The Real Cause Of The Self-Publishing Stigma

It’s no secret that self-publishing gets a bad reputation. There’s this belief among people who don’t know better or people who’ve been burned by a self-published book or two that authors only self-publish if they aren’t good enough to land a book deal with a big agent or traditional publisher.

But that isn’t the case.

At least, not normally.

And therein lies the problem.

Self-publishing is a grueling, labor-intensive, valid publishing avenue, but there are some authors out there who abuse it and give it a bad reputation.

They look down on self-publishing, deeming it unworthy, a last resort. As such, when they get frustrated with the unbelievably long and grueling process of querying agents and traditional publishers, they just toss their story up on whatever self-publishing platform they can, with little to no research into what it takes to make a book presentable to the public. (Then get mad and diss self-publishing when their lack of forethought and preparation results in low sales or bad reviews.)

Janky formatting, no editing, hand-drawn covers (even if you’re a fantastic artist, hand-drawn art does not a book cover make)…

And readers notice.

They see these books and worry that spending more of their hard-earned money on other indie authors might get them the same subpar products.

But that isn’t the case.

Most indie authors care greatly for their books and spend as much, if not more, time getting them ready for publication than they do writing them. Many indie authors spend literal tons of money on editing and cover design and formatting, on ISBNs and copyright registrations and websites, on classes and books to study their craft.

The vast majority of indie authors chose self-publishing. For the freedom it offers in publishing schedules, genre mash-up opportunities, creative license, and so many other things. For the ability to control exactly what they’re putting out into the world, because traditional publishers get the last say on everything.

Self-publishing isn’t a last resort.

Any who believe it to be are woefully under-informed, because this is a path to be chosen, a path that requires a great deal of extra effort in a lot of very different fields.

But there’s one more cause for the bad reputation.

The authors who get their work good *enough* and just throw it out there. Some bank (literally) on advertising with a good hook to sell the books anyway and some just don’t care.

And though they make up only a small portion of indie authors, they do some damage. Readers remember when they get burned. They remember, and they tell their friends.

So please, before you self-publish, do your research. Take the time to decide if this is the right path for you. Take the time to improve your work before publishing.

If you won’t do it for you, then do it for the indie authors out there busting ass to turn out the best work they possibly can.


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IngramSpark vs. KDP: Which Publishing Company is Best for You?

Last week, we talked about the dangers of vanity presses. This week, I want to discuss a couple of legitimate self-publishing companies.

There are many options, and I’m sure more crop up by the day. But KDP and Ingramspark seem to be the front runners. As they’re the two I have experience with, those are the two I’ll be going over.

That doesn’t mean they’re the only options, and it doesn’t mean they’re who you have to choose. There is no one size fits all option here. Everyone has different needs, different desires for their books. What’s best for one author may not be right for another.

All I can do is put my experiences out there for you so you have a little more information to make your choice.

Formats

Both offer ebook and paperback options.

Ingramspark also offers hardback. They even have a few different cover types: cloth with a dust jacket, case laminate, or case laminate with a dust jacket.

If you’ve never heard of it, case laminate means that an image is printed directly onto the binding of the book. You can have that with or without the dust jacket. If you get the dust jacket, it means that you can have a second piece of art on the case of the book (hidden beneath the dust jacket) or have the same cover so that readers can remove the dust jacket, leave it at home for safe keeping, and still show off that pretty cover art while reading on the go. Either way, this requires an additional file, in a different size, something that may incur extra charges with your cover designer.

Print quality

The books that Ingramspark produces are beautiful. They feel good in your hands, and they look stunning.

This isn’t to say that KDP doesn’t print good books, they do. Just not as good as Ingramspark.

Print speed

I can’t be sure, and of course time of year affects this (the time leading up to the holidays is always a longer print time), but it seems as though KDP is quicker.

Shipping of Author Copies

KDP charges normal Amazon shipping rates to send copies of your book to you. Ingramspark… *sigh* They have a basic, uninsured, no guarantee, “it’s not our responsibility” shipping option that starts at around $5. But if you want any kind of insurance or tracking at all, shipping (even for a single proof copy) is going to cost you about $20 or more.

Wholesale Distribution

Ingram is one of the biggest wholesale distributors in the world. They’re trusted by bookstores across the globe. Publishing with them does not guarantee that your book will end up in stores (you still have to approach them about carrying your book), but it gives you a chance.

