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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Self-Publish Your Book Cheap, not Cheaply

I've been seeing far too many new authors publish with vanity presses and spend huge amounts of money, when they could do it themselves for much less, and end up with a better book.

These "self-publishing houses" which promise to publish you for thousands of dollars are, IMHO (and I'm not alone in feeling this way) such a rip off! 

Don't Get SCAMMED by a Vanity Publisher

Why yes, I will name names. I have to, since this post is meant to keep you from getting ripped off. In particular, I'm talking about:
  • Author Solutions (and its imprints, many listed below)
  • Author House
  • iUniverse
  • Outskirts Press
  • Xlibris
  • Trafford Publishing 
  • PublishAmerica (now remamed AmericaStar Books) - they say they are "free" but charge money for editing and more, and take control of your books.
Edited to Add: I found another vanity press charging up to $2K and disguised as a "self-publishing service":
  • Fast Pencil (and its imprints:)
    ~ Premiere
    ~ WaveCrest.
If you want to add one in the comments, feel free. There are more than I listed here.

Here's a few articles about the real deal with them:

Let's compare what most of these guys are offering for $999 against what the real cost is when I self-publish. Sometimes these vanity presses offer "basic" packages for paperback and ebook for $699, or packages that essentially just format your ebook and put it up for you, for $499 (or this one that doesn't even offer everything on the list below). I've seen these books and IMO they almost always do a really bad job, and, there are tons of articles about how they don't pay the royalties they should, which you might want to Google around for. Just put the name of the vanity press + Scam into Google).

"All Diamond books include" (for $999):
  • standard interior black & white layout: real cost is $50 for ebooks at Ebook Formatting Fairies (I've used them before and love them)
  • an ISBN number: free at the retailers (Createspace and Smashwords (which distributes everywhere but Amazon), and Amazon, and B&N
  • a price-embedded barcode: free with free Createspace (I use them for all of my self-pub paperbacks.) 
  • and unlimited wholesale printing, fulfillment, and distribution via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Baker &Taylor, Bertram, and others: free with Createspace and Smashwords (to reach everyone on that list plus more, except Amazon), and Amazon, and B&N
  • Paperback formatting: real cost is $50 for print layout for Createspace at Ebook Formatting Fairies or use a company from Mark's List
  • Standard web page: free with Wordpress, or $50-$250 to have one made for you by Winterheart (I've worked with them before I started spending more money) $13 for custom domain name with GoDaddy. Get the domain for even cheaper with these promo codes.
  • Cover (they offer a basic style you add your name to): To do exactly what the vanity presses offer, you can use the Createspace cover creator here for free. You can also make an ebook cover for free (or $1 per image or specialized text) at Canva. For a professional premade cover, most covers start at $69 for a one-of-a-kind cover from SelfPubBookCovers.com (full disclosure: I own that company, but you can go anywhere, it's your choice), or even cheaper depending on who you go with. Here's a list which includes cover designers and formatters, too: http://www.smashwords.com/list. Be prepared that many custom-designed professional covers cost around $200 and up. You can spend a lot on covers or nothing, it's up to you.
  • Press release: they don't appear to even offer distribution! Writing a press release is easy, and that's all they're offering you. So that's free. And at PRWeb, it's $99 with distribution everywhere. http://service.prweb.com/pricing/
  • Audio excerpt: pointless unless you have an audiobook, which you can have made for free using a royalty share with the narrator at ACX.com
  • 10 author paperback copies: costs about $3 per book using author discount at Createspace, so $30. 
In conclusion, they are offering for $999 what would cost you $130 total for ebook formatting and some author copies - the rest of the "package" is just free stuff already available to you if you know where to look, which now you do!

You can get the same things, but WAY BETTER and more professional AND have pros do it all for you, for a grand total of less than $300 plus the cost of a cover (they aren't giving you a cover anyway, they're offering the same tool that you can get at Createspace cover creator here for free), but a pro cover adds anywhere from $50 to $250. So you'd spend a total of $300 - $550 (high end includes highest cost cover), and you'd have all the control, all the royalties sent directly to you, and have a better product.

Hopefully this post will help new writers who want to self-publish and don't know where to start, save over $500.

Hiring an editor is always a big add-on expense at these publishers, but you can hire your own developmental or line editor for much cheaper, and also get a better manuscript!

Even if you don't go with an editor, and instead use critique partners and beta readers, I highly recommend hiring a copyeditor to help you make the actual book error-free. That costs about 2 cents a word. Just google around, I found this one online with good testimonials, but you can find more copyeditors on your own: http://revisionfairy.com/small-business-writing-consultant/copy-editing-services-order/

I wish you all the best. My goal with this post is help other authors keep their costs down and avoid getting ripped off.

Shoshanna Evers


  1. Totally agree!

    An added perk of tackling independent publishing yourself: You learn the process from soup to nuts.

    That might sound like a lot of hard work, but the knowledge pays off on many fronts. There are plenty of things you might never be good at - designing covers, formatting print versions, etc - but you'll at least know how to get your hands dirty and be able to direct services you engage to polish things. There are also plenty of things you might really enjoy - setting up marketing campaigns, getting involved in blog hops, etc - that might turn out to be a marketable skill you can sell to fellow authors.

    If you do decide to engage a service company then do your research. Ask for portfolio pieces, references, and Google for feedback from other authors. Focus on things that matter: presentation, promotion, and sales. Be realistic about your financial investment because most authors don't produce much income from their titles.

    Leverage analysis from Smashwords like http://www.slideshare.net/Smashwords/new-smashwords-survey-helps-authors-sell-more-ebooks so you can see the real numbers. Some analysis on that same deck: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/new-smashwords-research-h_b_3278022.html It's incredibly hard to justify $999 on a service when you look at the reality of low yields in the first year of your book. It's money better invested in more writing!

    Best of luck!

    1. Totally agree, went with CreateSpace and ACX - self published, paperback and ebook, as well as Audio Book. Total investment about $400, this included 50 paperback copies (for promotion) I also went with a promotional text creation serviced. Pretty good overall.

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  3. 2c a word? Wow. I guess I'm vastly undercharging. Oops. Good to know what the options are, though. I've been working on getting my mom's poetry published, and this post has a lot of good information. :D

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  5. I was hurt by two assisted publishers who rushed me too much, did no proof reading and were unable to cooperate with me. "People Migrations in Europe and Amerca: 2000 years of Nation-Building" is a succinct, thorough history book. It includes significant material not in either RC or protestant histories. There is a bibliography of 169 books and articles referred to by page number. How can I find a publisher with genuine ability and interest to help me? I cannot allow pagination to be changed because of cross-references. The target audience is college and high school students and teachers of history, genealogists and the general public

  6. Anonymous - I suggest hiring a content/developmental editor, which is different from a copyeditor (that's who does the proofreading. It's different from a regular editor). But in order to get the book its best, you need to go in assuming that lots of things may change, may be moved around for clarity, etc. It doesn't matter if you think you "cannot allow pagination to be changed bc of cross-references" - that's old thinking. All you have to do is link the word that cross-references to another part of the book, and it will bring you there. There are no page numbers in ebooks. Besides, when you make a paperback book, all of the page numbers change anyway when it gets formatted for print!! So please, hire a good editor, and then let them do their job without giving them impossible edicts to follow, lol!

  7. If you use Xlibris they will call you weekly for the first year after publishing and then monthly for years on end to try and sell you promotional material (that doesn't work) and deals to bu more books. They're relentless.

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