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12 Self-Publishing Services Authors Should Beware

12 Self-Publishing Services Authors Should Beware

Value added? Not necessarily. ALLi Watchdog John Doppler reveals 12 problematic services marketed to indie authors.

The value-added service — a bonus or add-on service that complements the primary purchase — is a sales tactic we see every day:

  • “Your hotel stay includes free wifi and a continental breakfast.”
  • “If you upgrade to the Deluxe package, the five-year extended warranty is included automatically.”
  • “Would you like fries with that for just a dollar more?”

At their best, these offerings provide a welcome bargain. At their worst, they can be used to deceive and defraud consumers.

Car dealerships are notorious for inflating the price on a car with high-profit extras. They'll offer floor mats, car alarms, upgraded upholstery, extended dealer warranties, clear coat, rustproofing (wait, the car isn't rustproof already?), tinted windows, vehicle ID number etching, cruise control, GPS, the “deluxe” stereo system…and suddenly, that $30,000 retail price has ballooned to $55,000.

These costs are often bundled into a package that makes it hard to determine the value of the individual components. What's presented as a convenience may actually be predatory pricing hidden under a mountain of fluff. To determine if you're getting a good deal on a package, you'll need to separate the fluff from the services of real value.

The following twelve services are commonly used to pad self-publishing packages, either as an add-on service or a bundled feature with questionable value to the author. Please note that these services are not inherently bad. However, they deserve extra scrutiny when their price tag is concealed among other bundled services.

1. Copyright registration and LCCN

copyright iconCopyright registrations in the US and the UK are simple and inexpensive. In the US, where copyright registration is a prerequisite for filing suit against infringing parties, the process can be completed online in about 5 minutes at a cost of $35.00.

Similarly, obtaining a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is as simple as opening a free account and submitting your book's information. There is no cost, and you'll receive your LCCN within a few days.

There is no credible reason for an author to pay $100 or more for these simple procedures.

2. Press releases

newspaper iconTo be successful, a press release must have an engaging headline; a unique angle; and informative, well-crafted content. It should be part of an intelligent marketing strategy, and it must be targeted to the right journalists at the right venues. There is an art to writing effective press releases.

With that in mind, consider these press release headlines churned out by one company as part of their publishing packages:

  • A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Evil.
  • A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Love
  • A Breathtaking, Thriller That Delves Into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Faith
  • A Breathtaking, Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Deceit and Murder
  • A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of War and Government
  • A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Crime, Gangs and Survival
  • A Breathtaking Thriller that Delves into the Mayhem and Enigma of Power and Fame

A fill-in-the-blanks approach like this ensures that your press release will be ignored. (To add insult to injury, more than a third of each press release above was dedicated to promoting the publishing service.)

If you choose to purchase a press release as part of a package, be sure the company is qualified to handle your publicity. Investigate their past work, and see how many of their press releases were actually picked up by media outlets. Verify that the press releases are unique and tailored to the individual work.

If the company doesn't have a solid PR track record, then their press release may be a breathtaking waste of money that delves into the mayhem of deceit and exploitation.

3. Inclusion in catalogs

catalog iconCatalogs from obscure publishers flood the market today. When mass-mailed to retailers, libraries, or journalists, these unsolicited catalogs are destined for the trash heap.

Don't waste good money on Dumpster lining.

4. Publicity and PR campaigns

megaphone iconAn effective PR campaign is carefully targeted and multifaceted. Unfortunately, some assisted self-publishers take a quantity-over-quality approach, blindly spewing out the aforementioned press releases and catalogs to every agent, publisher, or media outlet they can find. Professionals despise this kind of shotgun approach and tend to delete them on sight. And obviously, those communications do no good if they go directly into a wastebasket or spam folder.

Before considering a paid publicity campaign — and they're not cheap — find out exactly what you're paying for. How, exactly, will they promote your brand?

Look for independent evidence of the company's successful campaigns. Are clients being featured on radio and TV segments? Are they being covered by journalists? Or is there no trace of those authors outside of the publisher's website?

If there's scant evidence that these campaigns are working, you're not likely to be the exception to that rule.

5. Complimentary copies

icon: stack of booksComplimentary copies of your book are nice to have, but weigh their value against the price you're paying for the whole package.

In the continental US, ten copies of a 240-page book will cost approximately $48 on CreateSpace. That's a tiny percentage of the cost of some assisted publishing packages, so keep the relative benefit of this perk in perspective. Remember that “complimentary” just means the cost of the books has been factored into the price of the package already.

6. Retailer previews

icon eyeGoogle Preview, Amazon's Look Inside the Book feature, and other retailer previews are free benefits available to any author publishing on those platforms. Needless to say, if a service provider tries to take credit for that feature as a value-added service they are providing, they are not being entirely honest.

Retailer previews are standard features provided free of charge, so scratch this one off any list of supposed benefits a service provider offers.

7. Closed awards and recognition programs

prize ribbon iconThese are a common ploy among the shadier vanity presses. By purchasing a package, you become eligible for an award or “recognition program”. It's essentially a pay-to-play contest that's only open to the small subset of authors who have coughed up several hundred dollars to that vendor. The award itself carries little significance for the average reader, and so the contest provides more benefit to the seller than to the author.

