Subsidy Publishing: Proceed With Caution

by Joel Friedlander on May 7, 2011 · 131 comments

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It happened again today. In fact—and I know you’ll doubt me but it’s absolutely true—it happened twice in one day.

Two different stories with the same sad end.

In the first one, the author had gone to Outskirts Press, a subsidy publisher. She had the first book in a series, and wanted to brand the covers with her own art as a way of tying them together.

After getting resistance about using her artwork, the author insisted. When the books arrived, the artwork had been cut up and put back togther with completely irrelevant images that had nothing to do with the book. The resulting book cover, as you might guess, is a disaster.

Another Story, Same Ending

In the second story, the author went with Balboa Press. Do you know it? This is part of the gradual co-opting of the independent publishing houses by pure naked greed in the form of an alliance with subsidy king Author Solutions. They see all the money authors are paying to publish, they see every day how desperate writers are to get a contract with a publishing house. They decide to cash in, and Author Solutions is only too happy to help.

Author Solutions owns the AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Xlibris and Wordclay imprints. It calls itself “the world leader in indie book publishing” despite the fact there is nothing even vaguely “indie” about the company or the books it produces.

But major independent publishers, perhaps pressed by the economy, perhaps with one eye on the coming tide of e-books, have also joined forces with Author Solutions. First it was Thomas Nelson, the huge bible and religious publisher, with West Bow Press, an enterprise operated by Author Solutions.

By tying the subsidy business to legitimate publishing houses, a true monster was born. The one thing the subsidy businesses lacked was respectability, and with good reason. But now, with major independents falling into line to reap the profits of the many people coming into self-publishing, respectability is guaranteed.

This author bought into the dream at Balboa Press, the Author Solutions-run subsidy branch of Hay House, a respected independent publisher of self-help and spiritual books. But many other publishers have also set up these so-called “self-publishing” branches.

So if Hay House doesn’t want your book, you can pay to publish at Balboa.

What Business are Subsidy Publishers Really In?

Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with paying for publishing services. That’s how I make a living, along with a lot of other professionals. But there’s a bait and switch involved here. Writers are sold by manipulating the dream they have of becoming successful published authors. But the truth of subsidy publishing has nothing to do with selling books.

All the income of these companies comes from their own customers/authors.

Because of this one fact, you can see that bringing in new authors, selling author services like editing, marketing, design and typesetting, are important business activities. Since selling books is irrelevant to the company’s profits, it’s logical that as little money and effort will be expended on the books themselves as possible. That’s how you maximize your profits.

But if you look at the “packages” that these companies offer, you soon realize you will be spending thousands of dollars to get into print, and that’s before all the upsells kick in. And before you start buying your own books.

I won’t even go into the litany of abuses these publishers heap on their customers, the same authors they pretend to be such champions for. The PDF files I’ve received with watermarks on every page, making it impossible to use the file for reproduction. The refusal of the publishers to turn over reproduction artwork for book covers the authors have bought and paid for. The list goes on and on.

So anyway, the second author went to Balboa Press, since her book is on a subject close to what Hay House publishes. She paid for everything. But here’s the problem.

The greed, once it starts, begins to consume everything. Her book is a 6″ x 9″ paperback with 284 pages. The retail price Balboa has set—and the author has no choice in this—is $22.95. I told her outright she would never sell the book. Who will buy it?

But wait, it gets worse. The author ordered lots of books to sell herself and to use for promotion. How much did the books cost her? $11.50 each.

A quick calculation told me that the publisher was paying their print on demand supplier about $4.90 to manufacture the books. More than likely the printer is Lightning Source, and part of the sell to the unwary author is that they will get “national distribution,” a scam so pervasive it deserves its own article.

So the subsidy publisher, not content to take thousands of dollars to produce a substandard book with a price so high no one will ever buy it, has turned the author’s own purchases into a profit bonanza. You pay them to create the book at inflated prices, then you pay outrageous prices to buy your own book. They are taking a profit of over $6.00 off every book this poor author buys.

Isn’t There Another Way?

I know the subsidy business is huge and growing because publishing is not, in the end, a simple or easy thing to do. Many writers don’t want to take on the considerable chores of publishing their own book, and look for a “one stop shop” type of solution.

This is one of the simplest reasons to educate yourself before you commit to a particular publishing path. I’ve consulted with half a dozen writers in the last two weeks, and this power of a little education has been proven over and over again. With better information, people make better decisions. When the facts are plainly in front of them, most people know right away what to do, it’s not confusing at all.

There seems to be room in this business for a subsidy publisher that honored authors instead of ripping them off. One that was transparent about their services instead of relying on hype and pretty websites to seduce people. A subsidy house that committed itself to helping its authors succeed at the one basic task anyone in this business ought to be dedicated to—getting their books the widest possible readership.

Now that would be something. In the meantime keep studying, keep learning. Book publishing is an incredibly exciting and rich place to be right now, at the nexus of change. There are huge opportunities for the entrepreneurial author, and they will continue to multiply. But the authors with paperbacks that cost $23, are poorly edited and unattractive, those people will miss out.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Photo by blech.

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    { 125 comments… read them below or add one }

    Christopher Wills May 7, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Interesting and timely post. I thought this kind of thing was going to go away with self epublishing. But I suppose in this new era where ‘everybody can easily self publish for free’, many authors are finding it is not that easy unless one is IT savvy. It is further confused because a lot of reputable routes to free self publishing offer paid for services to ease the path, like formatters, cover designers etc. It is becoming more difficult today to sort out the good services from the bad. I suspect this problem is not going to go away.

    Can I suggest a post or two on the kinds of things would-be authors can pay for; like cover design, formatting, book design etc and how a potential author might sort out the good from the bad?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Christopher, let me know if this is what you’re looking for:

    What Does Self-Publishing Cost: Competitive Self-Publisher

    Reply

    Cindy Pavell August 27, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Hi Joel, I was about to invest with Balboa Press. I woke up this morning and something told me to do some research before I invest. It struck me as odd that there is no contract. I have contracts with all types of services for my home. I didn’t understand why Balboa has no contract. Also, I realized I am vulnerable to this kind of sell because I want to get published. I found your site this morning and have totally changed my mind. Thank you for all this great information!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 27, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Saved in the nick of time! There would have been a contract, but you’ll be way better off doing this yourself. You can fairly easily find good editors, proofreaders, designers and layout people to create a quality book. Then you can spend the money you would have (over)paid to Balboa and market it yourself. Good luck!

    Reply

    Louise Courey February 10, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Am in the process of finalizing a children’s book and now looking for an organization to help us self publish. Do not want to be taken by anyone, am am having the hardest time deciding who to go to. Also looking for someone to do the final edit. Looked at lulu and spoke to Balboa. Can you help us make the right decision? Our book is just one piece in an entire line of products and multimedia, but it is key as it ties all the elements together. Can we call you?
    Louise

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Louise,

    I’d be happy to consult with you on the best direction for your publishing. I strongly encourage you to consult with someone (whether it’s me or someone else) who knows the options you’re looking at. You can save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by getting your strategy worked out in advance.

    Here’s some information that might help:

    Q & A With the Book Designer

    Reply

    sarah bithell May 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Joel
    I have publish a children’s book with Xlibris 2014. I did all the illustrations and wrote the story. in the begging the staff were very good, had my first two copies of my book in my hands everything was fine.

    But I can not get them to bring the retail price down, so it is making it impossible to promote or get MY WORK! into shops as they are not willing to sell a child’s book for £18 in which i cannot blame them as i would not buy one at that price ether. I have told them that a independent book shop was interested in my book but Xlibris still wont budge.

    So what I do now let all my work disappear? I am so upset about it

    Sarah

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 2, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Sarah, I’m very sorry to hear about your predicament, but you can now see why I listed this very problem #4 in my Subsidy Author’s Bill of Rights:

    “The right to know the retail price of my book before signing a contract.”

    At this point, sad to say, your best move would be to cancel the contract with Xlibris, try to recover any materials they’ve created for your book, and publish it yourself. It’s not very difficult, and you’ll maintain complete control of your property.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus May 7, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Not every writer wants to become a publisher, or is equipped to become one.

    It’s possible to get a decent book at a fair price from a self-publishing company, IF the writer does her homework, buys an inexpensive publishing package, and buys other needed services and products from other sources.

    The Xlibris profit on add-ons would make a loan shark jealous. If you want a CD-ROM of your book files, Xlibris will charge you $99 for a 25-cent blank disk and the time it takes to do a few mouse clicks.

    The Library of Congress charges ZERO for a Control Number and it’s easy to get one. Xlibris will do the five minutes’ work for you for $99. CrossBooks is a relative bargain, at $90.

