Self-Publishing Scams: Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing
I recently re-posted my article about Publishing Scams and How they Work. I wonder why so many authors, after spending thousands of hours working on a book, fail to conduct a few critical hours of research that will save them thousands of dollars and immense frustration. Perhaps it’s because the system that preys on uninformed authors is so powerful, enormous, and far-reaching that it sounds like a wacky conspiracy theory. It can’t be true. This sounds like Bermuda Triangle stuff.
David Gaughran’s article, “Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story,” explores how documents related to lawsuits filed against Author Solutions suggest its relationships with such publishing luminaries as Penguin/Random House, Publishers Weekly, Lulu.com, Kirkus Reviews, and others are part of a huge web of influence and deception that preys on authors. Emily Seuss does a capable job of warning authors on her own blog.
Something that sounds like a conspiracy theory isn’t necessarily false.
The very notion of a self-publishing company is an oxymoron. As people of words, authors need not be led so far afield by games of cheap semantics. If you sent your clothes out to be cleaned, you wouldn’t claim to be doing your laundry yourself. If you went to school, you wouldn’t claim to be self-educated. Why is it that people who hire an author services company claim to be self-published?
Beyond the art of writing lies the business of publishing. Just as you had to learn the basics of grammar, spelling, and style to become a writer, you must learn the basics of book production, distribution, and marketing to become a publisher. There’s no such thing as “hand off your manuscript and be done with it”—even in traditional publishing—but this fantasy is the flypaper that vanity presses use to attract and kill their prey.
Life is full of danger. Crossing the street is potentially fatal, but with a little bit of knowledge, it becomes a trivial undertaking with high odds of success. Publishing is no different.
- Research publishing before you finish your book. Don’t finish the last page and ask, “what do I do now?” Buy books on self-publishing and read the many blogs on the topic.
- Work with professional editors, typesetters, and designers—but contract these professionals yourself. Why pay a professional rate for marked up services? Work directly with the people who will be working with you. Steer clear of middlemen. If you’re having design conversations with an account representative, you’re being kept out of your own loop.
- Own your assets. If you’re a self-publisher, buy your own ISBN number. File your own copyright application. Don’t fall for the “free ISBN” scam; you get what you pay for. Pay the (ridiculous) fee for your own ISBN number and establish yourself as the publisher of record. When you work with editors, artists, and designers, the digital files they produce are works made for hire; they belong to you. Avoid anyone who refuses to share these assets; leverage over you is the only value these files give a contractor once your book is in production.
- Run the numbers. Understand how many books you have to sell before you make any profit. Calculate the costs of any services you contract, seller commissions, and your research and writing time. Many writers elect to spend more money than they’ll earn for the simple joy of writing and publishing a well-crafted book. This is fine—as long as you don’t conflate the goals of art with the goals of business.
I’ve published six books of my own and helped many other authors publish theirs. I’ve had to overcome a few production challenges but I’ve never been scammed or ripped off. I even got a personal telephone response from top-level execs at Ingram when I had an important quality control problem to bring to their attention. My dealings in self-publishing have been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve dealt with plenty of honest people who are genuinely concerned about producing excellent work.
The network of “author services” companies that preys on self-publishers is hardly invisible. The first page of results from a simple web search for “publish scams” or a perusal of Predators and Editors will keep you engaged for hours. Spend an evening or two reading about publishing to protect all those hours spent writing. Publishing scammers are greedy and unethical, and the scope of their misdeeds is shocking, but the only advantage they have over you is your own ignorance. Publishing a book is as safe as crossing the street.
Look both ways.
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