Why You Need Some “Self” in Your Self-Publishing


As you know, my least favorite self-publishing related word is gatekeepers. But did you know that my least favorite self-publishing related combination of two words is Big Six? Or that my least favorite self-publishing related combination of three words is one-stop shop (as in “Look at our shiny website! We are a one-stop shop for all your self-publishing needs!’)?

Well, you do now, and one-stop shops are what I’m going to talk (read: rant) about today.

I think I’m just going to put random coffee pics in all my posts from now on. SO much easier than looking for book pics… 

The typical one-stop self-publishing shop goes something like this. You, via the magic of a shiny website, find a self-publishing service called—let’s just say—ProperlyPublished.com. (Is that a real domain? I’d better check!). They promise to publish your book for you, as in produce a crop of glossy print copies, sell said glossy copies on their website and make your book available to bookstores. They will take care of the whole shebang: editing, typesetting, design, printing and ISBNs. All you have to do is submit your manuscript, then sit back and relax. Oh, and pay them the equivalent of a few mortgage payments. But then you can sit back and relax, and perhaps look forward to the “10 FREE copies!” of your book they’ve generously included in their offer.

Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Especially if you’re not a techie, or don’t have the time/coffee reserves to do this kind of thing yourself.

And maybe it would be great for you, but I doubt it.

I don’t think you need someone else doing everything for you, and I especially don’t think you need someone else project-managing the publication of your book. I’m positive you don’t need to be paying someone else to self-publish you. (And how, pray tell, is it self-publishing if there’s no “self” involved?) Self-publishers have never before had so many tools, advice and information—free tools, advice and information—at their fingertips, and yet new one-stop shops are popping up all the time.

I don’t think you should be tempted by them. I would go so far as to say you should avoid them, because using a service like this will, generally, have you paying through the nose for sub-standard work. Instead, you should project-manage the publication of your own book, finding and enlisting professional partners (editors, cover designers) as needed.

Let’s start with the paying through the nose bit. I don’t want to name any names, but I picked one popular one-stop shop self-publishing company (which I think is a fair example of how things look across the board) and compared it to using CreateSpace (in the way I do) to produce a standard length paperback.

The One-Stop Shop
  • Publishing package: $1,900

This includes interior design (i.e. typesetting), cover design based on template, up to 4 electronic proofs and 1 bound proof copy, 100 copies of the finished book. Your book will be listed for sale on the service’s website and “made available” to bookstores and to you, for ordering stock. The ISBN will be supplied (owned by the service) and copies of the book will be filed with relevant national libraries*. Your book will probably be available on Amazon.com, but there’s no guarantee. No mention of other retailers.

  • Cover designed from scratch: Add $450
  • Ordering personal stock: $6 per book

Total cost to publish paperback with original cover and get 200 copies**for yourself: $2,950

Using a POD Service (e.g. CreateSpace)
  • Publishing package: N/A
  • Pre-publication costs: We have to find an editor ourselves, so let’s say this will cost us $1,500
  • Cover designed from scratch: Let’s give a generous budget to the cover design we’ve sourced ourselves, so $400
  • IBSN: Free
  • Proof Copy: The cost of one book, so $3.50
  • Expanded Distribution: $25 (You’re on Amazon.com—that’s a given—but this will get you on other sites too)

Total cost to publish paperback with original cover and get 200 copies for yourself: $2,628

So at the moment there’s only about $300 in it, which is a pocket of loose change in the scheme of self-publishing things. But let’s use my own self-publishing costs, for Mousetrapped, instead of a theoretical budget. (Mousetrapped was a 232-page paperback measuring 5.5 x 8.5 that I published with CreateSpace and got an original cover for, which was copyedited but not structurally edited or proofread by a professional.)

