Dangers in Self-Publishing

Dangers in

By Dale Youngman

Fellowscript cover

This article was originally written to authors and was published in the May 2015 edition of FellowScript.

Never before has it been so easy to enter the market and have your work available to the public. The entire communication industry is going through massive changes affecting both business models and marketing effectiveness. I recently attended a conference on film and storytelling and learned that printed publications are not alone in facing the stresses of change within communication arts.

One of the huge benefits of the internet has been a closer relationship with readers and viewers. At one time we gathered and perfected and then sent out a finished product. Now we have increasing opportunities to interact with our audiences and know them.

Independent publishing has gained recognition and good projects are being produced. Many publishers are in touch with their readership and are producing excellent works. As with the advent of desktop publishing there is an overall loss of professionalism. The availability of buttons doesn't necessarily mean we know which ones to use. Choosing to be an independent publisher does not indicate your work will be sub-standard, but there are risks.

Narrow your focus

The most common issue I see is works that are too general in approach and don't have a clear reader in mind. By taking on the role of publisher you are also responsible for marketing. The clearer your reader avatar and communication purpose, the easier it will be to find readers and provide value. The result is increased buzz and sales.

When working with an editor in the traditional model there is discussion about the slant of the work. You do lose some control as part of a team but you make it up in by benefiting from experts in marketing and design. As a self-publisher you are in control of the team – the larger challenge now is getting honest feedback. Having a clear written synopsis and vision, including the look and feel, will help contractors and volunteers use their skills and give you honest feedback. You are the boss, and the boss is often the last to know. Ensure you are not working in isolation and are getting helpful feedback.

Feedback from those close to you is helpful but the real value comes from those who will buy or use your work. Getting input early can build both the quality of your project and interest when it launches.

Polish your work

Structural editing or a clear logical flow can also be a challenge when we are so close to the work. Organizing the outline for a series of talks can help bring clarity. Again, find a way to bounce the synopsis and drafts off people in the target group.

I have also seen work brought in “print ready” and I found almost an error on every page. Good writing starts with free-flow and then is boiled down and refined. Think of professionalism throughout your project as the preparation you would do for your home before a special guest. Things are double-checked and wiped down, help may even be called in. Ensure your book puts its best foot forward.

Understand business

As you add the role of publisher to your skills remember it is primarily a business function. The publisher is responsible for establishing time-lines and budgets. They overseeing the project. My description is, “the publisher is the person with the cheque-book and a phone.” A broad understanding of the publishing process and an intimate understanding of their chosen niche are key. Ask for help from the business development services and other business types. Crunch your numbers with realistic projections and calculate how much you can invest. Know if you are seeking to make a career of publishing, are seeking to build credibility or just want to make your story known. Adjust your expectations and budgets accordingly.

As publisher you will also be pricing your book. In order to sell through retail you will need your production costs to be less than half the list price. Check what other books are selling for and determine how you add value. Ask what is selling and pay attention to trends.

Team leadership

Most communication endeavours involve a team and we are wise to look beyond ourselves. As mentioned earlier, clear direction on how you want to move whom, enables professional designers, editors and marketers to assist your project with the least cost and the most effectiveness. Let the vision lead. Too much control and they will not be able to give you their best.

Vanity press or valuable services?

A final caution on remnants of the vanity press. If you are paying you are the publisher – if they are purchasing your work and paying royalties, you are working with a traditional publisher. Other options have grown selling fancy packages and preying on writers, including charging royalties to writers for their own books. Getting 10 free copies after paying hefty up-front fees leaves me quite sure you are dealing with a vanity press. Listing your book does allow bookstores to find it but sales are another issue. Be careful.

“'Author Solutions’ modus operandi is pretty despicable, and they’ve been badgering, swindling and confusing writers out of money — and lots of it — for years,” says blogger David Gaughran as quoted in Forbes. “The deceit starts with the web of brands they’ve established. With so many imprints, Author Solutions has tricked authors into thinking they have dozens of choices. In reality, however, the parent company is just slapping up half a dozen different logos, renaming packages, and selling the same grossly overpriced services to all of their customers no matter which brand ends up on the cover.”

There are legitimate publication services available that will provide you much more than just dealing with a printer.

Prepare to stretch

The level of marketing the author does is a huge factor even when walking the traditional route. Be prepared to talk about your book, to blog, to take interviews, to send out news-releases. It is a great stretch, but many more people will know and be blessed by your work.