It has come to my attention that not everyone’s experience with self-publishing has been as fun and profitable as my own.  The older, conventional wisdom about writing was; ‘Legitimate publishers pay writers, and it must never be the other way around!  If it is, you’re being taken advantage of.’  By definition, this statement would seem to paint all self-publishing companies as fraudulent.

Times have changed.  Unfortunately, people have not.  Technology has progressed to the point that legitimate self-publishing companies have not only come into being, they are competitive in the marketplace.  The problem is how to tell the difference between those that are legitimate and those that are not.  As always, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. 

In other purchases we make, and for services we use, we pay what we can afford, and use the most reputable businesses we have access to.  It only makes sense to do the same when looking for a self-publishing company.

Let me state another caveat right here.  My publisher is iUniverse, my experience with them has been positive, and I believe I’ve gotten full value and more for the money I invested.  If I seem biased in their favor, they’ve earned it.

Let’s make that the first bit of advice.  Point number one, for those of you who like ‘points.’  Get feedback from someone else who has used the company you’re considering.  You don’t have to get their phone number, but you should at least be able to do one of the following: check out a previous user’s web site (you can view mine at www.ScifiAliens.com,) get ahold of something the company has put out already (this will also allow you to assess if their finished product is acceptable to you,) find the names of authors and books they’ve already published (there should be more than just a few!,) look for the company name listed in other references, find out when they started as a company (last Tuesday is not a good indication,) see what other companies/businesses they’re linked to…  This is a reference check, so see what credentials their people come with.

Point number two:  READ the CONTRACT!!!  Assess what is promised for the amount you pay.  See what your legal obligations are in regards to accepting a contract with them.  Ask yourself intelligent questions, such as, ‘How long do I have to submit a manuscript once I agree to the contract?  Can I realistically meet that deadline?  What happens if I don’t?  What happens to my money if I don’t?’  Ask intelligent questions of the self-publisher.  They should be able to answer ALL of your relevant questions, even if they have to refer you to a different department…and if so, they should put you in contact with the right department with correct answers on the first try; getting the runaround is a big, pretty, flashing red light!  Think twice about using any company that can’t give you an honest, correct answer right from the start.  Likewise, be wary of a company that couches everything in so much ‘legalise’ that you can’t understand it.

Point number three:  examine their editorial services.  I think the one thing that reassured me about iUniverse was the editorial evaluation they sent for my first manuscript.  It was insightful in several places, and I feel Been Blued was a better book because of it.  While you may not be able to see what their editorial service is like before using it, they should at least give you an idea of what editorial services will be offered.  Again, find out if they will be doing the work of editing, or if you have the option of doing it yourself.  One suggestion I rejected would have required me to rewrite the entire story.  In my opinion, that wasn’t an option, but I was still the one making that choice.

Point number four:  check to see if the technology they’re using is compatible with what you’re using.  I had to buy a new laptop–although, after seven years of service, my old one owed me nothing–because my manuscript couldn’t upload fast enough for the publisher’s web site.  A reputable company should have relatively current technology.

Thanks for reading.  If this helps, I’d love to hear from you.  Just leave a comment.  🙂

Phyllis K Twombly 

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