Recently, I talked about the reasons a first-time writer might pursue self-publishing vs. traditional. For the sake of this post, let's assume you have decided to go Indie. You have your book and it's ready to go. What now? How do you publish it, and who can you trust to help you?
There is no way to approach this topic without discussing publishing services; specifically, those services that promise to publish your eBook for a small (or not so small) fee. These come in various forms. Generally these "publishers" promise to take your manuscript, edit it, give it a cover, and publish for a fee. This is called Vanity publishing. In my experience, most authors who attempt this are taken for a ride.
The appeal of vanity publishers is that they're experts at conferring a sense of legitimacy. Many of their unsuspecting customers are led to believe they are being accepted by a genuine publisher, but that is not the case. They also make big promises. They claim to have excellent editors, cover artists, and promotional teams. They make it sound like they're experts who are going to do all of the work for you, allowing you the luxury of focusing solely on your writing. But there is one catch: They'll need a check from you. Sometimes it's a big fee up front, sometimes its a bunch of small fees that keep popping up throughout the process. Either way, it almost invariably ends up costing the author thousands of dollars, and the end product is often a major disappointment.
A good rule of thumb is to remember what bestselling author Neil Gaiman posted on his blog back in 2012: "Money flows towards the writer."
It's that simple. For as long as publishing has been around, vanity publishers have preyed upon naive and inexperienced writers. The Sci-fi and Fantasy Writers of America offers a great analysis and warning regarding publishers like this. Preditors & Editors keeps a list of some of these "publishers" and even literary agents involved in this scam. A few hours of browsing these websites could save you thousands of dollars.
As if all this weren't insidious enough, these scammers present another -perhaps greater- danger. They're not happy just to take that big fee, they may also take a percentage of your profits forever, and possibly even grab some or all of your publishing rights. After dealing with these
con-men, you might not even own the rights to publish your own book! Can you imagine shelling out thousands of dollars to a "publisher" who completely screws up your book and then ends up stealing your rights? It can happen, if you're not careful.
Writer/blogger David Gaughran has a new post this weekend regarding one of the largest vanity presses out there. This company has teamed up with traditional publishers who redirect aspiring writers to them for business. They are also taking advantage of book fairs as an opportunity to suck in inexperienced and naive authors who don't know any better. Get the whole story here.
However, having said all that, I must also offer this disclaimer: Paying for some services can be a good idea. What I mean by that, is that as an Indie, you have the opportunity to reach out to professional editors, cover artists, and book formatters in order to help polish your new novel. You don't have to take on all the work by yourself if you don't want to. You can hire out just about any aspect of publishing to a competent contractor, and -if you do your research- you'll probably get much more than your money's worth. Better yet, you will own the rights to everything.
I'm not going to link to specific services (except for Just Proof It editing services, which has been in my sidebar for years) because there are so many and I have no way to guarantee their specific services, talents, or value. This will take some homework on your part. As always, Google is your friend.
If you feel like you have the time, energy, and commitment to do your own work, take a look at the Smashwords Style Guide. Smashwords has one of the most complex e-book publishing systems out there. They have a program they call the "Meatgrinder," which takes your uploaded book and converts it into multiple formats so you can publish at various outlets. This process requires an extremely clean and well-formatted original document, If your file works there, it will work almost anywhere. Read their guide and learn how to use your word processor to get the cleanest conversion possible.
Also, click on my "Cover Design Secrets" tab at the top of this page. I have several articles dedicated to the process of designing and building your own professional looking covers, regardless of genre. I'll talk more in another post about different publishing services such as D2D, KDP, and Smashwords, and maybe I'll take a closer look at the writing and publishing process as well.