    Self-publishing companies apparently want you to think copyright registration is difficult. Wheatmark will do it for you for $199. Xlibris charges $249. Schiel & Denver charges $250. AuthorHouse charges $170. Outskirts Press charges $99. You can do it yourself for $35! It’s not difficult.

    Xlibris wants you to pay $199 for 100 postcards — NEARLY TWO BUCKS EACH. But since the Xlibris book royalty is just 10% for books sold on Amazon, each $19.95 book will earn you just enough money to pay for a postcard. A $9.95 book earns enough to buy HALF of a postcard. And, of course you still have to pay for the publishing package, and stamps. (While it is extremely unlikely that any author would benefit from mailing out 1,000 cards, when I last checked, VistaPrint had a more reasonable price of about $90 for 1,000 cards.)

    There is much more of this in my new “Get the Most Out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a Better Deal, Make a Better Book.” http://www.amazon.com/Get-Most-Out-Self-Publishing-Company/dp/0981661777

    Reply

    Nicole Chardenet May 8, 2011 at 7:13 am

    You make a good point, Michael. This is why I went with Lightning Source, which isn’t a self-publishing company per se; it’s a POD company, which is what it says – print on demand. I had 100 copies of my book printed for me because I’ll be selling them at the shows this year; I paid the cost to print them, plus the shipping. I too found the twisted math of the SP companies difficult to follow; and I learned long ago that when you can’t follow the money, it’s a shell game. of course, the big jump on the clue train here is that Xlibris is owned by Author Solutions; back in the day, iUniverse and Trafford used to be fairly respectable companies before they were acquired by AS.

    The other thing to keep in mind is a lot of SP companies will get the ISBN for you which means you don’t have *complete* rights to your work; I got my own (fortunately in Canada a block of ten is free!)

    Reply

    Andrea Hendrick September 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Hello, I am a author working at night trying to get my website finished, so I can sell my own spiritual evolution and another 175 Page book to fight the world racism problem. Anyway I have done my homework and Balboa press did NOT suck me in to their vanity printing to make themselves rich. What greed! I am an ascended being (a real earth angel) and yes we really do exist! I am tired of so many different ways these low life’s trying to rip people off anyway they can and are. I would really like to know where exactly where You received your 10 Canadian isbn numbers as I am also a Canadian humanitarian author. In the future I would like to help other earth angels authors get their foot in the door and really get published without being scammed and ripped off. Would appreciate any info you have. Thank you for your time. Andrea Hendrick (Saint Andrea) May God bless you and they angels keep you safe.

    Reply

    Sue Collier May 7, 2011 at 3:30 am

    Excellent post, Joel! As you know, this is a topic I frequently write about. I fully agree that a “monster” has been born. It’s heart-breaking to see authors misled by these companies into thinking they’ve self-published, when all they’ve done is invest (usually thousands) into a product that looks bad and doesn’t sell. My company has re-done several of these projects for authors who’ve realized too late that they’ve been duped. I think the process can be so daunting, authors feel relieved when they can turn their project over to a company that will provide them with books. But they really need to understand the difference between subsidy publishers and those companies that provide services for authors who are truly self-publishing.

    Reply

    Karen Kanter May 7, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I am publishing through AuthorHouse and resisted all the “add-ons” offered. I supplied my own cover design, which I now know is not my own any more. And then I discovered the pricing. Everything you wrote should be a warning to others. I cannot change the pricing. If I cancel the contract, they keep the cover and the ISBN number. What a dilemma. I have no idea what to do. The book will be ready within the month, it is not out yet. Any suggestions?

    Reply

    Felicia S. Cauley September 27, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Hi Karen, I also published through Authorhouse. My book was released July 27th 2011. So far I have had a good experience with them. I would advise you to really take your time when you go over your proofs. That’s where I had problems. e-mail me and I will give you more details. feliciacauley@ymail.com or info@tobeshared.com

    Reply

    Lynne Spreen May 7, 2011 at 4:53 am

    Joel, thumbs UP!! I just recently decided to self-publish and knew that I first needed to educate myself, so I signed up to receive your posts by email. This is the first I’ve gotten, and it’s packed with crazy-good information. You’re awesome. Thank you.
    I agree with Christopher’s suggestion for a future post, and thanks to Michael Marcus for the examples of typical ripoffs from named companies.

    Reply

    Roemer McPhee May 7, 2011 at 5:19 am

    Joel, would you call LS and CS “scrupulously fair,” or are there things you don’t like about them, too? I know you’ve said they are the only two recommendations you make.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Roemer I think there are probably a lot of smaller publishers that provide this type of service to authors that are run in an exemplary fashion, I just don’t have experience with them. I do keep an eye out on companies I haven’t heard of, and I watch Mick Rooney’s site where he regularly analyzes, rates and reviews self-publishing companies.

    I use CreateSpace and Lightning Source, which are very different companies, and have found them fine to deal with. They do what they say they’ll do and charge a fair price. They give you options where appropriate. You can treat CreateSpace as a publishing partner or as a book printer and print on demand distributor, at your choice.

    Reply

    Jerry Dorris May 7, 2011 at 6:01 am

    Great Article. We are regularly approached by authors that have the “what have I gotten myself into?” moment with subsidy publishers. This week we are working with an AuthorHouse children’s book client that mid stream wants out, but has invested thousands and their source files are being held hostage. They are faced with having someone recreate all that AuthorHouse made for them… book cover design, interior layout, etc. We basically have to start over. All they have is a low res galley proof. I’m frustrated for them. It seems like we need to form an extraction team, much like getting family members out of a cult! ;-)

    Reply

    James Byrd May 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for posting these examples, Joel. The horror stories you mentioned are typical of author experiences with the misleadingly-named “self publishing companies.” We’ve had customers who were burned by their subsidy experience and turned to us for help as well.

    As you mentioned, these companies continue to be successful because they offer a “turnkey” package. Like good little marketers, they tout what they can do for you without giving you much information about the implications. That’s were a little self-publishing education can save an author’s bacon.

    In most cases, an author who wants out of one of these deals has little choice but to terminate their contract with the subsidy press and effectively start over. When you walk away, all you can count on keeping are the original files you uploaded to the subsidy press. Anything they did for you is probably lost. There are exceptions, but that’s the general rule.

    Reply

    Kurt Krause May 7, 2011 at 8:06 am

    I’m also a book designer and a friend came to me who is going through AuthorHouse. She’s been forwarding me the proofs and the book is a disaster. Its a children’s illustrated book and they even did the lousy illustrations plus the layout is terrible. She would like to get out of the contract and have me help her with her book, but she is afraid because of the contract terms. It goes to show that writers need to do their homework because of all of the predatory type publishers out there.

    Reply

    Marla Markman May 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Terrific post, as usual, Joel! And Marcus, you chimed in with great information as well. I’m wondering what you all think of hybrid publishing houses, such as Morgan James (so-called entrepreneurial publishers). I’ve edited books for authors who are using these types of publishers, and while they certainly don’t sound like a subsidy publisher, I’m not sure if the author is getting a fair shake either. Is there a post in there somewhere?

    Reply

    J. Tillman May 7, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Mr. Friedlander, Your article is very insightful. The sleaze of subsidy publishing is getting mixed into a difficult-to-decipher gray area.

    “By tying the subsidy business to legitimate publishing houses, a true monster was born.” And, as traditional publishing becomes co-opted by Author Solutions, fewer people are left to tell the truth. Thanks for writing this. Caution is definitely needed.

    Reply

    Nicole Chardenet May 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I disagree that “national distribution” via companies like Lightning Source is necessarily a ‘scam’. Self-publishers are aware (or should be, anyway) that they will NOT be featured in bookstores unless they sell a LOT (I suspect Amanda Hocking could have done this herself once her sales really took off but as far as I can tell it never occurred to her to approach Amazon or Barnes & Noble). Self-publishing is essentially going into business for yourself, and if you understand the limitations there’s no rip-off. I mean, I could invent what I think is a better widget, and if I want to sell it I have to start up a business, manufacture it, and sell it. You might still buy Wal-Mart’s or Target’s widget instead but that doesn’t mean I can’t necessarily compete with them, and in fact I might have a better widget. Whether it is successful or not depends on how good the widget actually is, marketing efforts, and sometimes sheer dumb luck.

    So, the self-published author is no different. It’s a risk and a gamble and the arguments for going with a ‘real’ publisher have become much less persuasive in recent years. If you’re with a small press you will still need to put some – probably a *lot* – of your own money toward promoting that book. And your chances of ‘striking it big’ with a small publisher aren’t much better than for the self-published author.