8. Accounting

calculator iconProper accounting is not a feature, it's a requirement for any reputable service.

If a company lists accounting as an added benefit, cast a skeptical eye on that claim. If they charge you a fee to access an accounting dashboard, turn and walk away.

9. Proofs

magnifying glass iconDoes the vendor expect you to accept their work without your review or approval? Not if they're a reputable company. Digital previews and proof copies are a requirement for any service that prepares your books, not a benefit that sets them apart.

10. Social media promotion

twitter bird iconSocial media can be an excellent channel for promotion, but there's more to it than simply vomiting ads into the aether. Be wary of service providers who promise social media promotion but who lack the audience and engagement to make it work.

For example, a company claims they will increase your exposure by promoting your book to their Facebook fans. On inspection, their Facebook page has just under 1,000 fans after three years of operation — an unimpressive number for a company that provides social media services. Worse, each post is an advertisement which has at most one or two likes.

If the company can't successfully promote their own products and services, how will they promote yours? If they can't hold the interest of people who have explicitly liked their page, how will they gain the attention of an audience that doesn't know you?

11. Author page on the service provider's website

webpage iconUnless the vendor attracts massive traffic, a page on their website — even one that's prominently featured — is not a valuable offering. Beware of claims of improved exposure without solid numbers to back them up.

One word of warning about metrics: don't be misled by the term “hits” when a company describes its web traffic. A “hit” is simply a request for one element on a page: an image, a video, a script file, a font, etc. A single visit to one page may generate dozens of hits. Companies that describe their web traffic in terms of hits may be trying to deceive you, or they may be genuinely unaware of the uselessness of that metric.

Either one is cause for concern.

12. Reviews

icon thumbs upDue to widespread author dissatisfaction, high cost, and a lack of tangible results, this Watchdog considers editorial reviews in general to be a poor investment even when purchased from a respected source such as Kirkus. When purchased from a company which carries no name recognition among readers, they are no more credible than your Aunt Becky's glowing praise.

To make matters worse, unscrupulous companies resell Kirkus reviews at astronomical markups, sometimes as much as 700% over Kirkus' already steep pricing.

If you do opt to purchase an editorial review, either a la carte or as part of a package, be sure the reviewer has credibility and name recognition. If the company is reselling a review from a third-party service, comparison shop to see if they are gouging with huge markups.


Hidden, inflated pricing is everywhere. To remove the confusion from comparison shopping, seek a la carte services or service packages whose components can be broken down into discrete prices. If that's not possible, approach any of the services above with a healthy measure of caution.

What services have you found to be of dubious value? Share your perspective in the comments below.

Beware: 12 services used to fleece #IndieAuthors — by @JohnDoppler Click To Tweet


Author: John Doppler

From the sunny California beaches where he washed ashore in 2008, John Doppler scrawls tales of science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror -- and investigates self-publishing services as the Alliance of Independent Authors's Watchdog. John relishes helping authors turn new opportunities into their bread and butter and offers terrific resources for indie authors at Words on Words. He shares his lifelong passion for all things weird and wonderful on The John Doppler Effect.


This Post Has 44 Comments
  1. This is quite a mouthful to absorb. Be careful here, watch for that. It really is a wonder a new author ever gets to publication, never mind becoming successful.

    I have been lucky with a husband that looks after the marketing and, to me, the headache work. I just write. I love writing and have so many stories screaming to come to fruition I doubt I will ever stop writing.

    Those that like my words are liked twice as much in return. Those that do not, sorry move on. Every author I know pour their timeless souls into their works and allow the world to critique them.

    We really are brave souls…

  2. John, you need to be a Bestseller first before you have the credibility to talk about these matters. Stop the hate dude! Do not promote your own hidden businesses.

  3. I would like to hear from anybody out there who has had the totally negative experience of signing a contract with Novum Publishing and what you bad experience was? Roger

    1. Which experience you make always depends on what you expect. I would regard this publishing house as something between self-publishing and a classic publishing house. You should be aware that there are differences.

      I have professional contact with a few successful authors whose books have been published by this publishing house. I have been told that the contracts are correct. As an author who publishes with this publishing house, you get exactly the services that were specified in the contract. So I would advise anyone who is thinking about publishing there to get in touch with them personally and see if it feels right. The contract can and should be checked thoroughly before signing it. That way you can be sure that everyone is on the same page. After all, everyone wants the published books to sell as well as possible.

  4. It’s not as simple as you suggest to obtain LCCNs for your books, at least in the USA. Your article links to a webpage that allows you to complete a form, but LCCNs are assigned only to presses, not to individual authors. I got approval because my press in incorporated and has published several books by authors other than me.

  5. Let’s all remember that paying a service that calls itself self-publishing is NOT the same as the type of self-publishing that generates those success stories we all read.

