Most new writers ponder on whether they should self-publish or submit their work to a publishing house. Both have their pros and cons, and quite often the decision is to self-publish. Whether it’s because the writer believes his work isn’t quite as good as an established author’s; maybe he can’t meet the publishing house’s requirements; or maybe he just wants complete control of his work, more and more writers are now self-publishing. Based on my experiences, this is what new writers should know about self-publishing.
Watch out for self-publishing pitfalls
However, even with having total control, you can still hit pitfalls, scams and unexpected expenses. In 2000, I tried my hand at an illustrated book, my first book which I now refer to as my “practise book”. Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with a self-publishing company. This prompted me, several years later, to start my own independent publishing company to help new writers avoid the same mishaps that I had experienced.
In my article “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”, I mention that you should not try to do everything yourself unless you have the experience or knowledge for the tasks in question. You also have to know what tasks are required.
There were no words in my illustrated book, so thankfully no editing was required. I didn’t know about formatting, cover design, or binding. In addition, I didn’t know anything about marketing and distribution. I just had an idea for a book and wanted to make it and sell it. A very raw newbie!
Watch out for compliments and big promises
I researched Book-On-Demand companies (that’s what they were called back then) and found one in my hometown that seemed reasonably priced. My main reason for choosing this company was because it was local and well-known. I made an appointment to see the representative. He complimented me on my book, gave me several compliments, and proceeded to sell me the best package with all the bells and whistles. There were promises of having my book listed on all the online bookstores, in libraries, listings on prominent spots of their website, no minimum or maximum number of books printed, etc.
What I should have been told
Here’s what I wasn’t told: that if I had any text in my book, it should be edited. You NEVER edit your own work. Even though I edit my clients’ work, I have my own editor for my work. This is another important point about what new writers should know about self-publishing.
I wasn’t told that the illustrations and page numbering were badly formatted; that the picture used for the cover was not sharp enough and their “touch ups” didn’t match the rest of the cover.
When I said I wanted ‘x’ number of books and had a book signing event, he didn’t discourage me from making such a mistake ––he actually encouraged me to order more books. Keep in mind that the representative knew everything about me as a new writer.
In the end, I threw out 200 copies of my book because I realized too late that the book was not saleable as it was. When you’re a new writer, you hope that someone would point out the errors rather than take advantage of your limited knowledge and scoop up your money.
Beware Extra Fees
What I also wasn’t made aware of until too late was that there are administrative fees whether you sell a book or not. The fees that you pay also increase depending on whether your book is sold through a directly affiliated bookstore, through an indirect or third party bookstore, or a library. In the end, you may just get pittance for your book while others are collecting their fees.
Questions to ask a self-publishing company
Whether you seek a company in person or use an online service, look past the pretty colours and see exactly what they offer. You will need editing, formatting if your book isn’t formatted properly, typesetting if you haven’t selected complimenting fonts and book cover design (even if provide your own art). Also, you’ll need an ISBN number (some companies provide these).
If you haven’t already completed those tasks, does the company provide them? At what cost? Will you need help with distribution ––especially if you don’t have a following or a list of buyers? And again at what cost? Some companies may offer 10 or 20 free copies of your book. However, this isn’t a big expense to them if they have their own printing press. Don’t let that be the deciding factor.
Know the publishing tasks and costs
In the end, writing a book is more than just writing the book. Know all the tasks required, are they provided and at what cost. Be aware of unexpected costs hiding behind the pretty colours, bells and whistles. Shine in your success, and avoid disappointments. This is what I think new writers should know about self-publishing.
Ariane Weathers, March 2019