Be Advised

Over the past week or so, I’ve talked with several new writers who had finished their manuscripts and were ready to start on the next phase of their projects. A couple of them had a pretty good plan in mind. They’d already sent their work to beta readers or it was being workshopped by their writing group. The other was caught in that dear in the headlights moment of “OMG, it’s finished. Now what do I do?”. All three were looking at their options of going indie, trying to find a publisher or using a packager to get their book out there. All three were at the point where they could easily fall victim to what used to be called vanity publishers.

I’ve preached one thing since joining this blog years ago–as writers, we have to educate ourselves about our industry and then we have to stay up-to-date. That means understanding the difference between traditional publishing, indie publishing and using a packager. It means knowing the different publishers and distributors if you are going the traditional route.

It used to be the only “voice of censure” we used to have to worry about came from publishers. We’ve seen more than enough examples of a publisher contracting for a book and then canceling it–sometimes after it comes out–because it is not “woke” enough (or whatever the appropriate word was for the time when it happened). This past week, we learned publishers aren’t the only ones who can basically cancel a contract. Simon & Schuster, the distributor for much of traditional publishing, announced it would not distribute–DISTRIBUTE–a book written by one of the cops involved in the Breonna Taylor case.

Forget about the fact a publishing contract had been signed between the author and publisher. Forget the fact there is contract between the publisher and Simon & Schuster for the distribution, a contract S&S very well may now be in breach of. We have a company reacting out of fear because a few vocal critics said they’d boycott the distributor over the book.

Now tell me something, how many readers know, much less give a damn, who distributes the books they read?

None of those new writers I spoke with knew about this latest debacle because they have yet to get into the habit of checking industry news on a regular basis. More importantly, each of them (and they come from all over the political spectrum).

So we had a crash course in publishing. I did a lot of referring back to posts here. What I realized I had not been following, however, was the number of so-called publishers who try to rope the unsuspecting in with offers of a publishing contract only to them start hitting the unsuspecting writers with fees for editing, covers, printing, distribution, etc.

Oh, I knew they existed. I’ve written about them. But they have some new twists and turns in how they do it. This post from The Urban Writers caught my eye. I recommend everyone here read it. I don’t agree with everything TUW say, but overall it is an excellent explanation.

However, the best rule of thumb to remember is “Money flows to the writer, not from him.” This is especially true when dealing with publishers. If someone says “Sign my contract and I will publish your book” and then they present you with a list of prices to be paid, run away.

As an indie, there are costs you should be prepared to absorb. They are the necessary cost of doing business. You’ll need an ISBN if you are doing a print version of your book (I recommend them for ebooks, but most platforms don’t require them). IMO, it is best to have the ISBN registered to you and not get it through the platform.

You’ll need to pay for cover design unless you can make an effective cover yourself. Whether it is paying someone to create the cover for you, buying cover elements, buying–so you can license–fonts or buying software, somewhere along the line, you may have to pay something for your covers. If you’re lucky, you can find free fonts–and please do your homework and make sure the fonts really are free. In other worse, read the EULA. You can get lucky and find images or image elements that fall under Creative Commons or similar licensing. But the average writer will need help, at least to start, putting together effective covers. That said, you shouldn’t be paying an arm and a leg. You sure as hell don’t need to pay thousands.

I guess it all comes down to doing your homework, asking questions, making sure you understand what you’re getting involved with and never signing anything without first consulting an attorney. Preferably an intellectual properties attorney.

One last thing while it is one my mind. If you do pay someone to create a cover for you, be sure you know what rights you get in the process. The last thing you want is to spent several hundred–or thousands–of dollars on a cover only to see the same image on someone else’s book a month or a year later. If you think you are getting exclusive use of the artwork, make sure that is spelled out in the contract. If it isn’t, make sure the design prices are in line with what others charge for the same basic service.

Or, if you have the time and patience, learn to make your own covers.

Do the same with doing your own conversion from word processing file to e-book and print formats. There are plenty of programs out there, many of them free, that do good jobs with conversion. There are a couple of paid programs that do excellent conversions. Consider going that route instead of paying someone to do your conversion, especially if you are just starting out and money might be tight.

Remember, every penny out of your pocket upfront has to be recovered before you can start counting profits.

In other words, be a smart businessperson. Writing is a business as well as a vocation. Whether you go the traditional route or go indie, you need to look at it that way. Most of all, be aware of what is going on in the industry. It might just save you some money and some heartache in the long run.

17 thoughts on “Be Advised

  1. Thank you for this. I found the “Navigating” posts here to be extremely helpful.

    For my books (all two of them!) I’ve done everything myself, but helped perhaps, by 20 years writing journal articles and having to do my own copy editing and I am very comfortable with Word. My covers were atrocious at first, but I kept looking at covers on the ‘zon, went back over and over again what several of you here said about covers, and kept going. I think I’ve gotten the hang of it and so I will continue to do my own covers.