KDP has an expanded distribution option, but what’s the point in taking the hit to royalties? They’re an Amazon subsidiary. Bookstores aren’t exactly likely to buy from their competitor.

Direct to Consumer Distribution

KDP (as part of Amazon) obviously has this. And with Prime shipping, readers could get your book quickly.

Ingramspark does not ship directly to consumers or handle sales directly. They print the books and ship them when a retailer like Amazon or Barnes and Noble places an order.

Tech support

KDP wins this, hands down. Ingramspark used to have passable tech support, but since last year (something I’ll cover more under the next category), they’ve taken a nose dive.

When I uploaded A Heart of Salt & Silver last November, I had nothing but problems, and getting anyone to actually address them was like pulling teeth.

KDP, however, is timely with their responses and makes uploading, fixing problems, or adjusting book listings very simple.

Ease of use

KDP wins this one, as well.

Early last year, it would have been a tie. But last summer, while the whole world was shut down and everyone that could work from home was doing so, Ingramspark did a major overhaul to their entire system in an attempt to make it more “user friendly.” But all it accomplished was breaking their system.

There were bugs.

A lot of them.

And since most people (especially tech people) were working from home on limited hours, the whole “fixing them” process dragged on and on. Meanwhile, tech support for authors was minimal and… rough. Long wait times to receive an email (7-10 days), long queue times for the online chat support (hour+), long wait times on hold (hours).

That is, until they did away with the phone option for support, making everyone use the email or chat, making wait times even longer. And the hours for the chat are highly inconsistent, not always lining up with the hours posted online.

I’ve had several issues with them since their “user friendly” update, several of which dragged out for weeks.

I’ll be uploading Allmother Rising to their site soon for that magnificent hardcover option, so we’ll see how much has been fixed.

Sales dashboard

KDP reports sales quickly and in an easy to read bar graph that shows how many copies sold each day.

Ingramspark can take up to 90 days to “gather” sales data, then reports it in a rather lackluster format. On the dashboard, it says how many of each book you’ve sold, but with no dates (which complicates the process of honing ads since you can’t get an accurate picture of their performance).

Even their monthly statements for royalties lack dates, showing only which book and which format sold. And you’ll get multiple statements. One for Apple ebooks, one for Amazon US, one for Amazon UK, one for the print distribution in the US and one for print in the UK. So the data is a bit… all over the place.

Royalties

This one really depends, honestly.

KDP offers a 70% royalty option (less print cost), but if you go with their expanded distribution (why?) you’re only eligible for 35% after the cost to print the book.

Ingramspark does 60% (I think) of the profit. But since bookstores demand a discount (a hefty 55% is preferred, but you can lower it to 30 or 35% depending on the market), you’re getting 60% of what’s left after that massive discount and the print cost.

Start-up Cost

KDP is completely free. There are no up-front costs or fees. They make their money off their portion of the profit when a book sells.

Ingramspark charges $49 for a thing they call “Title Setup,” which is basically the fee they charge to list your book in their massive wholesale distribution channels. It irritates me that it’s a thing. But as discussed above, their distribution channels are very widely used, so they can get away with it.

You have to pay that for each print format, but you can pair your ebook with one of them for no additional charge. If you’re only releasing an ebook, you still have to pay the $49.

You can revise and resubmit your files as many times as you need until you’re happy with them and hit approve. However, if you wish to do any additional revisions after approving all the files, there’s a $25 fee. Per revision.

So if you want to change the cover and have an ebook, paperback, and hardback version of the book, that means $75 to fix all three covers, even if the ebook is linked to one of the print formats.

The good thing is that they frequently release discount codes to waive these fees in their Facebook group, release some for Nanowrimo, and often provide these codes at writing conventions. (20booksto50k on Facebook has a convention coming up with a code associated)

Advertising

Ingramspark has an option to promote your book by listing it in their catalog. I think it’s under $100, but I’m not sure. I’ve never done it, so I have no idea how effective it might be.

KDP is part of Amazon, and we’ve all seen the sponsored product ads when looking for books on Amazon. They have their own marketing thing, linked to- but separate from- KDP. Many authors have found success with Amazon ads. I’m not one of them. I’ve tried a few, but since I’m still learning about ads, I haven’t gotten an Amazon ad to actually be profitable yet.

