This week I’ve been revising some old posts, and generally feeling down about everything.
Most of the time, I’m just complaining about expensive publishing solutions and urging authors to take matters into their old hands. But then a potential client told me he was in talks with a (vanity) publisher and wanted to get my feedback on some of the services they provided.
The thing is, he wanted his book to succeed, but wasn’t ready to pay the over $50K pricetag for their publishing package. I won’t call out the publisher, and I’m changing some of the prices, but I wanted to share the kinds of things other people will promise you and how much cheaper it would be if you did the same things on your own, or by hiring the right qualified people.
- 1. Editing. There’s a lot of steps involved in editing, and if you want to hire the best, it can be expensive. This particular package offered several rounds of developmental editing and proofreading, even indexing and help with the title, for around $15,000. That’s a lot, but it’s not *too* crazy – as long as they’re really doing good work, which I doubt.
You can find a cheaper proofreader or copyeditor to clean up your words, but most books really need a passive developmental edit to help you fix the content and figure out the point and organization of the whole thing. And the title is huge, figuring out the key hook or purpose, but you’d need a really creative, experienced person who is excellent at wordplay and brainstorming to get it right (and even then, you might want to test it).
- 2. Book Design. Average price for quality book design is around $500. I’ve charged more in the past, and there’s a lot of cheap options that aren’t great. But for less than $1000, you should be able to get a decent ebook cover + spine and back. Formatting can cost about the same, or you can do it yourself with software.
But if you really want it to look professional and amazing, you should get it done by an expert. The problem is, these are hard to find; I only know a handful of formatters and they’re always booked out in advance. Some companies will try to throw in ISBN’s and a BARCODE – but these can/should be cheap or free, you can buy your own from Bowker and use a free isbn generator.
Sure, if you’re not a designer, finishing all these files and uploading them can be a pain. A good hybrid publisher or service could do everything for you: but you’re not just paying them for the services, you’re paying them for the attention and handholding; and worst of all, you’re giving up all control so you can’t make changes or update your sales page (or even check basic stats like sales/earnings!)
This particular company was charging $10,000 for all of these cover design related services.
- 3. Distribution. They will say a lot of nice things about how they’ll set up your files, add keywords and SEO and an author bio, and make your book available everywhere; but this almost always means POD (print on demand) which is IngramSpark or KDP print.
They might say bookstores can order from Ingram, which is kind of true, but only if you set big discounts and offer returnability, which is a big financial risk. The truth is, you can upload your finished files in a day and be “published” in as little as 48 hours. Some vanity presses will add author copies.
In this case, it’s 25 books, for a one-time service fee of $1300; about $52 per book.
If you ordered author copies directly from Ingram, for a normal, b/w interior book, it would be less than $10 per book.
(Some authors have asked me for help or a company that *just* handles this part, the uploading and setup; technically, Amazon doesn’t like you sharing your login details, which is why I’m loathe to do it; plus you should really learn, so you can control/make changes to your book later or upload a revised version – because even after editing, there are probably a few stray typos.
- Marketing. This particular company charges for things like setting up your blurb, “amazon optimization” and even the look inside preview (which is a basic, automatic feature). But that’s not uncommon – I’ve seen other companies offer similar services. By separating everything out, they can charge much more.
The company also offers:
- Netgalley listing
- Goodreads giveaways
- Influencer Outreach
These aren’t terrible ideas, but they’re old-school and mostly ineffective.
Influencer outreach will almost always fail, because relationships are personal. Why should someone feature your books, or interview you? They get tons of requests from strangers. If you reach out to 40, you might get 2 or 3 to confirm something. But they’d have to be the right people, in the right business, and they will do what’s best for their audience. There are lots of ways to encourage influencers to feature your book, but I wouldn’t trust an assistant to do this kind of networking for me.
Basically: why should they go out of their way to push a book without vetting it first themselves; why should they vet or read your book to see if it’s good enough for them to recommend? They won’t. Unless you make it stupid easy or give them a really good reason – like affiliate earnings – to promote your book with their audience. And even then, I’ve seen campaigns that did a ton of work to get influencers to share and promote, and it didn’t make a huge impact on sales.
Presskits are mostly useless. Writing a book isn’t news. What have you done that’s interesting enough to comment on? You must already be highly visible, with viral content, before a media or news outlet finds your website and is interest in your personal information or details to report on it. It’s not hard to set up; but it won’t do much without driving traffic.
*Marketing* is driving traffic and visibility. Things that are just *there* but don’t draw in the traffic, are not very useful. Though it is true, IF you are driving traffic, you want to make sure it converts and that you have all the right information most people might need; but a presskit probably isn’t one of them (unless you are actively doing something newsworthy and viral).
The Goodreads giveaway is interesting, though most authors agree it doesn’t boost sales, this company was stacking them back-to-back for massive visibility. That could work, if conversion is high, but it’s risky and depends on the genre.
For all this, and a service fee, you’ll pay $15,000 – plus $2500 to be spent on Amazon ads.
But, you can’t monitor their ads or effectiveness, so you have no idea if that money is well spent, and when they say the money has dried up, the ads will be turned off.
I’ve taken a look at some of the books produced by this company; they actually look pretty good and have great book design. Many of them (at least the featured ones) were bestsellers, and most had plenty of reviews. But on Amazon at least, they all had very low sales ranks (around a million) which means – after the $50K publishing and marketing bundle, these books were not selling at all.
