Self-publishing services: mind your e-business

There seems to be a lot of concern in the self-publishing community that indie authors are being taken for a ride. There are some unscrupulous people out there who are offering “packages” of “self-publishing services” for exorbitant fees. What services? Well, basically, some of the things they are offering to do you can do yourself for free, like uploading a file to Amazon and Smashwords. So, that’s pretty bad. Still, some people don’t want to be bothered and are willing to pay for the privilege, but in that case I’d recommend those people take the time and patience it takes to find a traditional publisher, since they are obviously not interested in actually self-publishing, just in getting published. People who self-publish without wanting to bother with the details of that decision are kind of like “big game hunters” that are willing to pay for everything just so long as they don’t actually have to do any, you know, hunting.

 

"This sucks. I don't know why I couldn't have shot him from my laptop. Worst. Safari. Ever."

“This sucks. I don’t know why I couldn’t have shot him from my laptop. Worst. Safari. Ever.”

 

And yes, there are services that will even write the book for you. Don’t get me started.

However, these package sites are also offering to do services that most authors can’t do for free. Namely, proofreading, editing (line/copy), formatting and cover design. So, while you might be throwing some money away on buying the free stuff included in one of these “packages” you will be getting some things you’d have to pay for anyway. Therefore, the bone of contention is mostly over how much they charge and less over what they are charging you for.

Now, I’ve read a couple other blog posts about this by other self-published authors and they come across as indignant over this slight to their profession and outraged by the actions of these “vultures” who prey upon the innocence of the naive. More or less, I agree with them, but I’ve also noticed something about these authors. They tend to do their own editing and also have access to extraordinarily cheap formatting and proofreading and art services. They usually proudly list the people who they use and the low prices they pay.

I don’t know how they found these people, but I’m willing to bet they hooked up with them a few years ago, before the big boom in e-book self-publishing. Thus, they got some good prices for their services. Now that these services are much more in demand, new authors are facing higher prices. That’s just how it goes. An author who has been self-publishing with his editor and artist for a few years is likely still paying the same amount he did when they started, but that doesn’t mean that editor and artist are charging OTHER people what they charge him. Even if they are, I guarantee you they are overloaded with work.

For instance, I tried to secure the services of Konrath’s editors and artists when I finished my internal revisions on Dead Empire. First of all, it took each of them at least a month just to reply to my email. Secondly, they told me they would be happy to work for me, but they were booking three months in advance. Lastly, they quoted me prices that were more than what Konrath was paying them (although not much more, to be fair).

One of the main selling points of self-publishing is not having to wait to publish, so I was not inclined to book with them. Also, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the services, quite frankly. Konrath pays (the last he mentioned, at any rate) about a hundred bucks to each of his contractors, give or take. He has three. One does proofing, another does formatting and another does cover design. While I found the formatting of his e-books quite good, the proofing was of debatable merit since he does his own editing and the cover art wasn’t at all the kind of thing I wanted. I had a very vivid image of my book’s cover in my head and I knew a typical one or two or three element e-book cover wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted the reader to get in my head and see my world the way I see it right there on the cover.

 

Okay, maybe not all the way inside my head.

Okay, maybe not all the way inside my head.

 

So, I went to E-Lance to search for contractors. I never considered looking for a package deal. Wasn’t even aware they existed. I just wanted to hire professionals to do a professional job. Guess what? That’s what I found. I’m not trying to sell people on using E-Lance or anything, I’m just going to say that I could put my projects (one editing/formatting/proofing project and one cover design project) up for bid and then looked at all the contractors’ profiles as they bid on them. I eventually chose the best candidates that did the best work at the most reasonable prices.

I guess my main point that I would want anyone who is interested in self-publishing to realize is this: It’s a business. On the one hand, if you shovel a lot of money at someone else to do your business for you (like these packaged services) then you’re most likely going to be disappointed and frustrated. On the other hand, if you insist on doing everything yourself or using bargain basement contractors, you’re probably also going to be disappointed and frustrated. But the reality is, it’s what’s right for you. Just don’t let anyone else tell you the “right” way to publish your book, because the truth is there isn’t a “right” way currently. The market is growing and changing on an almost daily basis. If you have a great idea for your cover, but don’t have any design skills, then don’t skimp on the artist. But at the same time, maybe you feel your writing is strong enough so you don’t need an editor and you can save a couple hundred bucks skipping that expense.

I will say you should always (always, always) get your manuscript proofread. Spend money on that at the very least. Your proofreader will be the one who will make sure every “too” isn’t a “to” and every “you’re” isn’t a “your.” Think you can do it yourself? You’re wrong. You always see your writing the way it is meant to be read, not actually how you wrote it. Important difference.

 

"Did you mean to use the word egregiously thirteen times in this paragraph or were you just having a seizure?"

“Did you mean to use the word ‘egregiously’ thirteen times in this paragraph or were you just having a seizure?”

 

But seriously, you should probably hire an editor. Just my two cents. Because, if you’re like me and you’re not confident in your grammar and punctuation and you don’t have design skills and you still want to publish a book that people will take seriously, then set aside some money to hire professionals. You have to keep in mind that these people are running their own businesses just like you. It’s not unreasonable for them to demand adequate compensation for their services. If you want to give money to one company to take care of everything for you, then go ahead and do that, but for the love of your friends, family and supporters CHECK THEM OUT. Make sure you talk to customers and get a look at their work. Whether or not the books they help people publish actually sell is besides the point. Just make sure you like the work that they do and that most other customers are satisfied with their experience.

But seriously, if you can’t be bothered to find your own editor and artist and you don’t want to deal with the insanely easy KDP program or the Smashwords interface, then just be patient and find a publisher to publish you. Don’t pay anyone. If you’re in earnest about being a writer, eventually someone will publish you.

However, if you’re in earnest about self-publishing, then do yourself a favor and put the time in and do your homework and also realize it’s going to take some money. Even Konrath had to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees just to get the rights to his books back before he could self-publish them. Know what happened to him? Millionaire. Just saying. That’s business. You have to spend money to make money.

Oh, and I guess I should close with the important disclaimer that you shouldn’t do what I’m doing, because I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m beginning to get the sneaking suspicion that most other people don’t either. Cheers. 😉

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2 thoughts on “Self-publishing services: mind your e-business

  1. Really interesting insight into the “how” of self-publishing. Thank you. Its clear to me that success in all endeavors comes from consistent hard work and perfecting of the right details. Picking the right details that yield success and you are best at perfecting is the really hard work. Sometimes you can get lucky, but luck is never a sustainable strategy. These words feel like truisms, but I also believe anyone that has ever succeeded at anything knows the truth of how it really happens.

    Like

    • And it has a lot to do with your personal definition of success. What do you want out of what you are working on? Basically, you really can’t expect to get out of something any more than you put into it. As you said, you COULD get lucky and get something for (nearly) nothing, but that’s not something to depend on.

      Like

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