Saturday, October 2, 2010

Self Publishing Scams off the Starboard Bow, Mr. Yog!

You may recall that I have previously mentioned that both agent hunting and editing are areas with great potential for scams...  Well Loves, you haven't seen anything, yet.

Welcome to the glorious world of self publishing, where the scams abound, and hell, in some cases even the scams have scams.

Take Yog's law and hold it close to your heart.  "The money flows towards the writer!"  Keep saying it like a mantra.

So, first and foremost, what are we looking for in a DIY publisher?  Here's what you want: a service that will offer you the ability to turn your manuscript into an electronic and/or physical book, lets you keep all the rights, does not require that you pay anything for these privileges, an ISBN number, and does not require you to buy any copies of your own book.  If any of these conditions are not true, run away as fast as you can.  There are entire websites devoted to writers who got burned by 'self publishers' who ended up requiring the author to buy 50 or more copies of their own book, never sold any books, owned the rights for three years, and didn't pay any royalties.  You don't want to be the author who signed up for that service. 

Who offers legitimate self publishing?,,  I'm sure there are others, but these are the three that I've researched so far.  I will do individual write ups on them in the coming weeks. In addition to write ups on other services as well.  (Full Disclosure: I do have an Amazon Associates Account, and if you do go through my link on the bottom and decide to self publish, I will get a cut.)

Now, what do you not want as a self publisher?

One of the things you have to be realistic about as a self published author is what your book is actually going to do.  It is not going to be on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.  They take one book a year (I don't have numbers for other DIY publishers), so unless you actually wrote a work of breathtaking beauty and staggering genius, it isn't going to be you.  For that matter, even if you did, it still isn't likely to be you.  It may, if you've got good contacts, get onto the shelves of your local indie bookstore and maybe your local library.  If you wrote the right sort of book, there may be a market for it in gift shops, local touristy type places, and things like that.  (Your collection of Thomas Jefferson's greatest sayings coupled with interesting bits of local Virginia history will probably be a good match for the Monticello gift shop, a book shop in Charlottesville and one in Williamsburg.  Beyond that, it's not going very far unless it's online.)  Because of this, the first thing you do not need to pay extra for is anything related to selling your book in a bookstore.  If you want to go the bookstore direction, buy the copies yourself and sell them to the bookstore yourself, skip paying extra for the privilege.  If you do get a bookstore chain interested in more books than you want to be the middleman for, here's another place where owning your rights comes in handy, go find someone who just prints books and have them churn them out for the bookstore.

Writing services.  Do not pay them to read your book and tell you about how well it will sell.  Do not pay them to read your book and then offer suggestions as to how to be a better writer (this is not editing).  Do not pay for writing classes, tutorials, lectures, etc...  Until you've got your book ready to print, don't go visiting the DIY publisher. 

Copyright protection, registration, licensing, etc...  Anything you write is automatically copyrighted for you.  You do not need to spend money getting it registered.  If, like most writers you do everything on your computer, you should have an electronic record of when you wrote your work.  If you want a hard copy, print out your manuscript, stick it in an envelope with the headline and date from that day's newspaper, and then mail it to yourself.  If you're feeling really paranoid get it notarized for what date you put it in that envelope.  When it gets back to you, stick it in your filing cabinet and leave it there.  If you ever need to prove you wrote your work first, there it is, all nicely packaged up, with a US Postal Service date stamp on it. 

Marketing:  This is an area where you will have to spend money, but spend it well.  Most self publishers will offer you options for this and you need to be savy about how much bang you are getting for your buck.  Ask questions, lots of questions, find people who have used these services before and see what they had to say about it.  After all, if the press release service costs $200 and is just a fax saying you wrote a book sent to two dozen papers, well, you can do that for yourself for a lot less than that.  For the most part, unless you know people who have used the service and done well with it, I'd say skip it, you can probably do it for yourself just as well if not better.

Most will also offer packages of things you might or might not need.  Editing: you need it, but do you want to get it from them?  Once again, time to talk to their other authors.  Type setting: you can probably do it for yourself if you take the time to do some research (more on this later).  Cover design: you need it, and this is an area where you really do want a professional who knows what she is doing.  Do you want it from them?  Check out their other covers, maybe you do, maybe not.  Press packages: usually a collection of press releases, post cards, book marks, and a large poster type thing for book signings may be useful but you may also be able to get all of that for less elsewhere.

For any service, any printer, any package out there, Google it before you put your credit card numbers in.  Check it out with other writing communities.  Just because it looks good doesn't mean it is.   Self-publishing is jumping into shark infested water wearing several very fragile blood bags around your neck.  You need to be very careful not to let anything break those bags, otherwise you'll get eaten. 

Finally, read the fine print.  It doesn't matter what the website says in big letters.  It doesn't matter what the correspondent you are emailing with says.  All that matters is that contract you sign.  So read it carefully.  If it doesn't make sense to you, get someone who does understand it to read it.  But make sure it says what you think it says and that it spells out exactly who does what, when, and how. 

Next up:  self publishing with Amazon Create Space.

Amazon Self Publish


  1. Hi Keryl:

    I'm looking forward to your blog on Amazon Self Publishing as I've read a lot about that subject in a blog about Amazon Kindle.


  2. The indie book world is a better place with people like you,Keryl. I am going along the Kindle route for a straightforward 90,000 word action thriller. Formatting I am told is EASY. The Kindle previewer is clogged with glitches that no one seems able to fix. Weeks of my precious writing time has passed me by, so for $25 I am having it done. I'll let you know how I get on.

    1. Hey Peter,

      Please do let us know how it works. So far I've done well with the previewer, but I know it's one of those your mileage may vary sorts of things.

      If it's a matter of $25 or weeks of beating your head against your computer trying to make the impossible work, definitely go for the $25.

      Good luck!