Ripping Off Indie Authors: Let Us Count the Ways

By Coral Russell

Three years ago, when no one took self-publishing seriously, indie authors only had to worry about being ripped off by a vanity press, and that’s only if they were silly enough to sign with one.

Back then, it was a cozy community, with everyone banding together against big, bad traditional publishing.

Indie authors didn’t make the bestseller lists, self-publishing (it was thought) was for losers and those who did it volunteered, shared resources, time and energy. Because let’s face it…who of us can write, publish and market all on their own? So authors, editors and book bloggers gladly banded together in groups to help each other out.

When a suspicious service did crop up, there were sites like Preditors and Editors, Writer Warnings  and Writer Beware, manned (usually) by other indies eager to help identify unscrupulous companies and freelancers who were less than upfront about their services.

Then BAM! Authors began selling hundreds of thousands of books, The New York Times started including bestselling indie titles next to those by James Patterson, and hucksters started coming out of the woodwork like cockroaches, realizing there was money to be made off self-pubbed authors, especially those with ebooks in tow.

And so greed set in.  Let us count the ways.

1. The Blog Tour Bait and Switch

These are the people who start a blog tour company, charge an author for a tour and then disappear a couple of months later, taking all the blogger links with them.

So the author gets screwed out of any promotional value and has to start all over again. But they’re not the only ones starting over. The bogus book tour company has just changed their name and moved their tent to another location, scamming a different group of unsuspecting authors down the road.

2. The Web Charlatan

The so-called website “expert” who gets hired by an author to build and run their site. So far, so good. Until the writer transfers their service to said “expert”, only to find out that the person they hired is taking a night class in WordPress and charges hundreds of dollars to fix something that she never could.

Realizing this, the “expert” gives the author 48 hours to move their entire site somewhere else. Oh, and no refunds.


3. The Author Group Shark

The person who hangs out in author groups looking for those not smart enough to grab the domain name of their dreams…you know, the one they’ve been using to brand themselves and their books. When the author does decide to start their website, low and behold, someone bought their domain name and guess what? The author now has to pay that person before he can use the domain name that matches his branding.


4. The Crappy Editor/Publicist One-Two Punch

The company that offers publicity services, along with editing, which would be great if the editing services didn’t suck.

So the author hands their story over to an editor, who then hands the book over to the publicist. Not until the author turns over what they think is a finely tuned story to a group of book bloggers/reviewers does the author realize she’s been had.




5. The “All About Eve” Hanger-On

Should you become a famous self-published author, beware of any person you talked to in a forum who will claim she was instrumental in your success. Oh, maybe she read your story, and maybe she organized an event no one attended. But, in their bio, she’ll have been your personal assistant, publicist, manager. You’ll be too famous and rich to care by then, but think of all the unsuspecting authors after who take this person at their word. She’ll promise to be able to do for them what she supposedly did for you.

The lessons to be learned? Be smart. Take the time to check references. And then check them again. If an offer or service seems like it’s too good or to cheap to be true, it usually is.


Coral Russell lives in the southwest with her hubby, baby Godzilla-sized kid and an adorable dog with which she shares a one-way, thermal dynamic relationship. You can connect with her on and/or

25 replies
  1. Kenton Kilgore
    Kenton Kilgore says:

    To add to the article, I’ve found through personal experience that:

    *Ads on Facebook are not worth it;

    *Mailing hard copies to reviewers is usually not worth the expense and hassle;

    *You will probably not make back in sales the fee you paid to enter a book festival; it’s best to regard book festivals as a promotional venue rather than a sales venue.

    I have a list of other things I’ve learned the hard way (not all being “rip-offs,” per se) here:

    • Coral Russell
      Coral Russell says:

      Those are some good points. From what I’ve learned it takes 5-7 years to build an audience. It takes 3-5 books to build a good reputation. Besides writing, fans and building your platform are really the only thing you need to work on forever and ever. 🙂 Good luck!

  2. Judith Glynn
    Judith Glynn says:

    Great post. Thanks. For my upcoming book, I was signed by a “literary manager” who then revealed I was expected to pay for the edit (which I would have done anyway), cover, marketing, $250/hour for marketing advice, write the treatment for a potential screenplay and turn over the manuscript to be “published” under his company’s name. He’d take 10% of the sales. I’d already self-published a novel and knew the ropes. This process cost me $450 in legal fees for the review of the “legitimate” contract and then to get me out of it a month later.

      • Judith Glynn
        Judith Glynn says:

        Nice gesture. Thanks. Novel out and self-published is “A Collector of Affections: Tales from a Woman’s Heart.” The memoir is not out yet but entitled “Michelle, Marie, Miré: My Journey with a Homeless Woman.” That’s the book when I was somewhat taken. Hope to have it out there in a few months. And again, thanks.

  3. David Haywood Young
    David Haywood Young says:

    There are more, uh…bad investments?…available for the lucky indie. A lot of the time I think we mess ourselves up, in addition to paying for it. I guess that’s a better deal? {8′>

    I have lots of thoughts on this in a recent post on my blog, and then there are a couple of posts afterward dealing with my experiences with editors. Short version: they’ve sucked whatever time, energy, or money I’ve made available to them. I don’t think it has to be that way, but I do think the game is rigged. Even without evil intent on anyone’s part.

