Self-publishing is a polarizing topic in the publishing world. There is no denying that the sheer amount of titles has dramatically increased in recent years. The average bestseller list on the New York Times, or Amazon normally has 3-4 indie titles in the top 25. One of the side effects of more people self-publishing is the sheer number of people preying on them.
Self-published books made up a tiny proportion – 2% – of all books purchased last year, this figure increases dramatically, to 12%, when print books are removed from the equation. When we look back at 2012 there were 391,000 indie ebooks published, up 59% over 2011 and 422% over 2007. Ebooks continue to gain on print, comprising 40% of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11% in 2007.
When it comes to publishing a digital book yourself, there are a myriad of daunting barriers. How exactly do you formulate a proper table of contents? How do you convert the your book from Word to EPUB or to a Kindle friendly format? What is the industry standard for line spacing, font types or margins? What is the average cover art size for Apple iBooks, or Barnes and Noble? Aside from just writing your book, you could spend months formatting it correctly to self-publish, if you never had to do it before. Not willing to learn, or to cut corners is prompting predatory behavior from publishing companies, vanity presses and unscrupulous review companies.
One of the biggest boogeymen of the publishing world to prey on writers is Author Solutions. They are billed as a “self-publishing” company currently doing business with several major publishers, while acting more like a severely abusive vanity press than an actual self-publishing service. They company has assembled a stable of “self-publishing” and print-on-demand services, including Author House, xlibris, iUniverse and Trafford. Other publishers have outsourced self-publishing work to ASI under a variety of names.
Author Solutions tends to charge authors a few thousand dollars to digitize and print their eBook. There is no editing or copyrighting, those are extra. When a book does not sell well, aggressive telemarketers try and upsell authors to bigger packages. Things are so bad that three authors have filed suit, airing a laundry list of complaints and alleging the company is engaged in deceitful, dubious business practices. “Defendants have marketed themselves as an independent publisher with a reputation for outstanding quality and impressive book sales,” the complaint reads. “Instead, Defendants are not an independent publisher, but a print-on-demand vanity press.”
This is just one particular company, but there are hundreds of them out there. Once your book is written, it is time to promote it. This is where the predators such as Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly come in. They have starter packages where you can pay them $800 to write an impartial review of the book, to use on marketing material. Often, once you do that they try and upsell you on banner advertising on their website, running some authors a cool $8,000.
If you are looking to find a company to assist you in writing, digitizing or selling the book for you, there are a number of resources out there. Preditors & Editors is a resource website geared towards the serious writer. They say that their “aim is to assist.” If you click on Book Publisher Listings, you will find an alphabetical list of hundreds of traditional publishers, self-publishing companies, and vanity presses. If Preditors & Editors has received complaints about a company, this will be noted in red type after the company listing. These warnings might simply say, “Not recommended,” or “Subsidy press, not recommended,” or “Charges fee. Writer complaints. Not recommended,” or even “Poor contract. Strongly not recommended.”
I have talked to thousands of indie authors over the years and most of them want to continue to write and their books are not often one-offs. If a writer wants to make a living off of their writing, they should learn how to do it themselves. Understanding the semantics of cover art design, table of contents, proper formatting and knowing where to distribute will help you more then simply relying on someone to hold your hand and hope for the best. In this life, the only person you can truly trust is yourself and you owe it to yourself, to not be let down.
Have you been scammed by a self-publishing company or got a weird email? Sound off below.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.