Pitfalls of Self-Publishing
The following blog article originally appeared on LetUsWrite.wordpress.com and is an opinion piece based on over eight years of research into independent publication.
As I have already written in a previous blog/article, self-publishing is a lot of work. Some people will opt to do all or most of the hard work themselves. Others will decide to opt for the 'publishing' and 'marketing' packages offered by POD services, self-publishing services, and vanity presses. As with anything, the most important thing that you can do before making a decision is to 'do your homework.' Self-publishing and picking the best POD company for yourself is no different. Below I outline a few things to take into consideration before making your final pick.
**Disclaimer** The following is just my opinion and information that I have gathered for myself over the years of researching POD services, self-publishing, and working with self-publishing companies. I currently use LuLu Press which is a self-publishing on-line company that I have used for many years. I am in NO WAY affiliated with or endorsing this company and strongly recommend that you do your own research to pick the company that is right for YOU. However, LuLu is the one that I use so I know a lot about it and have had much success from working with the company. I know that there ARE other self-publishing companies out there that are just as good as LuLu. I continue to stay with LuLu Press because I know how the website works and am quite happy with the way my work has turned out.
vanity presses - a printing company that makes its money by charging authors to bind their manuscripts into book form and then manufacture those books. They charge self-publishing authors fees to proofread/edit the work, to market the work, and often rope the author into purchasing numerous copies of their work that they then must sell in order to recoup the money spent on having the work published.
Fees, Fees, and More Fees:
Even if the economy was not in the shape that it is in, money would still play a huge role in the decision making of picking a self-publishing service. People choose self-publishing for many reasons: complete artistic freedom of their work, the satisfaction that comes from having done the whole project on their own, a work that is of a genre that mainstream publishing companies are not interested in...the list is as varied as the authors themselves. For those who do begin to consider self-publishing as an option, usually one of the very first questions they have is "How much is this going to cost me?"
1. Sure, we'll publish that for you...for a price: Some companies will allow you create your book from beginning to end without charging you a single cent. (I personally use LuLu.com for all of my needs because there is absolutely NO cost to me if I choose to do all the work myself. Like most companies, however, LuLu does offer publishing, editing, and marketing packages that can be purchased.) Others will charge you to upload your book even if you do not purchase anything else from them. Almost all POD and publishing services will allow you to purchase marketing, publishing, and editing packages from them. These packages can run into several thousands of dollars.
2. Make changes? No problem, but it's going to cost you: You have to keep in mind that self-publishing is a business just like anything else. One of the ways that vanity presses make money is by charging the author to change their book once it has been edited.
3. Would you like fries with that? Something that I cannot stand is when I am being force fed something that I really do not want and do not need. Unfortunately, some publishing companies are going to force you into purchasing services that you neither want nor need. These could be those companies who will not publish you until you have paid them to proofread or edit your manuscript. Having your work edited is always a good idea, but vanity presses make their money from the authors' pocketbooks, not the actual selling of the books, so their editors and proofreaders are not usually the best in the world and are sometimes outrageously overpriced.
If you do decide on an editor, be sure to do your research and pick one that has lots of experience and comes highly recommended by other authors who have tried their services. Be careful though. Editors and proofreaders are suppose to be nothing more than spell checks with fingers. If you have one that rips your manuscript apart to the point where your writing style has disappeared, then you may want to consider finding another editor. One of the many problems with today's editors is that many were aspiring authors who could not get published and end up "living out" their dreams through the authors that they edit by imposing their own writing styles and preferences into the manuscript. If you are concerned about your work no longer resembling the original submitted, make your concerns known up front. Ask other authors how much their manuscript changed after the editing process. If it is at all possible, ask for sample edited pages that shows the original work and the edited version so that you can compare the two. Finally, if your gut tells you that something just isn't feeling right, move on.
4. How many copies would you like? One of the worst things you can do is invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in purchasing copies of your book. Your money is best spent trying to market yourself. This is why most authors choose POD services, or Print-on-Demand presses. Some companies (such as LuLu) do not require you to purchase advance copies of your book. They print them out as each copy is ordered by the readers. By doing this, the company takes their cut for producing the work out of each copy rather than forcing the author to pony-up money in the beginning and being saddled with a garage full of books that they can't sell. Another good thing about printing out each copy as it is ordered rather than mass production is that if you decide to change something in the book you won't have all that money wasted on copies of books that you will have to replace with the new edition.
