how to avoid children’s book scams

I have run into countless writers who have spent hundreds of dollars on literary agents, vanity publishers, and book doctors, in the hopes of making it big in children’s publishing. It really breaks my heart to hear this because the truth is, there are people out there feasting on hopeful newbie writers, turning a very legitimate business into something reeked with fraudulence. THIS ANGERS ME. AND SNOOP! In fact, it’s upset me enough that I’ve decided I’d shell out some of my own money to help combat the scams that are out there. You might have even gotten to this page by clicking on my sponsored ad. (If you did, pat yourself on the back. You’re a very smart cookie).

Here’s the deal. If you do a Google search, a lot of the links go to vanity publishers or predatory “agents” who will try to convince you that if you PAY them, they’ll make you successful nearly instantly. BUT LISTEN TO THIS: DO NOT PAY ANYONE A DIME TO REPRESENT OR PUBLISH YOUR BOOK (unless you really want to self-publish. If this is the case, [read post, should I self-publish my children’s book?->should I self-publish my childrens book]).

If you’re hoping to make it big with a reputable publishing house, standard industry practices is Agents and Pubishers pay you, not the other way around. This means, if an agent decides to rep you, he won’t charge you a DIME until he’s sold your book to a publisher. If you want to know how REAL literary agents operate, read AAR’s Canon of Ethics. AAR is an organization that has established ethical standards for literary agents. Many good agents are members, but it’s not a requirement. If you find an agent who’s breaking many AAR rules (like charging reading fees to consider your manuscript, demanding payment up front, etc., promising some analysis to be read in 24 hours, selling critiquing services along with representation), you don’t want to sign up with them. You’ll want to report them to Preditors and Editors. This is a great place to see if a name you’ve found has already been listed as “not recommended.”

The same goes for “publishing on demand” (or POD) publishers, self-publishers, and vanity presses (all the same thing essentially, though they will claim they are not). If any of them say they will make you big on Amazon or in bookstores, RUN THE OTHER WAY. The truth is, if you go this route, only you can make your book big by doing some serious hard-selling. [read post, should I self-publish my children’s book?->should I self-publish my childrens book] to find out why.

When it come to book doctors or people offering critique services, you’ll certainly find you don’t always get what you pay for. THIS KILLS ME because I offer paid critiques myself, yet I still hear stories about how someone paid a lot of money for total drivel. Often book doctors are out of touch with the children’s writing industry and you have to ask yourself why you should seek advice from someone who is probably less informed than you are. So be sure that you’ve exhausted all your other resources (seeking out free advice from other writers, critique partners, and even this website!). And if you do go with a paid critique service, get recommendations from people you trust before you shell out a ton of money. Also know this: critique services, even my own, won’t ensure your book’s success. Only you can do that by writing a good story that publishers actually want to buy and deliver that to them at a time that they want to buy it.

Finally, not everyone who shows up on the Internet is a scam. There are professionals out there who are operating legitimate businesses helping children’s writers. To find out the real deal on organizations you’re unsure of, look to resources like the Society of Children’s Book Writers ( and Illustrators and visit The Blue Board. A simple search on there should get your answer. Or just ask me and I’ll point you in the right direction!

Thank you!

Cynthea (and Snoop!)

21 thoughts on “how to avoid children’s book scams

  1. I have self published a book with Authorhouse.It looks prettu good. I want to find an agent to help me. The book has nine short stories in metered verse. They are fantasy tales and are really very good and different.
    Please help. Thank you, Valerie Bertelli

    1. Hi Valerie,

      Sorry it took me so long to respond. I read your note and I’m afraid because your book is already self-published, the quest to find an agent will be much harder unless your book has done very well as a self-published book. Second, finding an agent who represents children’s anthologies is another great challenge. However, if you have done the upfront work to ensure your work is marketable to a publishing house (please read my article on getting a second opinion), you should follow the standard procedures I’ve outlined in my crash course. Hope that helps, Cynthea

  2. Thanks for pointing this out, I nearly fell for one of these scams. After countless rejections, an agents phoned me and talked in detail about how much he liked my story, and that he wanted to represent me. All he wanted was £350 to cover the costs of sending the MS to publishers. Thank goodness for the internet where we can do checks on these ‘agencies’…

  3. Hi
    There is a course advertised on groupon They seem very cheap for an online course. Do you know if this site is honest

  4. Hello Cynthea,

    I’ve been doing some research on some children’s book publishers and I came across Charlesbridge Publishing. Have you ever heard of them? Do you know if they have a good reputation or not? Please, I’m trying to get as much advice on them as possible before I send them two of my children’s books. I will greatly appreciate any information you can offer.



