According to Publisher’s Weekly, via Making Light, Indiana’s Attorney General has started suing a fraudulent publisher on behalf of the authors it ripped off. Airleaf Publishing, which also went by the name Bookman Marketing, has been accused of bilking 120 authors out of thousands of dollars, of "accepting payment from authors and not following through on its promises to provide book publishing, royalty reimbursement and promotional services". Writer Beware has the number of authors closer to 434, and they’ve been tracking Airleaf for years, noting complaints from writers about everything from email spam campaigns to substandard publishing and marketing serivices. According to the Writer Beware blog, Airleaf has finally been forced to close it’s doors, but unfortunately may have spawned similar enterprises run by ex-staff.
Australia doesn’t have quite the same problem with scam literary organisations as the US, where, if Writer Beware is anything to go by, it seems you can’t swing a novel without hitting a fraudster. I expect it’s partly because we don’t have the population to make schemes like that worthwhile, and also that since our literary industry is so small, word would travel too fast.
Not that we don’t have our share of shady operators. There are a few companies around operate as literary agencies and manuscript appraisal agencies. Maybe some of these places are perfectly legitimate, you have to ask yourself if it isn’t a conflict of interest. Why would someone work hard to sell your book to a publisher, when they can make more money off you with appraisal after appraisal? The same applies to businesses that offer agenting and publishing. Why on earth would they work to sell your book to a trade publisher, if they’re also running a self-publishing outfit and they’ve got you there on the hook?
You have to keep your eyes open. Do the research, and find a business that’s reputable. Check for past sales, or past products. If they’re an agent, have they sold any other books to trade publishers? If it’s a publishing outfit, are the books they’ve produced professionally done? Don’t be afraid to ask to see proof of their skills. Shop around and ask for quotes, compare prices. Ask your local writers’ centre whether they’ve heard anything bad. Look them up online, to see if anyone has ranted about a bad experience with the business you’re looking at.
It’s great when someone promises to publish your book, but try to look beyond the flattery at what you’re going to get for your money.