Know if you’re dealing with a hybrid publisher, traditional house, or self publishing service. Here are three things to check out first.
I’ve been chatting with one of my past editing clients who has completed a new manuscript. He has published both traditionally and self-published. He is shopping this latest manuscript around to publishers and of course, is coming up with both hybrid publishers and small presses, at least two of which look legit, but one is not a good fit for his genre. (They also want massive rewrites.)
He has been comparing the differences in offers (and prices on the hybrids). The spreadsheet he sent me included items like editing, distribution, marketing and promotion, and time to publication date. They all include cover design and I am assuming (and I shouldn’t assume) interior layout.
First, my advice is to never pay to publish, as tempting as it is to hand off the project to someone else. There are plenty of scammers out there and some legitimate “hybrid” publishers, who are one step up from vanity presses, aka glorified printers. (Full disclosure: I have self-publishing services that range from simple uploads to Done-With-You so you’ll learn how to do it yourself, to Done-For-You. I am not a publisher; I’m more of a concierge. I also have a VERY inexpensive mini-course on self-publishing.)
In the spreadsheet he sent me, there were three important areas that he definitely needed to get clarification on. These three areas are where I see the most promises made and the least promises kept. Companies list these services, but they are always light on the details or the new author doesn’t know that something that sounds wonderful is really no big deal.
Red Flag Areas
Editing: This is one of the most important aspects of creating the book that will represent you (and possibly your business), and it reveals the quality of the way you do things. How much editing and what types of editing? Some of these companies basically run your manuscript through a spellchecker and Grammarly, something you can and should do yourself. You want to see at least copy editing and proofing, but from past experience, you might also need a developmental edit. (Here’s a quick blog post on types of editing.) When talking with a publishing company, ask for the specific type of editing they are offering and ask how many rounds of editing your book will go through. You need at least two rounds and probably three. I do three rounds for my clients.
Distribution: This is the one that sucks newbies in: We’ll make your book available to brick and mortar retail stores! Everyone thinks their book is going to be in the windows of Barnes & Noble across the country. Sorry. No.
Here’s the deal: Anyone can get distribution through IngramSpark. They distribute to all the major online POD platforms and the widest number of eBook platforms, as well as retail outlets. When hybrid publishers and very small presses tell you that they will get your book in places like Barnes & Noble, they are distributing through IngramSpark. This puts your book in their catalog so retailers can order books (at wholesale prices) if they want to do so. The problem is… it’s a HUGE catalog. Unless someone is specifically looking to stock your book, they are not going to find it. It’s the equivalent of having a kiosk in some corner of the Mall of the Americas. SO… ask your prospective publisher exactly where and how they are going to distribute your book. Some small presses DO have distribution into brick and mortar stores and, better, if you’re in a specific genre, they may have a network of specialized shops (museum gift shops, for example) where they distribute. It’s better to have your book in a small shop that has your targeted reader browsing than on the remainder rack at B&N.
Getting your book into airport book/news shops is a whole ‘nother thing. It’s expensive (tens of thousands of dollars) and you need to have some juice behind you: you’re famous, your book is on a hot trending topic (and ready to go), or you have a traditional publisher with whom you have a proven sales track record.
Marketing & Promotion: This can be as little as listing you on their website, sending out an email to their generic, untargeted list, making some social media posts, or including your book in their monthly release newsletter. Some places will do a press release which is good, but it also relies on distribution of that release and there are levels as to how far a press release will go. Most use a service like Newswire at the lowest distribution cost level. (And if they do enough releases, they probably get a special lower rate and show you the higher rate.) The thing to watch out for here is that publishing companies/hybrids will try to upsell you into a bigger, better add-on marketing packages. Ask for a specific marketing and promotion plan in writing and in the contract.
For my client, the two publishers who aren’t asking for fees are his better bet. That’s without adding in my bias to never pay to publish. His next step is to look at things like who owns the copyright (it should be you), how much author copies will cost you (hybrid and fake publishers tend to mark up the price of author copies as a profit center), if you are obligated to buy a minimum number of books, etc. When you get to the contract stage, HIRE A LAWYER. You want an intellectual property lawyer to look over any contract you sign. Everyday, I read nightmare posts from new authors who were sucked in by scam publishing companies, didn’t get the services they were promised, receive no royalties, and worst of all, no longer own the rights to their books.
Is it easier to hand off your book to someone else to do all the publishing, marketing, and promotion? Of course, and as writers, we’d all love to do that with each book and get back to the actual writing. There are decent small presses out there—if you’re going to go that route, look for one who specializes in your genre.
Self-publishing itself isn’t hard. Yes, there are a lot of steps, but once you’ve done it a couple of times, you gain competence and confidence. More and more authors, even those who have had fairly solid traditional publishing contracts are turning to self-publishing. It’s a skill worth learning.