    • Coral Russell
      Coral Russell says:

      Thanks for Heinlein’s Rules. I like your piece and how you’re independent. Here’s what self-published authors don’t get right away. Everything you do to sort of ‘game’ the system is not winning readers/fans and that’s what it is all about. If you circumvent however long that process takes you’ll end up with nothing.

      It’s the American way, we want it and we want it now and don’t want to spend the 10 years it might take to get there. As Scott Nicholson said in his Indie Journey – Enjoy the process, that way you’ll be happy no matter what happens.

  4. Michelle Louring
    Michelle Louring says:

    It is so easy for a new author to be scammed out of a lot of money. That services like Author Solutions have customers is proof that some people are just a little too gullible for their own good.
    I think the editing is especially tricky. How do you know that they will do a job worthy of all that you pay them?

    • Coral Russell
      Coral Russell says:

      When you start writing you should be looking at editing. You should learn how to do some good editing on your own and working with a dedicated crit partner is the best way that I can think of. Hang out in some writing groups and you’re bound to find someone. Those same people can help you find editors – If in the US they must use CMoS and Garner’s American Usage. They should also have a resume. I can recommend someone I think is one of the best and very reasonable.

  5. Carson Craig
    Carson Craig says:

    Any publishing company that charges an author upfront fees should definitely be questioned. The same is true about agents. I have these “publishing” companies call me all the time. I’m not saying they won’t publish my work, but I’m sure it won’t meet my expectations. If they are that desperate to add me as a customer then I have to question them.

  6. Susan Arden
    Susan Arden says:

    I play both sides of the publishing game with publishers and self-pub’ing, and I have to say as an indie author it ends up being a hair-pulling search for a good proofer. Each time, the big ticket item for me has been editing. And yes, I’ve paid for proofing so much it eats up the profits. Sometimes using two to ensure the typo tigers aren’t prowling wildly. I’ve terrible ADHD and heaven help my MS if I go back and tweak it. Still, it’s been hit and miss in finding reputable proofers even with legit recommendations. Hang an internet shingle seems to occur more and more. Thanks for the article. Validation that I’m not the only one struggling with all the issues mentioned helps perspective.

    • Ilana Waters
      Ilana Waters says:

      Hey Susan! Sorry to hear you’ve had so much trouble with proofers. Mine is awesome–Marcia Trahan at She does critiquing/editing too. Five projects so far, and I’ve never had a problem. Hang in there–good partners can be hard to find, but they ARE out there! 🙂

  7. Richard Sutton
    Richard Sutton says:

    Coral, Thanks for assembling these caveats. As an Indie Author with five books under my belt (well almost, No. five is still holding…) I’ve brushed up against all these you mention. In my case, because I’m also blessed (?) with shallow pockets, I haven’t been much of a “mark” to scammers. But there is one area where warning also needs to be made: Online Writer & Reader Forums. Many of these public forums are simply the shabby storefronts hiding trolls dens. We indie writers have a tough enough time of it without laying our heads upon their blocks to provide entertainment for them. I am now loathe to enter any debate about writing, Indie Publication, etc. unless I really know the group. After all, some troll bashing can be harmless fun, but when they gang up, and add your books to a “when hell freezes over” list, it’s decidedly one-sided fun. GoodReads has been known to harbor such places.. The other type, that I am learning to shun are those sites, like LinkedIn, that are rife with forum discussions started by publishing professionals in order to sow the seeds of discord, or to sell their editing/marketing/book cover services. I don’t mind someone hanging out a shingle, but to disguise it by calling the shingle post a “public forum” is worse than disingenuous. Writers need to keep their dukes up and the wits about them whenever they venture into any public forum. I’m glad so many of us have found ways to grow private forums, where we are not in danger of either being bashed or exploited.

    • Coral Russell
      Coral Russell says:

      Just my two cents but writers waste their time hanging out in forums for writers/publishers/editors for some of the reasons you mentioned. Unless you’re talking to readers your time is probably better spent writing. 🙂

  8. Mari Collier
    Mari Collier says:

    So far, except for my first novel, I’ve avoided the rest. My web master has not ripped me off. Of course, it helps that he and his wife our neighbors of my daughter and I know both of them as friends. The first book I went with the worst of the vanity publishers on my brothers advice. He still thinks they are great. I’m counting down the months when I have my book rights again.

  9. J.E. Rogers
    J.E. Rogers says:

    Thank you so much for posting this information. It is certainly something that neophytes need to be aware – some of what you have listed here seems so basic, but in haste to get one’s book exposed, a mistake made be made, money spent unnecessarily. And thanks, for all the great comments.
    I recently found another site that was offering a book contest, and was charging for an entry. I quickly notified Predators and Editors since they did not have them on their list. Most writing contests do not require a fee. If they do, it’s typically nominal.
    The more that indies get out there, the more instances of this sort will crop up. We need to be continually away.
    Thanks again for a great article.
    J.E. Rogers, Author

  10. BB
    BB says:

    Kirkus, IR, Lulu…have learned the hard way about rip offs. However, it does allow me to advise others not to make the same mistakes.

  11. Laraine
    Laraine says:

    Sadly, some of the “crappy editors” are writers themselves. I’m fed up with all the people ripping off writers. I certainly think anyone who charges $3 a page for a critique is ripping us off. That would be $900 for a 300-page novel, for goodness” sake! I’d need to rich as well as stupid to give that a first thought, never mind a second. As for people who charge for reviews, I’d regard them as very unprofessional people.


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