    The quality of self-published material is getting better, and I speak from the experience of someone who is reading other’s self-published work. We all laughed when Jacqueline Howett went down in flames a few months ago for being a self-published author who couldn’t handle a well-deserved bad review, but I just finished a collection of humourous sci-fi short pieces (“news articles” from the future, and alternate realities) that was funny as hell and I read it quite happily through to the end. And there were a lot fewer typos, spelling & grammar mistakes, etc. than I can often find in something I bought in a bookstore.

    The moral of the story is, know what you’re getting into, do your research and have *realistic* expectations of what to expect. You can’t produce any old e-book and have it go Amanda Hocking. But you can also get published and die very quickly through reasons that may or may not have to do with the quality of your work or the efforts of you and your publisher.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Nicole, thanks for your thoughtful comment. And sorry for my poor communication. Certainly the distribution offered by Ingram to Lightning Source books is not a scam of any kind, it’s a terrific opportunity for indie authors and one of the major drivers of the print book self-publishing explosion. What I meant to say is that the way a lot of other “self-publishing” companies talk about “national distribution” amounts to scamming people into believing their books will be instantly headed to a Barnes & Noble near them. That’s what I was talking about, not the service that Lightning Source provides.

    Reply

    Nicole Chardenet May 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    No problem, Joel, I otherwise agreed with your fine article. In fact, as I prepare to give a talk tomorrow for a group of writers on self-publishing, I was reminded to include a warning about all things Author Solutions, not to mention Publish America (not mentioned in your article but every bit as worthy of major caution). Too many writers go into self-publishing with all the cluelessness of new business owners – without understanding how to *really* run a business, and that’s what this is…running a business. On the other hand, I think a lot of writers ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ and automatically believe everything positive they hear about getting a traditional publisher – when the game has changed *a lot* in the last three years.

    I said it before, and I’ll say it again…*know what you’re getting into*. I don’t have a problem with calling a scam a scam but I use Lightning Source and I don’t feel scammed by them at all. They have made no promises they haven’t kept, and they have not misrepresented ‘national distribution’ to me.

    Now excuse me, I’m off to invent a better widget ;)

    Reply

    Amanda April 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I think that’s because so many think like employees instead of employers. Self publishing like independent filmmaking is basically starting your own business.

    Reply

    Matheus December 27, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Best Links 2011 Hi there! This post couldn’t be wrteitn any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

    Jean Ann Geist May 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Many thanks for a timely and insightful post. I have recently launched my completely self published novel, Only in the Movies, and am now embarking on a series of presentations entitled, “Sharing the Journey: The Path to Successful Self Publication” at Ohio libraries. Early in my research process, I discovered BookDesigner, and have learned much from your posts. Your information on subsidy publishing underscores what I am telling potential self publishers at my talks. And, thank you for clearing up the confusion with your reference to Lightning Source–I, too, misread your comment.

    Reply

    Jean Ann Geist May 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    As a post script to my note above, I link to the Book Designer, as well as other reputable self publishing aids, from my web site, and state in my presentations, “If you want to read about everything a book designer does, log into the Book Designer blog entry for March 31, 2011. In fact, if you have any thoughts at all about self publishing, subscribing to the BookDesigner blog is a must! The information provided is wide ranging and exceedingly helpful.” Thanks again for all you do for newcomers to the world of self publishing.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Great to have you as a reader, thanks.

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    Kevin Sivils May 7, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    I have used a so-called subsidy press company and have no complaints. It was for my first book. I used Dog Ear Publishing. I have more than recouped my investment and so far have earned 3 times what I put into the book. To Dog Ear’s credit, they talked me out of two of the services or options I was going to purchase. Perhaps I was lucky but I have no complaints.

    I now use CreateSpace and on occasion have hired someone to perform tasks that are beyond me.

    Always do your homework is the only thing I can say.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 7, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Thanks for the input, Kevin. I’ve heard other people speak well of Dog Ear and I’d like to think there are plenty of companies that do well by their authors.

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    Michael N. Marcus May 8, 2011 at 3:19 am

    There’s another deeply buried problem that few newbies seem to be aware of:

    Self-publishing companies may be inflexible in the discounts they offer to booksellers. Most insist on offering 50% or more, even if the author is interested only in the online sellers which will accept 20% (i.e., all of the important online sellers).

    The high discounts mean LESS money for you!

    Mill City Press provides discounts up to 55%, and WestBow Press up to 50%. Cindy, a Westbow rep, told me that no publisher could operate with 20%. She’s wrong. Dog Ear Publishing can do it. So can independent self-publishers like my company, which use Lightning Source.

    Reply

    Mike May 10, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Michael,

    You are completely wrong about the discounts. There isn’t a bookstore in the country that will touch your book without at least a 40% discount. Some self-publishing companies, including Mill City Press, allow authors to set the trade discount at 20%, the lowest allowed by Ingram (for print-on-demand books only).

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus May 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Mike, I’m not completely wrong, or even an itty bit wrong.

    I’ll try not to yell at you, but I said “even if the author is interested only in the online sellers which will accept 20% (i.e., all of the important online sellers).”

    Reply

    mike May 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Mike,

    You can set a discount rate at anything you want. If you use Lightning Source, the lowest it can be is 20%. So why don’t you tell us all how you do it.

    And, as for Mill City Press, I just looked at their website. Says right here: http://www.millcitypress.net/author-royalty-amount.aspx that “Mill City Press authors can set the trade discount percentage anywhere between 20%-55%.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus May 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    For better or worse, Michael is a very common name.

    This thread has me, Michael N. Marcus, plus two other variations of the name.

    I previously responded to Uppercase-Mike. Now there is a comment from lowercase-mike, apparently addressing Uppecase-Mike. But based on its position, maybe it’s actually intended for me, although no one who knows me calls me Mike.

    And maybe it’s really from inconsistent Upper-Mike, not from a new lower-mike.

    I don’t like anonymous or vague signoffs and empty avatars on blog comments. Since I can’t tell who is speaking to whom, I see no point in saying anything else unless a comment is obviously aimed at me.

    Life would be much easier if people would use their real names and photos.

    Michael N. Marcus May 8, 2011 at 4:00 am

    AND, something else to watch out for:

    Every author needs copies of his or her own book, to distribute to potential reviewers, to give to family and friends, to keep around the house or maybe even to sell. This is one area where you can really get soaked, so investigate and negotiate before you sign a contract.

    Xlibris says that one of its founding principles “is that authors should have control over their work.” Unfortunately, the company’s authors can’t control the prices of their books unless they pay $249 for price control.

    Xlibris has an absolutely insane formula for setting the cover prices of books, which in turn establishes authors’ prices. The standard cover price for a 106-page book is $15.99. If you need 108 pages, however, the cover price jumps to $19.99—even though the difference in the manufacturing cost is about three cents and can’t possibly justify a $4.00 difference in cover price. Strangely, the price for a book with 398 pages is also $19.99! But, at 400 pages the retail price jumps to $23.99, and that price holds all the way to 800 pages.

    Authors’ discounts range from 30% to 60%, depending on the quantity ordered. The cost for a book with 108 pages can be $2.80 more than a book with 106 pages; but the costs for books with 108 pages and with 398 pages are the SAME.

    The retail price of a book—unlike a boat or a hammer—is often unrelated to its production cost. One fundamental point that many self-publishing companies seem to ignore is that the retail price of a book is a MARKETING DECISION and may have little or nothing to do with its printing cost.

    It does not cost any more to print a book with a $29.95 price printed on it than a book with $9.95 printed on it.

    The self-publishing companies apply author discounts to the WRONG numbers. Even if these publishers don’t want to reveal their production costs, they could come up with authors’ prices properly based on page count and page size, not cover price.

    If my printer charges $5 to print and ship a 300-page book, and I am the publisher, I pay $5 whether the cover price is one penny, one dollar, $8.95, $10.95, $24.95, or $150.

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    Joel Friedlander May 9, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Yes, pricing is emphatically a marketing decision and, once you are certain production costs and overhead are covered, the retail price should not depend on manufacturing cost. Thanks for the breakdowns, Michael.

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    Belinda August 29, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I’d like to jump in and add my experience with Xlibris. Initial point of contact: They tried to sell me their premium pkg of $3,549 that included everything under the sun, WITH a free upgrade to their Executive pkg, normally priced at $7,449, which sounded phenomenal . They even offered a 3 part payment plan. I paid my first installment, and they pushed for me to submit my manuscript right away. I’m talking pressure, pressure, pressure even though I told them it was a week from being completed. Once I received the contract after paying my 1st installment, and before submitting my manuscript, I read in the fine print that upfront cancellation would cost me $150, AND that upfront cancellation with my manuscript submitted, would cost me 50% of the total pkg price! Good grief! 50% of $3,549 = $1,774.50 that I would have had to pay them for doing nothing, if they had talked me into submitting my manuscript! Forget it! I’m thankful I never submitted my manuscript. They talk a pretty good game, have to give them that, but no Xlibris for me! Now, I’m in the process of getting my money back ($1,183 1st installment – $150 cancellation fee = $1,033) Good lucky to me!

