I received another e-mail today from a vanity press which shall remain nameless. I published my first book through them about two years ago and since then have learned several lessons about self-publishing that I would like to pass on any budding novelist who is considering walking down the vanity press route. The e-mail I received today said that my $25 per year fee for keeping my book file on their computers has been added to my account and that in order to keep my book they need me to pay that money ASAP. They then tag the e-mail with the caveat that if I sign up for a $200 marketing package they will find it in the good of their heart to wave the $25. Are they kidding? No.
I have therefore put together a list of six things every self-publishing author should know if they have not figured this out already, and I wish someone would have sat me down and explained the rules to me. Grant it, I am happy being self-published through Amazon so that anyone who desires something I wrote can go and find it, purchase it, and I can at least have a small readership. I don't care about being a best selling author. I write for the fun of it. But I digress... and how cliche....
1. THE BIG SPEND: If someone wants to charge you more than $100 to publish your book for you, run for the hills. In this day of internet publishing and Createspace, who needs to spend over $2000 (and I did, just like several other suckers out there). I have a friend who purchased a bigger package (yes, there are bigger ones with bigger price tags, but he can afford it) and he has only sold 400 copies after beating the street constantly and trying to generate "buzz". I've read his book and it's really good, but without an ad agency on your side, you won't get the word out.
2. YOU ARE YOUR OWN EDITOR: I published to this un-named company and they wanted to charge an extra $200 just to edit through my text for type-os only! (all major credit cards accepted, of course). I can do this myself with enough time and careful reading. I also have several very critical colleagues who are willing to do this for me because it is their mission in life to find errors. (You know who they are, or maybe you are one of them). Utilize these people and skip the fees. Every book written has type-os.
3. USE THEIR COVER CREATOR: Unless you are a photoshop wiz, you will not be able to meet their cover design specs without careful research into what they need. I sent my originally designed book cover to Createspace about ten times before I gave up and went with their cover creator. I found it to be as easy as editing photos on Snapfish and was able to create a cover that I really liked and was simple enough that it even impressed some of my more artistic friends. Again, the vanity press will want to design a cover for you for a massive fee, but don't buy the hype. The un-named company even sent a mockup of a cover they could do for me, and it was terrible. Remember: About cover design - SIMPLE IS BETTER.
4. MARKETING PACKAGES ARE NOT THAT GOOD: Even though the price tag is massive, and you think that the press release will help you sell books, there are no guarantees that this will work. Even if you have a billboard ad on the highway people will still look at your name if you are not known and say "Who is that, Mabel?" The best ways to market your book are social networking, blogs, and personal appearances. Set up a book signing at any place that will have you. Book stores will not let you sell your book in their stores if it is not returnable. Some of them will let you bring in your author's copies and sell them yourself because it brings in business. You just have to go around to all the book stores in your area and see if they will bite.
5. PULL BACK THE CURTAIN: They are not called vanity presses because they are on your side. Many of these vanity presses are out to make money off of people who don't know any better. They will even charge you to fill out the online copyright form for the official government copyright. Understand that because you are "publishing" through a vanity press doesn't mean that immediately a legit publishing house is going to sit up and take notice. More than likely, they won't. The standard publishing industry is a business, and most self-published books will sell less than 100 copies. They don't want to take a risk on someone who is not published anywhere else, and getting your book in front of a publisher is like that last level of Donkey Kong: it is extremely hard.
6. NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER: Don't give up on trying to get published traditionally. Build your platform by reading magazines, finding out what kind of stuff they publish, write that stuff and then submit it to them (after following their guidelines to the letter). Send your stuff to agents (they have stringent guidelines, too) and keep at it. I have drawers full of rejection notices, but I keep slogging away. Until then, I'm satisfied with publishing to Createspace. It gives me a feeling of completion and I also have a handy author's copy to send off to an agent - that is, those agents who like to get printed books...but they are out there.
I hope that this post has not discouraged you from writing your novel. That was not my intention at all. I write because I love to do it. I self-publish because my friends will buy my books, and that readership is growing. I am building a platform like every author should. I blog, I post to Twitter and Facebook, I frequent conventions and I do book signings. I also teach high school English and have a day job. I will not quit either one no matter how famous I get or if I never get famous.
Emily Dickinson said:"Fame is a bee./ It has a song—/ It has a sting— /Ah, too, it has a wing." I think she meant that fame is something that bites you, it sounds pretty good to you, but it will fly away. I prefer to stay away from bees... until one decides to sing to me.