“Never pay to publish your book.” This is the dumbest advice I’ve ever heard. It comes from a place of inexperience, underfunding, and fear.
It’s the exact opposite of what successful business people say in virtually any industry.
I don’t care what industry you’re in, smart business people hire the best people that they can. A fool tries to do everything himself.
There are a lot of good opportunities and a lot of bad opportunities in the publishing world. In fact, I wrote a whole handbook for the School of Kingdom Writers to help you sort it out. You can get it for free here. It’s an unbiased source to help you determine which method of publishing is best for you, and also includes tips for identify reputable companies to work with. Self-publishing is a viable path for authors that are well-suited to it, but it’s not for everyone.
I don’t have a horse in this race, so to speak. I’m not pitching any particular company or path. I’ve helped hundreds of authors write and publish their books, and now I get paid to help authors like you make wise choices so that you can impact hearts and minds with your work.
I’m not suggesting that you should always pay whatever company to publish your book. Many (dare I say most) self-publishing companies and so-called “hybrid” publishers are intentionally designed to do nothing more than part you with your money. I would call them “scams,” except the word scam implies criminal fraud. You should be very careful with your choices, just like any business in any industry should be careful with the employees and consultants they hire.
I think this errant advice usually comes from one of two camps. The first is the “Only traditional publishing is legitimate publishing” camp. This is decades out of date. Statistically lots of self-published authors are doing very well and reaching large audiences. There is still value to traditional publishing, but to suggest that the only way to be successful is to kowtow to a mega-corporation is antiquated at best. You are perpetuating corporate propaganda.
The second camp is the Do-It-Yourself self-publishing camp, which suggests that you can publish a book yourself and hiring help is a scam. This camp is also out of date. Vanity publishing pre-2010 was largely a scam, but the publishing industry has changed radically in the past 12 years. Vanity publishers still exist, but there’s also a vibrant and legitimate marketplace for publishing support. Self-publishers who are making money and impacting real audiences are by and large behaving like publishers, which includes hiring companies and individuals for their book production.
The real authorpreneur
If you choose to self-publish with the intention of making money with your book, you become a business person. You are now an authorpreneur—in the business of publishing your own books.
Smart business people hire other people who are better than themselves (or at least more specialized) to take their enterprise to the next level. I challenge you to find one successful business person in any industry who says, “the key to business success is to do everything yourself.”
On the contrary, you’re going to find guru after guru who says, “Only do what only you can do. Hire the best people you can for everything else.”
If you’re an authorpreneur, the two things that only you can do are 1) write your books, and 2) build your audience (but even this usually has components that you can outsource).
You may have some other genuine skills. Maybe you really are a professional copy editor or a bona fide pro-level book cover designer. But you can’t do everything, and even for those things you’re really good at, there’s likely still value in hiring someone with an objective voice.
If your book is going to compete on the open market against books that come out of the Big-5 publishing houses, you’re going to need to execute at the highest level with every element of the production. There’s no amateur league for self-published books. Your book appears right alongside the best, competing for the same market of readers.
That means you need to hire a developmental editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, an interior designer, a cover designer, and you’re probably going to need some marketing expertise to nail your launch.
Yes, that costs money. Don’t self-publish if you don’t have money to spend on the project. You will get the results you deserve.
You can hire those jobs out one at a time. That’s a great plan and it can work.
Or you can hire a company that already has all of those assets in place. The truth is you can often hire a company to do everything for less than you could get it done piecemeal. When you hire a company, you only have to vet and validate the one company, rather than trying to filter out five different people.
Why a self-publishing company may be the right fit
Why can a good self-publishing company often do it for less? Economy of scale. This company is moving lots of projects through, which means they’re getting better rates from those editors, designers, etc. than you could if you went to those same people directly.
You as an individual are a risk to that freelance editor—they’ve not worked with you before and you might be a pain in the butt, you might not pay, you might waste their time and then never come through with the project. That editor has to factor all of that risk and hassle into the price. From the editor’s perspective, the self-publishing company, on the other hand, serves as a buffer so they don’t have to waste their time with troublesome people, the editor trusts the company is going to pay every time, and the company comes through on the project 100% of the time.
Besides, when the phone is ringing, who’s going to get the editor’s attention? The company that feeds them 20 projects a year or the guy with one project?
There are also more benefits to you than just the lower price. The added bonus of working with a self-publishing company is that you have a single point of contact, one person who is going to walk with you through the entire process. If the copy editor bails last minute, that’s not your problem. Your project manager is going to solve that for you. If the cover designer stinks up the project, the project manager will deal with it. The project manager will likely have done this many times, and you’ll benefit from her experience and expertise as well.
Working with competent professionals means lower cost, less stress, and more expertise on your team. You take a much better book to market, meanwhile you’ve spent your time writing the next book and building your audience, instead of wasting your time trying to learn to do things you’ll never do again. Tell me again why you should “never pay to publish your book?”
The origin of bad advice
I said at the beginning that this particular bad advice is based on inexperience, underfunding, and fear.
Inexperience – Don’t take advice from people who haven’t accomplished things you want to accomplish. Writers are the worst at giving advice from a position of unsuccess. I primarily see this particular advice from people who have no success or extremely marginal success at best. Most people who are making real money with self-publishing aren’t giving this advice. In fact, they’re saying the exact opposite, they just don’t have as much free time to spend in Facebook groups (go figure).
Underfunding – Self-publishing well takes money. Rather than spending hundreds of hours trying to become an expert at every element of publishing, you’d be better served to go get an extra part-time job and save $3,000 so that you can hire people to do it. That’s a better pathway to long-term success. It takes more discipline and humility, but it’s worth it and it’s far more likely to pay off. People who aren’t willing to make a real investment say, “oh just don’t hire anybody, it’s all a scam anyway.”
Fear – There truly are a lot of absolutely crap self-publishing and “hybrid” companies out there. When you don’t know how to discern which ones are good and which are bad, it’s easy to say, “it’s all a scam, just don’t do it.” Don’t let fear rule. If you’re going to learn one new skill as an authorpreneur, learn to discern good business deals from bad ones. That’s your job now.
Ten years ago, I started a small press and released our first book. I was originally hired just to do the developmental editing for this guy who was planning to self-publish, but we had a really good rapport and I had this idea for a small press in the back of my mind, so we partnered and released his book.
My first step was to find a team. I hired a cover artist and I hired a copy editor to help with the project.
Even then I had a fair amount of experience, and growing, doing lots of jobs in the publishing industry, but I knew we needed more expertise on the team. I theoretically could have done the whole process myself, but the book is better because I didn’t. Ten years later, we still sell copies of that book every quarter.
Do what smart business people do
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, smart business people hire experts to level them up. Books are no different. If your goal is to make money with your book, do what smart business people do.
Hire people. Be really careful about who you hire, but do it anyway. Take your time and ask all the questions. The ones you want to work with won’t be offended by your questions.
There are certainly many companies that will take your lunch money and not make you better. But don’t let the bad apples turn you away from the necessary resources you need if you’re going to compete on the open market.
For more help choosing the right publishing path for you and tips for identifying scams, grab The Three Publishing Paths for free here: SOKW.org/community-resources/free-publishing-guide/
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