Michigan State University

How do I avoid publishing scams?

Contact your subject specialist librarian if you need help thinking through some of these decisions. 

Understand the difference between vanity or predatory publishing and quality open access publishing

  • Vanity publishing involves paying a company to publish your book or article.  There is no selection or quality criteria for the content beyond payment.  Depending on how much of a scam it is, your book or article may or may not actually get published.  If it is published, it will not impress academic colleagues or further an academic career. 
  • Open access publishing may require payment to publish your book or article (often called an APC or article processing charge).  Quality open access publishers have selection criteria for the content similar to traditional publishers such as editorial control or peer review.  The resulting publication will be electronically available free to the world. 
  • Predatory publishers are corrupt in that they claim to be open access publishers with editorial control and peer review, but these are shams.  They could be vanity publishers at best or could be much worse.

Predatory publishers may:

  • Disclose large publishing fees only after you have submitted your paper.
  • Hold your paper "hostage" until you pay the fees (so that you cannot publish it elsewhere)
  • Steal the name of formerly legitimate journals or have names that are very similar to legitimate journals
  • List people's names as editors, editorial board members, and peer reviewers without their permission
  • Have sham journal web sites with stolen or plagiarized papers
  • List a fake impact factor or other fake information

How do I know if a journal publisher is legitimate or predatory? 

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited email invitations from publishers to publish your work or serve on an editorial board. Legitimate scholarly journals do sometimes invite authors to write articles or serve on boards, but it should be very  clear that the editor knows you or your work in detail and is asking about an area in which you are a well known expert.  Solicited articles are generally review articles, not research articles. 
  • Think. Check. Submit.  This web site will get you started on thinking about where you are submitting your work.  For any journal that you do not already know, use multiple checks for legitimacy, not just one or two.
  • The Committee on Publishing Ethics has published a third version of their Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing.
  • Consult the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) to identify open access journals that have passed several tests of legitimacy and quality.  Be aware, there may be journals listed in the DOAJ that are or have turned predatory.  Use multiple criteria to assess a journal’s legitimacy.
  • Look at the journal web site.  Is it pretending to be part of a well-known group of journals but isn't?  Is the journal published regularly?  Does the contact information for the publisher look legitimate?  Are there clear publishing, archiving, and peer review policies stated?  Read some of the articles yourself to assess their quality.  
  • Is the journal indexed in a literature database that sets standards for inclusion like PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, PsycInfo, CINAHL, ERIC, and other subject-specific databases?  Google Scholar does not set such standards for inclusion. (Make sure that the journal is actually indexed currently by the database and not that just a few articles from that journal appear in the database.  Your subject librarian can help you with this.  Some legitimate journals from the past have had their names stolen)
  • Look at the names of the editor and editorial board.  Are they recognized people in your field?  Contact some of them if you have concerns because this can also be a scam. 
  • If in doubt, find another journal.  There are many open access journals at all levels, from top tier high impact factor journals to more specialized niche journals which are peer reviewed and respected. 

How do I know if a book publisher is legitimate or a vanity press?

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited emails from publishers saying  they want to publish your dissertation as a book.  This is a common ploy by vanity publishers who use flattery to scam academics with newly minted PhDs.  Traditional publishers do not charge money to publish your book.
  • Be aware that some traditional publishers may reject your book but suggest that you self-publish with a partner press.  Self-publishing will cost the author money but will not lead to an open access publication.  Self-published books generally don't further an academic career because of the lack of quality control. 
  • Open access book publishing models, with associated APCs, are an even newer model for monographs than they are for journal article publishing, so be very careful.  One way to remain safe is to work with a respected scholarly commercial or university press that publishes both traditional and open access books and uses the same high quality peer review, editorial process, and standards for both.  
  • Find some other books from this same publisher and assess the quality of the work.

What should I do if I think I'm the victim of a publishing scam?

  • Contact the publisher if your name has been used without your permission.
  • If you get suspicious, do not sign anything or send payment. 
  • You may want to consult with University Legal Counsel.