        1. I don’t have personal experience with this publisher, so I won’t comment. But it’s important that before you sign any contracts, you do your research and try to reach out to authors who are published by the company in question if your research does not turn up much info. You will find many children’s book authors are willing to help out a fellow author if you ask nicely and with appreciation for their time. 🙂 – Cynthea

  5. I’m planning on sending them my ms and the cover letter they require. They seem to be reputable according to the 2014 Writer’s Market. And you don’t have to send the formidable query letter-just the manuscript. Thers’s a lot of good advice on this web page!

  6. I found Brandylane Publishers, Inc in a google search. I e-mailed them a query letter about my children’s picture book. They want to see an “edited” manuscript. Their name isn’t on the Editors and Preditors list. Are they legit? Do I hire an editor to proof my work before I submit it?

    1. I think I need more context in general. Are you telling you directly they want you to hire a copyeditor? Are they requiring you to pay for one (through their company?) If it’s the former, and they’ve seen your work, then that’s a sign that you need to improve your writing.

      If it’s the latter or both, then that’s a sign that this is not a traditional business model for publishing, meaning it’s not the same way that Penguin Random House operates. With major publishers, money flows to you, not the other way around.

      Brandylane may just have a different business model. Check the SCBWI Publishers Directory to see if they are listed there. If they are not in there, I would see if you can contact an author published by them to see how they feel about Brandylane, if at all possible. Authors are great resources for information about their publishing houses.

      If that seems unlikely, then evaluate the pros and cons of working with a particular publisher. Know what you want and why you want a particular kind of business model. Does that publisher fit your goals for your book?

      1. I did engage with a contract under Belle Isle, a section of Brandylane Publisher they call hybrid. Unfortunately I feel disappointed with the results and in hindsight realize this is a total vanity operation. The are friendly and the book is beautiful yer no sales and they don’t try considering their money has been made already. They make their money upfront by charging you a very very large price! Their larger brand Brandylane might be legit?

        If you are looking for a vanity publisher who will provide you a beautiful book and you want to pay many thousands of dollars for 21 copies delivered to your door, then Belle Isle is a good one for you

    2. Hi Molly, I know your post is from two years ago but I wonder what you’d found out about Brandylane? Appreciate any advice.

      1. Anne can you offer any advice on Brandylane to me? They seem to be regarded well. My research has shown that they do vet their submissions, do quality work, and actively market, as well as some placement in brick and mortar stores. I spoke with two of their authors that were happy. Did you sign?

  7. I am also interested in finding out about Brandylane. I’d appreciate any information on how they operate…


  8. Hi
    I am wondering if there is a reputable self publisher company you would recommend for a children’s middle grade level book? I sent out 7 manuscripts to regular childrens book publishers in December. I heard that you have a better chance of snow in July than to hear back from any of them. I have also heard that it is good to find a literary agent as well that can send to publishing companies. Please share your thoughts!
    Thank you!

    1. Personally, if you want to pursue Major Trade publishers -these are the biggies (Penguin Random, Simon & Schuster, etc.) then try an agent. However, if you are just as happy publishing on your own, this is where you should read up on the matter online with folks who offer plenty of free advice on self-publishing. Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart; however, I consult with clients to help them get their works into print as self-publishers. Many of my clients’ concerns are related to cost and whether X or Y is worth it. and I advise everyone with NO experience is to consider deeply what your business know-how is. How much money do you want to sink into it? And then how much SHOULD you sink into it, given the level of competition out there.

      Seek out good, free-advice. How do you know it’s good advice? Do a lot of reading. You’ll start to pick up on common themes. If you have a few bucks and little time, find someone referred to you know who knows their stuff.

      I do do paid consults myself, but on a very limited basis. Generally, I do them when someone reaches out to me and really needs my help and asks super nicely. 🙂 So if you feel like you just need to talk to a real-live human being for your sanity, generally, messaging me directly by email will get a response, but no guarantee since my schedule is insane. So you don’t have anything to lose by asking me if I can free up some time to speak with me about X, Y or Z. I will figure it out let you know my rates if I can, and if your question is really brief, I might just ask you to post it here, and I’ll reply at no charge. 🙂

      I genuinely love interacting with writers and helping them along on their journeys. This was how this website was born so I hope that anyone reading this knows that you are not alone out there, and you can get help. If I can’t because my schedule is full, I will try to help point you to someone who can!

      Best wishes to all of you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.