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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Total Books Published Last Year Up 87%!!

Holy publishing excess, Batman, there were over 1 million books published in 2009.  That’s compared to 560,000 published in 2008.  In the words of Socrates, “Whoa!  That’s a lot of books.”  What’s even more remarkable is that there were about 412,000 published in 2007.  Why the dramatic jumps? The self-publishing market is booming.  Of the 1 million plus books published last year, 764,448 came from self-publishing companies and micro-niche publishing companies.  My old company CreateSpace led the way amongst the POD companies with 21,819 books published.

These are very interesting numbers that means there is a lot more product out there for people to choose from.  Less and less of it is coming from traditional publishers, too.  They produced fewer books than the year before.  What does this mean for authors?  You’re going to have to work even harder to get noticed in the marketplace.  And not just self-published authors.  You traditionally published authors are going to have to deal with the crowd, as well.  If you ain’t doing the web 2.0 thing, get on it now and start building that personal brand.  The trend is not slowing down anytime soon.  Next year there will be even more books published.  The longer you wait.  The harder it’s going to get.

Click on over to Publishers Weekly to get more details on these incredible numbers: Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped

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