By Sandra Rea
An author walks into a print-on-demand publisher’s office and falls in love with the publisher’s presentation. No… wait, that’s not right. That’s not how it works in real life. The author FINDS the print-on-demand publisher online and becomes quickly overwhelmed by the pretty packages she sees listed out for her on the site.
The author has worked very hard to complete her manuscript; she feels that it is ready for publishing. She either doesn’t know how to find an agent or to write a book proposal for a traditional publishing approach, or she wants her book to go to market quickly and doesn’t want to go through traditional publishing practices. Perhaps she is a never-before-published author, so the chances of her finding and agent or getting published with a big house are slim to none. Either way, she is excited. The author’s mind races as she browses all of the services she can get for her hard-earned cash – and she isn’t reading with the proper mindset. She is about to get stung and she doesn’t even hear the buzzing.
If I had a dollar for every author I’ve chatted with after she’s gone through the self-publishing process on her lonesome and then paid that company for a marketing package that was either disappointing or simply misleading, I’d have a few hundred dollars in my pocket. It actually makes me a little sad for these individuals who put their trust in companies to get their books out to the world in good condition when in fact what happens is a poor editing process and unrealistic promises made by the company that cannot be kept. There are a few of these companies that thrive on the upsell. They call and call and call interested authors who innocently enough queried them for services. Suddenly the author feels like a fly in a spider’s web, struggling to get free.
Here is the truth.
You have the right to query about services, and the companies you query have the right to call you time and time again until you tell them to stop. YOU must set that boundary. Even so, you can expect that you are now on these companies’ lists and they will stay in touch with you. They are in business to make money. You can request that they take you off their call list, but that is no guarantee it will happen. Just be firm whenever they approach you if you truly aren’t interested.
Some of these print-on-demand companies that also offer marketing packages are good at some things and not so much at others. It is up to you to do your homework. Have the proper mindset… not that of an author just hoping to say she is published, but rather of a researcher digging for all the facts. Sometimes what sounds good isn’t going to be good. It’s all in the wording. I’ve mentioned this in other articles in the VAULT, and it is important enough to drill into your brain. Marketing writers know how to entice with the right words. They aren’t truly promising to do what your brain is telling you they are saying they will do. That would be illegal actually. It would be fraud, and these companies don’t want that type of legal trouble. It is up to you to read carefully all information presented. Period. And if you have questions, call a professional book shepherd for assistance. They know what to do to get your book self-published, and they won’t upsell you to a marketing package that A) you may not really be able to afford, and B) you probably don’t need.
But what about book marketing?
You will end up doing a lot of the things that will make your book popular. There are a few things, like trailers, websites and collateral pieces that you likely wouldn’t want to create yourself unless you have the design and marketing writing skills necessary to make the pieces rock and resonate with your reading public. But the social media you will do; the blogs you will do; the interviews and the books signings you will do. You can have others run your social media and blogs. If you find the person who can replicate your voice, there is no harm in that. You can secure the interviews and books signings without hiring someone to help you in that area, too, but if you don’t have phone skills and aren’t good on follow up, you might consider hiring an assistant. If you understand basic PR and how to write a killer press release that will grab attention, you can certainly do that part, too. I have taught authors how to go about this task, and they ended up being interviewed on national television. It is not brain surgery; it just takes savvy and knowing who to speak to… AND you must have something of interest to share with a general or niche audience. Otherwise, it makes little sense to spend money on PR. You can handle the local PR and book-release PR. I promise you that you can.
Recently I met with an author who had spent $4,000 with a well-known print-on-demand publisher that also offers marketing packages. She like so many other authors I’ve heard from was very dissatisfied with this company. She showed me the books (two that she had done with this company). The covers were nice, but they hadn’t listened to her and there were mistakes on them that make it confusing to see which title comes first in the series. Next, it appears that no one really edited the books, though that was supposed to be part of the package. There was no evidence of proofreading either. Beyond that, the company did nothing that was promised in the marketing package that this author purchased. She would have done as well by opening a window and throwing her money to the wind. The company did indeed publish and print the book. It is available in mainstream distribution online. That means readers can order the book in their local bookstores, too. The company did place the book in the catalogs that go out to bookstores and libraries. That’s about where the services stopped.
To recap, this very sweet author who has good stories in her books now has the right to buy at about half the price of retail her own books from this publisher. The book is full of typos, which has a negative impact on reviews, and covers with which the author is not satisfied and eventually had to go through the expense of having new ones created. The company did little of what it specified it would do for this author, and the author has little recourse. Why? Because of the way the contract is written and how the packages are presented on the company’s site. Plus, the author doesn’t feel like taking time out of her life to pursue the company legally. I don’t think she’d win.
This author is but one of the many I’ve met who’ve had similar experiences. For example, one author before coming to me had spent [GULP] $20K on PR services with a big firm in New York for zero returns. Guess what? That author cannot pursue the firm legally either. There are no promises at all in the PR world, because sometimes even the best efforts are not well received by media. Conversely, sometimes the smallest blips about a book in the PR realm get huge returns. If anyone in the PR community actually guarantees his/her work, well, that would be interesting. I don’t know how one could guarantee results. There is one PR firm I’ve found that comes close. The prices are fair to high, but they do somewhat guarantee results. I would give you the name of that company here, but I have not yet asked for permission to do so. When I have it, I will add that company’s name to my list of companies we trust.
The long and the short of this article is to get you to open your eyes and make better decisions about self-publishing. Before you buy into some insanely priced package of promises from a print-on-demand company that also offers marketing services, put your researcher’s glasses on and really dig into the language and terms the company is using. If the company sends you a contract READ IT thoroughly. Until you have signed it you are under no obligation to move forward.
You will want to ask me which companies I’m talking about herein. Sorry. I can’t divulge. Unlike us, they all have a rather expansive legal department. Suffice it to say there are more companies that want to make you think they’re giving you a great deal than not. Here’s a clue. If you make a query online with one of the print-on-demand companies and they keep calling you incessantly that might be your clue. A couple of calls? Cool. More than five calls in a short time is not. A response email? Good. Several follow-up emails after you’ve told them you are only considering that company’s services is an annoying thing at best.
Here is how you can avoid the ugly discomfort of getting too much attention by these companies. BEFORE you tell them you are interested, go through their sites with a fine-tooth comb. Read and RE-read the information. See if it all sounds the same as all the other companies’ sites. Talk to a book shepherd to see what the real cost of taking your book through self-publishing would be. Compare the services. A book shepherd will edit your book, make sure that her proofreader goes through it with fresh eyes, handle the correspondence with the designer, and then she will take the book through the process for you. As for marketing the book, that is not going to be her area, but she will be able to give you referrals to companies she trusts that offer those services. Your book will be clean, look great and be in full distribution. You can cherry pick the marketing services that you can afford or actually need that you cannot handle on your own.
Send me questions, but do not ask me for a short list of companies that I do not trust. I will not comply. I can refer you to good book shepherds though! And you can search online for shepherds closer to your location, so you can work more closely with one if you want. That part is up to you. And don’t ask me about pricing. You have to do your homework there, too. Every shepherd will be different dependent on their expertise, years of experience and your project. If they provide the editing for your book, it is common to charge a rate of about 10 cents to 13 cents per word. It is worth every penny to have a clean, well-edited manuscript. Paying yet an extra pair of proofreader eyes is also a smart move. If you want a great and clean manuscript, hire the additional proofreader.