Could you tell the difference between a spam email and genuine interest from a publisher?
Do you publish online?
It’s great experience to start building a readership online as an author, but as your audience grows on one platform (especially those where your work is available to read for free), it’s inevitable that so will your interest in alternative routes to publication. Unfortunately, certain so-called ‘publishing’ companies know this, and they prey on authors who have an established audience, great content, and a deep-down desire to turn their writing career into more than just a hobby.
Why do they prey on authors like this? Well, the answer is rooted in the fact that these companies believe getting you to migrate to their website or platform will mean your audience follows; their platform will grow in numbers (and where the promise of money is concerned, that’s even more of a pull factor), your readers will create a buzz that will attract even more interest in their company (word of mouth is always the best marketing tool), and over a short period of time, after ‘recruiting’ a small hoard of big-name writers, their business will have a lot of perceived success with minimal effort.
I’ve got a large audience online. With over 30,000 followers on Wattpad and over 14 million readers across my two most popular online novels, over the course of the past five years I’ve received my fair share of emails and messages from ‘publishing’ companies trying to offer me a fantastic, revolutionary way to earn money from my writing. (Because it’s always posed as the greatest, most sought-after opportunity…even while the company on the other end of the email is quite obviously struggling to pull authors on board…*alarm bells ringing*…)
You get to know what their emails look like after a while. Typically, they’re generic, vague copy-and-paste jobs. They start out like they might be something of genuine interest, usually addressing you by your first name and including the title of one of your most popular novels—but don’t be fooled. A sweet, personalised introduction can take a matter of seconds to type out, and from just one glance at your profile, anyone can see both your name and the titles of any novels you’ve written.
Nice as it is to think that these companies really care about you, in this instance, you’re likely just another number on a long list of potential recruits they’ve already emailed. It’s the online publishing version of cold-calling. (Which kind of sucks—but read on and you’ll start to understand why this isn’t such a bad thing. No author wants to be associated with a company like this.)
The email will probably then move on to give an elevator pitch for the company, usually with a link directly to the company’s website, and often followed by several paragraphs of too-much-information about their background, their aims, how they can help you to achieve your dreams, and, if you’re really lucky, maybe even a few PR quotes from investors, journalists, or authors whose lives have been transformed thanks to the revolutionary publishing scheme they’re trying to pitch to you.
Finally, it will be signed off by a member of staff with an extravagant and exciting title, and totally not just an office assistant sitting at a desk somewhere, bored out of their mind because they’ve sent the exact same email over, and over again eighty times already today…
Unsolicited emails from no-good publishing companies follow a format, and that format looks a lot like spam. Unless you’re familiar with them, you wouldn’t realise this—and that’s what these companies are hoping for when they hit Send. They target unagented online writers, offering a deal that sounds just too good to be true right from the very beginning.
That’s because it is.
The Hard and Fast Rules
It’s a simple theory that they adopt. They prey on the idea that you, the unsuspecting writer with bags of potential and a ready-made audience, will give in to temptation and forget all logic in the spur of the moment; that you’ll get so tangled-up with excitement at the possibility of having your book published and earning real money from your writing, that you’ll reply straight away and accept their offer.
Yes, they really do think you’re that stupid.
Of course, every experienced author already knows the hard and fast rule: Don’t sign any contract, no matter how big a company’s reputation may be, without first reading the full contract thoroughly and (if you can) asking a lawyer, agent, or someone else with a good knowledge of legal jargon to check it through as well. This doesn’t just apply to spammy unsolicited emails from preying companies—this rule applies to any contract, at any stage in your writing career.
What To Do
So, if you ever receive a suspiciously too-good-to-be-true email from a company you’ve never heard of, before you get to the stage of accepting a contract from them, do your research:
Google search the company’s name
Is their website one of the first listings, or do you have to dig to find them? Granted, a lot of respectable online publishing companies have small followings and might not show up as the top search result—but if a company is really buried, let this be a warning sign.
(PSA: Avoid clicking on direct links in the body of any email from a sender you don’t know.)
Phone a friend
Ask any writer friends or publishing contacts whether they’ve heard of the company and what they can tell you about it. If they publish their work on the same platform as you, ask if they’ve also received an email from the company—and if they have, compare emails so that you can check for any copy-and-paste sloppiness.
If the company lists their top authors and novels, perform a number of searches on Google, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble—anywhere you might expect to see buzz about a successful author—to determine how successful this author’s work really is, and whether it’s equal to the quality you’d expect to see if your own book was published by this company.
Who's the boss?
Research the CEO, Co-Founders, and anyone else who is advertised as high up in the company. Check their LinkedIn profile—is their history aligned with publishing? Are there any interviews you can find that might reveal more about their background? What you want to find is as much information as possible that confirms they have a strong knowledge of the publishing industry and know a good network of publishing professionals. If things seem shifty, that’s a sign they probably don’t have your best interests in mind…
Above all, keep in mind that it's very rare for serious publishing houses to directly contact an author about publishing their novel, taking part in a monetising program, or inviting them to join their platform via email or message. On many online writing platforms such as Wattpad, it's actually against the terms of service for companies to approach authors for any of these purposes. Report and Block where you feel necessary, and you'll be doing your part to prevent any more authors from being manipulated into signing damaging contracts.
Please share this article with your writer friends to spread the word!