As regular visitors know, I am a strong proponent of self-publishing options for most authors. However, I frequently encounter writers (including one posting a recent comment here) who have been victimized by self-publishing scams: “vanity publishing” companies, masquerading as providers of grossly expensive “packages” of “self-publishing services.” Here, I want to warn you about those rackets and some of the major racketeers.
First, let’s get something straight: Today’s true self-publishing options do not have to be expensive. At a host of online sites, a writer can find and hire talented freelance help to produce great book covers, to design and lay out her print edition, and to format her ebooks (which she can also learn to do easily for herself). The cost for all of that does not need to exceed a few hundred dollars — perhaps $1,000, if you go all-out.
You also can enlist competent volunteer “beta readers” for editing and proofreading assistance, often in exchange for no more than a free autographed copy of your published book and a mention in its “Acknowledgments.” With today’s D.I.Y. tools, you can build your own blog, or have some tech-savvy friend do it for you, for a pittance. You can design and buy 1,000 fancy business cards advertising your book cover and contact information from a site like GotPrint.com for under $20. You can simply, easily set up ebook publishing accounts, then list and upload your ebooks to multiple international online sales sites — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. — for free. You can have your book professionally printed by Amazon’s Createspace or other “print on demand” companies at virtually no charge, and never have to pay huge sums to print up an advance inventory that sits unsold and gathering mold in your basement. And by using tried-and-true online marketing strategies, you can promote your book to your target readers without any wasting money on expensive advertising.
Modern self-publishing, in short, is simple and inexpensive. You do not have to buy “self-publishing packages” costing $2,500 to $10,000 or even more, from companies that promise you the moon in promotion, marketing, and advertising . . . but never deliver. To cite my own example: I self-published HUNTER — to include book cover, print-book interior design and layout, ebook formatting, beta-reader feedback, setting up this blog, post-office-box rental, business cards, state registration of my “Avenger Books” business name, plus shipping envelopes and labels — all for under $1,000.
And I don’t have to emphasize again how well that modest investment paid off.
But with the boom in self-publishing, it was only to be expected that sharks would smell the blood of potential victims in the water: desperate authors who are uneducated, intimidated, and floundering in this strange new publishing ocean. What those authors probably do not expect is that Big Publishing has joined the circling sharks.
In July 2012, Penguin — now Penguin Random House, the biggest of the “Big Five” publishers — bought an outfit called “Author Solutions.” Author Solutions is the umbrella publishing-services operation for a host of its own “vanity publishing” subsidiaries and imprints, including AuthorHouse, Trafford, iUniverse, Xlibris, Palibrio, BookTango, WordClay, FuseFrame, PitchFest, Author Learning Center, and AuthorHive. In addition, Author Solutions provides its services to a host of outside vanity-publishing shops run by other major publishers besides Penguin Random House: Archway (for Simon & Schuster), Partridge (for Penguin), Westbow (for Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins), Balboa Press (Hay House), Abbot Press (Writers’ Digest/F+W Media), Dellarte Press (Harlequin).
Every single one of those imprints is a “vanity press.” By that I mean: companies that make their money, not by selling an author’s books to paying customers (readers), but by selling expensive publishing services to authors themselves. They couldn’t care less how many books are sold; they care only how many authors they can enlist to buy over-priced “packages” of services.
Nobody has been more on top of these scams than indie writer David Gaughran. (Among his books, David is author of the outstanding guide to ebook self-publishing, Let’s Get Digital, and to its superb how-to companion about marketing self-published ebooks, Let’s Get Visible.) You can read several of his recent exposes about these sleazy operations here and here. Each contains plenty of links to other background information. You will see how the entire publishing industry and its publications — including Publishers Weekly, Writers’ Digest, Kirkus, and major book review organs — profiteer from it all.
Meanwhile, if you really want to learn how to self-publish, simply and inexpensively — and how to avoid the vanity-press scammers — I urge you to read Mr. Gaughran’s excellent books. There are others, but his are a great place to start.