A profile of ALLi's Choosing A Self-Publishing Service Guide by its co-author, Ben Galley, one of ALLi's Watchdog team.
As Victoria Strauss says – there are sharks out there in the publishing waters.
What sort of shark? What possible danger could you, the author-publisher, face in this industry? I’m talking about a certain breed of service provider that exists to exploit you.
Just as a shark may nibble at something precious of yours – say a leg, or perhaps an arm – the disreputable providers of the self-publishing world nibble away at precious things like your money, your rights, your reputation, your time, or all four combined.
Any author, first time or veteran, will be faced with costs. Whether it be a website, a stunning cover, some editing for your manuscript, or a marketing agency, there are plenty of things to spend your money on. I believe that today’s indie authors are all entrepreneurs, individual businesses seeking to succeed. Well, as any good business knows, counting the pennies is important. Especially those that you’re spending.
When publishing my first book, I was very conscious of cost. Mainly due to the reason I had none. I knew that whatever I spent I had to recoup as soon as possible, and then start making money. This is the key behind a low start-up cost – you don’t have to sell as many books to get into your profit zone.
When I first looked into self-publisher, I noticed that some companies looked like one-stop shops, amalgamating services such as cover design, editing, and publishing into easy packages. One of these was called AuthorHouse. Now I’d already set aside a meagre £500 to publish my book, so imagine my horror when they offered me a package just shy of £5,000. I’ve never put down a phone quicker.
Every author owns the copyright to their own writing, automatically in effect whenever you create or publish anything. Rights are a currency in the book world, and as such should not be given away lightly. There are some companies out there that will tell you you must exchange your rights for their services and charge you a fee while they're at it.
In traditional publishing, rights are exchanged for money, not an invoice. This money is what we know as royalties – compensation for the rights handed over, and sometimes paid as an advance. So if somebody wants your rights, they better be offering something good in return, not charging you more on top.
These sharks can bind you up with your own rights too, stopping you from publishing with other companies, or stopping you from selling in other countries. Rights control what you can or cannot do with your own books, and therefore anybody asking for them should be scrutinised to their very bones.
Say you paid the enormous price tag some of these sharks charge, you’d be expecting a good service in return, yes? Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
Many of these disreputable providers work like conveyor belts. I know we’re mixing metaphors here, but bear with me. Their system seems to be designed to process as many authors at once, charging them as much as possible, without really caring much for the result or customer satisfaction. For example, many of their cover designs are template-based – quick and easy for the provider, but it means bland and unoriginal covers for the author.
By using these companies, what you end up with is a sub-standard product, compared to what you could achieve with a little work.
Last year, a publishing company called Vantage Press went into administration and left hundreds, possibly even thousands, of indie authors stranded and confused. As a one-stop-shop, Vantage handled all the authors’ stock, distribution, and payments. Some authors had even handed over rights to Vantage. So when Vantage ceased to exist, authors were suddenly left out of pocket, stock-less, and back to square one. All their hard work, gone. Evaporated overnight.
This is what happens when you give over too much control, hand everything over to a package provider, and they go out of business. It can be devastating, and it was for Vantage authors. In my role as an Alliance Watchdog, I dealt with many of these authors. They were angry, upset, frustrated, and completely without a solution. All I could do to help was put them in touch with the law firm dealing with Vantage’s assets. Scary times for all.
So how do you spot these sharks? How do you know what companies are good for you, and what companies are going to leave you stranded? How do you keep control? Well, one way to keep a track of the self-publishing waters is the Alliance’s very own guide to self-publishing service providers.
The first ever publication of the Alliance, the Choosing A Self-Publishing Service guide is a detailed list of 20 of the industry’s major providers. The guide, which is available now, examines a range of different providers and bares their bones. Every contractual clause, every service, every little term and condition has been thoroughly researched and compiled so that you can quickly assess whether you’re doing business with a shark, or a provider that will do its best for you.
Alongside the facts and figures of the guide, which were compiled by myself and fellow Alliance Watchdog Mick Rooney, there are also extensive notes and how-to guides written by the Watchdogs and Alliance Founder Orna Ross. These extensive chapters will help you to get a handle on how this industry has formed, how it has changed, and how you can navigate it.
We also are very pleased to highlight good providers and our trusted Partner Members, because of course there are many in the Author-Services sector who do a great job.
Essentially, the guide gives a representative look across the industry, to give you the knowledge you need to make the best choices for your book.
Choosing a Self-publishing Service is free to ALLi members. Non-members may order online here.