As with any type of advertising, there are a lot of metrics and a lot of things to experiment with, a lot of demographic research and keyword research to be done. Ads need honed in, and of course, it’s easier to turn a profit advertising a series than it is advertising a standalone.

(You can afford to lose a bit of money advertising book one with a higher cost per click, so long as your series hooks readers and pulls them to book two and three and ten. Standalones… you can’t afford to lose on book one because it’s only one book. This is another problem for me, as I usually write standalones.)

Kindle Unlimited

Obviously, this is a strictly Amazon thing, thus only KDP has it. If you upload your ebook ONLY to KDP and enroll in KDP select or kindle select (I forget the name, it’s a little check box during the upload process), that puts your book into the Kindle Unlimited program. People who pay monthly can read as many KU books as they want, and the authors get paid per page read.

If you don’t have many books in the program or don’t get a lot of reads, it might not add up to anything. But there are several full-time authors in the 20booksto50k group on Facebook who attribute half their earnings to KU.

That doesn’t guarantee that you’ll go full-time or be a best-seller, but the vast majority of ebooks are read on Kindles or in the Kindle app. And KU is a massive market.


Now, as I said above, there is no one size fits all publishing solution. Authors have different skill sets, resources, and needs. So, it’s natural that not every author will choose the same publishing path.

You can use either of these publishers. You can use neither.

If you purchase your own ISBN, you can use both.

I do. My ebooks are slowly being moved to KDP to take advantage of the higher royalty and the Kindle Unlimited program. My paperbacks are split between the two, and of course, I will always have hardbacks. Which is only available through Ingramspark.

The blessing (and curse) of being an indie author is that you can pick and choose whatever methodology you want. Don’t be afraid to play around with this to see which one you like best.

This is a process, not an instant, get it right the first time, always be satisfied with the first thing you try type of dream/hobby/career.

Mistakes happen. Things don’t always work.

But as long as you keep trying, you’ll find what works for you.


Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books here.

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The Hidden Dangers of Vanity Presses: Warnings for New Authors

The publishing world is a minefield with all our dreams waiting for us on the other side. High stakes, tension, and a lot of intricate details mean that there’s a lot to take in, a lot to learn.

And unfortunately, there are people out there who know this… and take advantage.

Vanity presses, I’m looking at you.

I had a run-in with one of these beasts when publishing my first novel, and if I can spare even just one other author from that mess, then this post will have been WELL worth it.

So, for all the writers who don’t know, and thus are at the greatest risk of falling into this very effective (and very legal) scam, let’s talk about what a vanity press even is.

Obviously, it’s a publishing company. They typically offer various packages (watch out for that word on publisher sites) of services they’ll provide in exchange for a set amount of money. Many have additional services you can tack on, at an extra cost.

They’ll print your book, usually print-on-demand, a feature that they’ll be sure to sell you on because it’s less wasteful and doesn’t run the risk of having extra books lying around. (Which is fair. That’s the method legitimate self-publishing companies use, too.)

They’ll list your book and distribute it, then they’ll give you a cut of the profits made off the books.

Which all sounds perfectly fine.

Unless you know that no reputable self-publishing company (and certainly no traditional publishing company) charges the author money.

*Exception: Ingramspark (definitely not a vanity press) charges $50 for “title setup,” a thing they explain as being the cost incurred by placing your book in their wholesale distribution channels. And since those channels are used by the cast majority of bookstores, they can get away with that. But they frequently release coupon codes to waive that fee.

But the point is, vanity/subsidy presses make their money off the author. Not off the books sold.

Legitimate publishing companies, be they indie, traditional, or self, make their money off the books.

The cost of each book sold accounts for the print cost, automatically keeping them out of the red. Then, they get a cut of the profit. How much depends on the publisher and the royalty they offer their authors, but no matter what, self-publishing companies should not lose money on a printed book. (Note: Traditional publishers keep higher amounts of the profit for themselves because they edit, format, design covers, etc.)

There’s absolutely no reason for self-publishing companies to charge an author (who typically has their book edited and their cover designed ahead of time) thousands of dollars to publish it. And yes, vanity presses do indeed charge thousands of dollars. (With convenient monthly payment options and *limited time* deals to pressure you into buying.)

IF covers, formatting, or editing are included in a package offered by these vanity presses, they’re usually done at cut rates and turn out very poorly. That round of editing in the package may even turn out to be that YOU find the typos and grammatical errors and tell them where they’re at so they can “edit” them. (That’s what the one I got fooled by did.)

