For now, I want to explain the differences between each option, the benefits and drawbacks, and the potential disasters lying ahead with any of them. Be prepared... no matter what publishing option you choose, it will be a journey, oftentimes long and treacherous and full of obstacles and roadblocks. If you don't love writing enough to persevere through this, then being an author probably isn't the right thing for you.
With that said, here are some pros and cons about each option and what those pros and cons mean for authors like you.
Uncontrollable excitement takes over for about five seconds before you see the price tags, usually around $20,000 or more. Ouch! I don't know about you, but I certainly don't have that kind of money just lying around, and if you're just starting out, you may not, either.
Signs you're being scammed:
- Vague language about who your publisher actually is.
- Vague language around self-publishing; they tend to call it "guided self-publishing," but I have yet to hear from any author who actually felt "guided" in their process with a vanity press.
- They charge up-front and it's extremely expensive. (I've never earned $20,000 on providing services for one book. I wish! But then I would be just as corrupt as these guys... or would I?)
- Nonsensical fees like "reading fees," "copy fees," and, "fax fees." (Some literary agents will also try to charge these, but usually the legit ones do not charge these kinds of fees.)
- They make you sign a contract and only pay out between 10% and 25% royalties (usually 10%, especially if you aren't already a bestselling author) on your book after already charging you for "services."
How to avoid being scammed:
- If you have even the tiniest suspicion you're about to sign a contract with a scam press, go over your contract with a fine-toothed comb (consult an attorney if you feel like you need to - spending $150-$500 to save yourself from a $20k disaster is a small price to pay in the long run). Look specifically for how much they plan to charge you up front for services and the royalties section (you may also want to double check the movie rights section - 10% is usually what the publisher can claim, with 90% going to the author. Any other numbers and it may be a scam).
- If they won't allow you to look at the contract in an easy way or act difficult about it until they feel like you're sold on it, definitely go through it. Any legitimate business will be transparent rather than closed off, and more often than not, those of us with an abundance mindset will scoff at the word "competition" because it isn't a bad thing. It just is. There are billions and billions of people in the world; nobody needs to freak out about trying to "get" every single consumer. Plenty to go around, people! ;)
- ANY doubt. ANY gut feeling that it isn't right, and you should do more digging and explore more options. As individuals, we tend to grossly underestimate and lack trust in our intuition or gut feelings... even though they tend to be right a lot.
Personal Input: As a domestic violence survivor, single mom of three for the past 12 years, and an author who has been researching like crazy since age 14, I can tell you that this was never an option simply because there was no way that I or anyone else in my life would shell out $20,000 on a single book. And no one has to! Vanity presses often associate themselves with big traditional publishing houses and make you think you have a shot at being considered by those big publishers if your book does well with the vanity press, but guess what? They do that if you make enough noise anywhere. You don't have to be published by a vanity press. If you self-publish, you're likely to get the same attention, if not more (which opens up an opportunity to take bids on your book... more on that in a later blog post).
Guess what?!?! There are no guarantees, EVER. Now these publishers are just being jerks and trying not to go under completely because they're being pushed out of the industry by self-publishers who have been forced (partially by big publishers' refusal to take risks on new authors) to learn their own marketing, and we authors now know a lot more than these publishers ever wanted us to. Hm. I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles, right? Too much "lack" mindset, not enough innovation and adjustment of tactics to evolve with the times. Oops.
- If you can manage to have a traditional publisher pick up your book, awesome. Good for you! They will hook you up with an editor and all sorts of other goodies free of up-front charge. (Although you will have to pay them back with your royalties; if you get an advance, you'll be paying them back for that as well. THEN you get royalties.)
- You may be able to negotiate a movie deal more easily with the backing of a big publishing house.
- The work from finished manuscript to publication? They do that for you. Woohoo!
- Don't expect more than 25% royalties (and that's high... industry standard is 8%-12% for new authors, usually without an advance, so be aware of what your contract states specifically for you and your book).
