Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: New Hope, Pennsylvania
I touched on self-publishing yesterday when I talked about self-pubbed e-books but many people are still paying hundreds (thousands?) of dollars to self-publish traditional books. Let me be clear up front. There are some definite times when self-publishing is the very best course. For instance:
- When you have a very narrow subject– too narrow for a traditional publisher– and you know exactly who needs your book and how to reach those people. And, when you did your own realistic proforma profit/loss analysis, the bottom line made it worthwhile.
- When your book is an important book for your own family– say, the story of your grandparents– and it is worth the cost to keep the family history alive.
- When you have a significant speaking presence and need supporting product for your book table. And, when you did your own realistic proforma profit/loss analysis, the bottom line made it worthwhile.
We know some wonderful self-publishing companies that we’ve recommended for authors for whom self-publishing is appropriate– publishers like Winepress Publishing* or Believer’s Press*. Do you know what the tagline is for Believer’s Press? “Christian Self-publishing.” How’s that for being upfront?
How to spot the charlatans:
- As opposed to a self-publisher like Believer’s Press, too many subsidy/vanity publishers try to masquerade as traditional royalty-paying publishers. Do a survey of self-publishing websites. They are filled with hyperbole and outright lies on the part of self-publishers. You’ll see promises of books being sold through bookstores, royalties paid, etc. You see way too many subsidy or vanity publishers claiming to be traditional publishers. When a company works so hard to hide what they actually do, I’d ask myself what they are hiding.
- The shady self-publishers love to point to traditional publishers as the bad guys– as the mean people who want to keep writers from success, who are keeping them out of the inner circle.
- They actively advertise for writers– saying they are actively looking for good manuscripts.
- They quote huge sales numbers for some books but without specifics that can be cross-checked.
- They tell you they can get the books into distributors, chains and bookstores.
Here’s the problem. The number of writers trying to get published is significant. Many a writer has deep pockets and would be more than willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of holding a published book in his hands. Voila! A lucrative market with highly motivated potential consumers. Too many opportunists see it as a goldmine.
If you are determined to self publish, do the following things:
- Find a reputable subsidy publisher who is proud enough of his services that he is honest about what he does. Read the warnings on Preditors & Editors to see if that publisher is listed.
- Do your due diligence. Once you’ve picked a couple of potential publishers ask them for sample copies of books they’ve published. Also check out other books on the website. Study the covers. If you can’t recognize good cover design, ask some knowledgable friends how the book stacks up next to other books on the bookshelves of stores. Look at the interior. I saw some books from one self-publisher that had less than half-inch margins, dense type and no interior design. Trust me, if you used this publisher you’d be ashamed to even give this book away.
- Work up a business plan. Do a proforma. See exactly what it’s going to cost you. Decide if you can afford the project even if you only sell a couple hundred books (which is not unusual for self-pubbed books).
- Work up a marketing plan. Decide in advance how you can make sales happen. Be realistic. The stores are not going to stock your book. They would have to create a vendor file, track and issue purchase orders for one single title (instead of a vendor file for a publisher from whom they buy hundreds of different bestselling titles). They are simply not going to do it. You need to figure out how you can get the book in the hands of readers.
- Figure out the volume of the books you will have to buy. How many books are packed in a carton? How big are the cartons? How many cartons will you have to store? Do you have enough dry, climate-controlled storage room? When I think about the number of cars that are parked out in the weather all across America while boxes of self-pubbed books are getting damp in the garage, I shudder. (And yes, I understand that print on demand–POD– solves this problem.)
Don’t self-publish if:
- You think it will help you get a leg up with agents and publishers. We know the names and reputations of all the vanity presses, no matter what they call themselves. It doesn’t hurt, unless it makes us think the author doesn’t have the patience for this industry. But it doesn’t help because even if the author reports impressive sales there’s no way to verify those sales and no way to determine if those readers can be reached with a traditional book.
- You don’t have the money to lose. It breaks my heart when I hear that someone took a second mortgage to self-publish a book.
- You don’t have any way to sell the books beyond friends and family. I receive dozens of emails asking if I can help sell a self-published book. (Not the work of an agent.) Or if I can help find a publisher to help sell a self-published book. (Not the work of a publisher.)
The reason I chose to end this series by talking about self-publishing is that I find far too many people trying to slip their hands into writers’ pockets. It is so frustrating. It’s already hard enough for writers to pursue their dreams. I cringe at the opportunists trying to figure ways to get rich off those dreams.
Your turn: Has looking at the whole week of “broken things” depressed you? (I hope not. I believe forearmed is forewarned.) After reading the comments and the well-thought out discussion, I’m encouraged by the thoughtful, diligent writers who are part of our wider family. I would encourage you to hang in there. But tell us, what has helped you to trust the process regardless of its drawbacks? And if you’ve got experience with some of the things I’ve called broken, let us know your experience whether you agree with me or not.
*As reputable agents, we don’t get a kickback for recommending a self-publisher. When I mention a service, it is only because we’re familiar with them. Several self-publishing companies have come to agents seeking referrals and offering a finder’s fee of sorts. We’ve never participated.