Self-publishing, Part II: Where to begin?

Hello, readers —

For those of you who didn’t tune in yesterday, we’re in the middle of an exciting series on the ins and outs of self-publishing, courtesy of one who has been there: PNWA member Jim McFarland, self-published author of DO OR DIE: THE BABY-BOOMER MAN’S GUIDE TO REGAINING HEALTH, HAPPINESS, VITALITY, AND A LONGER, FULLER LIFE and and all-around good guy.

Jim has been kind enough to answer a few questions about self-publishing, for the benefit of all of you out there who have considered going the brave route. Our focus today: how does one get started? Jim has come up with some great guidelines to help you through this potentially frightening process.

Anne: How did you go about choosing a publisher?

Jim: Choosing a self-publisher is somewhat akin to selecting a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant. Why? Because unlike casual other business relationships, working with a publisher, even a self-publisher, is a very personal experience since the work to be done is of extraordinary value to you and is a statement of who you are and what you believe.

So how do you start your search? There are several methods and I recommend you pursue these avenues and more. First, talk with friends or acquaintances that have had work published. Second, look for self-publishers on the Internet and start researching their services and prices. Third, review books and literature that are available to the public.

You might wish to start by checking out a book entitled The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book, 14th Edition (Paperback), by Dan Poynter. I did not read this book when I began my review into self-publishing. And I do not believe his book would have changed my approach or my final decision. That is not to say that it is not a good book. It has received great reviews and you may want to check it out.

(Parenthetically, I should add that I had purchased a book that was designed to help authors prepare proposals for publishers. I did buy this book and found the investment to be useless. The best advice I could have received at the very beginning of my search would have been to bypass publishing houses altogether and move directly to self-publishing.)

An online search for self-publishers is a simple and inexpensive exercise. Certainly, you will have to supplement this search with more work and analysis, but it is a good way to get started.

Another starting point will be to make connections with writers through writers’ associations and groups. You may be able to make contact with people who can give you ideas and suggestions.

Anne: Good ideas, all. But how do you narrow it down to the final choice, and how do you know which companies are legit?

Jim: When you begin your analysis of self-publishers, I recommend that you utilize varying amounts of common sense, caution, research, and intuition to help guide your final decision. Here is how these three areas play out:

1. Be cautious about claims made by any self-publisher. Seek explanations and confirmation for the validity of all claims.

If you visit self-publisher websites on the Internet, you are going to be bombarded with price offers and special promotions. When I began my Internet search, I read and copied each page of every publisher website I visited. In addition, I book marked each site address so I could revisit. This gave me a good base of data and information to review. Since there is no handbook on how to select a self-publisher, I reviewed all this material and began to make intuitive judgments about what seemed believable and what did not.

I compared prices, I looked at draft contracts, I looked at publisher timelines, services offered during and after publishing, customer service and any other information that some self-publishers make available for review. I read their FAQ sections of websites and I always looked for independent third party endorsements of the publisher and any of their claims.

I emailed several of the publishers, asking them for clarification of services offered and prices. That was easy to do and I judged them by their responses. Some responded promptly and some did not. Those that did respond scored points with me and those that did not respond at all or not promptly were crossed off my list.

2. Try to make contact with authors.

I checked self-publisher websites to get the names of authors and their titles. I also searched daily newspapers for author names and their book titles. Using the titles of their books, I did searches to try to find email addresses. This worked several times. I was fortunate to be able to talk with several authors about their self-publishing experience. Through this approach, I have established a friendly business relationship with another self-help author in the Midwest. We discuss issues via email periodically.

3. Use your business instincts as a guide to help in your selection.

My gut instincts told me that there were self-publishers who were primarily interested in making money while there were others who wanted to make money and help authors be successful. Here is a classic example.

I interviewed with one local self-publishing firm in the Northwest that wanted to charge me over $20,000 for publishing 3,000 books and doing the copy editing work. I inquired about the possibility of buying the services individually since I did not have that kind of money. They told me that they did not do business that way. I found that to be outrageous because the likelihood of needing 3,000 books right up front was not very realistic.

Then, after looking at their client list, the business plan for this publisher became clear to me. Many of the authors on their client list were older business executives and educational leaders. Many of these folks were merely using books as elegant and expensive calling cards.

By comparison, the array of services from the publisher I selected would have cost in the range of $35,000 to $40,000, if I had chosen all the same services up front as one complete package. The Northwest firm said I had to buy a $20,000 package or there was no deal. However, I did not want to do that. I wanted a self-publisher that had a menu from which I could select at the time that was best for me. I was able to find the firm with the menu I wanted. As a result, my initial investment is much, much lower than $20,000.

The bottom line was that I had to find what I really felt was the right place for me to be with my book. I followed my instincts and I have been very satisfied. The idea that the final selection decision can be logical and based solely on financial and business data would not have worked for me. At some point, you have to look at all your research and say, “I think I will be more comfortable with this firm.” That is what I did.

As I look back on this process now, I believe there are several key decision points that must have resolved to your satisfaction. They are as follows:

1. The firm must have the experience to do a competent job with your work.

2. The self-publisher should have a record of accomplishment of satisfied authors.

3. The firm should have some way of validating their work quality through referrals or endorsements.

4. The firm’s prices must fit your budget.

5. Make sure the firm offers the array of services you might wish to access.

6. The firm should be able to explain how they service their customers.

Ultimately, you have to review all the information you have received and make a final judgment.

I hope some of my ideas will help you with your decision making process.

Anne: Thanks, Jim. This really helps demystify the process. Tomorrow, we’ll get into a comparison between going the traditional publishing route and self-publishing. I think readers may be surprised by some of the answers.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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