  • Copyediting: $1,000
  • Cover design: $200
  • ISBN: Free
  • Proof copy: $3.63
  • 200 copies: $726

Now our total is down to $1,929 and some change—and that’s my point. If you use a one-stop shop, there is no negotiating. You pay the total advertised, and that’s that. But if you do it yourself, if you become the project manager of your self-published book, you can shop around. You can invite bids. You could even barter. Maybe your cover designer will give you some money off if you agree to run an ad for him or her on your website or something. But there’s no scope for anything like that with the one-stop shop.

And what if you don’t want 200 copies? What if you don’t even need or want the 100 you’re supposedly getting “free”? (Which I just think, by the way, is the biggest joke ever. It’s like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom. You pay nearly $50 for a ticket that gets you into the park for a few hours, and they tell you you’re getting “free” hot chocolate and cookies. Um…?) Say you just want 25 copies. Well, use CreateSpace and you’ll end up paying just $1,293.

A bigger issue, for me personally, is what you’re paying for. You really don’t know. I’ve seen two books from the same one-stop shop in the last year or so, one paperback and one e-book. In the paperback there were no misspellings or typos that I could see, but it hadn’t been edited at all, at least not in any kind of professional way, and there were blank lines here and there for no reason and at least five or six sentences that stopped mid-page. The cover was about as good as a CreateSpace Cover Creator cover, and it looked so self-published it may as well have come with an alarm shouting just that. The e-book had misspellings and other typos, and again, was filled with formatting errors. The impression I was left with was that there was just no attention to detail, and I don’t see how there could be on a conveyer belt system where books are coming in and out all the time, and the customer base is mainly made up of people who are unsure about how a book should look.

These companies tend to work around templates. They’d have to, or their business wouldn’t work. If you are offering a service for x price, you aren’t making any money by sitting down with each and every author who comes your way, talking to them at length about what they want and then going away and spending hours and hours creating and then fine-tuning just that very thing. You wouldn’t be able to charge flat rates if you did, because every book is different. So in order to charge flat rates, you pre-design a bunch of book types, and then get your clients to fit into them somehow. Same goes for the cover. (I’m guessing this has something to do with why books produced by these companies always look self-published to me.) Now I don’t blame them or even admonish them for that—if I was in the same business, that’s exactly what I’d do. Otherwise you’d be a kind of bespoke book-producing boutique, and you’d have to charge astronomical prices. But I do admonish them for the hyperbole they fill their sales pitches with, crap about control and choice and “working together to realize your vision” and all that nonsense. They always talk about what your book “deserves”. It’s very easy for a writer who has just come round to the idea of self-publishing to get taken in.

CreateSpace offer a similar package, and although I’m recommend you go with them for your self-publishing adventures, I would never recommend that you avail of any of their services, for the same reason. I love, love, LOVE them—I love the books they make, how little they charge for them, their customer service, etc.—but I would never go to them for their editing, typesetting or design services. You just don’t know what you’re paying for. There’s no guarantee of quality. And from what I’ve seen, you’ll get a better result if you go looking for individuals to do the work yourself.

Above are two self-published covers. The one on the right (the horse) is a cover CreateSpace put on their website as an example of an “original illustration” cover. It costs from $949. The one on the left was done by Design for Writers (see this post) and although I don’t know how much it cost, I’m betting it wasn’t a third of what Mr. Horse did.

And what about when the book goes on sale? How much do you make then? Well, with the same one-stop shop used in the example above, you’d get around 70% on the profit (i.e. NOT on the list price) after a $2 “handling charge” is deducted. So let’s say your book was selling in a store for $14.95, and the bookstore was taking a 35% cut. I figure you’d be collecting a little over $5 from each sale. I don’t know how much you’d get from an Amazon sale. With CreateSpace, you get about $5 from an Amazon sale (using the example of Mousetrapped) and less from “expanded distribution” sales from other online retailers. So that’s little difference there between the two—but there is a big difference in the cost of the book to you. To buy a copy of my own book costs me $6 from the one-stop shop, but only $3.60-ish from CreateSpace. Many self-publishers go to companies like this because they want stock, but if that stock is twice as expensive as it would be from CreateSpace, why bother? I wouldn’t.

