take any percentage of your revenues. I simply show you how to set up your accounts so that you're not dependent on me in any way. Someone recently asked about this, and that's why I don't set it under any of my entities. I own no rights, and I have nothing. I just show you how to do the steps yourself. 

Paid Contests & Paid Reviews

Now, let's talk about paid contests and paid reviews. This can get you into trouble, especially with paid reviews. If the reviews are done in a way that violates Amazon's terms and services for the account, your account can be targeted.

You also have to be cautious about the legitimacy of these contests. Some of them are just another way for them to extract money from you, which is commonly done.

A focus on selling to you and not to readers

These companies focus on selling to you, not to your readers. In other words, they don't care about your readers. They just care about selling you more services that you don't need. They don't even care about your readers.

They sell you marketing plans, upgrades on every service, cover upgrades, formatting upgrades, marketing upgrades, and various other upgrades. They simply want to make more sales, and their sales pages are complete nonsense. You need to find forums where other authors discuss whether or not these services worked for them when they went with them. 

Publishers With Unethical Contracts

Another issue is publishers with unethical contracts. You need to be vigilant when it comes to these contracts. There are often vague or confusing terms, and it's important to understand how clear the terms are.

Talking with other authors who have dealt with these publishers or seeking information from reputable sources like the Alliance of Independent Authors (Ally) can help. They flag specific publishing companies and guide trustworthy options. Look for clauses that restrict your rights and ownership over your books.

How to spot them?

To spot these publishers, there are a couple of things you can do. 

1. Use resources with up-to-date publisher lists.

First, use resources with up-to-date publisher lists, such as the Alliance of Independent Authors. They are a fantastic resource that I've been using for several years. They provide reliable lists of authors you should consider working with.

Watch out for outdated publishing houses. If they go out of business, your book may be permanently stuck, and it becomes challenging to contact them. They may not respond to your inquiries, and they may no longer offer their services.

It's crucial to rely on trustworthy lists and choose reliable publishers. If you're considering a hybrid publisher, make sure they have been around for a while and are not someone who will disappear suddenly. 

2. Visit a publisher’s website and browse their titles.

The second important step is to visit their publisher's website and browse through their titles. Look at the titles and see how many of them are still bestsellers or at least within the top hundred thousand.

Check out this related article: Free Self Publishing Websites

If you cannot find any of their titles connected to them or none of them seem to be selling in the top hundred thousand, it's a significant red flag. Pay attention to the quality, take a look inside the books, read the descriptions, and assess the overall appearance.

They can sell you various aspects such as your author's bio, book descriptions, reviews, formatting, cover design, and more. There are numerous areas where they can extract money from you, so you need to exercise caution before proceeding with them.

3. Explore author forums.

The third step is to explore author forums and find other authors who have worked with these publishers. See if they are satisfied with their experiences. If you cannot find any author forums discussing these publishers, it's another warning sign.  

Tips for finding a reputable traditional publisher

Tips for finding a reputable traditional publisher include researching literary agents who can help you navigate the process. 

Before you hire a literary agent

Look for agents who are recommended by other authors on platforms and forums dedicated to authors.

Background and experience

Consider the background, experience, and reputation of the literary agents before proceeding. 


Compatibility is also crucial—ensure that the agent will be able to work well with you, maintaining communication and avoiding excessive upselling.  

Consider your genre and your competition

Additionally, take into account your genre and competition. Choose a publisher specializing in your specific genre rather than a general list. 

Do in-depth research

Conduct in-depth research on the publishers to verify their credibility and ensure they will not scam you. 

Read reviews

Read reviews and gather as much information as possible. But not the reviews on their website, look for independent views on other websites that aren't paid by or affiliated with them. This will help determine if they are trustworthy. 

Consider their reputation

Consider their reputation—are they known for suing anyone who mentions them? I haven't mentioned the names of these companies because they might sue me. I want you to be aware of the signs and red flags so you can identify them yourself.

Keep an eye out for new companies that emerge or change their name to evade detection. Don't fall for their sneaky tactics. 

Check your competition

Check your competition and see if they are using any of these companies. If they are, it might indicate reliability, especially if their books rank in the top hundred thousand. 

