8 Tips for Navigating Assisted Publishing

Written by M.J. Moores | April 3, 2014

Standing before the publishing crossroads, at the completion of an edited manuscript, we are faced with two options: traditional or self publishing.  The problem is each choice then leads to more paths that only distort what we thought was a clear choice.  Suddenly small publishers, micro-publishers, printing presses, vanity presses, DIY options (bulk printing or print-on-demand) spin ceaselessly in our mind; we lose sleep, we stress, decision making grinds to a halt.

What do you do if you don’t have the time to study each alleyway, lane, or trail but you are compelled to make the journey nonetheless?  Find a compass.

The road I find the most convoluted for new authors to understand is the one that leads to Assisted Publishing.  Some people in the industry refer to this as Vanity Publishing or Subsidy Publishing – they’re not wrong, but they’re not right either.  And therein lies the crux of the problem.  Assisted Publishing is a new term being bandied about that raises questions as well as eyebrows.  The first thing to note:

Assisted Publishing is a form of self-publishing – Not Traditional Publishing.

You buy a service to help you reach your publishing goals.  Assisted Publishing Houses akin to iUniverse, Abbot Press, Author House, Author Solutions, CreateSpace, Friesen Press, Xlibris, Book Baby and many more make money by selling you a service.  Their niche in today’s publishing market is to help writers navigate the self-publishing road.

They do not guarantee that your book will sell.

They do not work for free to publish manuscripts.

They are there to make a writer’s life easier, at a cost.

If this is the case, then why do writers pay thousands of dollars to get help self-publishing their book?  Because not everyone is confident enough to do it by themselves; not everyone has the time to devote to learning the ropes or hire the necessary professionals (editor, cover designer, interior designer, distribution outlet connections, etc.) to get the job done right.  Often these authors have a full-time job that demands just as much devotion as their home life, but they are passionate about their writing and have the money to afford Assisted Publishing services.

That being said, whether this is your chosen route for publishing or not, it is important to understand the process and what your money is actually paying for.

FIRST:

Research your options. Some Assisted Publishing companies are currently battling lawsuits; some have recently lost a lawsuit; others have been relatively untouched by negative attention.  The website Preditors & Editors is great for letting you know about less than scrupulous traditional publishers, but is biased toward Assisted Publishing Houses that do not offer a free, DIY, option.  However, if there is negative publicity about one of these companies, you will be directed to links that inform you of legal issues and past performance.  I also suggest speaking to a few people who have used the services of a company you’re interested in to get a better feel for compatibility.

SECOND:

Make careful considerations.  If an Assisted Publishing House does not advertise their pricing schedule openly (namely you need to give them your email and/or phone number in order to speak with an agent about your specific needs…) consider it a red flag and walk away.  There are tiers of services; look at what is being added to the next level up as well as what is being offered between different companies in the same price range.  Depending on your needs and the value of each service within a level, it might be viable to go with a smaller package and still accomplish your goals.

THIRD:

Investigate the company’s claims.  If they list “publicity” or “marketing” as one of their service options, determine for yourself if it’s actually worth paying for.  Many companies will offer an e-book or PDF containing a list of random (and not necessarily recent) resources which you are expected to contact on your own.  Others will claim that they can get your book reviewed by three reputable publications: what you will find, though, is that those publications are sub-sets of the actual company or are free to all indie authors anyway.  If they guarantee a book review with a major literary journal or newspaper, placement (if it happens at all) is often at the back of the publication.  Make sure to keep your chosen Assisted Publishing House accountable.  Major publications (like the New York Times) will not review self-published books unless they have sold an incredible number of copies and hit the headlines.  If you’re a self-publisher who wants a chance at recognition with significant book reviewers, owning your own imprint (and thus your own micro-publishing house) is currently the only way to slip-one-past the literary watch dogs.