    It’s a shortcut to getting your book out, but shortcuts come with consequences. One of the consequences is that these places limit the success you can have with your book. For most of their users, this isn’t going to be a big problem. They aren’t going to sell more than a few dozen or a hundred copies, no matter what.

    But if your book “has legs,” this sort of shortcut is something to be avoided.

    There is nothing, nothing whatsoever, that they give you that you cannot get for yourself, at similar or better prices and with better quality. You will have to read a few books about the business, and you will have to be involved in the process. But you’ll remove some of the impediments to success.

  6. Thank you! I feel sometimes that I am not top-notch because I don’t do the ads or all the extras. Truthfully, I can’t afford it. I have to accept that. Are not all these “extras” a form of gambling? It sure feels like it to me. I would be gambling with my hard earned/not yet earned royalties. I am content, though, to happily create. In time things will build.

  7. Many thanks for this interesting Article, I Self-Published a Non-Fiction book, “Pearls of Creation A-Z of Pearls” 2nd Edition, BRONZE AWARD ‘ for Nature Conservation’ ‘Green Living’ in 2014 from Jim Barnes ‘Living Now’ Competition, was a great thrill. I don’t have to buy my way into others, and waste money, as they could see the value in my book..
    Living in South Africa with an Exchange Rate of +- R14=$1 which makes it even more difficult for a Pensioner of 82 to pay for all the other so called Promoters.
    Joining many different LinkedIn Groups like this one, was the best for me to learn about books. learning about Self-publishing, as these article are, thanks.
    Led by a passion for pearls after researching for over 30years, I had books printed privately the first Edition, (I call it my Sample) in 2004, marketed it by doing talks. Added much more info,
    visiting 3 pearls Farms and Self-Published it with 330pages, in 2012. Of course it has taken me many years, BUT I have enjoyed promoting it. God is good as he has kept me well and travelling, meeting and helping others to find their way, is also a passion for me.

    1. Worst book ever and it seems that all the non religious bits were stolen off Wikipedia.

      I have met this “author” at church and she fell for every scam there is and plays the I’m old gimme money scam herself.

  8. Oh my! John Doppler. You nailed it. However, the services you speak to are above the pay grade of many indie authors. Mine, for one. However the premise stands for all indie service providers and promoters.

    Here is how it is in the trenches. I vet promoters. I have to. When I buy a promotion in a newsletter, next comes the add on’s. $5 to post on the site’s Facebook page. As high as $30 to Tweet to the promoter’s followers–most of whom are authors. HUH? I’ve discovered promoters who build five or six sites–none of which have any reach, but he/she/it offers up a package for $299 to put one’s book on all six sites.

    Or: $25 to promote a book to 10,000 subscribers. I have 16,000 subscribers to my newsletters. I’m not forking over $25. Then there are the promoters who hype 300,000 subscribers–but don’t separate out authors…who are not my audience. Plus, the newsletter hasn’t been scrubbed since inception. No transparency. We aren’t told open rates or click through rates. I know stats within an hour of my newsletter hitting mail boxes and monitor the stats for 5 days.

    You don’t speak to bait and switch…the promoter who cribs best sellers off of amazon or a Bookbub feature, posting those books on the landing page as if the authors are customers. Along comes an indie author who thinks he or she will have the same result with the promoter…pops for $100 and moves perhaps 75/99c units. NO return on investment. Here’s the real annoyance. The best seller gets plugged for free. The indie author has to pay. I get it that these promoters do that to rack up affiliate fees. I call that double-dipping. I don’t like it.

    I agree with you that contest reviews and paid reviews don’t mean squat and don’t sell books. Those reviews have to go in Editorial anyway. Not on the book as a verified purchase. Readers are savvy. They know the difference. The only person being conned is the author.

    Here’s the bottom line. All of the services you and I mention will continue to flourish, because indie authors don’t do their homework. They want so badly to believe the hype they will fork over $$$. Anyway. Great post.

  9. Excellent roundup that reinforces my own thoughts about these things as I’ve entered indie publishing in the last year. I may have opportunity to teach a college course in fiction writing and am already bookmarking articles (and ALLi in general!) for the publishing/production segment of that course. This post will definitely be in my list.

  10. This information is right on! Another item to add to the list is “celebrity endorsements.” For a fee of approximately $100 one company will send you contact information for five “celebrities.” No mention of what kind of people, or even if the contact information is up to date. It is up to the author to make the actual contacts and follow through with getting the so-called endorsements. That bit of information is in the fine print. Once ordered there are no refunds. Easiest hundred ever sucked from consumers. While I used this company for my first dip into the publishing pond, this was one “perk” I did not fall for.

  11. The only thing I would add to this excellent “beware” list has to do with #2, press releases. I paid thousands for a marketing program that accomplished nothing but an improved bottom line for the marketer. That said, the press-release part of the package was very professionally done. But so what? A press release is only as good as the number of potential readers who see it. Unless you have contacts and “friends” in the media who will give exposure to it, a press release is pointless.

  12. I love online copyright registration and find the website admirably efficient. However, even after registering nine books in the past six years, I find the process takes a good deal more than 5 minutes.

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