5. Distribution Packages: everyone knows that marketing your new book is a huge chunk of work. Many people will not know where to begin and will put their faith, and their money, in the hands of a vanity press who will promise to market their book to the "appropriate channels." What they fail to tell the authors is that just because they make the book available to distributors doesn't mean those distributors will actually want to purchase and sell the book. The retailers are looking to make a buck just like the vanity presses and will only purchase titles that they see a demand for. So if the distributors aren't purchasing your book, then the distribution package is essentially worthless.
Marketing yourself may seem like a daunting task. But with the internet, the avenues of free advertising and marketing tools is endless. Create your own free website with samples of your work. Join writing forums and showcase excerpts of your book. Create your own Twitter account and rack up on followers. Create your own blog if you had rather not create a whole website. The ideas for marketing for free or on a budget are endless. All you need is a little creativity and the time to put together your own empire.
6. Promotion, Promotion, Promotion! For a price: as with #5, vanity presses may pressure you (or even require you) into purchasing promotional packages that will not really do you any good. An example of this service would be to display your book at the annual Book Expo America. This expedition exhibits millions of books every year, so having a single copy of your work amongst them is about as likely to get your work noticed as a needle in haystack. Another promotional service that is offered is sending out press releases to national newspapers announcing the release of your book. While this may sound like a good idea, you need to look at it from a reader's point of view.
Let's say you opened a national newspaper to see a small 1" X 1" announcement that John Thornton just released a new book. Your first reaction is going to be, "Who's John Thornton?" If you are not a big name author, then no one is going to want to purchase a book based on a small announcement in a national newspaper. However, many local newspapers would happily accept a press release from a LOCAL author who is announcing the release of their book. And if you happen to live in a smaller town, they just love supporting their local talent.
Another great marketing tool is to request that your local library or bookstore allow you time to make a public speech about your new work. And if you have insisted upon purchasing copies of your book, now would be a great time to try to sell them. Even better, what person could resist a FREE autographed copy of a book from a local author? When it comes to promoting yourself and your work, creativity is the key to success.
7. I just spent thousands of dollars to get my book into print.....um, where are all those books I just bought? As with any contract, you must READ THE FINE PRINT. Often lost in the sea of promotional materials that the vanity press offers is the little known fact that you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on their services and not have a single copy of your book to show for it. If you decide to purchase any type of package from a self-publishing company, make sure you know how many, if any, books you will actually have at the end of the process.
8. Yippee! I just spent my entire life savings on getting my novel published. I even have ten thousands books to show for it! Except that when you open up the book it falls apart....or the cover is as thin as the paper the book is printed on....or the ink on the pages smudge every time I touch them....or the cover art is so distorted that I honestly can't tell WHAT is on the cover.....
We've all heard the saying that you get what you pay for. In the publishing world, that is not always the truth. The last thing you want is to offer your readers a very low-quality printed book. Whether you choose a free-to-publish company like LuLu or opt to spend money on a vanity press, the very first thing you will want to do is purchase a book that the company has printed. After all, even if you are only being charged $0.005 cents/page, those pages aren't worth ink if they are so thin that they tear when you try to turn the page. What's even worse is paying $0.50/page for the same shoddy work.
9. Production Price vs Cover Price vs Percentage Sales....wait, I'm confused!? I prefer to work with POD companies that take their cut of the profits out of each book that I sell. But keep in mind that just because the production price appears to be lower doesn't mean that the difference between the production price and the cover price belongs to you. In reality, some other systems charge a hefty percentage of any increase in book price above the production cost. While some companies will charge a flat percentage rate of the amount of markup, others will have an inflating percentage rate that means the more you go above production cost, the bigger the cut for the vanity press. You will want to make sure you find out exactly how much profit you will make off of each book before deciding on which company to use. You also need to compare production prices. The last thing you want is to have a severely over-priced book that no one is willing to buy because you had to ramp up the final purchase price in order to make any type of profit.
10. LOSS OF RIGHTS: perhaps one of the most important thing to remember to find out is if you are signing away your copyrights to the vanity press! So BEWARE and once again, read the fine print. The same goes for signing up with writing forums. I have come across a few who will allow you to post your work on their sites but by doing so you are giving up your rights to the work and giving them the right to repost your work on the internet or even in print. Bottom line, you do not EVER want to give up your copyrights to your work. When you give up your copyrights, you are giving up any right to reprint, reprint, republish, and sell the work to others.
In summary, the technology available today will allow you to get the word out about your new novel. How much money you decide to spend is entirely up to you. There ARE ways to get your name known, for free, if you are willing to put forth the time and effort required. Remember that marketing yourself takes place BEFORE you actually get ready to sell your book. By networking on the internet and giving samples of your work to people, you will get them hooked on your style. Given enough time and energy, it is possible to build up a substantial reader base long before you ever release your book.