FOURTH:

Plan a budget and stick to it.  It is their business to sell services not your book.  Author Representatives will act as your liaison with the company.  These are sales reps.  Yes, it is beneficial to have “return-ability” for your books; if you don’t have this feature, brick and mortar book stores are less likely to purchase your work in bulk.  Yes, you need to have your book edited at least once (if you haven’t had a professional look at your work before submitting it, you should budget for at least 2 edits – content and copyedit); this is to insure that it makes sense and there are no grammar, sentence structure or punctuation errors.  Yes, you should order a bunch of extra books (beyond the pittance they offer); these are to sell at local author events and to friends and family.  However, all of these options cost more money.  If you are aware of this from the start, you will know your limitations within your budget.  Don’t let them up-sell you on items you don’t need.  If you’re not sure, access a trusted social media resource and ask people about it.

FIFTH:

Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself.  If you’re assigned an editor who doesn’t understand the scope of your work (based on initial assessment comments), then request to work with someone else.  If your personal Author Representative doesn’t understand something, don’t take it personally.  Many of these sales reps are fresh out of college and are looking to gain experience in the publishing industry – they might need a little help understanding where you’re coming from.  If you don’t understand something, keep asking questions; it’s their job to help you.

SIXTH:

Know your rights.  Read the fine print on the contract before you spend a dime or sign your name.  Double check to see who holds the copyright (it should be you), how long you have in order to fulfill the service agreement, whether you will need to pay a yearly fee to keep your book “in print” or not (this is fairly standard but shouldn’t exceed $20), what costs are involved with removing your book from their catalogue down the road (this will be an exorbitant amount), and whether or not you own the rights to the cover art (you did pay for it as part of the services, so it should be yours).  Find out if the ISBNs they assign to your book will be registered under your name or their Publishing Imprint.  If it’s under their Imprint (their company), should you later choose to branch out on your own, and remove your book from their publishing house, you will need to order your own personal ISBN (among other things).

SEVENTH:

Keep an open mind.  If this is truly the right option for you, for whatever reason, remember that the good Assisted Publishing companies hire people trained and skilled in the various services to help you produce the best possible work.  If your first editor suggests a major re-working of the text, and so does the second one who replaced the first, remember that they are doing the job you’ve hired them to do.  If you decide not to take their advice and then a book reviewer gives you a negative comment about that very issue – own up to it.

EIGHTH:

Take advantage of deals.  Most Assisted Publishing Houses have annual sales on their services.  If you know what tier of service you want, contact a representative and let them know what you are considering.  Ask them to send you email updates on their sales.  Sometimes you get money off on a particular service; sometimes you get additional books or items from upper levels added to the package.  When you’re ready to purchase a package, carefully consider whether or not you require certain services.  If you’re particularly savvy with social media but it’s listed as a service in your package, haggle with the representative.  Tell them straight out that you don’t need it and would like to swap it for another (more free books, the publicity publication they offer, an additional set of digital proofs before your book goes to print).  If they refuse you the wiggle room, perhaps they’re not the right company after all.

The majority of people who use Assisted Publishing services are happy with the end product and their experience with the company.  They face few surprises and those surprises that do arise are often related to a sub-industry they needed help with in the first place.  Why does Assisted Publishing work for them?  Because they did their research ahead of time and gained a basic understanding of the industry before making their decision.  Generally speaking, those writers who have a bad experience don’t know what they’re getting into; their expectations are too high and they get frustrated when the end result doesn’t match an un-realistic vision for this publishing option.

The best advice I have ever received is (and I’ve received it from a variety of industry professionals): Don’t rush into anything.  After all, we are the masters of our own destiny – take the time to choose the path that’s right for you.

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M.J. Moores began her career as a high school English teacher with a passion for creative writing.  Recently, she left the teaching profession to work as a freelance writer as she prepares her science fiction novel for publishing.  Unimpressed with the lack of straightforward, simple (and free) resources available to new and emerging writers, she started her own online editing company and writers’ blog (Infinite Pathways) to help her fellow compatriots.  M.J. is the author of Publicizing Yourself: A Beginners Guide to Author Marketing available through Smashwords. Visit her website at http://infinite-pathways.org