As writers, we share a dream of reaching a wider audience with our creations. That dream is powerful, and it can lead us where we want to go. But, it is also our weakness, and it can be exploited by unscrupulous people. I want to share a few insights based on decades of being a writer, artist, musician, and self-publishing consultant. Maybe they will help you avoid some all-too-common traps.
First, never work with anyone who wants money from you to publish your writing. Real publishers have one job: to make money publishing, and to pay you. If someone calling themselves a publisher wants money from you, then you are being ripped off.
The worst examples of this are “vanity presses”. They want you to pay them a fee (often disguised as an entry fee in a “contest”) to include your work in an anthology alongside terrible writing that does nothing to enhance your reputation. These operations make most of their money by selling print copies of the anthology to the people who contributed to it. You have nothing to gain from this. These projects only line the pockets of people you paid.
The other kind of vanity press offers to “publish” your entire work (such as a novel) for a fee. Most (if not all) of them do a terrible job, resulting in little or no income for you, and you have given up your publishing rights in the process. I cannot emphasize this enough: Avoid people who want your money in exchange for your publishing rights!
If you have the money to pay someone else to publish your work, then you should hold on to your publishing rights and do it yourself. Yes, you can be a publisher. I am my own publisher of all my books, and I have worked on almost 100 books for other people who keep their publishing rights. Some people I work with have been very successful and make hundreds of dollars every month with the books I helped them create. Some occasionally make thousands of dollars when they sell their books as part of a speaking engagement. Some have not made much money on book sales, but the book has increased their credibility on a subject and led to acquiring more customers for their business.
That is the power of self-publishing and holding on to your publishing rights. Don’t carelessly throw away those rights just because you want the emotional validation of “being published”. Treat your rights as if they are sacred, and never pay anyone to take them away from you.
If, on the other hand, someone offers you money to publish your work, then give them due consideration. But please, never sign a contract without reviewing it with someone who knows more than you about publishing rights. If you are a member of my weekly workshop, then, for the love of all that is holy, please bring the contract to our workshop and let us have a look at it. Between me and our fellow members, we have decades of experience with publishing contracts, and we would be happy to give you our insights and opinions on any that come your way. Please don’t decide alone.
One young woman came to our workshop last year with massive complaints about a so-called publisher who took thousands of her dollars to publish her novel. On the surface, the deal seemed reasonable. This “publisher” charged her for reasonable things such as editing her manuscript and creating a book cover. But, this young woman was very unhappy with their service, and the company did practically nothing to promote her book. Even worse, she had signed over her publishing rights to them. She no longer had control.
We have also seen companies claiming to be publishers that not only failed at promotion but failed to even proofread their final version, or who used low-resolution graphics in their design that looked terrible when printed. This is what can happen when you give up creative control of your book to someone else, and you should be very suspicious of anyone calling themselves a publisher. Don’t let your dream of being published lead you into doing business with people who will give your work shoddy treatment.
I do a ton of editing and design work for authors, and I am a big advocate of paying for those services if you don’t have the years I did to learn how to do it yourself at an expert level. But the difference between my business and these so-called publishers preying on us is very simple: I do the work for people who retain their own publishing rights. I have never presented myself as a publisher. I am one of the best editors you will ever meet, and I understand the entire self-publishing process because I have been through it hundreds of times. I understand the technical requirements for laying out book interiors and creating book covers. I have lead project teams that include marketers and graphic designers. But I never presume to take away the publishing rights of the authors I work with.
My authors need my services, and they work with me on multiple books, year after year. I never try to take away their publishing rights, even though I constantly have people calling and emailing me to ask if I will publish their books. I tell them, “Absolutely not.” I explain that I will help them make a book that is just as good as anything a professional, big-name publisher would produce, but that they as the author will retain all their publishing rights. I explain why this is important, and I guide them through the process to make it happen.
Some authors I work with already have a foot in the door with established literary agents and publishers, and my work there is to not only help refine their manuscripts but create formal proposals. We work on one-sheets, marketing plans, outlines, and sample chapters. I know what agents want, and if my authors have found someone reputable to help them reach a wider audience, I support them as best I can.
But these genuine opportunities are few and far between. Due to the unscrupulous predators who want to exploit our dreams and scam us for money, it can be difficult to separate legitimate offers from the scams. I implore you to research any opportunity that comes your way, and please, please, please do not make your decision alone. Come to me, come to our workshop, and get a second opinion before you decide to work with anyone. It could save you a ton of heartbreak on what should be a joyous, passionate adventure: writing and sharing your creations with the world.