Find a Credible Self-Publisher & Avoid Vanity Presses
There’s any number of great reasons to self-publish your book instead of going the traditional route. With more creative and financial control, quicker turnaround times, and without editors acting as gatekeepers, self-publishing your book is an attractive option. As a result, retailers like Amazon are flooded daily with self-published books. And without those experienced and discerning gatekeepers, many of those books are simply not very high quality. It can be hard to stand out when self-publishing your book.
With the quality that traditional publishers ensure, and the access they provide, authors have a far better chance at getting onto bookstore shelves and in front of readers. You’ll stand out from the thousands of self-published books on Amazon and compete directly with the much smaller pool of high-quality titles from major publishers.
So how exactly do you get that same quality and access while self-publishing? It means giving your book the same treatment it would get from traditional publishers, at every step of the process. There are now a wide range of hybrid and collaborative publishing companies that say they can provide this, but it’s absolutely crucial to make sure they are credible—especially since you’re opting to pay an up-front fee, instead of sacrificing most of your book’s earnings and creative control in the long-run.
Sorting The Bad From The Good
While even legitimate companies offer varying degrees of quality in their services, the model also provides an opening for predatory, or at least misleading, conduct. So your first task when considering self-publishing your book through a hybrid publishing company is to make sure you’re dealing with a credible, vetted, and reputable company.
ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, offers a ranking of the best and worst publishing services. Not only will this show you who comes recommended, but perhaps even more importantly, it will show you who to avoid. Their ‘Watchdog Advisory’ category tells you which services fail to follow their Code of Standards, receive consistent complaints, and have been subject to legal action. You can also find rankings of specific publishing companies by the Better Business Bureau.
Finally, you should try to speak to authors that have worked with a company in the past. If they have confidence that their clients are satisfied, a good publishing company will provide you with this opportunity.
Many of those with the worst reputations are vanity presses. This began as a term for a model in which authors pay to have a book published after it was rejected by major publishers, and predates the rise of digital self-publishing that we’re seeing today. These days, however, the term is mostly used for companies that simply print some copies your book, without putting any real effort into making sure it has a chance to sell. For one, this means insufficient attention to editing and design, but it can also mean no efforts whatsoever to distribute or market your book. They don’t offer connections to distribution networks, and they don’t take action to get your book in front of readers.
There’d be nothing inherently wrong with that model if it authors knew what they were getting ahead of time. The problem is that many of these companies are anything but transparent about what services they do and don’t provide, and use high-pressure sales techniques to prey on authors—especially those frustrated by trying to get a deal with a major publisher.
By the time authors sign a contract, send a manuscript, and pay fees that can range into the thousands of dollars, they find themselves locked into a situation that may give them print copies of their book, but won’t get them any closer to accomplishing their publishing goals. Once the fee’s been paid, vanity presses have little incentive to make sure the book sells. They won’t bother to consult the author for input on the process, and generally, they don’t count on getting return customers.
For example, many of the most notoriously misleading and high-pressure vanity presses fall under the umbrella of Author Solutions, a parent company that includes imprints like AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Palibrio, and Booktango. Even by its own account, Author Solutions has worked with over 200,000 authors to publish just 250,000 books, suggesting that there are very few return clients. Author Solutions imprints have been subject to a steady stream of complaints and even legal action, claiming deceptive, misleading, and predatory practices.
Where The Money Goes
In addition to independent rankings, there are other guidelines you can use to make sure you’re working with a legitimate hybrid publisher. First, it is important to get a handle on how much you can expect to pay. Second, you want to know where that money is going. It can get your book much further to work with a top-notch editor or cover designer that has experience working on bestsellers from major publishers—but you should expect it to cost thousands of dollars. You should not, on the other hand, be spending thousands of dollars on a large print-run without a plan to sell the books, or spending $1,300 dollars on press releases, as Author Solutions has reportedly offered.
So while any publisher will need to see your manuscript before they can offer a firm, customized quote on the cost of publishing a book, a credible publisher should be transparent from the start with a broad estimate of costs, and where that money will go. While it’s ultimately up to bookstore buyers whether your book ends up on shelves, a good publisher will offer access to distribution networks beyond Amazon. Thanks to print-on-demand services that can print copies of books as they’re ordered, there’s also no reason to spend big money on a print run unless you have a plan in place to make sure the books are sold.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a self-publishing company that acts as a distributor will have extra incentive to sell books, since they’ll likely take the roughly ten percent of royalties that a distributor normally receives. If they’re also working with you from the beginning, this can motivate them to put as much effort as possible into editing, design, and marketing. Not to mention if you’re using their own logo or imprint.
Any marketing campaigns should be set up to produce quantifiable results that can be measured, and if they’re not getting those results, you shouldn’t have to keep paying for them. Likewise, avoid retainer models for media appearances, which will have authors paying for a “chance” for media appearances that could never materialize. As much as possible with marketing, you should aim to only pay for what you get.
Paying to publish a book is no longer a last resort for authors that can’t get traditional publishing deals. Instead, you’re choosing to invest in your book instead of asking a major publisher to do so, holding on to creative control and the vast majority of royalties. The job of a hybrid or collaborative publisher is to coordinate the process and ideally, connect you to the same networks and talent that traditional publishers use. The biggest challenge for any author starting out on this path will be to make sure they’re working with a company that will say exactly what they do, and do exactly that.