If you want to self-publish nonfiction and are searching for book publishing companies to help you get your book out into the market, you can be faced with an overwhelming sea of options.
The self-publishing industry is vast and there are many different types of services to be considered, such as the DIY approach, a multiplicity of free online self-publishing platforms and a number of assisted publishing or author services companies.
Now, the nonfiction genre requires that your hire professionals to edit your book and design the interior layout and your book cover. Therefore, both the DIY and free online self-publishing platforms will prove the most expensive in the end since you’ll have to hire these professionals in a piecemeal fashion, increasing your out of pocket expenses.
Assisted publishing, on the other hand is more cost-effective because these companies have professional editors and book designers on staff already, which creates economies of scale as they can work concurrently with multiple authors.
In this article, I’ll explain how assisted publishing works as I go into detail about what they do, how they can be of benefit to nonfiction authors and how to find the best candidate for your book project.
The Assisted Publishing Model
As stated above, in the assisted publishing model you pay to publish your book just like the DIY model, but instead of hiring each professional individually, you hire a firm that has all the in-house professional resources required to produce and market your book.
In addition to editors and book designers, they also employ experienced project managers who are there exclusively to oversee the entire book project on your behalf, and book marketing specialists to help you plan all the activities that are necessary to generate sales.
Now, while assisted publishing services have lower production and marketing costs than the DIY model and free online self-publishing, they’re part of an unregulated industry and you have to vet companies thoroughly in order to filter out dishonest operators.
How to Find and Vet the Right Assisted Book Publishing Companies
Back in the early days of the Internet, before popular review sites became prominent, it was very difficult to conduct proper vetting. The best you could do was to hope that someone had taken the time to write about a bad experience on some book publishing forum.
Today, large independent review platforms are the norm, which, along with social media posts and commentary, make it possible for bad news to travels fast.
So, once you’ve identified a company that offers the type of services that appeal to you, search on Google for the name of the company followed by the word complaints and read through the first few pages of results.
Check for both quantity and quality. After you’re done with your research, you’ll have a pretty strong gut feeling about who are the good operators in the industry and who are the bad ones.
What to Look out for in an Assisted Book Publishing Company
Sales reps are a great proxy for the overall culture of the company. If they’re too salesy, there’s a good chance that their customer service reps will either be pushy (forcing you into unwanted or necessary up-sells) or non-responsive (since they already have your money).
If the sales reps talk more than they listen, chances are so will the customer service reps. If they tell you that they’ll get back to you in a couple of days and they take two or three weeks instead, you can only imagine how they’ll value your time once you become a customer.
On the other hand, if:
- They listen to you and offer sensible solutions that clearly meet your needs
- They don’t force you to buy services using limited-time offers and other high pressure tactics
- They follow up with you when they say they will
- You feel their training is clearly customer-centric
then there’s a good chance you’ve found a top service.
Once the assisted publishing service has cleared the above hurdle, then you need to assess how their customer support is. You need to figure out if they’re responsive when you contact them, if they listen to your needs before they make any recommendations and how the rapport with their authors is.
Now, this is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation, because if you wait until you become a customer to find this out, it’s already too late. So you need to be able to uncover a “window into their soul” before you hire them.
One way to do this is by reading online reviews – search Google for a company’s name followed by the word reviews.
If your candidate service passes this filter, then the next step is to inquire about specific services.
The caliber of editing expected in nonfiction titles written by experts like you is very high. Unfortunately, the caliber of editing provided by many assisted-publishing services leaves much to be desired.
Many services contract this task out to either junior editors with limited experience or “generalist” editors who don’t have specific experience in the nonfiction genre.
If you’re unable to find out the names of editors on staff from a company website, ask your sales rep to put you in touch with a senior nonfiction editor that would be working on your book if you were to sign up now.
They should be very accommodating with your request, because somebody asking for this type of information is usually someone who’s serious about book publishing.
After a short interview (read this article for a list of qualifying questions you can ask their editors) ask them to provide you with a list of nonfiction books that they’ve edited in the past and purchase one or two titles from Amazon to assess the quality of their work.
Book Design Services
In addition to professional editing, your nonfiction book will be expected to have a professional layout and cover design.
Ask your rep for a list of their nonfiction book titles that you can browse on Amazon, then use the Look Inside feature to examine the layout. Then use the same feature to look at the layouts of top bestselling books in your niche.
For your book to succeed, it must be designed on par with those bestsellers because that’s what you’re going to be compared to by gatekeepers and decision makers when your title goes on sale.
Book Marketing and Promotion Services
This is an area where it’s not so easy to identify the quality of the assisted publishing service unless you talk to their current or past clients about their experiences.
However, what’s easy to identify are the companies you want to stay away from. The first tell-tale sign is the type of services that they offer. For example, there’s zero value in you spending money to place ads for your nonfiction book (unless you’re already a famous author).
So, any service that offers print, radio or TV paid advertising – usually at elevated prices – should be immediately disqualified. Otherwise, you’ll become the subject of high-pressure sales tactics to buy advertising because those features are money makers for them (and money losers for you).
Something else to avoid is all-inclusive – and usually pricey – bundles of marketing services. In the world of nonfiction book promotion there are no silver bullets because no two books are the same (even if they are in the same niche.)
So be sure to have an in-depth discussion with a member of the company’s marketing team, preferably the one you’d be working with if you were to sign up now, and ask them what they would do specifically for you and your book.
Book Publishing Agreement Clauses
Last but not least, let’s talk about your publishing agreement.
This is a very important document because it defines the services that are going to be performed for you, any type of licensing arrangements involving your content, your royalties if the service offers in-house book distribution and your book printing costs.
To find a copy of a publishing agreement online, simply do a Google search with the name of the company followed by the words publishing agreement. Here’s are the problem areas that you need to look out for:
- Duration Clause: if the agreement forces you into a fixed term (e.g. 3 years, 5 years or even 1 year) then take a pass. What you’re looking for is an agreement that remains in effect until terminated by either party without any restrictions whatsoever. Look for agreements that only require you to provide a 30-day advance written notice prior to termination.
- Copyright Clause: if the agreement states that you have to license or transfer your copyright to them for any length of time, then take a pass. You’re looking for a clause that clearly states that you’ll retain 100% of your book’s copyright and 100% of all rights at all times. Also, reject any agreement with a clause that transfers your right to sue other parties for infringement of your copyright to the service provider.
- Distribution Clause: What you’re looking for in this type of clause is non-exclusive distribution rights for your book should service providers offer their own internal channels of distribution. If you see any mention of exclusivity, then take a pass.
Now you have a solid foundation for the search and vetting of assisted publishing companies for your nonfiction book. Make sure to take your time in your research and resist all temptation to be rushed into signing up before you’re done conducting your vetting.
Bad operators tend to be pushy and try to entice you with an offer “you can’t resist,” such as locking in a 50% off savings on your total bill with an immediate down payment, or any similar high-pressure tactic.
If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. The best assisted publishing services apply zero sales pressure because they let the process take its course naturally.
When you’re ready they’ll be ready, and as such they’ll keep the lines of communication open as long as you need to until the sales process comes to a logical conclusion, allowing you the necessary time to check for references and complete your due diligence.
The best assisted publishing services aren’t interested in making a quick buck. They’re interested in building a long term relationship with the author because if they help you succeed with your first book, there’s a good chance they’ll land your second and your third.
Good luck on your search!
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about how to excel in the writing craft be sure to check out my free nonfiction writing guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.