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June 8, 2015
By Alex Palmer
Identifying when a self-publishing service is overcharging—or just overstating what it can deliver—is an important skill for any indie author to master.

The growth of self-publishing has been great news for authors – and for providers of self-publishing services such as editing, art and design, and production. But as services have proliferated, it has become more important than ever for indie authors use a discerning eye when seeking out assistance. Being able to identify when a particular service is overcharging—or just overstating what it can actually deliver—is an important skill for any indie author to master.

Do Your Research

The first step an indie author should take when determining whether a publishing service or consultant is worth tapping is to get a clear sense of the company’s background.

“[I]f you're not dealing with a specific individual whose resume you can study, figure out who's behind the service,” says Jane Friedman, a publishing expert and consultant with 15 years experience in the industry. “Do you trust who’s behind it? Are there specific names attached? (There should be!) Do these people have experience that applies to what you’re trying to accomplish? How many years of experience?”

To help fill in this background, an indie author should determine how long the company or individual has been in business, and if they have testimonials from other authors who have used the service—what Friedman calls a “track record and history of achievement.”

"It’s likely if the company produces low-quality work or is unreliable, the Internet will be chock full of horror stories and warnings."
Many services and individuals will have these endorsements on their websites, but if that’s not readily available, make a direct request for examples of customers they have worked with. A reputable company will usually provide this. Of course, it may be easier to work in the opposite direction: by asking other authors for service providers they would recommend.

“It’s likely if the company produces low-quality work or is unreliable, the Internet will be chock full of horror stories and warnings,” says Hellen Barbara, president of Pubslush, a platform that connects editors, publishers, and authors. “My biggest piece of advice is to never sign a contract with a company before doing your due diligence and knowing exactly what you’re signing.”

She adds that an author should also avoid going for the first company that provides the service she needs—instead, “compare and contrast several different companies before making a decision.” This includes getting a sense of the average cost of services, the staff’s response time, and the quality of the company’s work.

In addition to looking into a company's track record, an author can spot a questionable service by investigating its business model—what services it provide, the terms, the payments and fees involved, and exactly what is delivered.

“By uncovering the business model, you have some insight into what actions that business wants you to take,” explains Friedman. “Are they upfront about what they do, what do they have a stake in, and how they make money? Are they upfront about how the work gets done? I favor the ones who have nothing to hide, as well as those with a point-of-view and distinctive personality.”

Spotting the Danger Signs

A red flag should go up for any service that is not transparent about its costs or is unwilling to provide speedy answers to questions. A slow response, even from a totally trustworthy service provider, should still be seen as a concern for an author.

“A lack of responsiveness or attention could mean if something were to go wrong—a mistake, poor quality work, billing issue, etc.—there might not be someone available to assist you with your problem, which undoubtedly can be aggravating and unfair,” says Barbara.

If everything seems above board, but there is extensive paperwork or a contract involved, an author may also consider getting a legal expert involved to review the document and make sure the deal is fair.

But often, the best protection from shady service providers comes from a different type of expert: fellow indie authors.

“Take advice from companies you trust, as well as other authors,” says Barbara. “There are more people willing to help than you might realize, so never feel like you’re in the publishing process alone.”