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Buyer Beware: Can You Trust Your Self-Publishing Company?

Last week, Barnes & Noble launched a new Print on Demand service to complement their Nook ebook self-publishing platform.

On the surface, that should be a smart move. More self-publishing authors are looking for ways to produce both print and ebook editions. Barnes & Noble knows a lot about books. Their Nook Press platform works (relatively) smoothly.

But then, if you read the fine print, things are weird.

First of all, Barnes & Noble—a retailer whose primary business is selling books—does not offer their Nook Press clients retail distribution.

“The NOOK Press print platform program is for you to print books for your personal use, and does not include selling those books through Barnes & Noble stores or BN.com. You may sell the books you print on your own, however.”

Huh?

The only reason for a writer to bother with a printing option that doesn’t include retail is if they don’t intend to sell their book, ever. (Wedding and photo albums, family cookbooks, personal histories and company gifts, etc.) But for the vast majority of writers, we self publish in order to sell books—and we’re years past the day when a writer should have to pay thousands of dollars to order cases of books, and then tackle distribution themselves.

When there are free (or nearly free) self-publishing options like CreateSpace or IngramSpark or Blurb, which combine high-quality printing and seamless wholesale distribution (adding books to wholesale catalogs, which will automatically list them on all the major e-retailers), why would a writer choose a service that only gets them halfway to the goal?

And speaking of thousands of dollars, the “author services” Nook Press offers are so far outside the scope of services a writer could get elsewhere that self-publishing expert and super-blogger David Gaughran has pointed out the similarities to everyone’s favorite vanity press, the Author Solutions empire. (You did know that Author Solutions is the worst possible option for self-publishing writers, right? Start here to read the long and sordid story of all the ways that Author Solutions / iUniverse / XLibris / Archway / Westbow / Abbott Press have exploited aspiring writers.)

Back to Nook Press, where editing services also seem to be deceptively labeled: a line edit is generally much more intensive and involved than a review of “spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and syntax.” That’s proofreading, or copyediting at best. (Compare it to how my friends at The Editorial Department describe their line editing service as “the highest level of an editor’s craft.”)

And at 3.7 cents a word ($3700 for a 100,000 word book!) the cost is way beyond what your average professional freelance editor would charge for this kind of review, whatever it’s called (see the Editorial Freelancers Association’s overview of average editorial rates). And Nook Press’ prices just go up from there if you want your anonymous editor to also check things like consistency, let alone plot structure or organization.

But this is Barnes & Noble! A known brand name that theoretically knows books and cares about writers! If we can’t trust them, who can a new writer trust?

Good question.

Photo Credit: Henrique Pinto

Photo Credit: Henrique Pinto

There are new companies emerging every day to help writers get their books into readers’ hands. Some of them are professional, respectful, and work with integrity and quality. Many of them have good intentions, but will make mistakes as they get established. And then there are the outright scams. I talk to writers all the time who have trusted the wrong person or signed the wrong contract, and now their book is “stuck” and their bank account is empty.

Remember what your grandmother told you: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

How do you know if a self-publishing company isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? (Note: the following aren’t meant to point fingers at Nook Press; this is a list I’ve been sharing in workshops for years, and now I have a reason to bring it to the blog.)

  • They have a heavy-handed sales approach. If representatives are calling you repeatedly at dinnertime, or are sending you multiple typo-filled emails, pressuring you to make decisions you’re not ready for or to spend more money than you initially committed to, beware. Reputable companies don’t need to hire telemarketers to brow-beat their potential customers.

 

  • Costs are heavily inflated. While I never recommend that you trust your book to the cheapest contractor, the flip side is that some companies charge multiples of what everyone else is doing, while not providing better service.

 

  • The company doesn’t provide information about who will provide their services. Who are these NookPress editors who will offer feedback on syntax and grammar? Who are the publicists who will pitch your book to major media? How qualified are they? A company should be proud of their staff and the skills that they bring. (For example, look at the way the book company Girl Friday Productions introduces their editors, or look at Blurb’s new Dream Team of collaborators.)

 

  • A sales or “marketing” representative tells you that your book was “considered” and “chosen” for special publicity attention—maybe an invitation-only media publicity package or media blitz, but being selected as special will cost you money. Is there any evidence that these special programs actually have results? Just because someone says they’ll pitch you to Hollywood doesn’t mean that they have the credibility or connections to do it well.

 

  • A self-publishing company sets the retail price of your book and requires you to buy a pre-set number at a “discount” that’s still steeply inflated. With Print on Demand, a 200-page paperback only costs about $3.50 to print. So why are they charging you $12 per book, plus shipping?

 

  • They ask you to sign a contract or agree to terms that give them exclusive rights to distribute the book for a set period of time—or for the life of the book. Your self-publishing printer/distributor is your service provider. Since you’re footing the costs of publishing, you should be able to pull the plug at any time with the click of an “unpublish” button or a nicely-worded letter.

 

  • They claim to be connected to a traditional publisher, and imply (but never explicitly say) that working with them will improve your opportunities of getting a “real” publishing deal. Yes, I’m pointing fingers at a specific house now, because I’ve never talked to an editor in New York (S&S) or Nashville (Thomas Nelson) who looks at the vanity press sales force in Bloomington, Indiana for their next great book idea.

I know this is hard to think about. You want to be published. You want someone to appreciate your work. But that nice representative that you met at the respectable writing conference who says that he’s read your book and sees “a future bestseller?”  He’s been trained to flatter you. Ask him about the last book he picked out as a “winner” and see how it’s doing.

In the days of the Internet, there’s no excuse for not being informed. Google every business you consider working with. Think critically about what you learn. Compare prices, experience, and successes. Use independent resources like Writer Beware or Preditors and Editors.

And then, when you have the right partners, you can go out and publish with confidence, and a truly professional team behind you.

 

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