I am a self-published author with a couple of books available and recently I received a very nice email from a publishing company saying they had really enjoyed my books and would like to professionally publish them. They promised great distribution and increased sales through their excellent marketing team.
Now, my books haven't sold well. Marketing isn't really my strong point, and getting my books noticed when there are so many other self-pubbed books out there seems to be nearly impossible. I've spent money on ads and blog tours and spent far too much of my writing time chasing reviewers. So this offer is tempting.
It just feels off... Am I being paranoid, or is this a scam?
I'm afraid to say, it's probably a scam. Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to tell for sure until you see a contract from this organization. But the way they are operating makes it sound like one of the growing number of predatory organizations that are preying on self-pubbed authors.
These 'publishers' promise high quality books, great distribution and guaranteed best-seller status on Amazon. And on the surface, they look like legitimate publishers.
Once you dive into their rabbit holes, they are a giant money-sucking machine that will not generate anything like what they have promised. You will be faced with fees for your cover design, your edits and possibly even required to buy a certain, large number of your own books at a 'special' price. And often the contract they offer won't make any of this obvious, obscuring exorbitant fees behind language like 'reasonable costs' and 'author contribution'.
It's important to do due diligence any time an offer comes in. In every case the money should be coming to you as the author. If a publisher asks you to pay for anything up-front, they are likely to be a self-publishing company masquerading as something else. Publishers take a share of the sales of your book to cover their costs and it doesn't always pay off. That's a risk they take. These scam publishers ask authors to cover costs so it doesn't matter to them if the book never sells.
Before signing anything with any publisher, check them out. Writer Beware has lists of scam publishers that grow weekly as well as a blog full of horror stories about them. Preditors and Editors also offers red flags on publishers that may not be legit. And the Absolute Write Water Cooler is another place to find out what kind of experience authors have had with given publishers, although you often have to wade through a lot of comments before you find something useful.
The takeaway here is to remember that old saying: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is...