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    Jeff Stover May 8, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for this post, Joel. The author of the future (OK, the author of the “now”) will have to be more of a “owner-operator” in my opinion, and this article fuels that idea. There are many ways to do this, but at heart it all reduces to the author being the “CEO” of everything–managing the editing process, cover art design, etc. Many authors may not want to deal with the business end that much, but this may not be an option for successful writers. I speak more of novelists than non-fiction authors, by the way.

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    Nicole Chardenet May 8, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Something else to remember is that if you go strictly e-book, you don’t have to spend any money at *all*. That’s how Amanda Hocking started out. She went with a tree-book later when her books got so popular and people without e-readers were asking for it (I think she went with CreateSpace and had nothing bad to say about them.)

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    Joel Friedlander May 9, 2011 at 8:35 am

    With the caveat that most self-published books desperately need professional editing and a decent cover, the low cost of publishing e-books is one of the reasons I’ve been recommending them to new authors, particularly novelists, as a way to test the market, to establish themselves, and to find their readership. It’s not that difficult, given a final manuscript, to go from an e-book to a PDF suitable for a print book.

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    Peter Stone March 31, 2014 at 2:03 am

    Hi there,

    Excellent information here. I would love to get published but it’s a minefield to say the least. What Lulu. Is there actually a 1000 dollar contract out there that can publish from beiginning to end with some satisfaction and an e-book to boot?
    Keep up the good posts everyone.
    Pete

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    Asia Green May 8, 2011 at 11:57 am

    There is an independent publisher, Your Time Publishing, LLC out of New Orleans that is doing great work with non established authors. They respect the author, share fairly in the profits and do a great job publishing the books, so check them out and give them your support.

    Reply

    Bob Mayer May 9, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Frankly Thomas Nelson and Writers Digest lost all respectability or legitimacy by teaming with Author Solutions. Michael Hyatt, who used to be CEO of Nelson, acts like he’s above it all and an author advocate, now taking his act on the road as an inspirational speaker, but he’s just a con artist making a buck. And using religion to make that money, which is despicable. Why Writers Digest teamed with Author Solutions has simply got to be money, and they’ve lost their credibility as an “adviser” to writers because of it.

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    Joel Friedlander May 9, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Bob, I’ve had the same kind of feeling of dismay that I sense in your comment. I know there are some publishers trying to partner with AS in a way that maintains some editorial integrity, but that’s the exception. It just looks like a rush for the money, at the expense of authors who don’t know any better. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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    David Rory O'Neill May 9, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Hi Joel. This is scary reading and I’m thankful I have avoided such horrors. I am dealing with a small subsidy publisher here in Ireland and have had no problems at all. They did one paper back and now three eBooks. I have copyright on everything and provide ready to go PDF’s for text and cover. I choose to do this rather than self-publish. I haven’t the time, money or inclination to do it all myself. It can work and so far it has worked well for me. It is early days yet, the eBooks are only out a few weeks but I am pleased with results to date.
    The scale seems to be the critical factor. I ran a mile from people like Author House and got pestered by them following an email enquiry.
    Keep up the good work and fine advice.

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    Amanda Taylor May 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Hi everyone!
    I have a few additional comments to add to the great article, comments by Micheal and Joel and others. Have you guys read the book “The Fine Print of Self Publishing” by Mark Levine? He basically says everything that has been said here on this article in a book and he tells you every single evil practice of Author Solutions and others. One of the companies he exposed, Pleasant Word, a now nonexistent SP branch of Winepress, tried to sue him in court, but they lost because he had black and white proof off their website. Apart from all the bad he talks about good companies and why they’re good. Lightening Source and Createspace are highly recommended by him and other people I network with. Mark is a great and honest guy who is short, to the point, and doesn’t feed you full of BS, and he tells you like it is. I know Mark pretty well over email and I have worked with him on a cooperative project that I wrote just recently which he may use later called “Self Promoting and Survival Tips for Newbie Authors”. He and myself also want to help authors escape from the “jaws of doom”. Author Solutions is not a Great White, they are a bull shark–they can come into the freshwater where we authors are and take a bite out of us. Bull sharks cause more deaths and are responsible for more shark attacks than Great Whites!

    I have dealt with the evils of Xlibris for myself. They drew me in with a BOGO and a discount on a package so I could publish 2 books (I’m a smart shopper so I look for deals), and I had no one to ask for for help either. I tried to do some research, but I was 28 years old and didn’t know where to find the answers. Now 30 I’ve successfully rescued one of my books from them and now I’m working on getting the other one out. I’ll tell all the other authors of another great option that I have discovered in addition to CreateSpace and Lightning Source if they want to go by and kick their tires if they are looking for a new home.

    In Mark’s book he mentions the company he founded in brief detail in the introduction but he doesn’t pitch it at your to be unfair or crass. His book and his company are trying to bridge the gap to protect us from companies like Author Solutions. Joel, Michael, others, and myself want to provide safe havens for authors. It is a collection of companies called Hillcrest Publishing Group, but I’ll just mention two the most important companies Mill City Press and Publish Green. MCP offers more traditional channels in addition to POD for self published authors. They also have a website fulfillment service option to eliminate the task of you having to keep up with the ordering and mailing off of your website. The people are there are friendly, thorough and informative, and no nonsense. The best part is that they give 100% royalties and your author copies at cost (plus shipping). They have only two publishing packages that are fair priced and comprehensive. They also have marketing services available but they are also decently priced and comprehensive, and they don’t push them on you at all. They don’t call you and bug you to buy a service which I like too. They believe in SEO and offering a balance of traditional and online channels. There are no surprises lurking in their contract and they don’t write it in legalese so you don’t understand what you sign, and the publishing process is easy and no hassle. They have a sister company that does ebooks called Publish Green, but it is not free. In addition to Publish Green there is a free DIY ebook publisher called Smashwords for all those who want to jump on the ebook bandwagon. At Smashwords the author must do the formatting, but it is free though if you need to go back and redo it. I hope I could help out too.

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    Joel Friedlander May 10, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Amanda, thanks for telling your story and pointing to better choices for authors who want someone to take over their whole book project for them. As always, readers are advised to check the offerings and contracts of anyone they are thinking of doing business with.

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    Karen Kanter May 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    How does one rescue their book? Just cancel the contract and lose whatever they’ve done for you and then get a new cover, ISBN no., etc.

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    Amanda Taylor May 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Karen,
    To rescue your book depends on your situation. Try to get everything you can get. Fight for your cover and layout, good companies give you everything, the crooked ones don’t without gouging you or they won’t give them up at all. If you are with a crooked company, your book won’t sell anyway and they’ll bombard you with sales calls for services nonstop that cost more than a car or a boat. You’ll WANT to leave! I know, I’ve been there and dealt with it myself–Xlibris is one of the absolute worst. Your book will sink if you keep it there. If you’re lucky and are able to get high resolution pdf cover files and interior you’ll be set. Your new publisher will take off the old logo and ISBN for a lower price than going from the drawing board or package price. You have to get new ISBNs, but getting them are pretty cheap if you DIY or your new publisher will give you new ones. Mark Levine’s book tell you how to DIY ISBNs, and he has a company Click and Copyright that offers them too. Also you can rescue your book this way: if you have a word document of your edited interior you can take it Smashwords and publish it as ebook only until you can redo your print version which is a free solution. Smashwords is FREE! Also if you publish at Smashwords, you’ll make a 85% royalty, and your book will be back on the market in little as a few days and available in a lot of places and be available on the Nook, Kindle, and iPad, and ebooks are the craze now. I hope that helps you.

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    Jerry Dorris May 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    If they have done actual work you’ll want to get copies of source files. You may need to be willing to pay additional for those. (That can be cheaper than hiring a new production team). Then hire someone to work with that source. That is a generous scenerio. It rarely works out that way… so in the end you are basically out the initial investment.

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    Roger C. Parker May 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Dear Joel:
    Thank you for publishing such a relevant (and sobering) blog, and for providing a forum for discussion.

    Your blog is certainly becoming the hub of an informed, relevant, and vibrant community.
    Roger

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    Leonard D. Hilley II May 14, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Great post! I have had similar situations occur with one named publisher (Outskirts Press) above, too. With my third novel, I had an editor friend go through the entire manuscript to make certain the book was a close to perfection as possible. When they sent me the first digital “galley,” I found only 6 errors (two of which were theirs because they had not moved the chapter heading to the next page). With the second “galley,” I simply checked through to see that the errors were changed. Once I had seen that they were corrected, I sent word to have it printed.

