With two highly regarded self-published thrillers to her name, ALLi author member Kathryn Guare generously shares her experience of using an assisted publishing service and going completely DIY, to help new authors make the right decisions.
For those just beginning to navigate the landscape of self-publishing, trying to understand the myriad tasks required to transform a manuscript to a printed (and/or digital) book can be like drinking from a fire hose. There are lots of moving parts, but they can be grouped into some basic categories: Editing/Proofreading, Design (cover, interior formatting), Administrative (ISBNS, bar codes, copyright, distribution to retailers, etc), and Marketing (websites, FB pages, advertising, etc.)
The Choices Facing Aspiring Self-publishers
For some people, the idea of having complete control over all the tasks – a truly DIY approach – is self-affirming and exhilarating, but for others it can be overwhelming and paralysing. For my first effort in self-publishing, I fell into the latter category, so like many first-timers I was vulnerable to the exploitative assisted publishing companies that have been superbly documented by the ALLi Watchdog group and in David Gaughran’s excellent blog.
Many of the most disreputable have an approach that is essentially a cheap imitation of the “traditional” publishing structure. In my opinion (not scientific). the people most vulnerable to them are those who still have that traditional model firmly in mind and want something that mimics it, so they end up paying for the privilege of getting bamboozled into bad contracts and useless services that take advantage of their naiveté. I think those less vulnerable are the ones who have a more business-like approach (“I’m creating a product here”) and are simply looking for the services to get it done. Again, I fell into the latter category.
Looking back on my experience, I don’t think I got scammed, but I realize I paid an exorbitant amount of money for services I could do myself (and for my subsequent books, I did do them myself). I paid too much, but I also know that given my level of intimidation, if I’d tried the pure DIY approach I wouldn’t have made it. I’d have given up. Right now, instead of working on the final cover design for my third book, I would have one manuscript in a drawer, gathering dust.
Top Tips for New Authors on Choosing the Best Assisted Publishing Service
So, for the beginners who are like I was, who can’t face scaling the self-publishing mountain without serious professional assistance, let me offer some pointers to help you avoid getting scammed:
Stay away from Author Solutions and all its imprints. That’s an easy one. Just don’t. They are notorious.
- If you’re browsing an assisted publishing website and you can’t find any information about pricing, that’s a red flag. Pass them by.
- If you’ve done the first two, and now you are looking for their contract online and can’t find it, ditch those, too.
- Found one with pricing and a contract? Now this:
- Read that contract word-for-word. Mark anything you don’t understand and get somebody (not the company) to help you decipher it. And if it is really short and general, be wary of the things they aren’t saying.
- Do not sign a contract that compromises your intellectual property rights IN ANY WAY. The company should own nothing. You own everything.
- Do not sign a contract that allows the company to take a commission on sales or that parcels out royalties to you. The contract should be a straight-up fee-for-services arrangement. You are paying them to deliver a product, you are not part of their family or club or any other sneaky term they might use to explain why they will take a cut of your profits.
- The contract should allow you to cancel it at any time, and there should be a sliding scale for getting your money back.
- If and when you cancel the contract, it should specify that you get ALL YOUR STUFF, a.k.a. source files. Your cover files, interior formatting files, website files, etc.
- Look on Amazon to see what they’ve published (do an advanced search by publisher) and see what their covers look like – not just the few they put on their website. Also, call them up and ask them to send you a book.
Why You Should DIY Ebooks
Now, before I talk about the pricing pitfalls for the printed book, here’s my very strong recommendation about an ebook: please don’t pay for that in your package. They make a killing on this and you will be able to find someone to help you to do it for way less money. In addition, if the company has uploaded your ebook, you have no control over manipulating its pricing for promotions, or revising your text (adding news of your next book, putting in some links, correcting a pesky typo, etc) or uploading new editions. They’ll have all that control, and you’ll pay them for any changes. This is one area where I feel I got taken for a ride. I paid $799 to have the ebook for my first novel created. For my second, I created it in Scrivener for nothing in about two hours. And it looks awesome.
Avoid Expensive Extras
Now let’s talk about pricing and the “extras” for producing your physical book:
- Try hard not to be lured to higher levels at higher cost. Just stick to the basics. You want a professional cover, formatting, a book you can hold, and a basic means of distribution.
- Editing can be pretty steep and is usually an add-on. Really consider whether you might do better by having a freelancer for this service. Hiring one is a manageable task that even I was able to do my first time out.
- If you are going to add in a website, just get the basic one. You probably don’t know enough yet about what you’d like to do with it, and the higher cost websites aren’t going to add enough value that you’ll be able to use, and your access to the content-management system will likely be very limited.
- Marketing add-ons: don’t buy them. They just cost too much money and mostly are not going to help your sales right out of the gate. You can get a reasonably bright teenager (really, I’m not kidding) to make you a Facebook page and customize your Twitter account, and add you as an author on Goodreads. The other services that will be offered – press releases, invitations to bloggers, etc – they just don’t pay off.
- Don’t pay for the “expanded distribution”. They try to make it sound like booksellers and libraries across the nation are going to see your book in a catalogue and order it for their shelves, but I promise you they are not, unless you’ve managed to acquire huge cyberspace buzz, in which case you wouldn’t be looking at these packages anyway.
Two Final Pointers
- Catalogue everything you are learning along the way, so that you will know not to repeat things that weren’t of value.
- Join the Alliance of Independent Authors and go to its Facebook forum. If you can do this a year before you’re ready to publish, you will learn A TON, and it might build your confidence enough to do more on your own. Even if you still opt for a package, I guarantee that after a few months of soaking in all the learning from the ALLi members, you will realize you never again want to part with hard-earned money for services you can do yourself.
EASY TWEET When to use an assisted publishing service (and when not to) by @KathrynGuare www.selfpublishingadvice.org/assisted-services/