    I didn’t think about the ISBN thing, but I will go purchase some and use them for the next books. Somewhere I’ve bookmarked the site where you can purchase them in bulk. I have filed for copyrights on both books as well. The Peschels book, Career Indie Author is very useful as well for the business side of things.

    1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

      I won’t say we’ve made every mistake there is to make and put it in our book but that’s only because we keeping finding new ones to make!

      1. You’re welcome! I don’t remember where I first saw it, but I got the paperback copy as soon as I looked at it. I don’t need all the info as I do have experience with some aspects, but you guys did a thorough job!

  2. While I hate to give any positive press to the SFWA, the one useful thing they do have is Writer Beware. It’s worth checking over there on a regular basis to see the various ongoing scams.

    In general, your rule of thumb should be: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  3. As a currently aspiring cover artist, I’ll also add that you’re going to end up paying a pretty penny more if you want that cool ship the artist used for your cover to not appear on another cover- and custom models are, frankly, going to cost *more*.

  4. I’ve found these “watch out!” posts to be extremely helpful. Particularly the warning about fonts, that one was mentioned several years ago and caused me to go hunting for a genuinely free font. (I used Philosopher font on my first book, “Unfair Advantage” by Edward Thomas.)

    Covers are the major stumbling block for me in the publishing chain. I’m avoiding working on them as hard as I can, to be honest. Steep learning curve, and I don’t want to release a book with a stupid looking cover. It’s hard to get to “meh” from “did a kid do this?” ~:D

  5. I have actually met someone who needed a book packager, although I’ve now met far too many people who spent thousands on their book doula (her term, God save us) to get services they could have easily done themselves.

    So we were at the Winter Arts Show and I was making my rounds, chatting up the other vendors and naturally, I tell people what we do.

    I met the alpaca farmer’s husband.

    He claimed to be a wealthy retired businessman with an exciting life. He must have had some money in order to fund his wife’s hobby alpaca farm because I’m sure they’re not cheap.

    He told me all about his exciting life story and how it needed to be a book. I told him our usual spiel: read a year’s worth of Writer’s Digest magazine to get started and where to look online for more information after that.

    No, he wanted someone to do “everything” because he was too busy and had the money and all he wanted was a few printed books for his own personal library.

    Well, okay then. This money must be shared, so I gave him the information about our local book doula who could use some of his money.

    I’ve no idea what happened after that. He’s still the only person I’ve done that with, simply because he’s the only person who made of a point of saying he had money to burn.

    It’s sad how many wanna-be writers I’ve met who *need* someone to take their raw manuscript and turn it into a gorgeous, perfectly edited hardback that becomes a top seller with no further effort on their part.

    I suppose, like the alpaca farmer’s husband, that’s the natural market for book packagers.

  6. There are still a lot of people caught up in “I need a publisher! So I can be published!”

    I mean, there’s a guy in my brother’s writing group. Nice guy, prolific. Wasted five years “looking for an agent” and “looking for a publisher,” and now he’s wasting lots of time hand-selling his book series.

    Mind you, he enjoys going to all these pointless conferences and events, and wasting his money. So I guess if you want an excuse to travel, and a hobby to spend money on, that’s fine. But mostly it’s about the validation, which he mysteriously gets from doing all the work but “being published.”

    Mind you, this is the same guy who wouldn’t pay attention to what the writer’s group said, but did pay attention to what “my editor” said. Even though it was the same thing, and he had to pay for what “my editor” said.

    Shrug. Like I say, he’s prolific, is retired, and has a good chunk of cash. Maybe he has time for doing all that stuff and paying other people for himself to do it. But the ROI… ugh.

    1. I remember an online frolic when one guy signed with PublishAmerica. He had solicited critiques and been vicious when he got them, and came back to announce his triumph. . . .

  7. I used that very clip art to advertise an Anime mascot competition. Small world!

    In other news… Figuring out how to format a *graphic novel* for publication is killing me. How do you do it? It feels like you have to have already drawn the thing to spec from the get-go or you’re screwed. The meta of the pros and cons of getting accepted by Hiveworks or Arkhaven or First Second feels like a problem for people more clued-in than I am.

    Speaking of which (production) the Daughter product is wanting to try her hand at free-lance copy- and book cover-editing as a summer job. Thanks to the Branch Covidians who run my day job (and my state gummint), I won’t be doing a 40-60 hour job for a 20-hour work week this year*. So I offered to back stop her like I did my teen volunteers.

    We want to know if this is a good and useful thing. Are we taking bread from people who need to do this to make rent? Are her skills (and she’s better than I at detail. In spades) useful? And at what price?

    *Not a complaint. I used to LOVE my work. We did amaze-balls things with sweat equity.

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