    I received my books in the mail a few weeks later and discovered that nearly three paragraphs were missing at the end of one chapter. So I checked the first galley I had saved to my hard drive (I suggest you DO this), and the text was all there. However, those paragraphs were missing in the second galley (magically disappeared!). I contacted them about this and they wanted to charge me $149.00 to correct it, saying it was my error. In my defense I asked how could nearly three paragraphs vanish from one galley to another? If they’re actually galleys, the only thing that should change was the corrections I requested. Nothing else should be changed. When they discovered I had kept both galleys saved on my computer, they made the corrections without a fee. So be aware!

    My series is now in Kindle/ePUB through http://www.ebooksforpleasure.com. This is a site that any writer who wants to have their novels available should check out. Here’s why I chose them. NO FEES for anything. 50% royalties every six months. And if you’re going to self-publish, you need to know that YOU are the one who will be doing your promotions.

    Good luck, writers, and constantly be aware on these scams.

    Leonard D. Hilley II

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    Joel Friedlander May 16, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for the story, Leonard, and the lesson (which I also follow with clients’ books) to KEEP EVERYTHING including all the iterations of your book. Hard drive space is cheap, just keep it all.

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    Bdayswa July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Thank you ALL for the valuable information on self-publishing. I have looked at many of the companies that you mentioned including Balboa Press and Xlibris. I appreciated learning about the Author Solutions thread. I noticed on Balboa Press the lack of books during my word search….considering they have been up and running for over a year and they are a division of Hay House, I would expect a full house. Thank you again.

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    Leonard D. Hilley II July 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I have learned a lot since my previous reply to this post. Finally, after several emails and over six weeks of waiting, Outskirts no longer has a hold on my books. I pulled them from their publication and went through Createspace. I wish I had done over a year ago.

    My final straw with Outskirts Press was the royalty set for my third novel with them. $1.57 per book (they priced at $16.99 each). That’s half the royalty of what I made per book with my second novel. AND, both books have almost 78,000 words each.

    Here’s what I discovered by going with Createspace, which cost me no money to have my book and cover set up. But, if you follow the directions given for uploading the book and cover, it’s not that difficult at all. Back to lesson learned.

    While both books have the same word count, there was a 70 page difference in the books. Instead of setting the line space to 1.15 for a thinner, cheaper book, they set the line space to 1.5. This is why the third book was higher in price and lower in royalty. They made more money. I made less.

    Here’s the beauty of Createspace. I now have all three novels with my own publishing imprint. And I set my books up in Kindle and Nook formats, too. I have sold more books this route with Kindle and CS in six weeks than I sold in over a year and a half.

    Writers beware. There are places to get your books published and NOT have to fork over tons of money. Kindle Direct doesn’t take a lot of time and costs you nothing to upload and convert a book at Amazon. Just follow the directions. FREE. Outskirts is offering to do this FREE service for their authors at $299.00. That requires a LOT of sales just to break even. I converted all three of my novels on there in just a few hours.

    Keep your money, and keep writing!

    Best,

    Leonard

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    Joel Friedlander September 27, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Leonard, thanks for following up with this detailed report. You have discovered what many of us in the indie publishing community keep trying to get across to authors thinking about publishing: you can do this, you don’t need to fall victim to the subtle hype coming from subsidy publishers (see the comment immediately following). You are now in a great situation for continued success moving forward. Good luck!

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    Leonard D. Hilley II November 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks!

    Since I’ve gone with Createspace and Kindle Direct this summer, I have actually sold far more copies of my novels in about six months than the three years with Outskirts. With Kindle Direct, I get 70% royalties, and it cost me nothing to upload my novels directly. Sad thing is that Outskirts is trying to charge their authors $299.00 to upload books via Kindle Direct. Please authors, do this yourselves. It isn’t hard to do at all.

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    Myra Jolivet June 15, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Your blog is a Godsend! I am no longer in fear of starting my own publishing company, (I wish I would’ve done that from the start). I need to take my first book from its current publisher, so I am trying to learn all I need to know in order to avoid another misstep.

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    Jill August 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I went with Balboa Press and all I can say is that I totally regret the experience. They were AWFUL!! Terrible quality work, the editor of the book cover didn’t even know that proper names and titles should be capitalized. Layout and cover looked extremely amateurish and they didn’t follow my direct request from the exact image that I sent them, images inside the book were super blurry. I so regret working with this company. I was naive and bought into the idea that they were part of Hay House. The woman who sold me the package kept telling me the people who worked their answer to a “higher power.” LOL! This company is a joke and a scam. Please save your money.

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    Karen September 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    I knew there was something wrong when Balboa wanted to publish my work before even seeing or wanting to know about it. Thank you for all the information, it has literally saved my work and my pocket.
    Where can I find a publisher or agent to represent my work in childrens story and oracle cards?

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    Rod Griffiths September 29, 2011 at 3:08 am

    I always try to figure out the underlying business model of any outfit I am dealing with. In publishing there seem to be two models; those who make their money from writers and those who make their money from readers. Very simply, the ones who make their money from writers have no particular interest in selling books, whereas those who get their income from book sales want to sell books.
    That may be slightly too brutal, as I suspect that there are many book doctors and editors who genuinely do want their authors to succeed. On the other hand I know several people who have had multiple expensive critiques on the same manuscript, all saying different things and leaving the writer poorer and no wiser.
    If you go with a publisher who wants the money up front then you can bet that they have no particular interest in sales. Like many people I have been assailed with bumph from Authorhouse and very enticing it is too. Fortunately I did notice that there were no examples of actual books or sales statistics and when I hunted around bookshops or review sites I couldn’t find their product.
    On the other hand it seems as though Kindle Direct and Smashwords really do want to help and they only get paid when you sell books. You still have to find a way of getting potential customers to know that the book exists and there are already plenty of consultants springing up who will take money off you to tell you how to do that. So far I haven’t seen any of them offering to work their magic for a percentage of sales. I’m open to offers.

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    Jim Kukral November 1, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Good stuff. There are scams in every industry unfortunately. Good for you for pointing them out here. I get calls every day from people who have been ripped off by unscrupulous vendors and “gurus”. It’s very sad. But there’s hope with people like you leading the way.

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    Kirby November 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I’ve been screwed over by Mill City Press. Whatever you do, don’t expect them to help “edit” your book @ $0.045 per word (their most expensive level). A TOTAL waste of money and a TOTAL scam. Hire an independent editor (good luck — these are like finding needles in haystacks) and be prepared to pay that freight. But DON’T be fooled into thinking that you’ll have the focused attention of anything more than a proofreader at Mill City Press.

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    Floyd Hardee November 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I had my first book, which was only fifty four pages long, published by Publish America. They set a price on it like it was a four hundred page best seller. They did not edit, instead there were more errors after they proof read it. Although I advertised it on line, the sales numbers swung wildly up and down at Barnes and Noble, but PA just would not pay me any royalties to speak of. They appear to want to sell you your own books.
    I no longer even bother to talk with them.
    I have written two books since then, one is over ninety thousand words, and the other is over one hundred and thirty thousand. I have them stored on cd.

    I am looking for a cheap way to be published, but do not want to have to spend all my time away from writing. I am a writer not a publisher. I will be checking out Mill City Press, and Lightning Source, and the others that had good press.
    Thanks for the info. fjh

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    Leonard D. Hilley II November 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Createspace can be done easily and doesn’t cost you anything. Although I do the $39.00 distribution package, which is far cheaper than any other self-publisher out there. The books are top quality, too.

    Kindle Direct is also easy to upload your novels for free, and you get 75% royalties if your eBook is priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Like anything in the publishing world, if you want your books to sell, do hire an editor and be ready to do as much publicity as possible.

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    Floyd Hardee November 27, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Thanks for the information. It is good to see that there are some honest, and helpful people still left in the world Leonald.

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    EYES.. JB December 12, 2011 at 8:10 am

    I’m in my 9th year with Publish America and want out very badly. I recently recieved a notice from them saying I can get my rights reverted back to me for $199.00 plus shipping and tax. But I’ve seen post where they charges $99.00 plus tax and shipping. What should I do? Until I read these posts here I was in the process of signing with iuniverse on 12/12/11. Now I have second thoughts. Thanks for all the good information. Feedback would be kindly appreciated.

