Hi writers. In the interest of doing a bit of a service, I thought I would make a list of some really common red flags that you should watch out for when perusing small publishers. Here, for your enjoyment, is my list, with my own trademarked names for each red flag. If you know of others, let me know.

I’m also compiling a list, since Predators and Editors went away and I can’t find a reliable, current list of bad publishers. So if you know of bad publishers, click on Contact Me above and let me know and give me reasons why.

Also, SFWA does serve a couple good purposes, and here’s a detailed page of what to watch out for in small publishers.


Here are your red flags and what they mean:

Edit Schmedit: This red flag indicates that the publisher has not got much in the way of editing. They don’t know what developmental and/or substantive editing are. And either they give no input on story tightening and improvement, or they try to get you to change the story to their vision. Also, their copy-editing looks like it’s about the level of a spell-check. Finally, if the quality of the books this publisher is putting out is bad– stay away. High standards are a self-propagating and wonderful thing.

Yo Money: Either they want fees or they pay no advance. You must get an advance, no matter what they say to you about lowering costs. If they can’t pay you an advance, run away. Period. And if they want any kind of fee or fee-sharing from you, run away. Get. Paid.

Crap Contract: Contracts with small publishers can be good and bad. They can also be hybrids of the two. Things to watch out for are broad clauses on ownership of rights, copyright term being non-specific, no clause for reversion of rights (this NEEDS to be there always and it should be reasonable), any kind of defamation clause (seriously– ANY kind of this is something to run away from, unless, maybe, it’s a Big Five publisher), option clauses that give the publisher all power, an abomination of royalty rates (check online for market standard), no commitment to marketing of any kind, and crap PDFs. Not kidding. If they can’t make a good PDF– they probably can’t format your book.

Warm Marketing: If the publisher’s initial marketing scheme is to have you, the author, send an individual note via social media or email to each of your contacts (family, friends, co-workers, etc), you get the hell out of there. That’s a terrible way to market your books, even if it is effective.

Marketing Meh: If the only marketing idea they have is building email lists and trying to convince people to read free advanced reader copies for reviews- get away. This ‘marketing plan’ and the Warm Marketing above are about launch– that’s it. There’s no plan to maintain sales after launch. And if the publisher claims to have a way to get your books on regular bookstore shelves or Costco or whatever, ask for a significant amount of proof. And if you’re writing for a young crowd, get proof that they can get you into schools. Your story is worth better than taking a stupid chance on promises promises.

Conflicted Inflicted: There are publishers, I kid you not, that are actually vanity presses of ‘literary agencies’. These are often agencies that charge fees. Remember Yo Money! If they want your money, get away. Dig into the publisher your small agency ‘sold’ your book to. Find other authors. Do your due diligence to make sure it’s a legit publisher and not a scam.

Farty Arty: Friends. Covers and the formatting of the inside of the book are critical. NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOUR STORY IS, if the skin and clothes suck, nobody will read it. EVERYBODY JUDGES A BOOK BY ITS COVER. You know you do. So make sure they’re doing good covers and make sure the typesetting is professional. But wait! What if you’re their first author? Run. The. Hell. Away. Your story deserves better.

Newby: If they’re a new publisher, don’t go with them. Not kidding. Even if you’re their fifth or even tenth author. Nope. Don’t go with them. Stay far away until they’re a couple years along and they’ve got at least 15 authors who are happy and getting paid and have few to no complaints about contracts and marketing, etc. When a publisher is new, they think they know what they’re doing, but they typically do not. Their contracts are still evolving, and they’re still trying to find out what they’re good at when it comes to marketing. So stay away from the newbies.

Some of this stuff is harsh. It’s meant to be. It’s time for you to get paid for your hard work on your story– don’t screw around, don’t be stupid, don’t be impatient, don’t make the mistakes … a friend of mine … made. Be careful. Ask around. Loop in author friends. Don’t be intimidated by forceful knuckleheads.

Please note, some predatory and bad publishers have great art and awful contracts. Some have world-class editing and zero marketing plan. Some have some good and some bad. Do your due diligence. Don’t be so eager that you put yourself in a bad situation and that you tie up your beloved story in the hands of awful publishers. Because they will own your story and will give unreasonable demands for reversion of rights to you.