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January 27, 2014
By Betty Kelly Sargent
More service providers than ever are catering to the self-publishing market. Here are some tips on separating the good ones from the bad.

We’ve all heard the good news. Self-publishing is going through the roof. In fact, self-publishing was up 59 percent in 2012. Up from what you might ask? According to a new study from Bowker, the ISBN agency, 246,921 titles were self-published in 2011 compared with the 391,768 titles published in 2012. And, if you go back to 2007 for a comparison, you will see a whopping 422 percent increase in the number of independently published books.  

Bowker also points out that e-books are gaining on print books. In 2012, 40 percent of all ISBN’s issued were for e-books (156,837 for e-books versus 234,931 for print books) up from the 11 percent of all ISBN’s issued for e-books in 2011. In case you are curious, the top category in this rich harvest of new titles is fiction, followed by inspirational books, books for children, and biographies.

But what does this mean for you? It means that providing services for self-publishers has become big business, and, as with any new, unregulated industry, it can attract a lot of snake oil salesmen, frauds, and scammers. It is important for the client, that’s you, to do a thorough check on any company that appeals to you before signing on or sending them a nickel.

There are hundreds of choices out there so, in general, try to find out:

  • How long the company has been in business. The longer the better because this suggests stability, and decreases the chance of an overnight vanishing act
  • Check out the company's catalogue and look for recent successful titles. You can look them up on Amazon and sort the results by date. If you notice a major slow down in the current number of titles published, be careful.
  • Compare prices with other subsidy publishers or service providers to make sure you are getting what you need within your budget.

"Providing services for self-publishers has become big business, and, as with any new, unregulated industry, it can attract a lot of snake oil salesmen, frauds, and scammers."
But how can you be even more thorough in checking out the specific company or service provider you have chosen to help you publish and distribute your indie book? There are several ways. 

First, do a search on Google. Type in the name of the company or the person you are considering, followed by the word scam or complaints or problems. See what comes up. The indie publishing community is an active online community so you should be able to see what your fellow self-publishers have experienced and quickly figure out which companies live up to their promises and which ones don’t. Of course, don't believe everything you read -- there is almost always an angry post to be found. So, do your homework and look for patterns.

If this search doesn’t do the trick, then go to some of the watchdog sites on the web. A few of the better ones are:

Preditors & Editors. This resource site is “intended as a simple compendium for the serious writer, composer, game designer or artist to consult for information.” They say that their “aim is to assist.”  If you click on Book Publisher Listings, you will find an alphabetical list of hundreds of traditional publishers, self-publishing companies, and vanity presses. If Preditors & Editors has received complaints about a company, this will be noted in red type after the company listing. These warnings might simply say, “Not recommended,” or “Subsidy press, not recommended,” or “Charges fee. Writer complaints. Not recommended,” or even “Poor contract. Strongly not recommended.”

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. You don’t have to be a genre writer to benefit from this excellent site and its Writer Beware blog. Its mission is to “track, expose, and raise awareness of the prevalence of fraud and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry.” They say that they “maintain an extensive database of questionable literary agents, publishers, independent editors, writers’ services, contests, publicity services, and others.” If you have a complaint about a company you have worked with or a question you can email them at beware@sfwa.org.

Writers Weekly. This site is loaded with helpful information for writers. They describe themselves as “The highest-circulation freelance writing ezine in the world.” Go to the site, check out their forum, and then click on Whispers and Warnings, where you will find everything from the latest on Tom Cruise’s $50 million magazine lawsuit to a comparison of print-on-demand prices from some of the major POD publishers.

Absolute Write. This site has what they call a sub-forum entitled Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check. Here you can find lively discussions on such subjects as “general tips about avoiding/dealing with scammers,” and “agents charging fees.”

One final word of caution. No matter whom you select, be sure to read your contract carefully, especially the fine print, to make sure you aren’t agreeing to anything that might work against you or your rights to your own book in the future. At BookWorks, we recommend that you stay away from any contract that (1) asks for exclusivity, (2) makes a claim on your subsidiary rights, or (3) is not terminable at will.  

Also, as we have said many times before, make sure you purchase your own ISBN. That way you will be listed as the publisher, not the subsidy publishing company you decided to use.

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.com.

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