Look Before you Leap

One of the biggest mistakes I made in writing and publishing my book was the way I went about publishing it. If I knew two years ago what I know now, I might not have gone the same route I did.

I was a novice author, knowing next to nothing about the world of publishing and how the industry works. Partly because of this, I ended up using a subsidy publisher. In other words, I (the author), subsidized the costs of publication.

The publisher I used did provide the services they promised, so I have no complaints there. And there are good reasons to use a subsidy publisher. In some circumstances, using one can be a good move. Make sure you have thought through why you want to go this route. There are other options for unknown and independent authors.

However, there are some potential dangers in using subsidy publishers.

The first issue is the cost. Many of them charge thousands of dollars for their services. Think through if you can afford that kind of money, and how likely you are to get your money back through book sales. Consider that the average non-fiction book sells 500 copies when you calculate how many books you’ll need to sell to break even.

Another problem is the requirements in the publishing contract. One common example is that many subsidy publishers require the the author to purchase a certain number of books. Sometimes it is a fairly low number, around 500. One company I contacted said I was to purchase 10,000 copies at a minimum. Even at the discount rate they offered their authors, that was a commitment of $25,000 I just didn’t have.

However, many subsidy publishers offer print on demand options, which means they don’t print a book until it is ordered. That means the author doesn’t get stuck with stacks of unsold books in the garage or basement. If print on demand seems like a better option for your book, then find a subsidy publisher with this option.

Also keep in mind that subsidy publishers also do not spend any of their own money marketing your book. In addition to the publication costs, any marketing expenses are born by the author. Some publishers offer limited marketing support: some of it is helpful, some not so much.

For example, if the publisher tells you they will send press releases to three major markets, don’t be too impressed. What this means is that the publisher will send some brief information about your book to newspapers, television and radio stations. If a reporter or editor is interested in your book, they will follow up with an interview. If not, the press release goes in the trash. The publisher can’t guarantee anything from sending a press release.

Another issue surfaces when some subsidy publishers try to give you the impression they are affiliated with traditional well-established publishing houses. See Terry Whalin’s excellent post on this problem. It’s true, some traditional publishers have subsidy arms. But don’t think that by going with the subsidy arm your book will get noticed by the traditional publisher and get picked up. It could happen, but it’s not likely.

And never forget that all these people are in business to make money for themselves.


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