Ellen M. Kozak has written a nice summary at Wisconsin Lawyer about “Spotting the Publishing Scam.” You can read the full post there, but I think it’s worth summarizing the main points:
- Real publishers don’t make offers overnight. A publisher who offers an agreement a couple days after the ms. arrives is pulling a scam.
- A scam publisher may be especially persistent in pushing its contract
- Check out the publisher on the web and in bookstores
- Vanity publishers ask for money; real publishers don’t
- Token advances, such as $1, should be viewed with suspicion
- A publisher that grossly overprices books may be hoping to make money off sales to authors — in such cases the contract will likely show a below normal number of free copies (normal tends to be around 10-20 copies)
- A highly restrictive option clause is a common feature of scam contracts
- Rights not specifically assigned by the agreement should be reserved by the author, not the publisher
In my experience — having negotiated many book contracts — agents generally represent authors better than lawyers, because lawyers know contracts but agents know the book industry. The author of this article, however, is an exception. She appears to know the law and publishing.