Self-publishing is big business, but there’s more to putting out a book than just printing it. When you’re working alone, without a literary agent or traditional publisher, you must be vigilant about scams. We asked Andrew Chapman, self-publishing expert and author of The 53 Biggest Self-Publishing Mistakes and How To Avoid Them (a free e-book), and Arielle Eckstut, veteran literary agent and coauthor of Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully!, to reveal the five top things to be wary of when working with self-publishing companies.
1. Excessive flattery
Unscrupulous publishers will play on your emotional heartstrings. Consider sweet talk — “You deserve to be published” or “You have worked so hard, and we intend to share your voice with the world” — a red flag. Reliable publishers don’t butter you up to gain your business.
2. Promises of grandeur
When a self-publisher says, “We’ll get your book into every bookstore,” you might imagine your novel gracing the shelves of every Barnes & Noble and Borders in America. But in reality, this means your book will be merely listed in every bookstore’s computer database, available for order if a customer requests it.
3. Ineffective marketing
Most author services companies (which print your book on demand when one is ordered) and self-publishers offer all-inclusive packages that bundle printing and binding with editing, proofreading, sales, distribution, publicity and shipping. It’s easy to assume that the more services you buy, the more success you’ll have. Unfortunately, the “professional marketing materials” you receive may just be boilerplate press releases that journalists will ignore or a brief listing in a catalog that book buyers trash. In fact, marketing and publicity charges are one of the main ways these businesses make money. Odds are you can market the book yourself just as well — or even better. Contact local media outlets (such as community newspapers) along with libraries, book clubs and local bookstores. Or hire a willing college student majoring in public relations to knock out a few press releases for you.
4. Convoluted contracts
Self-publishing contracts are filled with enough gobbledygook to make your head spin. Terms like “author profit,” “royalty” and “net payment” can be interpreted in many ways. Before you sign anything, ask questions and have an attorney take a look. How will you get paid? How often? How much? And when? Will you be paid based on the book’s cover price? Are returns (unsold books) taken into account? Get answers in writing and added to your contract to avoid disputes later on.
5. Copyright tricks
Here’s another game some publishers like to play: They tell you how difficult and expensive it is to obtain an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and/or a copyright, then offer to “help you” with those piddly details. But an ISBN, which identifies a title for tracking and sales, actually is easy to obtain. You can purchase your own for $125 from the U.S. ISBN Agency at Bowker. And in the United States, an author automatically owns the copyright to his or her work. Never sign yours away. Protect your copyright by registering your work online with the Library of Congress for $35.