Last column, I covered examining self-publishing companies’ business models, high fees, and add-ons. This week, let’s take a look at three more useful points for assessing self-publishing companies.
1. CHECK OUT THE SALES REP’S REP
One protective step you can take: if you’re dealing with an actual human sales rep, ask for background and credentials. What’s the person’s experience in publishing? Take notes on the answer you get and do an Internet search for the terms mentioned. Is the rep using them correctly? Some of this is a gut check, and if you get any sketchy feeling about the sales rep, decline to continue with that company. Our intuitions, even when we have little knowledge on a subject, can be surprisingly accurate, and the caution is rarely a bad thing.
There are many subsidy publishers out there. If you walk away from one, there are plenty more to explore. Lastly, as with many sales situations, the single best clue that you’re on shaky ground is when the rep tries to force you into quick decisions. If one says you need to decide (on some “big discount,” for example) that same day because it’s a “limited-time offer,” then run the other direction. Likewise, if the rep starts excessively complimenting your book, beware; they’re playing into your dreams. This applies as well to the sales language on the company’s website and communications. (One company, for which I only signed up for their newsletter, sends me regular emails about how “special” my book is — and they don’t know anything about me other than my email address!)
2. FIND OUT THE COST OF ENTRY
Another key warning sign that relates to the publishing company’s business model and profit center is a high minimum entry price. So, as I’ve discussed, some will get you in the door with a low price and then try to upsell you on things that may be unnecessary or overpriced. But there are others that prey on authors who have money, trying to hook you into a big contract from the get-go. This is a red flag that you may be dealing with a vanity press, but you may encounter a legit service that uses the same tactic. Somehow, they’ve smelled the dollars in your bank account or your available credit line, and you’re in their sights.
Keep in mind, we’re talking thousands of dollars here, and once you’ve signed on the dotted line you’re probably legally obligated to pay. I had an author a few years ago mail me a package, desperately seeking my guidance because he’d been hit with over $20,000 in publishing fees. But after reviewing his contract and correspondence with the company, it appeared to me that he was on the hook for the money. Not being an attorney, I wasn’t saying this as a legal expert, so I recommended he consult a lawyer — but from my professional publishing experience, everything indicated that he had simply been careless in dealing with this predatory company. Their tactics, while ethically questionable, appeared fully legal; he’d signed the paperwork authorizing every fee. So, always, always, always — again, always — read and understand what you’re signing.
This is not to say that every company quoting you a big entry price is trying to scam you — it may be accurate for what services you are requesting or considering. But what you’re looking out for is the implication that this is the only way to go (and there’s pressure to do so).
Typically, by the way, this is done through the publisher’s package deals. Most offer something along the lines of Package A, Package B, and Package C, or their “Bronze, Silver, and Gold” Packages. These will often include services you don’t need or that are overpriced. It seems like you’re getting a lot, but you’re just paying for fluff. It’s not unlike when you buy a new car and it comes with package options — for example, you may not be able to get the premium sound system without the moonroof. Often, with self-publishing companies, it’s best to get the barebones package and hire the extra services externally.
3. DETERMINE YOUR BOTTOM LINE
The best way to approach considering self-publishing companies is to prepare a budget for your project in advance. What are you willing and comfortably able to invest? Is it $500? Is it $5,000? Talk to other self-published authors and self-publishing experts and learn what typical fees and costs are for the various components of your project. Determine what you can do yourself (competently) and what you can hire to be done from a source outside the self-publishing company. Set yourself a cost limit and ask what the company can do within that budget. Otherwise, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of your book being published and allow your budget to bloat. As with gambling, go into the “casino” with a set amount to play and don’t go past that limit.
All in all, most self-publishing companies offer viable services at reasonable rates. There are scams out there, for sure, but the greatest risk for most authors (if you follow due diligence) is not the big-dollar rip-off — it’s spending money unnecessarily. Death by a thousand cuts, as the saying goes. Your best defense is a healthy dose of caution and education. Aside from the resources I mentioned in last week’s column, it’s very helpful to join online groups of self-published authors and experts, such as those on LinkedIn. And if you live in an area with a medium to large population, you most likely have at least one real-world authors/writers group you can join and learn from.
What are some of your personal experiences with self-publishing companies, good or bad? And what similar advice do you have for your fellow authors?