Your mama told you right. You better shop around.
Just like with any investment (and really, that’s what this is) you need to be careful and find a self-publishing package that’s right for both you and your book. The time you spend researching is well the effort down the road. I know – you want the finished piece in your hand today. But even the major publishers schedule new releases months down the road (unless your book pertains to a very hot topic of the day), so take the time now because – it’s your money!
First comes the easy question. What exactly are you publishing? A novel? A how-to book? A biography? An album for a family reunion? These genres and more will all require different of editing and marketing. For example, if you’re already a well-known chef and want to self-publish a book on cooking, your developmental needs will be vastly different than a relative unknown (like I was) putting out a mystery novel. With a little research your cookbook can come together with relatively little effort and cost. But if you’re in my shoes, a first-time novelist heading into the literary fray, you’ll want to go with the company that offers the best developmental services available.
Now, before I go on, I want to be clear that I’m not to trying to sway anyone away from or towards any particular self-publishing house. I’m just going to tell you what happened to me and you can take from it what you will.
Finding information online was easy. There’s a wealth of comparative studies on self-publishing companies, as well as testimonials from personal bloggers (like me). Put on a tea, crack your knuckles, and give Google a workout. After a few hours of research and assessing my needs I whittled the dozen or so companies to three: iUniverse, Author House, and Lulu.
Lulu looked a good option for the above-mentioned chef. They offered no-charge publication-on-demand (POD), which sounds great, but limited their editing services to what appeared to be “global editing suggestions”. Big strike for me, as I wanted to invest heavily in pre-production. I actually read a Lulu-published novel online. It could have used a lot of editing. Perhpas Judge Judy was on to something (see Part 2). Again though, great for the chef or for the personal family historian, but not for the first-time novelist. Second-time novelist? Perhaps.
I spoke with Author House a few times and found their sales reps helpful, if not a little too anxious to sign me on. The publishing pacakage for my genre was $598; not as attractive as the $0 at Lulu but it still won;t break the bank. The editing packages looked pretty good with quick turnaround times, and books were returnable if (God forbid) bookstores could not sell them. They also offered marketing packages (posters, postcards, etc) that, to the starry-eyed beginner, sounded like a dream. Imagine the thrill of being on a poster at your very first book signing!
Take a breath. Don’t get caught up in the dream of celebrity. I realized I was losing touch when I was asking more about the posters than about the editing services.
iUniverse was the most expensive but also offered the most comprehensive packages. Their packages started at $499 and ranged up to $1,o99, with varying degrees of services in between to suit many different types of writers. Pre-production services appeared detailed with many different layers (content editing, line editing, developmental editing, etc). iUniverse also offered incentives to authors who invested in these add-on editing services, one of which was priced at .018 cents a word. Doesn’t sound like much, but when your book is over 100,000 words, it adds up quickly. The “per word” cost is also an annoyance because you’re paying for words like “a” and “the”.
There was one very important marketing fact that stood out: Chapters-Indigo (the biggest Canadian bookseller) seems to have an exclusive deal with iUniverse that makes it the only self-publisher accepted into its catalogue. As an author living in Canada, this made iUniverse all the more attractive. And my novel would also be available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, as well as thousands of other online booksellers. The only thing missing: a book returns program (which they have since introduced – for $700)
So what did I do? After doing a little more comparative research I went with iUniverse. Why? Their packages seemed a good fit for my priorities and their customer service had a good reputation for guiding their authors through the entire process. And as a first-time author I needed all the guidance I could get.
Tip of the Week: Once again, invest in pre-production rather than any ‘marketing’ package the publishing houses offer. This way, your book has a better chance of being the best it can be; besides, there are many no or low-cost marketing solutions out there (which I will cover in a future installment). I found many of the marketing packages the self-publishing houses offer over-priced, impersonal, and not finely targetted.
Bonus Tip: Don’t pay someone to review your book. Many bloggers and campus newspapers will do it for free, which will also result in instant grassroots publicity. And it’ll be free. You can read some of these reviews of Raincloud at my website, below.
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