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    Leonard D. Hilley II December 12, 2011 at 10:07 am

    iuniverse, Outskirts Press, Authorhouse, and many others like them are not good places to publish. Createspace doesn’t cost anything to publish your book through them, but you have to upload your books to their specifications. This isn’t hard to do, but you keep your rights. With CS, I do pay the $39.00 distribution fees per novel, which is still far cheaper than anything I had with Outskirts.

    I thought with Publish America that rights automatically reverted back to you after seven years. Did they change their contract? I would reread your contract. It’s really sad that they want to charge so much just to revert back the rights to you. Myself, I wouldn’t pay that. Here’s something you might consider.

    Change your title name, revise the book, and perhaps rename your characters. Revamp the book into something different than what they hold. You shouldn’t have to pay them. But this is one way around it.

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    EYES.. JB January 5, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Thanks Leonard for all the good infomation!!! For my next book I’m looking at Dog Ear they seem to be the best of all the ones that I’ve checked out so far.. I was about to go with Balboa until I read the posts here. I was just contacted by them today (01/05/12). Again thanks.

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    EYES.. JB January 5, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Hey Leonard, with Publish America you have to contact them 90 days prior to the end of the 7 years, or the 7 years repeats itself. I overlooked that statement in the contract. However, they did drop the fee to $149.

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    Akash December 19, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Author House is tryin’ to seduce me over a lot of offers that seem irrelevant as far as a writer’s desk is concerned! Need help…and other suggestions too…

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    Joel Friedlander December 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Akash, try CreateSpace. You can get all the same services without the unnecessary stuff A.S. is throwing at you.

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    Nicole C. January 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Hello, my book was published in July 2011. Since then I’ve found out that the company I worked with uses Author Solutions. I have also found that they are over charging for me to buy the book. These are not my only frustrations. My question is, I have the final interior in pdf. I also have the high quality cover file. Can I legally take these to a company like CreateSpace and republish? Also, I sent off for my own copyright on the manuscript before publishing.

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    Leonard D. Hilley II January 5, 2012 at 3:28 am

    What is the company you worked for? In your contract, do you maintain all rights to your work? If you do, you can publish again. If you gave away your rights, that becomes a big problem. I know of one author that paid someone to “publish” their first hard cover novel, took their money, and then published through Lulu, which she could have done herself and much cheaper. Her book doesn’t sell because the price is $21.00.

    Just make certain that you kept your rights to your works, and if so, move on. CreateSpace is an easy place to publish your books without having to pay a fortune. Hope this helps.

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    Nicole C. January 5, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Thanks Leonard, the company is CrossBooks. I do own the rights. I have sent additional information to you in email. Thanks so much for this input.

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    Jason Kristopher February 20, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Just a quick note: There is a subsidy publisher (for the moment, anyway – soon to change to full publishing) that treats authors as partners and not indentured servants, provides them with full input throughout the process of producing the book, including the cover, and pays some of the highest royalty rates in the industry (at least that we’re aware of, and we’ve looked).

    That company is Grey Gecko Press. We’re a startup, and are just getting going, but already have 2 books out and 10 more scheduled before the end of the year. Ask our authors if they’re happy with us. Ask our people if we love what we do. And then ask us how you can be a part of it.

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    Patricia Wilson June 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I self-published a book in 2009 and have sold 5000 copies. Who would I contact to move it to a bigger audience – I do not need editing, layout or cover design as my customers like it as is. Any ideas?

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    Valerie Kerr June 4, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Good evening. I have a childrens spiritual book that I would like to publish. do you offer this facility. If you don’t please could you suggest somewhere that I could submit it for publication and how I would go about it either way. thank you for your help.

    Kind Regards

    Valerie

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    Jim July 19, 2012 at 7:20 am

    What can you tell me about WestBow? Are they an honest broker?

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    Joel Friedlander July 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I believe it’s another subsidiary of Author Solutions.

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    Michael N. Marcus July 19, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Westbow is the pay-to-publish business of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, and is operated for Nelson by ASI. The whole ASI kit and kaboodle was just bought by Penguin for $116 mil.

    http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/landmark-day-westbow-press-releases-its.html

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    Colleen September 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for the information. Preditors and Editors is what keeps me from making bad choices on where to go. I almost made another as I hadn’t checked them out before contacting them. Then I found out they’re a subsidy publisher, and found YOU to tell me what exactly that means. Again, thanks.

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    Catherine Rourke October 18, 2012 at 12:12 am

    I am a professional independent book editor whose authors are all asking me where they should self-publish their books. What respectable POD publishers do you recommend for authors today?

    Most are flocking right now to CreateSpace, but isn’t Amazon as debauched with greed as Author House? Do authors have any alternative to the “Walmart-ization” of publishing their books at these generic cookie-cutter POD factories? While Walmart boasts “low low prices,” the package rates at these publishing mills are shockingly outrageous for questionable services.

    I also understand from many colleagues that these assembly-line book hives are paying their contractual editors “Third World wages” while overcharging authors thousands of dollars for routine copy editing and pushing indie editors out of business — no differently than the way Walmart forces mom-and-pop enterprises to close their doors.

    Anyone out there have any experience with the editing packages of these companies? Several of my author clients had me mend manuscripts that were allegedly edited by these factories and they were barely copy-edited despite the high-dollar cost, with no contact whatsoever with the mystery editor.

    I can only imagine what literary luminaries like Jack London, Charles Dickens and their counterparts would have to say about the debauchery of publishing and books reduced to commodities instead of literary art. It appears that book publishing has become an expensive hobby for the affluent and I shudder to think of the vast loss of literature as a result.

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    Joel Friedlander November 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Catherine,

    I can understand the confusion and frustration on this topic. However, there are guidelines that can help.

    For instance, I would not characterize CreateSpace as “debauched with greed.” And publishing there does not require you to purchase any kind of publishing “package.” You can pick and choose the services you want, you control the ISBN used on your book, and you set the retail price.

    Not only that, their prices are among the lowest of all POD suppliers, they have excellent customer support, and they provide an ongoing supply of customer-centric help and resources.

    I think it’s usually better to buy services like editing and design on your own so you know exactly who you’re dealing with. Then, you can use a service like CreateSpace or Lightning Source simply as a book printer and POD distributor.

    Hope that helps.

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    Leonard D. Hilley II November 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I have just published my fifth novel with Createspace. I received my proof two days ago. I’ve had no problems with them, nor have I had to spend a lot out of pocket to have great quality books produced through them. Their books are much better than Outskirts that I used years back.

    Joel is correct in stating to beware of any publishing insisting you “purchase a publishing package.” Even those who say that they edit, often don’t. It’s best to hire a good editor if you need one.

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    Catherine Rourke November 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks, Joel, for your reply. Yes, it’s very helpful since I’ve been recommending CreateSpace to so many of the authors I work with [based on feedback from others] and want to be sure I’m steering them in the right direction.

    So far, the authors are reporting back that they have received excellent customer service and are satisfied with the package options. Most recommend keeping the packages simple and avoiding any unnecessary bells and whistles to keep costs down. They also said they prefer working closely with an editor, which is one service the publisher package editing options don’t provide.

    I am referring the authors to your site and blog since it’s a wonderful resource — very informative and helpful. Thanks again for all that you do and for the Ebook as well — the authors really appreciate all your superb information!

    Best,
    Catherine

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    Mark ONeill February 18, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Catherine, ironically you picked the two legendary authors who started out self-published: Jack London and Charles Dickens.

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    BOB BAKER ( AUSTRALIA) November 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    At 72yrs, I have written my first book with leads into my second book.
    I am currently looking at Balboa as I walked away from Xlibris as they applyied to much pressure on me with their package deal.
    the bells were ringing when I read the Terms and Condition. and I being a babe in the POD writters world. Then I came across the above article CAUTION – now I am no better off.
    So please any adice on honest POD that treats you properly and fairly.
    I have asked a couple of friends who have read the book(s) to be very honest and not hold back in their comments. They all except one have given the Book(s) a thumbs up a good story.

    So please any one what would you suggest I do. Are there any Honest and above board PODs out there?.
    Thanks,

    Bob Baker
    Australia.

    Reply

    Amanda Taylor November 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Balboa is basically Xlibris’ twin sister which are part of a larger company called Author Solutions. CreateSpace is pretty good, but I have heard a lot of complaints here lately in author forums. Infinity, Telemachus Press, Mill City Press, and Book Locker are good honest POD publishers that will treat you right and put out a good product. Of course Joel will help you as well! :) I hope that helps! Best of luck with getting published!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Bob see my reply to Catherine Rourke, just above your comment. I’ve also had good reports about Book Locker, but I would be very careful with anyone who requires you to buy a publishing “package” rather than allowing you to choose the services you need.

    And if you run into a service that requires you to pay for all development of your book but bars you from setting the retail price, just walk away.

