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.
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 it. What 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.