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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

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Two Questions Authors Should Ask Before Self-Publishing a Book

Biff Barnes

You are finishing a book, or maybe have already finished one. You have heard a lot about the growing popularity of self-publishing and think that might be a good way to get your book out there. What should you do?

Courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi under Creative Commons

Begin by asking two important questions regarding the self-publishing process.

  • Do you want your book to be truly self-published?

A glance around the internet will reveal plenty of people offering to help you self-publish. You might see Outskirts Press or Author Solutions (the true giant in the field, offering imprints including iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Tafford, WordClay, Palibrio, or Partridge. Author Solutions also operates the Archway imprint for Penguin and Random House, Harlequin/DellArte for Harlequin, West Bow Press for Thomas Nelson, and Cross Books for Christian publisher Life Way.) All of them bill themselves as self-publishing solutions, but are really subsidy publishers.

Why would anyone want to work with a subsidy publisher?

Mick Rooney of Independent Publishing Magazine explained in a post on the Self-Publishing Review.titled The Types of Self-Publishing: Peeling Away the Layers of Confusion “…they are upfront from the start about what they are offering, in effect—an author service, usually from submission through to design, production, print, final proof and the proverbial 25,000 online available booksellers and anything more is an additional paid add-on. The add-on’s are what is also known as the up sell. You will be emailed about ‘must have services’ which will help your book sell.” Subsidy publishers roll their services into all-inclusive turn-key packages.

“The turnkey book production services offered by subsidy publishers are a benefit if you don’t have the time or desire to learn about the self-publishing process,” said former publishing company president Michael Dowling.

Where’s the problem in that?

Cost for one thing. As David Carnoy of CNET explained in Self-Publishing a Book: 25 Things You Need to Know, “Turn-key solutions cost a lot of money.  You've written your book and God knows you'd like to just hand it off to someone, have a team of professionals whip it into shape, and get it out there. Well, there are a lot of companies that will offer to make just that happen... But those "packages" range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to upward of $25,000.”

So what would true self-publishing look like?

When you truly self-publish you are responsible for all of the stages of the process of creating your book. You do as much of the work as you can yourself, but you recognize that there are some things that you lack either the skills or inclination to do. In those cases you look for freelance editors, book designers or marketers to perform the service. Finding these service providers is no different from the way you might locate a good mechanic for your car or decorator for you house. These people work for you and you make all of the ultimate decisions about your book. You don’t need a publisher, you need a printer. That way you pay only for the cost of producing your book, not a string of add-ons which are part of a publishing package. You are responsible for marketing your book. If you need help with that you can hire a specialist to do it for you. When you self-publish it really is your book.

  • Who will own the rights to your book and the files used to create it?

“I will,” you say. “I am self-publishing.”

Not so fast.

If you truly self-publish – create your own interior and cover files and arrange for your own ISBN from Bowker, the company charged with assigning ISBNs in the United States – you will own all rights to the book.

However, if you work with a subsidy publisher or even accept a free ISBN from you printer that may not be the case. Michael Dowling explained, “The ISBN assigned to your book will belong to the subsidy publisher, not to you. If you want to change publishers, you will need to get a new ISBN. Changing ISBNs can cause confusion and hurt sales.”

That’s bad enough, but there’s an even more serious concern.

If you ask a sales representative of a subsidy publisher who owns the rights to your book, they’ll tell you, “You do.” The contract authors sign with Author Solutions imprints like AuthorHouse contains a clause which says, “You retain the rights to the book, but the files remain ours because we created them,” says Mark Levine in his excellent book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.

The consequence explains Levine is that, “If an author leaves to seek a more affordable and profitable self-publishing alternative, then the author will have to pay to have everything recreated even though he or she has already paid AuthorHouse to create these files.”

Taking time to investigate the best way for you to self-publish will help you to do two things: one, control the cost of the project by purchasing only those services you truly need; and, two, make sure you retain all rights to the book you create. That’s time well spent.