    Reply

    Marla Markman November 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    As usual, Joel, you make excellent points. People should indeed be wary of companies that require publishing “packages.”

    As far as the former client who used Book Locker, I wonder if this company has changed how they operate, because she was able to select and manage her own cover designer, editor (me!), and proofreader. I believe the only services Book Locker handled were the book’s interior design and the POD and distribution.

    Reply

    Amanda April 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Also does the “self publishing company” allow you to use your own isbn? If not that should definitely bring up red flags.

    Marla Markman November 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Agreed. I once had a client who used Book Locker, and she was very happy with their service.

    Reply

    BOB BAKER ( AUSTRALIA) November 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Hi Amanda, Marla and Joe
    Thank you for your advice But again How do I go about publishing My Book(s) – Joe What did you do or how did you go about it as I am sure there are those like me who ar so overwhelmed with the web and what people or companies say.
    You Guys Know the in’s and out’s
    Do you know of people like you Joe who has experience, that would read the book and give a comment in should I proceed or go and change a few things or am I wasting my time which I dont have many years left at 72.
    I myself feel that the story line is good but yes I am the person who wrote the book.

    So Joe or anyone else with your experience what would you suggest to theis first time have a go writter?.
    Sincerely yours,
    Bob Baker.
    Australia.

    Reply

    BOB BAKER ( Australia ) November 12, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Hi Joel.
    My last comments I misspelt your name as i use Joe.
    Please Joel, forgive one form down under, my apologie.
    Sincerely,
    Bob Baker

    Reply

    Amanda Taylor November 13, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you as I was out of town. I know that you are overwhelmed–self publishing is very overwhelming.

    Anyway, you absolutely must start with finding a good editor. I have a group where I can find you an editor if you need one. It will be best to give it a line/stylistic edit. If you go with a freelance literary editor instead of an editor at a self publishing company you will get a great edit for a great price. The editing process is what takes a bit longer, but it is one of the most critical.

    After you have your text all shiny and pretty submit to your chosen publisher–if you still on planning on using a publisher or doing it yourself. The DIY process is can be more overwhelming since you must handle everything yourself. Working with a publisher means that everything is under one roof, doing it yourself means you must find a book formatter, cover artist, and a distributor in addition to your editor. I have connections with these sort of folks too, and this is where Joel can help you too.

    Joel is correct when you must look out for publishers that require packages. Some of them are predatory like Xlibris and Balboa. This is what you need in any basic publishing package: cover design, interior design/formatting, website design (if needed), and distribution to other retailers besides the publisher’s website (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc). The publishers I have listed are not predatory and have good reputations among authors.

    If you would like me to help you further, email me at spottedeagle9780 at aol dot com.

    Reply

    Mary Hofmann January 13, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I don’t see any mention of PublishGreen which is a subsidiary of Mill Press, and they say you get 100% royalties…yes there are packages, differing according to your needs including editing for bigger package, some add-ons per word over 75,000 (is that a usual length for a novel?) etc but they promise lots re distribution (nook, kindle, etc etc). Hand-done formatting too. What do others think?

    Reply

    Amanda Taylor January 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I have been a customer of PublishGreen for two of my books, and I highly recommend them. They do great work, hand-done formatting via HTML code, and has some of the best distribution options. 75K is about the length of a standard novel and other ebook formatters or publishers usually cut off at that length and require a fee per additional X thousand words or images–that’s standard procedure if you hire someone. Yes they don’t take any royalties at all. They also have the option of creating a sales page where you can sell your book from your website where you don’t have retailer fees, and you can create promo codes if you want to offer your book for free or at a discount.

    They are definitely a good choice for people with children’s or coffee table books that may not be meatgrinder friendly.

    Reply

    Mark Bickham January 27, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Dear Sir,
    I have written what I feel is a good book that will probably be well accepted by all who reads it. However, the only ones that calls me about publishing are people who want money, money, money, and promise me the world of publishing and distribution. Exliber had a so called publishing consultant call me from the Phillapines but I am from New Jersey where everyone tries to take your money so the last thing I would want to do is send my money or my book to the Phillapines. Publishing has me so confused for all I want is someone to look at my book and if they feel it is good enough, help me publish and we can make money together. The Yellow Brick Road doesn’t have to be paved with gold or pearls, and the people who would read my book wouldn’t have to be rich. It sure would be nice to make some money but honesty is the most expensive and hardest thing to find. Do you have any experience or knowledge about Green Company LLC publishing in East Orange New Jersey for if not anything else here is a company for me who isn’t a half a world away who I could possibly walk in and show my book. My cover, side binder, and back are all done and I’ve done my best to see this book be read by one and read by all but how is the question? Please Help.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Mark,

    “all I want is someone to look at my book and if they feel it is good enough, help me publish and we can make money together.”

    That’s the description of a traditional publisher, so maybe you should be looking for an agent to represent you.

    On the other hand, doing it yourself doesn’t have to be that difficult. I would avoid companies like Green Company, which seems mostly to be a printer. Instead, try CreateSpace.com. I recommend them.

    Reply

    Lonso March 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    By POD self-publishing you do all the work of a publisher and barely get what a writer gets on publishing contract in %, or a small fraction of that in actual money. This is how the business is designed and the only way it can be. The high POD production costs and high markups of these businesses eat up the publishing profit, author profit, and most importantly, distribution options. Check the % of profit on your book when things are equal to a print publishing with distribution. Everybody else gets their money. If the book is more than 128 pages or so, the POD production cost eats into author profits. Most of the times, it leaves no room for real distribution. Why would a writer want to do the publisher’s job for free or lose the life distribution gives to a book? Vanity?

    If you can really be a publisher by producing in offset print run and in automatic binders, you get a low cost which leaves room for making money by using real distribution.

    And please, please, don’t pay $5000 or whatever to get your book in POD publishing. It will probably cost less than $1,00 per unit in quantity if you do offset and series binding and this will give you room to move. Anyone recommending spending that kind of money on a pure POD project is into scamming you. At that kind of cost you can produce cheap books in great quantities, work directly with a distributor, put some money into advertising, and actually make money.

    And, btw, I’m not an author. I have more than 30 years of experience in printing, binding, distribution and order handling in two European countries. I do know though, that most of the self-publishing success stories were heavily manipulated or even manufactured to serve specific marketing goals. A few were even the result of scams on the part of the author, gaming the system when it was young by fake paid reviews and riding on the momentary publicity of specific self-publishing technologies. Some authors are happy and some major companies are happy selling their ebook devices. Oligopolies are formed, in the print and ebook business. The funny thing is that authors feel great. They are not aware of the consequences. I’m 75yo and retired, but things will change for the worse for your generation (20, 30, 50 it’s all the same to me, youth!), and authors will be those hurt the most. The days when the only option will be to get $0.01 from the online content distribution companies are not far. It is already forming in music and video, books are next. And content creators are ecstatic at the possibility of giving away their work “for rent”, while the large corporations are putting them on a cage.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Lonso, I’m sorry your experience in printing and publishing seems to have left you a bit pessimistic. Or perhaps you are not that familiar with the book publishing industry in the U.S. If a book is properly planned and produced, there’s no reason why it can’t be financially very successful through PoD, and in fact many authors are making a pretty good living doing exactly that.

    As far as paying for services, again this depends on the individual author, their specific book and the goals they have for it.

    And I know some of the very successful self-publishers, and they are not liars, scam artists or manipulators, just hard working authors who have learned to use the new tools of publishing to their advantage.

    Although there are scammers out there, and authors who manipulate their “numbers” and firms that overcharge for their services, tarring them all with the same brush is factually incorrect and misleading to others.

    Reply

    Roz March 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Hi Joel, I started with Trafford publishing years ago – when it was an honest little company in Victoria, B.C. I am a counselor and I wrote a book for kids dealing with grief (When Goodbye Seems Forever). I used all of my own photos for each topic of grief, and I did a mock book through Creative Memories (a computer photo-book program) which is awesome.
    Over the years… I know it has taken me a long time, but I am also a working mom of 3 teenagers, Trafford has done to me exactly what I read about in your article. Since I wouldn’t accept that the cheap paperback book they said I had to sell for $20.00, was all they could do for me, I have shelved my own book! I am now requesting it be removed from their company and will loose the thousands of dollars that I have spent with them on this. I am hoping at some point to have my book published properly and sold for what it is worth. However, is there any legal road I can take to get at least some of my money back for the dreadfully poor job, unfulfilled promises, and outlandish lies from Trafford?
    Sorry to be another sad story!
    Roz!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Roz, thanks for writing and I’m sorry to hear about your frustrating experience. I can’t honestly say what kind of case you would have, but I would encourage you to ask an intellectual property lawyer about it.

