Important Questions to Ask Before You Self Publish (and sign on the dotted line)

So many self-publishing houses; so many empty promises…

In the past year since my own self-published book, The Victor, was released, I have met many authors who have gone the self-publishing route and have learned many important things that they should have given thought to but didn’t even know to ask and are now kind of “stuck” after having spent A LOT of money. There are good companies to self-publish with and some horrible ones, so “buyer beware”! There are quite a few important things you need to ask and consider before deciding on which company to go with to publish your book. Of course, it goes without being said but should be stressed again: READ YOUR TERMS AND CONDITIONS WORD FOR WORD and with your spouse or trusted friend before signing anything. Here are some other questions to ask:

1)      Who owns the rights to the final edited AND unedited manuscript versions of your book? Who owns the cover art? Who owns the copyright? You or the company that published you? Does it cost extra? Does it expire? Who owns the copyright to your book’s characters? If you cancel your agreement and you don’t own the cover image of your book, you will have to remove it from every place it has been posted.

2)      Price control of your finished product. Who controls the pricing of your book? Are you unknowingly granting exclusivity on price? See if you can find out ahead of time what they would price your book at to sell before you sign anything. If a book is priced too high it isn’t going to sell and if your cost isn’t much lower than the retail price you don’t have much discount room even if you sell it yourself. Who controls the price – you or the publisher?

3) Can the company edit your book without your permission? Again, read your terms and conditions carefully. If you aren’t sure, then take it to an attorney and have him/her go over it; it will be worth every penny!

4)      Does the company charge for editing? If so, how much per hour? Get all the details ahead of time. Someone I know paid $900 to have her book edited. The going rate is anywhere between $25 an hour to $45 an hour, or you can negotiate a flat rate. Be sure to proofread the entire manuscript BEFORE it goes to the printer, too. It is your responsibility.

5)      Is the book discounted to bookstores? Many bookstores will refuse to carry a book they can’t get at a significant discount (40%).

6)      Is the book returnable? This one is VERY important. Bookstores will not carry books that are not returnable. Sometimes the publisher will make the books returnable if you pay them a small ransom (several hundred dollars). If the book is returned, can Amazon then turn around and make money off the resale without paying you the author? You best be sure.

7)      Is your book available through a major distribution channel? Like Ingram/Spring Arbor? Will it be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.? Does that service cost extra?

8)      Marketing Services: What does the publisher charge for its marketing services and what types of services are offered? Ad campaigns, mass mailings, etc., are a big waste of money, so don’t go there. Does the publisher offer book trailers? If so, how much does a trailer cost and who owns the rights to it … you or the company? Same thing for a building you a website. Get a few examples of trailers/websites the publisher has produced before signing on the dotted line.

9)      Kindle: Is there a charge to have the book made available on Kindle format? If so, how much $$$?

10)   Review Copies: Will your publisher send out free review copies or do you have to do it yourself or pay for them?

11) How will the books be sold and distributed?

Publishing your book is only 1/3 the battle. The next thing you have to think about is how you are going to market your book. How are you going to get the word out? Did you know that 5,000+ new books are released every month? How are you going to let the reading public know about yours?

Too many authors think that if they can only get their book into print that a miracle will occur and it will fly off the shelves. Not so. Even if you publish traditionally you still have to do a lot of the networking and marketing yourself or you will only end up selling perhaps 100-200 books to family and friends. Chances are you won’t come close to breaking even on the money you have spent.

You need to find a good book marketing company – one that doesn’t promise the world and make grandiose claims. Again: BUYER BEWARE. Word of mouth is still the best way to sell books but how do you create “word of mouth?” Answer: Social media! Facebook, MySpace, Shelfari, Goodreads, Blog reviews.  It takes A LOT of work. My book has been out for little over a year and I still have new opportunities coming my way because I am constantly working at it; networking on social media has become my second job.  It didn’t hurt either that I also found a great book promo company (www.bookcandystudios.com) that helped me to build a large audience base on the social media sites. The rest was up to me and I can honestly tell you that I have 700 more “friends” than I did a year ago;  at least 100 of which I am VERY good friends  with and who have been telling their friends about MY book, The Victor. Word of mouth at its best!

