Is your publishing offer legit?

The So You Want To Be A Writer podcast community on Facebook is a wonderful place to be on those days when a writer posts about their first publishing deal. The excitement is palpable and the goodwill is genuine.

But I confess my heart occasionally sinks when I see that the poster has received an offer from a publisher that I know is not reputable.

Publishing scams and schemes abound online and are so sophisticated that it can be difficult to sort reputable publishers from the scammers. The fact is that writers dream of being published and where there’s a dream there will always be someone ready to cash in on it.

The worst ones for me are when the author believes they have received a contract from a traditional publisher but are puzzled by a few of the clauses. Generally, these are the clauses that ask for large sums of money upfront for the book to be published.

Publishing red flags

Choosing to self-publish or work with a hybrid publisher is one thing, and an entirely valid choice (though choose your hybrid publisher with care).

But thinking you’ve landed a traditional publishing deal and then discovering that you’re in entirely different waters is another.

It’s much worse, however, if you discover your publisher is not reputable after you’ve signed the contract.

So it’s important to learn to spot the red flags:

1. You’ve never heard of the publisher before
2. You don’t recognise any of the titles or authors they’ve published
3. You’re asked to pay money upfront (a ‘reading fee’, ‘copyright registration’)
4. Your contract requires you to buy a certain number of books from the publisher
5. They guarantee to make you a ‘bestseller’

There are many others, of course, but these should be enough to investigate further.

How to protect yourself from publishing scams

1. Get beyond the first page of Google

Publishing scammers are clever. They pay for professional websites and put money into SEO and Google ads to claim those coveted top spots on page one of the Google search for terms like ‘Australian publishers’ and ‘Australian publishers accepting submissions right now’.

But dig a little deeper and you might find those same publishers being reviewed very badly on page two or three or four.

Research is an important part of becoming a published author and putting some time in before you submit can save you a lot of heartache.

2. Reputable publishers will rarely email you out of the blue

I say ‘rarely’ because I do know of at least two non-fiction authors who received emails from well-respected publishers interested in discussing a book based on their expertise.

But I can honestly say that I have never, ever heard of a reputable publisher (or literary agent for that matter) emailing or, worse, cold-calling an author to say they’ve heard they’re writing a novel and they’d like to publish it.

It doesn’t happen.

3. Check the Writer Beware Thumbs Down Publishers List

The Writer Beware blog is a deep resource for new authors. Based in the US, it is sponsored by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, and aims to report on ‘the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes and pitfalls’.

Its resources include a list, in alphabetical order, of the publishers (not all of them active) about which Writer Beware has received the largest number of complaints over the years and which, based on documentation collected, compilers A. C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss believe pose the most significant hazard for authors.

It is well worth ensuring that a potential publisher or literary agent is not on this list.

4. Education is key

Learning the craft of writing is one part of a writer’s education. Learning the business of publishing is another. Both come together to create a career as an author.

The Australian Writers’ Centre’s Inside Publishing course will help you understand your rights as an author, whether traditional or self-publishing is best for you, and the full process from pitching and submitting to getting paid.

There are many reputable publishers in Australia beyond the household names (Penguin, Allen & Unwin, Hachette etc) and the best way to know if your publishing offer is from one of them – and not a scam at all – is to immerse yourself in the industry.

5. Surround yourself with writers

As mentioned, this post was inspired by questions in the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast community – and, in each case, the original poster was gently and kindly brought down to earth, with the understanding that their publishing offer was not the stuff of dreams, but of potential nightmares.

Being part of a community of writers means being able to draw on collected experiences and information. It’s not easy to be told that the offer on the table is not legitimate, but it’s better to find out before you sign a contract that might cost you thousands of dollars and leave you with a garage full of badly edited books.

Good luck!


Author bio
Author Allison Tait smilingAllison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently editing her latest middle-grade novel THE FIRST SUMMER OF CALLIE McGEE. Find out more about her at

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon


Nice one! You've added this to your cart