A few weeks ago, author David Mamet announced he’ll be self-publishing his next book through his literary agency. Some think this is big news, some don’t, and some wouldn’t call David’s plan self-publishing at all.
Regardless, this news means we’re seeing the second wave of self-published authors. While the first wave was comprised of early-adopting, independent authors with an entrepreneurial spirit, this second wave is a mainstream movement where the authors are used to being part of traditional publishing team.
Understandably, they’d like some help, some hand-holding, some “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing—someone just tell me what to do!” direction. Many early self-publishers are stepping in to provide that help with how-to books and workshops.
Unfortunately, so are others…
A New Breed of Scammers?
In the old days of traditional publishing, scammers in the industry were easy to spot. Newbies heard the advice: “Money always flows to the author. If they want you to pay out-of-pocket, run.” That advice worked to protect newbies from unscrupulous agents attempting to charge a “reading fee,” as well as from vanity publishers charging authors for everything imaginable.
In fact, that advice stuck so well that many traditionally published authors initially looked down on self-publishing for no other reason than because they couldn’t understand how self-publishing was different from vanity publishing. Most now understand that self-publishing is an entrepreneurial undertaking and thus incurs upfront costs: editing, cover design, etc.
But the increasing numbers of self-published authors have also led to increasing numbers of companies claiming to want to help these budding entrepreneurs. And that’s where things get complicated. *smile*
Opportunism at Its Worst?
Companies are rushing to tell those nervous traditionally published authors, “Don’t worry. We know you liked the support of a team in the traditional publishing environment, and that doesn’t have to go away. We can be your team now.”
These companies offer to help authors format their ebooks, upload their files to the different retailers, provide assistance with cover design and editing, and sometimes even handle social media.
In short, they can look like a godsend to overwhelmed and intimidated newbies. But as I’ve written before, we need to watch out for many (if not most) of these epublishing service companies.
David Gaughran exposed how many agents are starting their own “self-publishing arms” with similar offerings. (His list of agencies using a questionable epublishing service company is like a round-up of many of the biggest names in the business!) He then went on to expose how many traditional publishers are doing the same with various extensions of Author Solutions, long known for their vanity publishing scams.
Are ePublishing Service Companies the New Vanity Publishers?
I think we first have to specify what made the old-style vanity publishers “bad.” To be blunt, they were scammers that took advantage of authors, often while selling the idea that authors needed these expensive options because they and their book were oh-so-special. They overcharged, under-delivered, and in some cases, locked up rights.
In these new cases, we have the Argo Navis company of David Gaughran’s post taking a permanent cut of 30% for simply uploading ebook files. No formatting, editing, or cover design. Just uploading to retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. Thirty percent. Ongoing.
Uploading files is arguably one of the easiest aspects of self-publishing, or if necessary, could be outsourced to someone for a flat fee. So I’d call that ongoing 30% “overcharging.”
The publishers’ approach isn’t any better, as Penguin now owns the biggest vanity press around and plans to expand its reach. Their Author Solutions subsidiary is made up of a dozen different logos and brands for each of the traditional publishers looking to offer their own self-publishing arm.
Author Solutions is known for such poor editing that they create more errors than they fix, and they’re currently being sued for breach of contract (such as for failing to pay out royalties). I’d call that “under-delivering.”
Or let’s take a random epublishing service company called easyepublish (I’m not linking to them on purpose—feel free to Google). They format and upload the ebook files to retailers. But that means they own the files (and don’t share with the author), and they own the ISBN (which means the author must start over with rankings and reviews if they don’t want to use (or pay) the company anymore).
Are the authors who sign up with companies like these even self-publishers? The authors are, to some extent, locked in and dependent on them for passing on the income from sales, less their ongoing 15% (or more) cut.
The Line between Self-Publishing and Vanity Publishing
The lines between self-publishing and vanity publishing have gotten blurred and wavy over the years. (After all, Amazon’s print-on-demand CreateSpace lists itself as publisher and uses their ISBN for extended distribution.) That makes it harder for us to know whether a service provider is friend or foe.
However, we might have uncovered a scammer if…
- their name is listed as the publisher
- they own the ISBN
- they own copies of the book above and beyond what’s authorized by the author
- they can sell or distribute the book in a place or time against the author’s wishes
- they set the price of the book
- any rights to the book transfer away from the author
- they want to dictate any aspect of the editing, formatting, design, distribution, or sales process
- they demand any kind of exclusive
- they require the author to sign on for a minimum period, or the author isn’t free to cancel at any time
- they charge by ongoing percentage of sales rather than by flat fee
- they provide their list of charges and services only in a nebulous, easily changed TOS (terms of service) statement instead of in a contract
- they receive the revenue from retailers and pass on the money only after their cut
- sales figures from retailers go to the service company and not the author
As noted above, Amazon’s CreateSpace fails on the top two bullets, so this isn’t a smoking-gun list. Instead, it’s a list of what should make us look more closely at the situation. What’s being offered, what’s being required, and what’s in it for us? And especially, what are they doing for the money that we couldn’t do ourselves or pay someone to do for a cheaper/flat fee?
Some authors might decide an epublishing service company is perfect for them. And as long as they fully understood all the pros and cons going into the situation, I wouldn’t necessarily say they were being scammed.
But I’m afraid too many authors don’t fully understand and/or are intimidated by the self-publishing process and thus too eagerly accept help without doing their due diligence. Self-doubt can hurt us.
Even if a wanna-be self-published author finds a “good” service company, they might find that using those services erases many of the benefits of self-publishing. Self-published authors usually enjoy the ability to make changes to the content, ebook files, metadata, and pricing of their work. Depending on another company can slow down updates or make them unworkable due to additional fees.
That said, I’ve never been one to say that one publishing method is “better” than another. We all have our own goals, and that means we can have different paths. My hope is that we continue to share information so we have the right knowledge to figure out what’s best for us. *smile*
Do you think epublishing service companies are the new breed of vanity publishers? Where do you see the line between vanity publishing and self-publishing? Can you think of other red flags to watch out for? Do you consider those who use epublishing service companies self-published or not? Do you have any experience with these types of companies?Pin It