They say “We make self-publishing simple!” Self-publishing, if we’re talking about an e-book and a POD paperback which is what most self-publishers are talking about these days, is already simple. If you can’t do something yourself—editing, cover design, even formatting—you’ll get a far better deal by sourcing the people you need and paying them individually, than you’ll be handing over wads of cash to one company who claim to do it all. You’ll have much more control if you do it yourself. You’ll get, in my opinion, a better product. And you won’t end up with boxes of dusty books under the stairs, which is what this whole digital self-publishing thing is about avoiding in the first place.

In my opinion, your self-publishing needs to have some self in itWhat do you think?

*Filing copies of your self-published books will national libraries is an exercise in ridiculousness.If your national library actually began receiving copies of every self-published book not only for sale in your country but available to buy from there too, they’d change their tune on their policies pretty quick, I’d imagine. Except they wouldn’t be able to reach their desks because they’d be piles and piles of POD-d books in their way. I’d never done it and you don’t need to either. **Paying only for 100, because 100 of them are free. Both examples exclude shipping costs. 

Mick Rooney at The Independent Publishing Magazine both reviews and ranks self-publishing companies, if you’re interested in learning more.

23 thoughts on “Why You Need Some “Self” in Your Self-Publishing

  1. C. says:

    Very, very true. All anyone gets when they buy one of our books is us. This is why we LOVE self-publishing and may in fact never try the traditional route again. We have total control over every part of getting our books out there.

    Total cost for us? $70. Awesome.

  2. Joanne Phillips says:

    Hi Catherine,
    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time for me – I’d just started to wonder about these ‘one stop shops’ and think: Hang on a minute, can’t I do all this myself?
    I’m a bit confused about Createspace, though, because I’ve read that it’s not a great resource for writers based in the UK (with readers mainly in the UK – something about standard sizes and shipping costs). What’s your view on this? And please, please, please (lots more begging here) tell us who your featured one stop shop is. Please……

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Jo in my opinion, self-publishers shouldn’t require any stock, and therefore shouldn’t have to worry about shipping costs. The best way to not spend a fortune is to publish an e-book and get your book for sale on Amazon. To do this with CreateSpace only requires the ordering of one proof copy to check that everything is alright, and so only requires the shipping costs for one book. Even if you want some copies for yourself, that’s still only one box of books. When you start to handle stock, for selling yourself or selling onto bookshops, you leave a level playing field and move into a world where you just don’t have the tools to complete. Thus, you end up with a thumping headache and probably, lost money. You should avoid it. Therefore shipping costs shouldn’t be your concern. CreateSpace lowered them anyway in the last few months, and they are economical if you can be organized and order in plenty of time.

      • Joanne Phillips says:

        Hi Catherine,
        Thanks for answering – that’s a good point you’ve made there, and I suppose it begs the question of whether you want your book available as an ebook, primarily. (And if you do, I don’t suppose you need CreateSpace, as it’s possible to format your book directly for Kindle.) Do you hold a small stock for readers who would like to read, say, Results Not Typical in print form? I’ve just tried to find it for sale on CreateSpace, thinking I might order it for myself, but can’t find it.
        Loving your blog, BTW – rant on!

        • catherineryanhoward says:

          The whole point of POD is that you don’t have anything to do with stock. If someone orders a paperback of mine on Amazon, CreateSpace prints and ships its, and then adds the profit I made to my cheque that they send me at the end of every month. You don’t need to buy any stock at all, that’s what Print on Demand means. So you can have every book available in both print and e-book without ordering any physical stock at all.

          • Joanne Phillips says:

            Hi Catherine,
            Yeah, I get that. Except that your book is only available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, not paperback. Which is why I was looking at CreateSpace to see if I could find it. I guess this is the whole UK verses US readers issue (my original point) – I’m looking at Amazon.co.uk and you’re talking about Amazon.com 🙂
            No – actually, just looked up your book on Amazon.com and it’s not showing up there as a paperback either. Hey, I really want a copy of this book now… where can I buy it?

