There are dozens, even hundreds, of companies out there who offer all-in-one publishing packages for authors. These take your book from manuscript to finished product, encompassing typesetting, cover design, printing, distribution and many other services. Unfortunately, a few disreputable firms have given this sector a bad name. This is great shame for the decent firms out there who do a fantastic job of producing, distributing and marketing quality books for self-publishers.
If you go down this route, this and upcoming posts aim to provide you with the background knowledge to pick one of those reputable company.
First off, let’s explore the services related to book production:
This varies greatly between companies and, with the worst, is virtually non-existent. A good service will get to know you and your book and have an innate knowledge of the market. They’ll be able to guide you through the mechanics of the self-publishing process as well as offering specific advice on the commercial viability of your book, how many copies you should print and if a marketing package is appropriate.
Occasionally, this is included in the price of a package but more often, it’s an add-on extra. If it’s included, ask how many hours copy editing you get, who will be doing it and what qualifications/experience they have. Unless you receive satisfactory answers to these questions, I recommend finding your own editor. That way, you can be sure of the quality and quantity of editing you’re getting.
ISBN and Barcode provision
Some companies don’t provide an ISBN or, even, have a provision for you to use your own. This locks you into distributing solely through them or privately, yourself, rather than through bookshops and online outlets, such as Amazon. The best companies offer plenty of choice in this area, with options to use either your own ISBN or one that they provide for a small fee.
If your book carries an ISBN registered to another company, such as your all-in-one package provider, then technically you’re publishing under their imprint, not self-publishing. To self-publish, the ISBN has to be purchased by, and registered to, you.
Some companies make a big song and dance about this and imply it’s somehow important. It isn’t as long as you’re publishing through a reputable firm and rights are clearly assigned to you, the author. There’s nothing wrong with accepting another company’s ISBN. The only minor disadvantage occurs if you decide to publish with someone else in the future. In that case, a small tweak to cover design will be necessary to alter the ISBN. However, this should be a relatively inexpensive procedure.
If you’re unsure about the quality of this service, ask for the names and/or qualifications of the designers who’ll be working on your book and examples of their previous work.
This is rarely included in the price of a package. You should, though, at least get a proof of your book in digital form that you can email to a professional proof reader or print out to check over, yourself.
Preferably, you’ll also receive a properly bound proof copy (that looks like the final book) which you can check for errors, before any print run goes ahead.
If proofreading is included in the package, confirm how many hours you get and the qualifications and experience of the editor.
Check if there’s a charge for alterations made at this stage. If you go through several rounds of proofreading, it’s not unreasonable for a company to charge a modest extra fee for corrections after a certain stage. It’s just important you understand what is and isn’t included in the package and steer clear of companies that charge £50 per spelling correction.
Always check if your package provider creates original designs or simply uses templates. This is an area where less reputable firms fall down. Many charge designer prices but simply use pre-existing templates, dropping your title information, picture and book blurb into them, with little thought or skill.
As with typesetting, ask who will be designing your book cover and what experience they have. Many package providers have online shops where they sell their authors’ work. You can use these to check the quality of their covers. Are they appealing? How much thought has been put into making sure the cover matches the genre? Do they look professional or just plain tatty?
Check how many design rounds are included. A design round is when the cover is sent to you, you suggest changes and it goes back to the designer. If alterations aren’t included in the price, how much are they charged at?
Most companies use stock picture websites, such as Getty Images or I Stock Photos, to source images for their covers. Confirm if the cost of this is included in the price or if you pay separately/provide your own picture.
Finally, check whether the company’s imprint (logo) will appear on your spine. This is only important if it bothers you. Personally, I have no objection but if you do, ask your package provider about it. Some firms charge to have their logo removed.
The first thing to establish is the quality of the printed product. Ask for samples or simply enquire about the type and weight of internal paper and cover board used. You can find more information on industry standards and options here.
A good company will offer advice on how many books to print. A certain number may be included in the package price, although, equally, it’s possible that only one author copy is sent as standard, with more available to buy on request. If you want to get onto bookshop shelves, you’ll need a reasonably sized print run. Alternatively, print on demand is increasingly offered as an option and is well worth investigating. See my post on printing for more information and the advantages and disadvantages of different sized print runs.
One of the factors which separates a good self-publishing service from a bad one is how much they charge authors to buy copies of their own books. Obviously, you need to pay the printing costs on any books you purchase over and above those included in the package price. The cost will vary depending on how many copies you have printed and what formats/special finishes you choose. However, providing you print 50 copies or above, an average 300-page, novel-sized, text-only paperback, shouldn’t cost much more than £3-£4 per copy. If your package provider wants to charge you close to retail price (£7 – £8) to purchase your own book, you should look elsewhere.
Obviously, printing costs will be significantly higher if you only want one or two copies or if your book’s 5000 pages long and in full colour with a foil embossed cover. If this is the case and you’re unsure what a reasonable printing price would be, I’d recommend getting quotes from some traditional printers such as Clays or Biddles. Additionally, Book Printing UK provides an online instant quote calculator.
Another minor point to check is who’s responsible for legal deposits. Sometimes, package providers print and send legal deposit copies to the relevant libraries at no extra cost, if you publish under their imprint. However, if you use your own ISBN, legal deposits are almost certainly your responsibility.
Making changes afterwards
Obviously thorough proof reading should reduce the need for alterations after publication but you’d be surprised how adept readers are at picking up mistakes, even in professionally edited books. Besides, there can be other reasons to update your book. Your website address might change or you may wish to insert reviews or a teaser chapter from a new book.
It’s worth asking in advance what the charges associated with this sort of change might be. Unless you did the typesetting yourself, you’ll need to pay the designer to make the alteration. Simply correcting a spelling mistake or website address shouldn’t cost a fortune. Adding extra pages is slightly more complicated as it may affect the cover size. However, even this shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive.
In addition to paying the designer, there may also be an administrative charge for substituting the new proofs for the old ones. With a few companies, this is free. A modest fee isn’t unreasonable but charging £50+ simply to tell the printing machine to print a different file is a little excessive.
This involves the layout and cover design. Some companies also provide distribution services. I’ll discuss eBooks in more detail in later posts but as with all other aspects of the package, check who’s doing the work and ask for examples of previous books they’ve designed. Alternatively, check the quality of eBook covers on the company’s online bookstore, if they have one.