Why this is a mistake: Many writers feel frustrated. And desperate. They look at other writers who get published and they tend not to see much difference between their own work and published authors’ work. Frustrated and desperate people are easy targets for scammers. There are plenty of people out there more than willing to relieve wannabe authors of their money. Just consider some poetry contests, certain vanity presses, book doctors, fee-charging agents, and numerous other agencies all promising to help the writer gain the ever-elusive goal of publication.
The solution: Caveat emptor were the watchwords in the Roman Empire, and they still ring true. Let the buyer beware. The first thing I would really be leery of is anyone who promises to get you published. Unless they flat out tell you up front that they are a vanity press, they are trying to pull some sort of ruse on you. If you just want to see your name on a book jacket, then go to a self-publisher and do it straight up. There’s absolutely no reason to play a game with a fee-charging agent who gets a kickback, or a press that waffles on the point of whether they are a real publisher.
I always recommend getting references from whoever wants to take your money. Talk to others who have used the service in question and see what level of satisfaction they have. If the service is not willing to give you references—whatever the excuse—walk away.
The key to not getting scammed is knowing your goal and then comparing that to what is being offered. Don’t be in a rush and allow your emotions to overrule your good reason. Put aside your frustration, no matter how hard that is to do, and avoid taking the easy road to publication. Getting published, no matter what the format (magazine or book), is not easy. Yes, there is a degree of luck involved, but there is also a large degree of craft and persistence, so focus on the factors you do control, which are learning the craft and sticking to it.