            • catherineryanhoward says:

              Sorry, should’ve mentioned that I unpublished the paperback of Results because it’s such a long book the PB was a bit expensive, and when I redid the cover I just made one for the e-book so they didn’t match either.

              But each of my other books are available in paperback, both on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository.

  3. lovelylici1986 says:

    There is a hole in the self-publishing process for me, as it relates to ebooks on Amazon, BN, etc. How would I get paid? I am not a US resident, don’t have a social security number, and everything else that goes along with it. Is there a way for me to self-publish ebooks?

  4. dianahorneruk says:

    From the sublime (your common sense blog post) to the ridiculous:

    LA Times article ‘Self-publishing for the 1%’ :

    ‘Venture Press’ self-publishing service is designed to ease, streamline and speed up that process. But that all comes at a premium: The cost for a Venture Press book starts at $100,000.’

    No takers as yet it seems… 🙂

  5. Laura Roberts (@originaloflaura) says:

    I’m also concerned that Mr. Horse there is dubbed “The Nobel Steed,” when, clearly, the author is looking for “The NOBLE Steed.” Unless, of course, said steed is owned by that infamous Nobel family that hands out big literature prizes every year… possible, though not probable.

    Like you said, you don’t know what you’re paying for when you purchase CreateSpace’s cover art services. Clearly, they’re not employing professional proofreaders, so why would they offer professional artwork? I’d definitely opt for my own designer and make sure we could collaborate on ideas to come up with the best option.

  6. Lani Wendt Young says:

    Excellent post. I self-published my first e-book using your book ‘Self – Printed’ as a guide. It was a great resource. I too think that these ‘self publishing services’ are a rip-off. I paid for a professional editor and a photographer/designer to do my book cover and take the pics of the celebrity model who did a photoshoot for my book promotion campaign. (the celebrity model took part for free)
    I do think authors should pay for professional editing and cover design but everything else can be done on your own.

  7. Ernie Zelinski says:

    I agree that the one-stop shops are not a great deal. In fact, most are a rip-off.

    From what I have read so far, I would go with Lightning Source over CreateSpace if I was going with POD.

    Having said that, I still plan to self-publish three more of my new books the traditional self-publishing way. I will print at least 3,000 copies and get the price of printing down to $1.75 per copy or less.

    By using this method, I can afford to give many more copies away for promotion. I have given away over 13,000 copies of my book over the years.

    I also like to keep a lot of copies of my self-published books on hand.

    For example, I am about to print 11,500 copies of my self-published “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.” Most of these will go to my Canadian and American distributors.

    I will have 1,000 copies shipped to my home however.

    Keeping a large number of copies in stock has paid off in the past. For example last November I received an e-mail from a financial organization wanting to buy 500 copies of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.” without even having seen the book. I gave them a price of $7.97 per book plus shipping. They agreed and I shipped out the copies immediately without my having to wait for books to be printed at a POD service. The company actually sent out the check for these books before they received the books. So I collected a nice tidy profit by having the confidence in my book’s ability to sell.

    In short, there are still many advantages of self-publishing the traditional way instead of using a POD service. Of course, you must have a great book.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 150,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  8. Ben says:

    I agree, I paid Createspace for their service as had run out of patience working it out.

    The interior was good (though my proofreader thought it was super basic) but the three cover designs were absolutely awful….. the designer did not have a clue. I do wonder how much thinking went into it…in the end i told them no images, text only and drew up in paint what i wanted done….

    Live and learn

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Unfortunately I’d guess not much thinking. You can imagine the “conveyor belt” mentality that might prevail at such a big company that is, presumably, dealing with hundreds of authors at the same time. It fits in with what I’ve seen on other books that availed of CreateSpace’s extra services.

      As I’ve said before, I love CreateSpace as a POD company. But you really need to source your own professionals.

      • Ben says:

        Yes I agree. I like your blog, just noticed the Amazon Europe thing from one of your posts. I am now set up for that which is great as no longer need to use the EDC for amazon.co.uk sales!

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