Did you even know there were self-publishing Dos and Don’ts? Absolutely there are!
Ok, first of all, I don’t even like the term self-publish. I think it’s misleading.
A much more accurate term is independent publishing, but that’s another topic for another day.
Since you didn’t click on this article to read an article about the debate regarding the use of those terms, I’m going to dive right into what the title teases: How (Not) to Self-Publish Your Book.
“There’s a sucker born every minute.”
The quote that has long been erroneously attributed to P.T. Barnum is nevertheless true, or so it seems. If only people did a little bit of homework. Well, maybe a little more homework, they would find that a “Self-Publishing Services” company that charges in the thousands to help you independently publish your own book is not only unnecessary, it’s a poor use of your resources.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who said a friend of hers recently spent in the many thousands of dollars to “self-publish” her book using a company she found online that offers supported self-publishing.
I thought that surely I must have heard her wrong so I asked her again just to be sure.
She told me the figure again. (I won’t name it here, but just know it was not too far from $10,000!)
My jaw dropped. We agreed it was heartbreaking to think that this person had thrown away so much money.
The Self-Publishing Services Swindle
After hearing about the poor woman who threw away thousands of dollars for a product that, in the end, she wasn’t even that happy with, I did some research about the “self-publishing services” company that she used, as well as other companies that provide the same or similar “services.”
The short story? They charge you a ton of money for a minimal set of services and then you earn a paltry royalty on books that you “self-published.”
Here are some of the ripoffs that await “Self-Publishing Service” clients:
One company offers a number of packages starting at about $1,000, but the entry level package makes it plain that it does not offer copyrighting your book so the novice author/publisher is likely to dismiss that level package right away for fear of it not offering adequate protection for their work. (This company doesn’t mention the fact that the act of putting one’s book in writing offers automatic copyright protection.)
That $1,000 package also won’t get you a decent copy edit. What it will get you is a “custom cover design” and a discount on the purchase of your own books starting at 30% off the retail price.
Yes. You read that right.
Since this isn’t a print-on-demand company like KDP or IngramSpark, this company charges you a different price for your own book depending on how many copies you order, but you’d have to order at least 1,000 copies to get their best listed discount of 60% off.
Count the costs
But know this: Book stores expect to buy your books wholesale (a standard 40% discount) leaving you with 60% off the retail price out of which you must also deduct the cost of producing the book. That pretty much rules out your ability to buy books from this particular company to sell as signed copies to your local independent bookstores because you couldn’t make a profit if you did.
Additionally, if you use this company to sell your book—which is really the point with these companies—you will only receive 10% of the retail price as a royalty (compared to a potentially more substantial royalty with KDP or IngramSpark).
Another “Self-Publishing Services” company I found has no information available on their website on the cost of their publishing packages. You have to call them, but they do have a calculator on their site so you can see how much you would have to sell your book at retail in order to make your desired royalty.
I put in the numbers for a book like my own The Smuggler’s Gambit—324 pages, trade paperback. It said for me to make $1.00 royalty per book I’d have to charge $15.99. I charge only $13.99 for the paperback AND I’m making a royalty that is substantially more than that with CS and IS.
So what I’m getting out of this is that not only are they charging an arm and a leg for a bunch of fluff services (most of which involve them simply acting as hand-holders for authors who are just wanting to publish a book), they then continue to make money off of those authors through book sales.
It sounds a whole lot like a swindle to me.
First of all, you can actually publish a book at no cost if you want, but I don’t recommend it. You need to invest a little bit to ensure that you have a quality product to offer.
Instead of throwing a pile of money away at one of these “Self-Publishing Services” companies, though, I suggest you put some money aside for the following:
- Copy editor – Rates range considerably, but this will probably be your greatest expense. You can see some of the going rates here. The Editorial Freelancers Association is a fabulous resource for finding a copy editor. (It’s where I found mine. More on copy editing here.)
- Cover design – If you’re just doing an e-book, consider using Canva’s new e-book cover design option. It’s totally free unless you want to buy any of their graphics. For print books, there are countless designers out there who offer inexpensive book design services. Granted, CreateSpace does offer cover design templates, but I don’t recommend using those. If you have the money, go ahead and invest in a professional cover. You’ll be glad you did. Don’t worry about not understanding the design specs, by the way. That’s your cover designer’s job.
- Interior layout design – There are templates available that you can download and use in Word for your book layout. Joel Friedlander also has some templates over at his site thebookdesigner.com. You can try to do it yourself, but if it just isn’t coming out as professional as you would like, hire someone.
- ISBN and barcode – If you want to keep things super simple and just focus on selling your books at Amazon.com, then the free ISBN and barcode service from CreateSpace may be all you need. Keep in mind, though, that if you use their free barcode, your book will have CreateSpace listed as the publisher of record. If you’re like me, however, and you want your own publishing company, you’ll want to buy your own ISBN and barcode. CreateSpace will sell you an ISBN if you want to get one from them. I went straight to the source for mine, though. Bowker is the United States agency that registers and manages ISBN information. You can buy ISBNs from them individually or in more economical blocks. I bought 10 ISBNs before I published The Smuggler’s Gambit. I’ll soon be using my third ISBN number for book three in my series so I feel like I have a way to go before I have to worry about buying more.
Beyond that, the only expenses you should have for writing your book will come from things like your own research or any traveling you do or workshops you attend for improving your skills as a writer.
Some good options
You can make your books directly available to Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing, also known as KDP. KDP also offers expanded distribution to other book retailers, but instead of using their expanded distribution network, you might prefer submitting your book files to IngramSpark and let them handle distributing your print book to retailers other than Amazon. Another option is Draft2Digital. They will prepare your files and submit them to vendors on your behalf. They do take slightly more in royalty than going direct to the book vendor, but they also save you a step of formatting your books for print and digital.
If you use the search feature of this website, you can find several more articles about independent publishing (or self-publishing.)
If you have any specific questions or comments about independently publishing your book(s), I’d love for you to write a message below.
This is an updated version of an article I originally published on October 9, 2015.