- Expect to still have to do your own marketing, otherwise your book won't go anywhere.
- Depending on the publisher(s) you submit to, they may not even get back to you for anywhere between 3 and 24 months, so make sure you read their estimated time frame on their website or submission page.
- You do not own your copyright anymore; the publisher does. Yes, even if you pay for the filing process (and they tend to take at least 1-3 months, too). Look over your contract as this might differ from one publisher to another, but expect to see some kind of legal jargon about giving up your copyrights for the duration of the contract (at the very least), which will most likely be anywhere from 5-10 years. (As a quick side note on copyright... the second you publish something online with your name on it, the copyright ownership is yours. Technically, you don't have to file for an actual copyright except as an additional means of protection, but anything you put out there is automatically yours and can be traced back to you via various means such as IP address, location tags, and so on.)
- The author does NOT get the final say on editing, cover design, or pricing. That is the publisher's right, so if you had anything in mind for a cover or are attached to your way of representing telekinetic thoughts, be prepared to let that go.
- And one more time, just to be absolutely clear: expect to still have to do your own marketing. While this tends to be presented as a "minor" thing (even though it costs more than anything else), it's HUGE if you're new or have no email list, no social media followers, no Twitter presence, and no presence or audience anywhere else.
Personal Input: Having done a ton of research and studying on marketing books and marketing in general over the last five years, it is not to be marginalized. It is a HUGE undertaking to market your own book, with months of scheduling posts and doing blog tours and book store signings and whatever else the publisher lines up for you. For me personally, a lot of those things were never an option because I'm a mom first and can't just go gallivanting around the country without dragging my whole family along, and that's an expensive disaster in the making, lol!
Personal Input: There are way too many pros and cons to go into here, and they are all dependent on which company you're considering working with. As someone who started and is now retiring an indie publishing company modeled after traditional publishing, I can tell you that one person doing ALL the work on each book is NOT a sustainable or profitable business model. Sooner or later, these people trying to do it all on their own (like me) are going to burn out, especially if they have to do triple the work to even turn a profit. At its peak, my indie publishing company pulled in $500/year on ALL TITLES COMBINED... and that was before I paid out my 40% royalty share to my authors. I would love to see someone live on $300/year in western WA State. If you find this person, please let me know so I can pick their brain for survival tips! Unless of course they're a freegan. I can't do digging food out of dumpsters, no matter how good it still seems.
- Maintain full control and have final say on every aspect of your book.
- No contract, unless you sign an agreement with a third party to do some of the publishing work (in which case you may want to consider having them sign a nondisclosure agreement or NDA - more on that in a future post).
- No royalty sharing unless you choose to do a collaborative project; then royalties are agreed on between you and the other author/artist/creator.
- If you learn to do every step yourself, you can publish your book in paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audiobook FOR FREE.
- There are a TON of self-publishing resources online, many of which don't cost a thing and some of which are high-value courses that you invest in once to have access to throughout your entire author career (as long as the course creators leave the courses up). There's a fantastic one about marketing that I'm currently taking by Adam Houge called Fan Base Mastery. Check it out =).
- You can search for and find an editor whom you love working with, understands your writing style, believes in your work, and will make sure it is pristine and accurately representative of you.
- You need to know exactly what you want for your book (ie, who is your target audience, what are your sales goals, what marketing actions will you implement to reach those goals, how will your book cover stack up against the bestseller list, how will your book's grammar/spelling/syntax impact readers, how does your formatting look, and so on).
- You either need to know how to do every step in the process yourself or how to hire people who can do what you "can't" or "won't" without having to spend an arm and a leg on it.
Personal Input: I understand not doing something because you are self-aware enough to know that you should not be in charge of that part. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of people are actually self-aware, so if you're saying you can't or won't simply because you're scared, then you should thoroughly reconsider. Nobody ever got anywhere great from within their comfort zone ;).