Well, this is one of those cases where if I had a buck for each time this had happened to me since 1998, I could take most of us to dinner at Outback Steak House. I got a letter the other day from a poor, benighted soul who was obviously the personification of "desperate." She/he wrote: "I have a contract here from PublishAmerica. They want to publish my book, and they're the first publisher that has shown interest in doing so. They read it within a week of my submitting it, and they accepted it. They seem to really believe in my book, and I feel so grateful to them that they are willing to take a chance on me. There's only one thing...I found some posts on the internet that say PublishAmerica isn't a legitimate publisher, that they are like a vanity press in disguise. But when I look at their website, it says they've published like 15,000 happy authors. My friend who published with PublishAmerica says that those people who posted negative stuff they are "bashers" who are jealous of PublishAmerica's success, so they've posted lies about them out of spite. I don't know what to believe."
My friends, I hate to advocate listening to gossip but in navigating the Bog that can pave the road to publication, you would do well to pay attention to any "Stench." (Anyone else like Labyrinth?) Scammy publishers and agents rarely change their spots. If you read negative things on the internet about a publisher or agent, take them seriously, don't dismiss them, or, worse, rationalize them away.
Instead, write to Writer Beware to find out the straight dope before sending in that manuscript! (firstname.lastname@example.org) It's easy and it's free. You'll get a response within a few days. The time to do your research about an agent or publisher is BEFORE you submit a manuscript. I cannot stress this enough!
Writers are certainly capable of rationalization. Scammers are experts at gaining people's trust by telling them what they want to hear. The FBI tells me that there is still, to this day, one victim of Kelly O'Donnell's who refuses to believe she was scammed, and also refuses to believe that Kelly O'Donnell and Martha Ivery are the same person. Scary, huh?
Writer Beware gets several letters a month from writers who write to us about a scammy publisher or agent, hoping that we'll reassure them that the scammer really doesn't do what they've read they do, or that they have CHANGED. In all the time Vic and I have have been running Writer Beware, we've known of maybe two fee-charging agents that went on to start selling books for their clients, and managed to rack up a real track record of sales and stop charging fees. That's not very good odds.
So...if you're cruising around, googling publishers or agents before submitting, PAY ATTENTION if you spot a slew of posts from unhappy writers claiming the agent or publisher ripped them off in some fashion. Just one negative report, that didn't involve the writer paying out money upfront, might be sour grapes and dismissable. But the moment you see a pattern of complaints, know that where there is smoke, there IS fire.
Wishing you all a Happy and Safe New Year!
-Ann C. Crispin