  • Thank you for your useful article!
    I have read this before and I guess we all know these points, but the way you present it produced two distinct reactions in me: 1) I finally read it from someone who’s doing it herself, and not some blogger giving advice who’s never written anything longer than 1000 words. That makes it richer and true, 2) you make it sound possible. This social media thing always inhibits me a bit, but I realize it’s necessary, and may not be the boring monster I have feared… Good luck!

    • Hi Robert – nice to meet you. I actually knew about none of this stuff when my book came out a little over a year ago but as I have met other authors who have self-published I realized how fortunate I am to have published with Tate. All these different issues came up as a result of discussions with other authors who unfortunately have been hundred-dollared to death on everything from editing fees to the fact that their “publisher” doesn’t send out free review copies to over pricing the book to the point where no one will buy it. I had to tell my own publisher to reduce the cost of my book because I wouldn’t even buy it at the price they had set it at originally.

      If you are a friendly person by nature than there is no trick to Facebook. You just want to become friends with people first (not hit them first off with a sales pitch). I figure I have made close to 100 really good friends (and climbing) since this all started and the audience build I paid for is the gift that keeps on giving. I’m up to over 750 friends now and more are added each day. I just try to find something to talk about based upon each person’s profile and the rest just follows. Please feel free to email me directly anytime with any comments or questions at: thevictorbook@sbcglobal.net.

  • I’ve been a professional writer and publisher for more than a quarter century, so it’s possible that my ability to produce dozens of books on my own does not translate to the average author looking to self-publish. Nevertheless, I have no idea why anyone smart enough and determined enough to write a book cannot find a better publishing solution than Xlibris and its ilk. There are excellent, knowledgeable, dedicated, even caring freelancers out there who can perform every one of the relatively few essential steps required to get a real physical copy of a book into your hands without blowing your lifestyle or dashing you hopes in a morass of cynicism and self-blame.

    If you need an editor or proofreader (you do!), they’re easy to find. If you need a designer or typesetter, they’re out there. If you need a reliable, affordable printing solution–offset or print-on-demand–they’re out there too. The people and companies that support the self-publishing author are not just “out there,” they are actively looking for you.

    A forum like this can easily become an information exchange that offers up recommendations or caveats with respect to the people and businesses who service self-published authors without breaking the bank or becoming unwanted and non-performing partners-for-life.

    I haven’t looked at a publishing how-to book in years, and I am generally not in favor of the panaceas offered in most of them, but if there’s a recent enough edition out there, I would say that Dan Poynter’s is probably a good place to start. He can at least tell you which ducks to begin lining up and in what order.

    • Hi Eric,
      thanks for your great comment. I totally agree with you. Personally, I make the distinction between vanity press and the Self-publishing routes. Both are very different. The resources to make a good product are out there and, although it takes time and money to find and use the best ones, they’re worth it.
      For those interested: “The Well-Fed Self-Publisher” by Peter Bowerman is useful (even though he doesn’t talk about self-publishing fiction, it was rich for me).
      Take a look at Bookmasters.com for offset printing and fulfillment services. Also, their company-Atlas Distribution-offers a good, professional distribution plan (and they don’t promise the Moon, which is refreshing).
      Also, line-up a few dozen reviewers (not all of them like self-publishers, but some do, and not all of them charge) by searching a couple bilion sites. It’s boring, but it’s got to be done.
      I’ve invested nearly as much time in researching the publishing of my book as I did in writing the book (over one year).
      I’ve learnt two things: 1) it’s mighty difficult (to sell) 2) I can do it (publish and sell).
      If I can, so can all of you.

  • BB

    Thank you very much for your useful article and tips on the self publishing route. I too have written my own novel, though, I did this a year ago and by the time I was done with the three hundred page fantasy I was too worn out to edit it. Now, about a year later, I am ready to go back and edit it, however, I want my book out the quickest way. Unlike many authors I don’t care about making a lot of money, I care about people reading my material. However, I was wondering, off of your self published book, how many did you sell in your first year? In addition to that, how much total profit do you see off of each book that is sold? Please send me the reply at knetbb@gmail.com, thanks!