This week I heard a story that broke my heart

This week I heard a story that broke my heart POST


This week I heard a story that broke my heart. In my line of work I meet a lot of aspiring authors. Sometimes, the desire to get published is so strong that it’s palpable. Some people will do anything to get published – including pay a lot of money to seemingly credible “publishers” who promise a runaway best-seller, fame and fortune.

Sound too good to be true? Generally, it is. Let’s take the story of a woman I met this week. We’ll call her Laura. After hearing a spiel from a “publisher”, she forked over a significant amount of cash for them to print 2000 copies of her book.

Red alert
If a publisher is asking you to pay them money, you’re not dealing with a mainstream publisher.

When you get a book deal with a mainstream publisher, you do not pay a cent. They pay YOU.

In fact, they pay you an advance. Then, after your book hits the stores and starts selling, they pay you a royalty (which is a percentage of the selling price of the book).

If a “publisher” asks you to pay money, they are essentially acting as a project manager for the book that you are effectively self-publishing.

Complete lack of expertise and integrity
Now back to Laura. When you’re paying someone to project manage the production of your book, you actually want them to take responsibility for it! Unfortunately, for Laura, this didn’t seem to be the case. They helped her edit the book, annotating the manuscript with comments on how certain sections could be improved. She revised it based on their suggestions and they sent it off to the printer.

The trouble was that the “publisher” – or rather, project manager – didn’t bother deleting the “editor’s comments” which were annotated throughout the manuscript. These comments were messages from the editor to Laura on how to improve the text.

So 2000 copies landed in Laura’s loungeroom. When Laura opened the boxes to hold a copy of her book in her hands, she flicked through the pages and recognised that this was the culmination of months and months of research and writing. She was thrilled to finally have her book in front of her.

However, her joy soon turned to horror. As she read through her precious new book, she realised that the “publisher” had made a grave error. They had sent the wrong file to the printer – they hadn’t bothered to delete the editor’s comments and so the book was littered with nonsensical messages on how sentences could be improved. Laura heart sank. She was devastated.

All 2000 books were completely unusable. They had to be thrown away. To make matters worse, when Laura contacted the publisher to tell them what happened, they blamed her. However, they told her that if she printed another batch of books through them, they would contribute 50 per cent of the cost. I asked Laura about the cost and was horrified at what I heard. The amount they were charging her was at least three times more than what it should have been.

This was a nightmare that actually made me feel sick. And I’m disgusted that there are people in Australia calling themselves “publishers” and behaving in this way.

I want to qualify here that I’m NOT referring to the big mainstream publishers (like Penguin, Allen & Unwin, HarperCollins, Wiley, and so on – these are bona fide publishers. None of these publishing houses make you pay for the privilege of being published with them. They pay YOU remember?)

The dubious “publishers” who take advantage of people like Laura promise you best-sellers but you often end up with 2000 copies of a book which languish in your garage, unless you have an aggressive sales and marketing plan to move them.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with self-publishing. In fact, I think it’s wonderful to explore this path if you think it suits your goals. I truly believe that self publishing can be very lucrative and beneficial – if you have a good plan in place. But if you want to self-publish, then I beg you to find an experienced project manager (ideally with a background from the mainstream publishing industry) who can help you produce a quality book at a reasonable price.

Do not sign up with a pseudo-publisher who sells you into a “package” after a seminar, charges you an arm and a leg and guarantees you success. It may sound like an easy path to success but remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Few authors ever make the bestseller lists this way. And if you do go down this route, remember that it’s unlikely that you’re dealing with people with true publishing expertise.

Just ask Laura.

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.
  • Alan Taylor

    We’ve all had instances where impending joy has turned to disappointment, but this would have been gut-wrenching.

    I hope things have gone better for her.

    • valeriekhoo

      Laura ended up taking up the offer from the publisher of them contributing 50 per cent to another batch of printing. Sadly she subsequently discovered this was a ripoff.

  • The SheEO

    Good on you Valerie for writing on this. I mentored a small business owner who paid a six figure sum to a “publisher” and was bitterly disappointed with the process, although fortunately she had the skills to ensure a quality product was eventually delivered. Not enough is said about this growing area of exploitation. Absolutely shameful and I really hope good things will come Laura’s way.

    • valeriekhoo

      I really can’t believe that exhorbitant fees that some dodgy “publishers” charge unsuspecting people. You’re right Jen. It truly is exploitation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding a project manager to coordinate a self-publishing project. But I wish people would do a due diligence on these people before they commit their life savings!

  • The SheEO

  • Sally-Anne Blanshard

    Wise words… just a shame she had to go through this experience at what should be an exciting time. Thanks for highlighting.

    • valeriekhoo

      Sally, I’m actually getting increasingly concerned by the number of people offering “publishing” solutions that are really just “printing” solutions.

  • Katie McMurray

    Valerie this breaks my heart too.

  • Katie McMurray

    Valerie this breaks my heart too. I worry we’ll see more of this as people seek out the increasing number of self-publishing options. But, as you say, this was a printing option; more than a publishing option! Self-publishing fiction is something you should do more for love than money. Self-publishing a business book can be a great marketing tool. As you say, you need to know what your goals are.

    • valeriekhoo

      I am getting an increasing number of calls from people who are devastated because they’ve gone down this route and they are shocked when they find out that mainstream publishers PAY THE AUTHOR. Not the other way around!

  • Bruce

    We all want to see our writing efforts published but does anyone caught out like this actually do their homework? That bona fide publishers pay you for your manuscript (and partially in advance) is not a state secret. At the risk of sounding harsh doesn’t ‘caveat emptor’ apply here – as it does anywhere?

    • valeriekhoo

      One would think that would be the case Bruce. When incidences like this started coming across my desk I couldn’t believe it. But some of of these so-called “publishers” are just great sales people and prey on the needs, hopes and dreams of people who really want to get a book published. Yes, they should do their homework and I really am surprised that they do not. But there are more people out there who have been caught in these scams than you think!