Today I’d like to talk about something that’s become quite worrisome to me. I’ve already touched upon this subject here, in my FAQ, but I want to go into it in more detail.
I’m still receiving e-mails from authors with this question: Who did you use to self-publish On the Island? As I’ve said before, I didn’t use anyone to self-publish my debut novel. I published it myself (which is why it’s called self-publishing) and the book was later acquired by Penguin as part of a two-book publishing contract. But initially, when the book was self-published, I acted as the publisher and I was responsible for all the things a traditional publisher would have done for me. I spent time searching for – and vetting – a freelance content editor, copy editor, and formatter. The names of everyone I used can be found in the link in the first paragraph of this post.
I paid each of these freelance professionals a flat fee, which we agreed upon in advance. There were also written contracts provided (where applicable), so that everyone knew the fee and the completion date of the service provided.
Once everything was complete and my book was ready to be published, I uploaded it to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I also published via Smashwords, so that my book could be available through Sony, Kobo, Apple, and Diesel.
Cost to UPLOAD: zero dollars. I paid nothing.
The reason I’m writing this post today is twofold: First of all, if you’re going to self-publish, you don’t need to pay anyone to do this for you, especially if they’re also going to take a percentage of your royalties. Self-publishing is not nearly as hard as people want you to think it is. It takes work, and there are a lot of steps involved, but it’s not hard. If you’re ready to publish (or query agents), the really hard part – writing your book, revising it, sharing it with betas, revising it again, self-editing, and polishing – should already be done. If these steps haven’t been taken, your book is probably not ready for querying OR publication. Get a critique partner, get some beta readers, spend more time learning the craft of fiction writing, or whatever it is you need to do to write the best book you possibly can. Second of all, when you pay a company to publish your book for you, this is called vanity publishing. You will pay for your own editing, cover, marketing, etc…Print distribution will probably be of the print-on-demand variety, which I don’t have a problem with, but you’re still paying a company to publish your book for you.
And some of you are paying a lot of money to let them do it. When you stumble upon my self-publishing FAQ and then write to me, heartbroken, because you’re out hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars, I feel horrible for you. But if you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to make good business decisions and that includes educating yourself about the business you want to be a part of. Read everything you can about the publishing industry, so that you can make informed choices. There are tons of great articles and blog posts out there, so spend a little time every day learning something new.
So, is it bad to pay a company to do your editing, your cover, your formatting, etc…and then publish your book for you?
I think it is.
Paying freelance professionals on a per-job basis makes a lot more sense. And making sure that you’re the only one who will receive royalties (other than the cut the retailer will take) is always a solid business plan.
These links are a GREAT place to start if you want to learn more about how to self-publish your work. And remember, you can upload your manuscript to Amazon and Barnes & Noble for FREE.
There’s something even more insidious than the vanity publisher, and it’s what I call the “predatory publisher.” With the explosion of self-publishing, more and more writers are throwing their hat in the ring. Unfortunately, that means that these “predatory publishers” are also popping up all over the place. What usually happens is this: An author submits their manuscript and an “offer” to sign the author is made. Unfortunately, what the author finds out later is that they can’t get the publisher to pay the royalties that are due to them. Now they’re in a really bad situation. Also, it is a huge red flag if a publisher is willing to sign you without reading your manuscript. Think about it: why would they buy something they know nothing about?
All of this can be avoided by doing a few things:
1. Self-publish without outside assistance. I’m not talking about your editor, formatter, cover designer, etc… you’ll pay them a flat-fee for services rendered. I’m talking about someone who wants you to pay them money to publish your book and/or also wants a cut of your royalties.
2. Google is your friend. If you’re thinking about signing with a publisher, do your due diligence. There are a lot of really good publishers out there – big, small, and in-between – but check them out. If you don’t have an agent, consider hiring an IP attorney to look at any publishing contract you may be considering.
3. Go to Preditors & Editors (click on the link here). I like to think of P&E as the Better Business Bureau of the publishing world. Go to the section marked ‘Book Publishers’ and check yours out. If it says NOT RECOMMENDED, there’s a reason and I’d steer clear.
So, to re-cap:
1) You are perfectly capable of self-publishing your manuscript on your own, and uploading it to retailers will cost you nothing.
2) Do your due diligence when signing with ANY publisher, and if you don’t have an agent make sure you consult an IP attorney.
3) Never pay a publisher to publish your book for you. You can do that on your own.
Along these same lines, I’d like to caution you when choosing a copy editor.
Because everyone is a copy editor these days.
While I’m certainly glad that there are plenty of available resources, you need to make sure your copy editor is qualified. Ask them if they follow the Chicago Manual of Style or APA. If they don’t use either, or they don’t know what you’re talking about, they are probably not qualified. And just because someone is a voracious reader doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re capable of editing your work. Copy editing is a learned skill, and good copy editors are constantly honing theirs.
Other people who are not qualified to edit your manuscript: your sister, your best friend, your mom (unless they’re actually copy editors). Time and time again, I see copy editing confused with proofreading. While copy editing includes finding typos in a manuscript, copy editing involves a qualified professional showing you all the places you screwed up. A good copy editor will know that your compound modifier is missing a hyphen. A copy editor will tell you when it’s okay to split an infinitive, and when it isn’t. A copy editor will know if you are using simple past when you should be using past perfect (and vice versa). I have learned something new every time one of my manuscripts has been copy edited, which in turn helps me to become a stronger writer. A good copy editor can teach you so many things.
So just be careful, okay?
I’m not trying to burst anyone’s bubble, but I do want you to do your homework because I don’t like it when people are taken advantage of. I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comments sections, so please feel free to ask.
Now let’s go write!