What to Look For in a Top Book Self-Publishing Company
If you’re looking for top book publishing companies to self-publish your title, you may find that the industry is vast and sometimes a bit overwhelming. There are so many different types of services to consider, like free online self-publishing, vanity presses and assisted publishing or author services, among other variants.
Each type of service caters to a different class of author, yet since my mission is to help nonfiction authors navigate the self-publishing waters, I’ll focus this article on the one category that is perfect for them: assisted publishing – also referred to as author services.
Specifically, I’m addressing my post to nonfiction authors who are writing their books to become recognized as an expert in their field or to increase the profile of their business. If you are an entrepreneur, professional, small business owner, consultant or coach, then this post is for you.
Why not use free online self-publishing services and save some money, you may ask? Because they aren’t suitable to create the level of quality that’s expected in the nonfiction market – only professionals have the skills to do that.
This is no different from you hiring professionals to file your business taxes or do your corporate legal work – technically you could do either, buy you choose not to.
Alternatively, you could become the project manager and hire for and then orchestrate all the required tasks in the book publishing process, such as editing, layout, cover design, distribution, marketing, etc.
The thing is, this is both an expensive process, and also a time consuming and potentially frustrating one since you’ve likely never project managed a book before.
But this happens to be where author services shine.
A reputable author services firm will already have a staff of project managers who’ll take this time-consuming task off your plate. Also, an author services form will be able to benefit from economies of scale that’ll lower your overall cost.
But – and this is a big caveat – this is an unregulated industry, and you’ll need to learn how to tell the reputable outfits from the scammy ones. A cursory look at a company’s website won’t do because they all look very similar.
To more easily identify the reputable operators in this industry, you need a checklist of things to look for, and that’s what I put together below: seven distinct areas where you need to dig under the surface to find out whether you should hire the service or stay away from it.
Let’s get started:
Area #1: Reputation
The first and most important area to look into is the company’s reputation. In the early days of self-publishing this was very hard to do. The Internet was too young then, Google hadn’t been invented yet, and there were no significant review sites.
The best you could do was to see if someone had taken the time to write about a bad experience on some website, but that was about it.
Fortunately, we now live in the era of large independent review platforms. Bad reviews are easier than ever to find and almost instantaneous – bad news travels fast on the Internet.
Once you’ve come up with a company that appeals to you, search 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 reading, you’ll have a pretty good gut feeling one way of the other.
Area #2: Customer Service
Once a self-publishing company has passed the above filter, then you need to assess how their customer service 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 out it’s already too late. So you need to be able to locate a “window into their soul” before you hire them.
One way to do this is by reading reviews online – search Google for a company’s name followed by the word reviews. If your candidate passes this filter with flying colors, then the next step is to start engaging with their sales staff.
Hard Selling or Natural Selling?
Sales reps can be a good proxy for the overall culture of the company. If they are pushy, chances are their customer service side will either be pushy (forcing you into up sells) or non-responsive (since they have your money already).
If they don’t listen to your needs, chances are neither will the customer service reps. If they tell you that they’ll follow up with you in a week’s time and they follow up in two or three weeks, well, you can imagine how they’ll value your time on the customer side.
On the other hand, if they listen to you and offer sensible solutions that clearly match your needs, if they don’t force you to buy anything using limited-time offers and other high pressure tactics, if they follow up with you when they say they will, if you feel their training is clearly customer-centric, then there’s a good chance you’ve found a top company.
Area #3: Publishing Agreement
Now let’s talk about the publishing agreement. This is a very important document because it’s going to define the services that are going to be performed, any type of licensing arrangements involving your content, your royalties 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 what you need to look for:
Agreement Areas to Focus on:
- Duration Clause: if the agreement forces 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 restrictions. Usually those agreements will require you to provide a 30-day prior written notice before termination, which is reasonable.
- Copyright Clause: if the agreement states that you have to license or transfer you copyright to them for any length of time, then take a pass. You’re looking for a clause that clearly states that you retain 100% of your book’s copyright and 100% of all rights at all times. Also, reject any agreement with a clause that transfers to the service provider your right to sue other parties for infringement of your copyright.
- Distribution Clause: What you’re looking for 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.
Area #4: Editorial Services
The caliber of editing expected of nonfiction titles written by subject matter 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 that don’t have specific experience with nonfiction editing.
There are a number of ways you can make sure you’re getting a good editor. If you’re unable to find out from a company’s website the names of their editors on staff, then 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.
They should be very accommodating with your request, because somebody asking for this type of information means they’re eager to proceed.
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 and then purchase one or two titles from Amazon to assess the quality of their work.
Area #5: Cover Design & Book Layout 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 nonfiction book titles you can browse on Amazon, then click on the book cover thumbnail to enlarge it and use Amazon’s Look Inside feature to take a look at the layout.
Their books must look on par with bestsellers in your niche because that’s what you’re going to be compared to by gatekeepers and decision makers.
Area #6: Marketing Services
This is an area where it’s not so easy to identify the quality of the service unless you talk to current authors about their experiences.
However, it’s quite easy to identify the companies you want to stay away from. The first telltale sign is what they offer and their cost structure. As an example, there’s no value in you spending money to place ads for your nonfiction book (unless you are already famous).
So basically, any service that offers print, radio or TV paid advertising – usually at elevated prices – is a no-go zone.
Something else to avoid is a “standard package” of marketing services. There’s no silver bullet to marketing and each project should have its own unique marketing plan. 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 sign) and ask how your book is unique and they would do specifically for it.
Area #7: Book Cost & Royalties
Finally, you should stay away from any company that doesn’t pass on 100% of the royalties on book sales to the author. Traditional publishers take a percentage of your royalties because they are using their own money to fund your book.
In the assisted publishing world, however, the author is fronting 100% of all costs so they’re entitled to receive 100% of the profits.
As far as printing costs, look for the lowest cost provider that checks all of the above boxes. On-demand digital book printing is a commodity and most printers used by author services companies use equipment made by the same two or three global manufacturers – the book quality will pretty much be the same no matter who you go with.
Now you have the information you need to assess players in the industry. Make sure you use it to screen your assisted publishing candidates thoroughly because you’ll be embarking on a working relationship that will span many months.
The more time you invest in this vetting process, the more satisfied you’ll be with the end result.
Good luck on your search!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of self-publishing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success 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.