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.