Some days I feel like a broken record. Or a line from Needful Things (“You’ve been here before.”) Or maybe I’m a Cylon: All of this has happened before; all of this will happen again.
Today the news is about a Big N* publisher making a deal with a big self-publishing outfit. Other commercial publishers have done similar things in the past, and it won’t surprise me if more do it in the future.
Thing is, even without Big N relationships, these big ol’ give-us-money-and-we’ll-make-you-an-author outfits really aren’t great deals for writers. Since it’s almost time for my yearly Don’t Submit/Self-Publish Your NaNo Project Yet post, this is fairly timely. Thing is, there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to self-pub packages, so rather than one long-ass post, I’m going to do this in bite-sized chunks, examining the various aspects and offers that some of the most popular ones have on their menus.
A few quick hits, for you TL;DR types:
- Watch the wording. “You might get noticed by Someone Important at a Big N company” is not the same as “Big N publishers will read your book.” Unless you’re selling in the tens of thousands, or you’re famous, or you’re related to someone famous (or infamous), or you have a huge platform to exploit, it remains unlikely you’ll be plucked from the masses. Not many editors and agents watch the sales figures of vanity presses looking for new clients.
- “We’ll make People at Big N aware of our top sellers” is similarly vague. It could mean someone runs a monthly report and forwards it on to an intern, who will promptly delete it. But hey, someone there was “made aware!”
- Beware the “editorial” packages. The lowest level is generally a critique of your first chapter. If you have good, honest beta readers and crit partners, you’re probably not going to get much out of this. (If you don’t have honest beta readers and crit partners, why not? The internet is rife with good communities for writers.) For higher level edits — line and content — you’ll be paying by the word, and it adds up fast.
- Beware, too, the publicity and PR packages. They’re going to send out 500 press releases? Sending them out does not guarantee publication. Most unsolicited “local man writes book” press releases get deleted unread. They’ll provide you with business cards, bookmarks, and posters? So can your local copy shop, and probably for much cheaper.
- Thinking it’s worthwhile to shell out several hundred dollars to be reviewed in a professional industry magazine? First, that does not guarantee a good review. They might tear your book to shreds. Be ready for that. Chances are it’s not going into Kirkus Reviews itself, next to books from the Big N. More likely, that review goes into the magazine they dedicate to self-published books only.
- That make-your-book-returnable deal doesn’t guarantee you placement in bookstores. Being up on Edelweiss is nice and all (though you’ll have to pay to get on there and pay to stay there), but if no sales reps are pointing those catalogs out to booksellers, are they going to even look in them? And, how do they even order the books if they’re interested? Who’s going to pick up those orders from Edelweiss and feed them to the order department? (This is as much a note to myself to explain how Edelweiss works…)
- Even if you only pay for the basic, no-frills, no add-ons package, you will have to sell many, many copies to recoup your investment. The average self-published book sells no more than 200 copies. Ever. (We’re talking print here, not e, but I don’t expect the numbers to be much better once I’ve done some research on that.)
Cheaper, better options exist to get your book out there if you don’t want to go with a commercial publisher. Packagers can make their services sound good, but in the end you’re overpaying for services you can either do yourself or hire out. Other times, you’re throwing good money at options whose return on investment is… *does the math* roughly fuck-all — most of which will only serve to annoy journalists and booksellers.
I’ll go more in-depth into each of those points over the next few weeks, but if there’s something you’d like me to touch upon, sing out in the comments!
*Since we went from Big Six to Big Five and may soon be the Big Four, I’m just going to use a variable from here on out. Okay? Okay.