Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Perils of Pay To Publish: A Cautionary Tale for New Authors

I thought the whole pay-to-publish route was so talked about that authors didn't fall for that anymore. With the internet and all the information out there, it would seem like there would be plenty of information available for those new to the publishing game. Alas, this is not true.

Over the past six months, I've met not one, but four different authors who paid to have their book published. And I'm not talking about paying an editor, a cover artist, and a formatting person. I'm talking shelling out thousands of dollars to a company so they can hold their book in their hands.

With self-publishing such an easy and enticing option these days, and the wealth of information out there on how to do everything from formatting to marketing on your own, I am mystified as to why anyone would think they need to take out a loan to publish a book.

So while it would seem to me that this topic has been flogged to death, I'm going to cover it again. If you approach a publisher and see any of these: say no / look for other options / run the other way:

1. If the publisher charges a reading fee
2. If the publisher doesn't ask to see a query letter/ synopsis/ first chapter but responses to your inquiry regarding publishing with an offer to publish and pricing options.
3. If there are up front fees of any kind.
4. To make this clear, if you are asked to pay ANYTHING to get your book published.

The only time there should be a cost to you is to purchase books at a significant discount from your publisher for you to sell yourself - such as for signings, copies to gift to family and friends, or author events where your publisher will not be present.

Perhaps having to formulate a query letter and the dreaded synopsis, of having to wait for months, and the fear of rejection letters makes the idea of just forking out a couple thousand to skip all the headaches seem worthwhile. It's not.

Why?

Your cover is now in the hands of a company who isn't invested in your book. They don't care what it looks like. You better read that contract with a magnifying glass and know what rights you're handing over. They're just churning out what you're paying to have them publish and who knows what effort they're putting into editing and proper formatting.

Your pay-to-publisher will ship you boxes of books that you've paid for. You will have to sell them in order to recover your cost to publish. Sure, your book may be listed on Amazon and maybe even a few other sales avenues, but all those books in your basement/garage? That's your investment. The marketing is on your shoulders.

If you're a well-known business person, teacher, or public speaker, perhaps you can move all those books fairly quickly with a few big engagements. But for most people, you'll sell a few to family and friends and then spend years trying to sell the rest. That's years you're peddling books and selling one or handful at a signing. Do you have years to recover your thousands of dollars?

And we haven't even touched on the costs that many authors have, like all your marketing and publicity: Bookmarks, websites, table fees at author events, travel, business cards, review copies, give away copies, and any other promotional goodies you might need. If you've paid thousands up front, all these costs now also come out of your pocket and eat into any progress you're making toward recouping your costs.

The worst of the four experiences I've encountered was an author who thought she was dealing with a reputable company because it was a division of a name she knew. They charged her $3,500 to publish her book. A book she didn't even have finished. Her first book, mind you. She wasn't a known name in the market by any means. And when she finally had the draft done some nine months later, she was informed that it needed significant editing, and that would be an additional $3,500.  Unwilling to pay that much a second time, she found a college student to edit for her for $600. And now $4,100 later, she has her book to hold.

All four of these authors are out thousands. Yes, they have books to sell, but will they ever make their money back, let alone make a profit? It's very unlikely.

Do NOT let this happen to you.

Do your research on how publishing works. There are options. All of them involve having written your book, utilizing beta readers and critique groups, and learning how to do some editing and general formatting on your own. If you haven't done those things, you're not ready to publish.

Option 1: Aim high and query an agent to help with the publishing process and better your chances of a deal with a big press.
Option 2: Query publishers taking unsolicited submissions
Option 3: Query small presses who may take more chances with first-time authors
Option 4: Self-publish.

The only one of these options has costs involved and that's self-publishing. While there is a host of information out there on how to do all the steps yourself, you're probably not good at all the steps. You may wish to pay someone to design a cover. Hiring an editor is a good choice and often important step. Formatting your book for print or as an e-book can be confusing, there are people who can do that for you. In this option, there are companies who will offer one or all of these services and you can select which to pay for. It should not cost you thousands of dollars. Do your research. Learn how to do as much as you can or feel comfortable with yourself. Pay what you can afford for an editor that works for your book.

If you're considering publication, talk to other writers. Join a local writing/author group.  Join a group online. Build connections. Find out what others are doing and how they're going about it. Talking with other authors is a great way to spot red flags with publishers and possible offers as well as staying aware of new opportunities and markets you may not have considered.

Keep in mind, if you hit upon a contract with a legitimate publisher, they will pay you. You do NOT pay them.

I can't say this enough: Research. Learn. Don't pay thousands.

 
   

4 comments:

  1. Good advice.

    There is a learning process to writing. I remember writing up a storm in the beginning. I wrote some dreadful stuff. It took me forever to start seeing how I could improve.

    Being taken advantage of is something we all need to steer clear. I do think all of it has to do with not studying the business and assuming our beautiful story needs no work.

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  2. Still not read for this step, but am glad to have read this. I still haven't found a writing group nearby and want one in person as well as online.

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  3. Hi Jean - so sensible ... and I do hope people will be a little more careful ... the sense of urgency is not necessarily the best way. Thanks for highlighting this .. cheers Hilary

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  4. Well, you know, people don't do the research, and these pay-to-play guys do their best to come off as legit publishers. And self-publishing still comes with the stigma of not being good enough to get a "real" publisher, so paying for it can be really attractive to a lot of people.

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