The Self-Publishing Sharks Are Circling


It's about to get "shark week" all up in here!

It’s a fact.  When sharks smell chum in the water they go into a vicious feeding frenzy, and brother, the chum is in the water.  On April 14, Bowker released their annual report on the publishing industry.  There were 764,448 self-published titles (the category is officially called non-traditional and it includes public domain books being republished) produced last year.  That’s up from about 280,000 in 2008.  And the projections for this year say even more books will be self-published than in 2009.  A lot of people want to write and publish a book.  A study done by the Jenkins Group a few years ago revealed that 81% of Americans feel they have a book inside of them.  That means one thing.  Scammers are foaming at the mouth.

The publishing industry is notorious for the sheer volume of disreputable people preying on your willingness to do whatever it takes to make your dream come true.  These sharks count on your ignorance of the publishing industry.  They are going to make you promises, guarantees, pledges, assurances, whatever it takes to get you to buy their services. They want your money, and you’re going to be very tempted to hand it over to them because this is your dream, after all.    Shouldn’t you be expected to invest everything you have to make it come true?

No.  Publishing is a high risk venture.  It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or you’re a traditional publisher, statistics indicate that you are going to fail.  I don’t tell you this to scare you off.  I tell you this as part of your education.  In the traditional publishing world, roughly 70% of titles produced lose money.  The percentage of failure  is even higher in the self-publishing world.  I self-publish, so obviously I am a fan of self-publishing, but I have learned the amount of money invested in a book is not commensurate with its success.  Time is what matters the most.

Here are few facts, tips and a few of my personal opinions to keep in mind as you consider your publishing options:

  • Self-Publishing is Awesome – There are dinosaurs among us, and they will likely advise you against self-publishing. They’ll use the “vanity” word to degrade the practice, and try to convince you it’s not a legitimate publishing vehicle.  Those people are bozos, and they are as bad as the scammers.  Self-publishing is the ultimate “independent” form of publishing.  You have just as much right to sell your book to the public as an independent filmmaker has to sell his movie to the public.  Having said that, you want to spend wisely.
  • Be Wary of Agents Who Talk About Self-Publishing – Believe it or not, some self-publishing companies pay agents if they refer a writer to their company and that writer signs up for a publishing package.   It’s a deplorable practice.  Literary agents should only be concerned with getting clients to sign with traditional publishing companies.  The only payment they receive should be from their clients’ advances and royalties.  Anything else is a scam.
  • Paying To Be a Top 10 Book on Amazon – It’s called Amazon Bombing, and I don’t like it, particularly if you pay a company to set it up for you.  It’s a practice that basically uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to catapult your book to the top 10 for one day.  In many cases, it’s just one hour of one day.   You will quickly free fall out of the top 10 listing. They utilize emailing spamming techniques, newsletter lists, shady “free gift” packages, etc., and they will charge you $2,500 and up for the service.  This kind of top 10 listing serves no purpose.  A few years ago, it would capture the attention of the publishing industry and media, but they’re onto the scam now.  If you’re book can stay in the top 10 for a couple of days, then they will be impressed.
  • $20,000 for a Book Trailer – I’m going to mention them by name because this really pisses me off.  AuthorHouse (Author Solutions) sells a video book trailer service for $19,999.  BTW – Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s 20 grand, okay.  This is the supreme rip-off.  They call it a Hollywood trailer, and it’s for those authors who’ve been told their book would make a great movie.  First of all, most authors have been told their book would make a great movie.  AuthorHouse is preying on your vulnerability with this ridiculous product.  Second of all, the examples they have on their website are so cheesy it’s disgusting.  How effective is the product?  I just checked the Amazon ranking of one of the books featured, and its current ranking is 3,171,502.  The author paid $20,000.  I ask you, did the author get anywhere near their money’s worth?  I would never recommend AuthorHouse because of this product alone.  It shows a willful lack of integrity.  How much should you pay for a book trailer?  If you pay $3,000, you’ve paid too much.  I made my ownfor about $250, but that doesn’t count the cost of college tuition (I got my degree in broadcast production).
  • Mainstream Media – Never pay to be in or on mainstream media.  Don’t buy advertising in newspapers or on TV or radio.  And certainly never pay to be a guest on a radio or TV show.  Mainstream media does not help you sell books.  If someone wants to have you on their show and it costs you nothing out of pocket, by all means do it That’s a case of “it can’t hurt,” but unless it’s a national show with a huge audience, it’s not going to do much for you except give you something to talk about on your blog, which is useful.
  • Designers and Editors – This is where it’s okay to invest some money.  Interior and cover design matters.  And professional editing is crucial.  If you’re talking with a POD company, this is where you should spend most of your budget.  The in-house guys are usually very talented, and bonus, they know the company’s specs and policies.  If you go out of house, make sure you get them to sign a contract where they will guarantee you that they will hit the specs you need. You don’t want them to bail on you, and leave you with paying the bill when the POD company has to bring your submission up to spec.  Editing is a little more universal than design specs, so out of house editors can work great, but make sure you find somebody you trust.  If you’ve got a good relationship with the sales person at the POD company, why not use their in-house editors?  Push back on pricing if it makes you feel better.  Most of the time they will give you a discount.

I’ll end it here for now, but I will have more to say in the future.  I’m watching the self-publishing industry like a hawk.  They get out of line, I’ll be there.  Count on it.  This business means too much to me to let the sharks attack.  Ultimately, the onus is on you, the writer.  Educate yourself.  There are no guarantees in publishing.  Well one… you’re going to get eaten alive if you don’t protect yourself.  Knowledge is king.