This is to be expected.
The more you pay and trust a publishing service to do all this for you, the less organic, long-term sales you will see: because you can’t keep paying them forever, and they won’t work for free.
My point here is just to be skeptical of the things you see offered in any publishing deal.
If they have a big website and have published a bunch of other famous writers or successful books, there *might* be a benefit to simply getting featured on their site, but I doubt it. And of course for your peace of mind, it’s easier to just buy a big package and be done with it.
But imagine if, instead of paying $50K to publish your book, you spent $5K (about what you *could* spend for quality services if you went directly) and then spend $45K on ads.
Which is also something I wouldn’t recommend doing.
My instinct is that people who pay $50K to publish their book, already have a successful blog, business or platform, so it *seems as if* the publishing company is doing a great job of promotion, because those books manage to at least launch well and hit a bestseller list, even if they don’t sell well long-term. They were able to launch well in spite of the publishing package, not because of it; but then sales dry up once their audience is tapped.
Basically – they’re charging a lot for editing.
Then, book design, uploading the files, setting the seo/keywords (standard selfpublishing stuff, but they’re doing it for you – they *say* they’ll spend 2500 on ads, but there’s no way for you to check without access.)
For marketing, on top of the ads, they’ll submit to netgalley and follow up (not hard), reach out to influencers (this is very hard to do when not done personally, so most efforts will be ignored; relationships need to be built).
Even at my normal rates, which are probably too low, I could nearly everything on their list for under 5K, but there are things I don’t think are useful, and other things that are much more useful. And I’m not sure whether I would be willing to do all of these, because in some ways it’s detrimental (amazon ads, for example, which should be setup/run from your own KDP account; or facebook ads, which should be run from your page/brand).
The problem is, none of this stuff interests me. I’m reluctant to agree to marketing services until I’ve fleshed out exactly what that would look like. I can absolutely do all the design and formatting, so it’s ready to upload, as well as all the market research/editing to make sure the book hits the right audience.
Editing is usually most expensive so I often volunteer extra marketing help once I’ve gone through it and had a lot of time with the material. Instead of doing a lot of different things, I’d do a few things in a systematic way. But it would be a lot of work, and I’d need a lot of access and control to do it right; and then because I’m me, I’d overspend on low-performing ads to make sure you get some results even if I exhaust the budget, which would mean I’m basically working for free and still delivering subpar results.
If you’re smart, you’ll already be doubting my abilities and you’ll go with someone more confident who convinces you that they can absolutely make your book a faucet of money and eternal bestseller, even if it’s not at all true. It’s not my business to convince you, because I’m not really selling these services right now; I am only trying to dissuade you and inform you.
However, I’m currently recording a course on building an author platform, and would like to find a good way to package together what’s most useful to authors, so I’m open to discussing the details and figuring out the best way to help you launch your book, even though I don’t currently have that kind of package offer.
21 DAYS AUTHOR PLATFORM
Here’s an email query we got from an editing client recently:
“I am also interested in market analysis, metadata optimization, blurbs and Amazon page assistance. I may even pursue platform assistance.”
So, let me try to simplify everything, as a thought exercise.
1. EDITING is its own beast and a LOT of work. It’s difficult to give a one-size-fits all, because it depends on how far your manuscript needs to go before it’s readable (strangers will keep reading it because they like it and for no other reason).
But for most books, I can offer a heavy developmental edit, and a final round of copy editing and proofreading, for $5000. OR (recommended) you can go through all my writing and self-editing resources and fix all the big issues yourself, then find a cheap proofreader or use Grammarly to check for typos.
2. PUBLISHING: publishing is just book design and formatting. We can do all the files you need (and actually provide top-quality book design), plus some promo and social media graphics, for $1500. This will include market analysis, metadata optimization, blurbs and Amazon assistance (because we need to figure out the targeting and audience, and research the genre keywords, in order to get the title and cover design right).
3. MARKETING: hiring someone to run ads for you probably won’t work; but if we get all the publishing stuff right, it’ll be so much easier. I recommend a course on learning to run ads by yourself, because it’s almost never profitable to have someone run them for you. You’re also going to need:
– a landing page
– an email list/optin offer/autoresponder series
– 5+ blog posts
– an author website
Those things probably fit under the umbrella of an “author platform” – I’ve seen people charge $2500 to $7500 for an author website. We could do it for $1997; although I’m much more interested in developing a theme or landing page you could buy cheap and tweak on your own. And you don’t really *need* a landing page or author website. It’s probably not something I would invest in or worry about right away. At most, you need an email list service (I like mailerlite) and most of them come with some form of optin/landing page – so you could have an optin offer and link for people to sign up to your list, even without having a website.
Hope that helps?
I feel like, most of my audience wants cheap and budget publishing tips; but some people are still looking for an easy to use, “all-in” package where somebody does everything for you.
I regret that I don’t have a reputable, reliable service to recommend, that I can trust to do quality work.
I’m a little tempted to create one myself, but also pretty sure that’s not something I want to do, for a variety of reasons. So, for now, I’ll keep educating authors on how to self-publish without getting scammed, and hopefully retire early from my bestselling mermaid and vampire novels.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.