    And I hope you won’t let the book go idle either. With the tools we have available now as authors, it’s not that difficult to put your book into print, and it can be done at a very low cost.

    Reply

    LTF March 12, 2013 at 11:06 am

    The other form of naked greed (great alliteration) are companies that charge for consultation over the phone for self-publishers. I have seen these companies advertise their services on social media sites. I have designed heavily illustrated books for self-publishers and new publishing ventures but never charged a cent for consultation or explaining the necessary workflow required for a good outcome. I only charge for the actual design and production work. Author beware of companies charging for consultations. Obviously, informative websites such as this are a much better way to learn about the publishing process.

    Reply

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    Reply

    Barbara April 8, 2013 at 9:07 am

    I too have entered the crazy world of self publishing, but for my children’s illustrated book…Another Balboa adventure…here’s my dilemma and I’d love support on this…once submitted, the “retail price” went from an estimated $12.95 to $15.99 … I can cut out a few pages (“this book belongs to”, shorten the activity page, bakcground story) and get back to $12.95…but…since amazon discounts everything anyway, should I go with the higher $15.99 so once they cut it down it’s $12.99 anyway???

    Reply

    JR May 16, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Barbara,
    How many pages is your book? Also, find out the COGS (Cost of Goods) Balbao ‘states’ that Ingram and Lightning Source are charging for your book for distribution and print of your book. It appears the COGS are inflated and Balboa/Author Solutions et al receive a back-end on the COGS, lowering your royalty, increasing theirs, without disclosure. Your worry is not Amazon. If you are going to offer Ebook, etc. in truth your royalty is 50% minus technology fees, taxes, etc that are not disclosed as to the amount. There is much more.

    Reply

    JR May 15, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you for addressing Balboa Press. There is much more. If there are any authors that thought they were using Balbao Press, A Division of Hay House, only to find out they ended up with Author Solutions, Inc. et al, leading to egregious malfeasance and an experience that only Rod Serling could give credence to – you are not alone. Please find me.

    Reply

    Jean Ann Geist August 6, 2013 at 8:01 am

    I completely self-published my first book hiring my own cover artist, book designer, editor, printer, etc. The only thing I couldn’t get without signing my life away was a way to get my book into libraries and on the wholesale market. With my second book, I chose Lightning Source as my printer and was accepted as a client. They have been fantastic to work with. They have readily answered my concerns and provided me with print copies of my book at a very reasonable price. As the official publication date for my book is September 1, I cannot yet judge how many sales their wholesale market will generate, but it will definitely be more than I had for my first book (which was zero)! And i didn’t have to jump through the Amazon Advantage hoops to get it on Amazon, saving me countless hours! I HIGHLY recommend Lightning Source, Inc.

    Reply

    DT Anon September 26, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I entered into a contract with a subsidy publisher. As a newbie, I didn’t know that they were a subsidy publisher because they call themselves a traditional publisher. Regardless, I have paid a portion of their up-front “publicity” fee but have since decided that I do not want to pursue this subsidy route after all.

    How can I get out of the contract? There is a termination clause in the contract but it focuses on production and post-production, distribution, promotion, etc. I’m in none of those stages, as I have not yet submitted my manuscript to the publisher to begin the production process.

    I sent them an email and they were sorry to hear my decision to terminate–I didn’t go into specifics, but they said they don’t issue refunds. Can they keep my money even thought a “transaction” has not taken place?

    Thanks for your help.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander September 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Sounds like you need the advice of an attorney, but I can say that many authors have gotten released from these contracts in the past, so don’t give up hope.

    Reply

    Sergio September 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    hello Joel

    I have to thank you for this site, it has really helped me.

    I am just starting and I have considered the self-publishing solution primarily because of the time it takes for traditional houses to respond. I don’t mind rejections but taking that long is counter-productive nowadays.

    However, all of the self-publishing companies that contacted me were pretty awful pushers. I dont understand their actual role either.

    For this reason I decided to be the actual self-publisher but I have no idea how to start. I was wondering if you could provide any advice about the process please.

    Thank you.
    Sergio

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus October 1, 2013 at 3:38 am

    Sergio, if you want to become your own publisher, this book will help. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AVDWAA4/

    Reply

    Don Ford October 8, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Joel, You said: “Since selling books is irrelevant to the company’s profits…”

    It may lack the cake, but not the icing. I’m sure they are licking the icing off the big payout by the author as each book sells.
    Cheers. Don Greywolf Ford
    Writer’s Digest and I go back a long way. :-} D.

    Reply

    Michael Ward January 9, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I’ve self-published two books (l and 2 of a trilogy), with Dog Ear. I think it sold about 3 books, as my last “royalty” check was for $2.20. Enough for a cup of coffee. I have spent hours and hours researching a publishing house that will do some active promotion of my 3rd book, and only come up confused. I’m about ready to resort to armed robbery for a career. Dog Ear is now offering a “digital package” with various social media mentioned. I can’t get a real answer of what that would do to get some promotion from them.

    Reply

    Gary Ockunzzi January 26, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Jay, I am a self published author, too. I completed my book in 1996 and after querying it around to the mainstream publishers and somehow getting on the target list of the subsidy/vanity press, I formed my own publishing company and self published and sold my book. While I don’t profess to have done that great (I sold about 18 shy of 1,000 books), nobody owned me. I don’t regret my decision to go in the direction that I went in; it’s a free world out there and there’s room for all of us. Gary.

    Reply

    Barbara Morghon February 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    This site just saved me a bundle that I don’t have! I’m currently on social security disability, trying to find a way off benefits without causing myself to lose everything before I have it replaced by real income. I’ve been creating that I will be off all benefits by the end of 2014. The Universe is lining up with that creation by having me find pools of information that further my success, like this one, and prevent me from falling into traps like Author Solutions, et al.

    I am creating myself as a Medical Diets Transition Specialist – how to get into the lifestyle the doctor just prescribed – whether it be Gluten Free, Diabetes, or any other Medically Prescribed Diet. She suggested I take the database of knowledge I have locked in my brain and get it published. Up popped a boatload of “related ads” for multiple companies all promising me to publish my book. A quick Google search after a conversation with a rep from iUniverse and a cautionary text from my coach got me doing some research. That brought me here!

    What I need is a coach/mentor. Someone who will hold my feet to the fire for the timelines – part of gluten intolerance that has gone untreated for so long is brain fog, memory issues, depression, and anxiety, got ‘em all in spades. I want someone to read the book as I write it and get the editing done as we go, less overwhelming for me to have things done in chunks rather than all at once.

    Is there anyone out there who does this? By the way, it’s kind of a “out of the goodness of your heart – until I start making some money” type of deal.

    I’ve downloaded all of the free guides, I’m on the waiting list for the next one, and will purchase the PDFs when I have a spare $46.00. Though I have difficulty with retention at times, I’m a fast study and a very good student who happens to be extremely coachable!

    Reply

    Diana Maryon March 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Barbara, I will have a go at assisting you (for nothing of course). I am a really rigorous copy-editor, and when I work for my Christian friends as a beta reader commonly find much more the matter with a text than the rest of the team combined. My own fictionalised autobiography is here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Love-How-Deep-Diana-Maryon/dp/1449721206

    to give you an idea of my standards.

    You will see that I paid Westbow for publication. Westbow is ASI pretending to be Christian and pretending to do something with one’s book. It was a matter of keeping a dog and barking yourself all through my experience. They were better than CreateSpace in that I have got hardback and several types of ebook out of them, in return for several hundred dollars plus a pile of work on my part.

    Write to me at diana dot maryon dot telus dot net . I apologise that I have only just seen your message.

    Reply

    Stephen Downey April 24, 2014 at 6:12 am

    I have been doing quite a bit of blogging, as weld was working on several book projects. But since I have not written a manuscript I have yet to contact any for of publisher was yet. O I was quite surprised to receive an email from Westbow offering their services. I deleted the email so I am going on memory here, but it seems they have read some of my blogs, liked what they had read, MD wanted to both encourage me to write a book and to assist me in publishing it. Nelson Publishers was plastered all over the email with Westbow in small print. Naturally I thought I had been contacted by THE Nelson Publishers, a company I am quite familiar with.

    By the Grace of God I decided to Google Westbow tonight just to explore what they were all about, and I accidentally came to your website. I want to say thank you for the time you folks take to offer information, because it has answered my questions and saved me a lot of grief and money.

    Blessings to you all.

    Stephen Downey

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander April 24, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Glad to hear that your research paid off, Stephen, you’ll be happy in the end.

    Reply

    Mark Funkhouser July 22, 2014 at 5:08 am

    Has anyone had any experience with Telemachus Press?

    Reply

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