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7 thoughts on “The Self-Publishing Sharks Are Circling

  1. >>There were 764,448 self-published titles produced last year. <<

    That's not what Bowker said. The 764, 448 titles included self-published, micro-press, vanity-press and MOSTLY reprints of public domain titles.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Independent Self-Publishers Alliance, http://www.independentselfpublishers.org
    — "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press" http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)" http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com

    • I believe the actual term they used is micro-niche publishers, and not sure they ever used the term vanity press. And yes, a large number of the books were public domain titles (probably around 685,000) but the POD company’s still had a significant increase of individual original titles that were added to their systems this year. Bowker calls the entire category non-traditional (181% increase).

  2. Great post, RIchard. Yeah, there are a few dinosaurs out there, that’s for sure, and bozos. I’m new to this game, but not stupid – I can see when something doesn’t add up.

    • Tom – good to hear. I’ve talked to a lot of aspiring writers, and I am always shocked by their lack of knowledge in the publishing industry. Too many of them have been taken for a lot of money (all of their money in some cases).

  3. Interesting, but that’s not what Bowker said. The 764, 448 titles included self-published, micro-press, vanity-press and MOSTLY reprints of public domain titles.

  4. I decided to self-publish because as I was assured I would retain the complete rights to my work, I did not want some third party editor making unauthorised cuts to six years of research.

    However, I’ve been burned by my POD publisher, here’s my experience.

    To my utter misfortune, I became acquainted and started to use the services offered by 1stBooks publishers now known as Authorhouse, and published my first two books in 2003. At the time, I detected no problem with their services and accepted that being my work was academic, would not sell many copies. I decided to publish my third book with them, a large 2 volume edition in 2008, and due to the reviews and publicity received, and the professors that contacted me personally, I became fully aware of the university libraries and public libraries who processed my work into their establishments, or were interested in my work.

    However, I noticed the first major discrepancy in their promises was that if I turned my manuscript in within a certain time frame, I would receive fourteen free copies of my work when it was printed.
    I e-mailed my text, and mailed my contract via snail-mail two weeks before the deadline, I know it arrived on time—I live in Europe, and mail does not take longer than 4 to 8 days to arrive in the US, however, they could not honour the free copy agreement as they hadn’t received the contracts on time. They never mentioned the agreement included receiving the contracts, just the manuscript. I received just my usual free review copy of each volume. I decided to let the matter go.

    Then, they have a very careless attitude with other aspects of their services. For example, their Press Wire program that sends your Press Release electronically to 14,000 media outlets. Where did I find my academic books being promoted? In the financial sections of these media outlets, and not to my target audience found in the academic, history, biography, or even literature, areas.
    (I also discovered my university level academic book on classical music categorised as a “children’s book”.)

    However, the major problems developed with royalty accounting. I began keeping a record of the copies available of my new two-volume work at Amazon US, UK, Canada, and their Marketplace vendors. (This is practically the only way you can discern how many books may be selling in the public domain.) Considering this is Print On Demand, when a number of available copies drops, you can expect it to be a sale since stores have no reason to keep raising and dropping the numbers unless they make a sale and then re-list the book. (For the record, I withdrew all my publications from Authorhouse June 14th 2010.)

    Authorhouse’s numbers were way below the daily tallies I kept from the Amazon numbers, they only reported between 10% and maybe up to 20% of the sales on any given quarter. Today for example, I received the worst report yet: they reported only 1 copy of Volume One sold in the second quarter (April 1 to June 14th, the time I withdrew my publications from them), and only 3 copies for Volume 2. According to my numbers from the Amazon rankings and marketplace sellers in the US, Canada and UK: 28 copies of Volume 1 sold, and 27 of Volume 2. Therefore they have reported only 4% of the sales, and they obviously are pocketing the rest. And this does not include other sales that may have been made through other sellers like Barnes and Noble, etc.

    However, there is no way to be compensated for these discrepancies, Authorhouse demands you provide receipts of all sales as proof of your claim—how on earth do you track such receipts? Authorhouse knows it’s an impossibility. Of course, Nielsen Book Scan offers sales report services, but you cannot use them to reclaim royalties, or display or disclose your sales report to any third party as Nielsen deems such action a breach of trademark confidentiality and would possible incur a lawsuit.

    The simplest answer would be to cancel all contracts with Authourhouse, but this is not as easy as they make it out to be. To date, they continue to reassure me my books are no longer in print, but as I have discovered today (September 7), they are still listed with UK wholesale distributors as available within 5 days as Print on Demand, so they are technically still available by Authorhouse illegally.

    1st Books / Authorhouse in my estimation is the most disreputable company allowed to carry on a business offering a sham service to the public, robbing authors of the fruits of their labours. Surely they are required to have a business license to operate as all other businesses? How can any state issue a license and continue to allow such a rogue business like this to continue? They are operating on such a large scale, and if they are doing this to every author, then one must consider the possibility they are committing grand larceny on a massive scale. They claim to have thousands of authors with their company.

    Authors Beware: if you are considering publishing your book using Print On Demand, stay well away from this company. Even if they paid all the royalties, they do little or nothing to help promote your work, but expect you to pay additional hundreds and even thousands for various promotion packages that provide little if no results. For those of you poor authors who now hold a contract with Authorhouse publishing your work, my sympathies go out to all of you.

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