If they try to say that formatting and file conversion are included, and thus justify thousands of dollars, formatting can be done on any computer with a simple how-to guide online. If you want it fancy and don’t want to mess with it yourself (because it is very tedious and fiddly), there are many graphic designers who do interior design/formatting, some of whom charge only $49 (or less if you find a reputable one on fiverr). Not thousands.

And file conversion to EPUB and MOBI can be done with free programs that you can get off the internet. (I use Calibre.)

Now, of course, vanity presses are not going to miss the opportunity to exploit an uninformed writer when it comes to our (almost) universal weak point: marketing. They will undoubtedly offer marketing packages, as well, but they tend to be underwhelming at best, if not downright rip-offs.

Especially when you consider the exorbitant prices they charge.

Even more so if you consider the paltry royalties they extend to the authors, like crumbs fallen off a loaf of bread. Literal pennies per printed book, maybe a quarter for an ebook.

When I fell prey to one of these beasts 7 years ago, they literally wrote in the press release that I was running a marketing campaign which… is pretty self-explanatory and wastes words in the press release that could’ve been spent on the book or me as an author.

As if that weren’t enough, add the constant phone calls trying to get you to give them more money for things that will garner little to no sales. (That press release wasn’t run by a single newspaper, but they sent it, so obviously that was worth nearly a thousand dollars.)

I was working a weird shift (half overnights and half days) at the time and told them very specific hours that I could be contacted… which were of course disregarded. Their people talked over me constantly, trying to bully me into paying more. If I didn’t answer, they called again. If I blocked the number, they called from a different one.

They called while I was supposed to be asleep for my night shifts. They called while I was at work. They called while normal people would be eating dinner.

They called ALL THE TIME.

My account was shuffled from one person to another when someone failed to get money from me. (One even went so far as to say that his teammate had read my book and thought it had promise, which of course was a lie. No one there read my book.)

After the day that I signed with them, every single person I spoke to had the same hard to pin down accent coupled with an overly-American name (doubtless an attempt to make the dumb American feel more comfortable with them).

And not a single one of them gave a shit about me or my book or the fact that I was broke as fuck working part-time, earning minimum wage, eating $0.12 ramen and $1 canned ravioli to get by.

They didn’t care that I wanted my book (and future books) to be taken seriously.

They wanted my money. That was it.

Shame blossomed within me, growing up alongside years of anger, when I realized that I’d fallen into a carefully contracted scam made especially for new, uninformed writers.

I hid it from friends and family because I didn’t feel like a real author. I shied away from questions about my writing because I didn’t know what to do with the rest of the books I was working on. I stayed quiet in writing groups, unsure how to contribute if I was such a fool.

I even stopped promoting my book, out of spite toward them and out of humiliation for myself.

When I learned that no traditional publisher would take it, even if I could get it back, since it had already been published and (since it had basically no promotion) sold almost no copies, I was heartbroken.

But eventually, I learned about legitimate self-publishing. Then, I learned how to get my book back. I could fix it, edit it properly, and rerelease it.

I cancelled everything with the vanity press and instructed them never to contact me again, though that process in and of itself took a ridiculous amount of time considering their continuous hesitation and obstacles in sending me a copy of the contract to begin with.

The copyright had been registered in my name, thank god, and they didn’t require exclusive publishing. (Why would they, since they already had my money?)

I rereleased The Gem of Meruna with a reputable self-publishing company. But even today, that poor book has been tainted in my memory, because every time I think about it, I think of them and the stress and shame and heartache of dealing with them.

So please, don’t put yourself through the years of torment and disappointment I endured. If a self-proclaimed self-publishing company (or hybrid company) asks for money upfront, run as fast as you can.

They should make their money off the books sold, not off you.

There are reputable self-publishing companies out there, ready and willing to help you publish your books. (I’ll do a post later about Ingramspark and KDP, the two I’ve worked with). There are freelance editors and graphic designers, ready and willing to make your book as beautiful as it should be.

Trust them. Work with them.

Not a vanity press armored with jargon to legalize their scam and sucker in the unsuspecting.


Want to check fund this blog and my writing efforts? You can support me directly here.

Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books here.

Subscribe for sneak peeks and updates on my upcoming books (and get a free short story).