Attend writing conferences

Attending writing conferences can also be helpful. You can meet others who can provide truthful information about these companies without fearing legal repercussions. 

List of reputable traditional and self-publishers

Now, let's discuss a list of reputable traditional and self-publishers. 

Traditional publishers

Here are the traditional publishers that are considered to be reliable.

Chronicle Books

The first traditional publisher is Chronicle Books, a well-established independent publisher based in San Francisco, California. They publish a wide range of books, including children's books, cookbooks, lifestyle design books, and gift products.

Chronicle Books is renowned for its high-quality design, production values, and its focus on creativity and innovation in publishing. Consider Chronicle Books as a reputable traditional publisher.

These are just a few examples of well-known publishers in the industry. But they're smaller ones, but they're worth considering, and these are reputable publishers. 

Soho Press

Soho Publishing is the next one, and it's another independent publisher based in New York City. It was founded in 1986, and you'll notice it was founded a long time ago, which means this is somebody you can count on. They focus on publishing crime fiction, literary fiction, and international literature.

The thing is, they have a commitment to diverse voices and stories, and for their high editorial standards, innovative marketing strategies using lots of interesting strategies. This is one you should consider if it's in your genre, and if that sounds of interest, at least look it up. 

MIT Press

MIT Press is the next one, and it's a press affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They're publishing journals in the fields of science, technology, and the humanities.

The thing is, with them, they're known for rigorous academic standards, so if your books are in this area, then this may be something you want to do. It includes Open Access initiatives and digital publishing. 

Atria publishing

The next one is Atria Publishing, and this one here is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is again one of the big ones, a division of Viacom CBS. They publish a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, including commercial fiction, memoirs, and lifestyle books.

And they're known for their publishing, again, diverse and inclusive voices, so this is another one you may wish to consider. It is also an imprint of one of the major publishing houses. 

John Wiley And Sons

Then we have John Wiley and Sons, a publisher of academic books, journals, and online resources, similar to the MIT Press that we talked about earlier. They include science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business.

So if your books are in these areas, definitely worth considering. They have a lot of high-quality and peer-reviewed content there as well. 

Self Publishing

Here are the top reputable self-publishing channels that you should consider.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

Then you have Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP), which is the one I spend most of my time talking about. Worth considering. You can do it for free, and you don't have to apply. You simply set up an account and start publishing books.

Apple Books for Authors

Then you have Apple Books for authors. This one is a great self-publishing platform that gives you the ability to reach the Apple audience, all the people using different Apple tech. It's worth considering. 


Another option is Kobo, which is out of Canada. They also allow authors and independent publishers to distribute their ebooks globally and offer a bunch of tools and resources for getting your book out. Now, here in Norway, that's one you'll be able to see their little readers. Oh, that's a fantastic one to consider. 

Barnes and Noble Press

Then you have Barnes & Noble Press, and again, you can do the same thing for independent authors like yourself. You're able to get your books distributed through theirs, and they have good distribution, mostly in the United States. So that's one you're going to consider. 


Next is Reedsy, an online marketplace that connects authors with a whole range of publishing services to ensure that your book is published in a high-quality format and provides all sorts of resources and tools.

It's worth considering as it gives you a lot of options if you don't want to use Fiverr and Upwork. Especially to find the resources you'll need. It provides a big network of these professionals.

Now, they do charge a bit more if you go through the Reedsy route. But it makes it easy to find quality professionals who will be willing to help you through the entire process. 

Wrap Up

Now, in wrapping up, you need to be careful to make sure that you're choosing the right publishing company and that you're not choosing ones that are going to scam you or have these very tricky, complex contracts that take control over your rights.

You should consider things like your personal goals, the genre you're working with, and your budget. These are some of the things I also help with my group coaching clients and my 1-on-1 Program clients to navigate the complexities of these processes. Choose the route that will work best for you. 

You should research and compare these different publishing options to figure out which ones are best for you. But my question for you today is: What lessons have you learned from self-publishing companies that you've tried?

I'd like to know what mistakes you have made and what are the most important lessons you've learned. Check out my other blogs and videos for more answers to your self-publishing questions.

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