Friday, March 7, 2014

Can you really have a book published for $199? Or for free?

The ad shown above popped up on a website I was reading this morning. It was "served" by Google's AdSense service, probably based on my online activity. The advertisers pay when people click on these ads.

Self-publishing companies sell their services in packages priced from under $200 to over $50,000. A few companies even advertise FREE publishing. It’s very important to know what you need, what you’ll get, and what you won’t get. 

Can you really get a book published for less than $200, or for free? Yes—and no.
The $199 Emerald publishing package from Outskirts Press actually provides what looks like a “real” book. The package is notable not for what it includes, but for what it excludes.
  • Most notable is the lack of an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which means that the book won’t be sold by booksellers. An Emerald book is not even available on the Outskirts online bookstore.

For $199 you are limited to one book size (5.5 by 8.5 inches) and a choice of two bland cover designs. You get exactly one book which you can read, give away, use as a prop while mating or job-seeking, sell to anyone you meet, or display on your mantelpiece. You can order more books if you want to. They won’t be pretty, but they are books.

The top package from Outskirts costs $5,979. Some other publishers charge much more.
  • Be careful. Spending too much is even more foolish and dangerous than spending too little. A big investment won’t guarantee a great book, and may kill any chance of making a profit. Be sure of your goals and your budget, and act accordingly.
  • Authors have reported that the least-expensive packages are like "low-ball" ads for inexpensive furniture or electronic products. If you try to spend $199, you can expect that a salesperson will try to convince you to spend much more money.
  • If you want your book (and yourself) to be respected in the publishing industry, you will probably have to make an investment in professional cover design and editing. This can easily cost $500 - $1,000, or more. 
  • It will also take time and money to make potential reviewers and readers aware of your book.
Ebook publishing packages cost less than p-book publishing, but any day now, some company may offer a p-book publishing package for $179, or $99.

Some of the websites for self-publishing companies tout “free” publishing programs. What you get for free is hot air. If you want real books, you pay real money.

CreateSpace, Lulu and others who have advertised free publishing will not charge you to upload your book’s files. They assume you will do all of the design, editing and promotional work yourself or hire others to do it.

How can they publish a book for free?
  • They can’t. They’re lying.
Their publishing is free as long as you don’t expect any books to be produced. Every book they print, or distribute as an ebook, is paid for. Their notion of publishing does not include the final product—a book. 

CreateSpace (which I sometimes use for printing and distribution) is an Amazon subsidiary that lets you “Self-Publish a Book-Free.” The only free things I saw on its website are “free tools to prepare your content for publication” and an ISBN that identifies CreateSpace (not you) as the publisher.

If you want CreateSpace to do more of the work in designing, producing, promoting and distributing your books, you can pay up to $5,070 for a publishing package.

Lulu said it is “the only publisher that offers you all that it does for free.” The company has run online ads touting “Publish Your Book—Free,” “Free publishing,” and “Free Self Publishing.” Its website promises, “free book publishing,” but the publishing is free only if you don’t want any books to be printed!
  • A 250-page paperback will cost $9.00 in quantities up to 14. Shipping is additional. That doesn’t seem like free. And, actually, the nine-buck price is very high.
If you want Lulu to do more of the work in producing, promoting and distributing your books, and to send you a few books, you can pay up to $3,199 for a package.

Spend your money carefully. Know what you need, where you can get it and how much to spend. How to not get Screwed by a Self-Publishing Company will help.

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