Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing: Steer clear of shady providers
In self-publishing as in life, be smart about who you work with.
If you’ve tried self-publishing, you know how much work it is. While the benefits are great, we all want help sometimes. Publishing companies that promise to do the work for indie authors sound like a great deal.
Careful. Not all of these are legit, and the terms of the agreement can have big repercussions for you—notably a poor product (book), and a big price tag.
Anytime you ask someone to help you, be wary of what you are giving away. Below I outline shady practices to watch out for, and how to protect yourself. Beware of offers that sound too good to be true.
Why vanity presses and self-publishing “package” deals are a bad option
Vanity or subsidy presses publish your book for a fee. They offer to cover editing, layout and cover design, and printing. The promise: to make your life as an indie author easier by streamlining the publishing process.
Great, you think. You’re already self-publishing and paying for it. What makes this model bad?
The answer boils down to three things: the fees, the quality of work, and the rights.
The fees: these outfits charge high fees for work you can get at better prices through a legitimate small press or by hiring individual service providers.
The quality of work: if the price looks lovely and low, it means they are saving money somewhere, usually with dubious editing, restrictive and generic cover design options, and up-sell options for marketing (typically not included in the package price).
The rights: a traditional publisher pays publishing costs, and retains rights to your book in exchange. This is how they (hope to) recoup their costs and profit. Vanity presses ask you to pay for the publication costs, and yet retain the same rights. Um, what?
Avoid this arrangement. Vanity presses and “assisted self-publishing” offer low-quality, low-value options for a high fee and the privilege of keeping all your rights.
A note on rights: if you decide to publish another edition, or an eBook or audiobook version, or you want to do ANYTHING ELSE with your material, like distribution deals—you need rights to your work. If giving them away to a for-fee company sounds like a bad idea…it is.
How to tell if a “publisher” is shady
- They charge you a fee, and yet they take royalties from the sales of your book. What? A traditional publisher PAYS for your book, and makes its money back through sales. These assisted self-publishers haven’t risked a dime on the production of your book, and should receive no royalties.
- They give you budget editorial and design at a markup price. You pay more for less.
- They charge you a “setup fee,” which is a sneaky way for them to cover their costs. Why are you paying a setup fee? Your package deal is meant to cover the cost of production.
- Sales: They require you to purchase your own books. They want you to “guarantee” a minimum number of sales prior to publication. They pressure you to buy copies of your own book in other ways, such as through an Author Guide or special discount offers.
- They offer/pressure you to pay for “expedited” editing, or special website placement, or inclusion in book fair catalogs, or “enhanced” marketing.
- They usually retain rights to the cover art, typesetting, and digital assets. If you back out of the contract, you’ll have to start from scratch with a word processing document (and a lighter wallet).
- They don’t disclose fees upfront (a HUGE givewaway).
- You can’t get a human being on the phone (or email).
What’s in this package “deal”?
When you purchase a bundled deal, always, always, ALWAYS know exactly what’s part of the bundle. What is included? What is extra? What do the individual items cost if you were to purchase them on an “a la carte” basis?
When they say marketing, what does that mean? When they say editing, what does that entail? (Go here for descriptions on types of editing.) When they say cover design, how many looks are they giving you for that “special price” (with a designer you haven’t chosen)? Make them get specific.
Marketing promises especially give me the heebee-jeebies. Are they talking about radio, TV, print, digital? Are they going to do your social media management? Are they going to add you to a speakers bureau? Are they only “listing” you on Amazon? Marketing comes in a LOT of flavors. Not all will be relevant or useful to you. Don’t pay for what you don’t need.
If they don’t specifically say what they are offering, you aren’t getting it, and you may be asked to pay (a lot) more for what should be a basic service. Read the fine print.
The bottom line
Don’t give away the benefits of publishing your own book. As an indie author, you have control over the decision-making and the rights; plus you can earn much more per book sold than with a traditional publisher. Why would you give these away?
Stay away from companies that promise a lot for a little, retain exclusive rights to your book, pressure you to purchase copies of your own book, and ask you to pay for these “benefits.” Stay away from companies that don’t disclose their fees and spend most of their time up-selling you expensive products you don’t need, and that don’t deliver on basic (necessary) services such as editing and design.
Remember: it’s the fees, the quality of work, and the rights. Before you agree to hand over your rights and your cash, know what you are signing away.
Any doubts? Ask me or another provider you trust, and use the resources at Writer Beware.