Self-publishing is a growth industry. Authors new to the system are an easy target for people who are more interested in making a profit than in offering good value. So how can you make sure you don’t waste your money?
Be cautious when companies offer to do everything for you.
Some of them charge a great deal for a mediocre service and push you into buying expensive extras. And don’t be fooled by the ones that are linked to big publishing houses. Using them won’t give you the credibility of being published by the big name publisher.
Check out other people’s experiences
Before you sign up with any service provider, try to find out how other people have got on with them. A search for the company name on Google will show up lots of references and a search for the company name plus words like complaint or problem may be even more illuminating. You can also look at the books listed on the company’s site and get in touch with their authors to ask how they got on.
Check if you own what you pay for
If you pay to have your book laid out for print or turned into an ebook, you should own the result and be able to use any company you choose to print the book or sell the ebook. Similarly, if you pay for a cover design, you need to be able to use it in all your publicity material or you’ll have real problems marketing your book. Avoid companies who restrict what you are allowed to do with the design or cover.
Similarly, if you decide to invest in a print run, all the books should belong to you. Run away if a self-publishing company asks you to pay for 500 to be printed and only offers you a few free copies in return. That’s a really bad deal.
Read contracts carefully
Never sign a contract you don’t understand and never believe a company that says it doesn’t enforce terms you don’t like. (see Beware of the small print)
Don’t pay for reviews
If your book is good enough, you should be able to get reviews for free so there’s no need to pay for them. Your money is best spent elsewhere as paid-for reviews often carry less weight with readers. However, giving a free copy to a potential reviewer is perfectly acceptable and a good investment, provided you have chosen the reviewer carefully. (see Getting reviews)
Be very cautious about paying for advertising
Paid-for advertising only works if it reaches enough of your potential readers so check out any opportunities carefully before you risk any money. For an email newsletter, ask the owners for the number of subscribers (which is likely to be significantly higher than the number who actually read it). For a website, ask for the number of unique visitors per month or the number of page views on the page where your ad would appear. If the people concerned won’t give you that information, don’t use them.
If they do give you the numbers, you still need to compare the cost with the potential benefit. You could contact previous advertisers to ask how successful their ad was, and you could try negotiating the price down – that’s standard practice in advertising. It’s always better to buy any advertising direct. If you go through a middle man, you’ll be paying a mark up on the actual cost.
Avoid marketing experts
The person who knows your book best is you so you are the best person to organise the marketing. You may want a bit of help with copy writing,web design or other specific aspects but don’t pay someone to do the whole job.
Don’t pay for Search Engine Optimisation
Once you have a website, you’ll get lots of people offering you SEO services. Don’t use them. They will cost you money and may use SEO tricks that search engines dislike so much that they count against you. Search engines are in the business of finding good, relevant sites. If your site is good, it will get listed.
Investigate competitions before you enter them
Check out the entry fee. Does it seem excessively high or is it a reasonable amount to cover expenses? Check out the prizes? Are there any and, if so, are they worth the entry fee? (Badges and stickers don’t count – they are just publicising the competition.) Check out the rules. Does entering grant the organisers any rights to use your book? Check out previous winners to see the standard that’s expected, and avoid brand-new competitions unless they are run by a reputable organisation.
Look at free alternatives before you pay to join something
Writing books is a lonely profession so it makes sense to band together and swap ideas about self-publishing and other topics. But you don’t have to pay money to do that. If you look around the internet, you’ll find plenty of relevant groups on Facebook, Linked in and Google+ – all available for you to join for free.