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 We're Jeni Chappelle and Melissa Koberlein. We're on a mission to explore the world of publishing with some amazing women.

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Indie Chicks Season 3 podcast for websit

EPISODE 4, Season 5 - Red Flags

In episode 4, Jeni and Melissa talk to agent Megan Manzano about red flags in publishing.

Listen to the audio podcast here: EPISODE 4 - Red Flags in Publishing

Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! We are Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing and Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.

Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.

On this episode:

We’re talking about red flags in publishing for authors

End with an author tip of the week

This week we’re joined by Megan Manzano. Megan fell in love with reading and writing from a young age. She has and continues to wear many hats in the publishing world: freelance editor, writer, associate marketer in New York, RevPit 2020 mentor, and a Literary Agent at D4EO Literary. In her spare time, she’s traveling, hiking, or binge watching television shows. If you can’t find her, offer to show her pictures of your pet, especially if it’s a dog. It works 100% of the time.

Here's the Q&A:

What are some red flags in publishing for indie authors?

A: Indie publishing (ie, publishing with small, independent presses as opposed to large publishers) follows a different protocol than traditional publishing as you normally don’t need a literary agent in order to get published. However, there are still some huge red flags to look out for if you’d like to sign with an indie publisher:

  • A publisher shouldn’t charge you money to read or publish your work. They should handle all the costs involved with creating, editing, and turning your manuscript into a book.

  • Not all indie publishers will distribute your book to stores so that’s something to be aware of.

  • Be wary of claims that say they can make you an immediate “bestseller” or “success.” There are so many factors involved becoming a bestseller and no one can ever guarantee that, even through traditional publishing.

  • Some publishing companies will try and sneak in a minimum # of copies of your own book that you need to buy in order for them to make more money. They’ll put it as a contingency in the contract to publish with them.

  • Other things to be aware of in a contract are what kind of rights do you have for your book - ie does this publishing company own everything and you’re not allowed to to have any other kind of creativity with the material in the future? How can you terminate the publishing contract and what are the consequences if you do? How much are you getting in royalties (this is how you make money as an author).

J: What are some of the red flags for writers looking to traditionally publish?

A: There are some key red flags for traditional publishing to keep an eye out for. In order to get published traditionally, a writer’s first step is to get a literary agent. This is someone who will represent you during a sale of your book to a publisher. Your agent should be the key examiner of any contract given to you by a publisher so it’s important to not bump into any of the below red flags if you get an offer of representation by an agent:

  • An agent should not charge you money to read your work, charge money to give you feedback, or insist you hire a freelance editor before querying. Agents ONLY make money by taking commission when they sell your book.

  • Standard commission rates for an agent are 15%. If an agent plans to take more, that’s not normal practice.

  • If they don’t let you ask questions or get defensive about an agency contract, that could be a sign they’re trying to hide something.

  • Lack of sales/lack of information about clients. This doesn’t always mean you have a bad agent, as there are new agents who are being mentored and growing their list. But an agent who comes out of nowhere and you can’t find any information about no matter where you look or through other writers, it’s a sign they could not actually be a reputable literary agent.

M: What are your thoughts about publishing and marketing services for authors?

A: Authors should use whatever services they feel are best for them, after researching them first and combing through credible testimonials. If a writer is traditionally published, marketing and publishing costs are absorbed by the publisher and there’s a plan in place for how the book will be presented to its audience. Outside promotion and marketing will be on the author to pay for - ie blog tours, art commissions, postcards or character cards to mail, etc. It’ll vary by author.

If an author is being indie published, most of marketing and promotion will come out of an author’s pocket. Some small presses cover a percentage but it falls heavily on the author’s shoulders. It’s key to make a budget for how much you’re willing to spend and what is the best incentive to reach your audience. Is it best to giveaway digital incentives, swag? How much do you giveaway? Different tactics will appeal to different audiences.

J: What can authors/writers do to avoid scams?

A: Research a publishing company/agent. For agents, there are sites like Absolute Write, Querytracker, Publishers Marketplace, etc that will give you insight. For publishing companies, sometimes a quick google search will do it as these scammers will already be on a list. If you have writer friends, talk to them and see if they’ve heard of anything.

Look over a contract, particularly if you’re indie publishing, with several reputable people or a lawyer if possible. Make sure you’re not getting ripped off, getting stuck in a contract for years, or losing your creative agency.

Do not trust anyone who’s charging you money “to publish” or “to read” your work.

Do not trust anyone who is also trying to change and mold your work into something it’s not. Editing will happen no matter what route you take but if someone is trying to change the entirety of your book and leaving you little input, walk away. They are likely abusing their power.

Tip of the week: Check out Writer Beware and follow Victoria Strauss's Twitter account. They have a wealth of information about problematic companies and services for authors.

Thanks for joining us. You can find Megan's Manuscript Wishlist at

On our next podcast, we are talking with with Katie Golding about positivity passes. We will also have another Tip of the Week. And don’t forget where to find us! Find our podcast at or follow us on Spotify or subscribe to Indie Chicks on Apple Podcasts. We also have the Indie Chicks channel on YouTube where you can subscribe. You can follow us on Twitter @Indie_Chicks or

So, remember, we’re all part of a publishing community, be kind and review your fellow authors’ books! Thanks for joining us!

Indie Chicks out.

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