I received an email over the weekend and in it the writer asked if I thought it was better to self-publish than to sign with a small press publisher.
This is a tough decision and one each writer must make for themselves.
I never wanted to self-publish, not because I thought there was anything “wrong” with it, but simply because I needed a stranger, a publisher, to believe in my work. I needed that extra-confidence-boost to tell me I was a good enough writer to be published. So, in 2010, upon completion of my first novel, No Easy Way, I sought out Agents and Publishers. That’s when Vanilla Heart took interest and offered me a contract. The fact that a publisher deemed my work good enough to market and promote motivated me to continue to write, which is how I produced eight books in less than three years.
Other authors don’t need the self-esteem boost that I did. They feel confident and secure enough to stand alone and thus self-publishing is the perfect path for them.
In the past, self-publishing bore a negative stigma that a writer wasn’t “good enough” to be contracted by a publishing house; but that stigma has begun to fade. Readers can tell the difference between someone who writes poorly and someone who writes well. They know that in purchasing a self-published book they run the risk of stumbling upon a lessor quality novel. However, they also realize that there are self-published authors who write really good books; gems yet to be discovered. Many readers today are willing to take that risk, especially with the ease and affordability of the Ebook download. If they download a book for $0.99 and don’t like it, it’s not a big financial loss; but if they get a great one for that price, what a bargain!
If you decide to go with a small press publisher, meaning any publishing house outside of what has now become the Big Five, do your homework before signing anything. I cannot stress this enough. Talk to other authors about their experiences with small press publishers. Interview authors who are currently under contract with the publisher you’re considering. Ask questions. Understand that any publisher that is on the up-and-up will be able to give you timely sales and royalty reports and timely payments. Do not be pressured into signing right away. A legitimate publisher will not have any reason to pressure an author into an immediate contractual agreement.
Research the Preditors and Editors listing and Writer Beware. Contact the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General for the state in which the publisher is located. If there have been complaints about the publisher, they will be made available to you. Run a background check on the publisher. Be thorough.
If you do sign a contract, hold that publisher accountable at every turn for every item. A legitimate small press publisher will not give excuses for late payments, no payments, late reporting, no reporting, etc. Except NO excuses. The contract that you sign is a business agreement and it must be upheld by both parties in an ethical manner. One lie breaches the agreement. Period.
One advantage to self-publishing is that the author receives sales reports directly from the distributor and a royalty payment that is never late. There are no lies or hidden agendas if you go the self-publishing route. This is a huge advantage to the author and one you should seriously consider prior to signing a contract with a small press publisher because there are many ways in which an unethical publisher can take your money.
Not only did my ex-publisher (Vanilla Heart) defraud statements and steal thousands of dollars, but she also blatantly lied about the number of books that were downloaded for free so that she could pocket the money. I have emails from her to substantiate the falsification of the reports she gave me and the outright lies she told. For example: My novel, House of Lies, came with a bit of controversy as three weeks after its release there was a similar murder in the exact area where the story had taken place. This generated media interest, both negative and positive, and also generated book sales. Kimberlee Williams of Vanilla Heart told me that someone had gotten a hold of the Smashwords coupon code for House of Lies and 60 copies were downloaded for free. I couldn’t believe it. That was royalty money the publisher and I would never see…or so I believed. After subpoenaing sales records directly from the distributor, the truth was that only 13 copies of House of Lies had been downloaded using a free coupon code. (All 13 of which I identified as contest winners, book club leaders or reviewers because I had given them the free code.) The other 47 downloads were bought and paid for. This was money the publisher kept and I never saw. Unethical.
Sadly, it didn’t just happen with House of Lies, but with several of my books from the Just Call Me Angel series and No Easy Way. Had I never left and had the sales reports sent to me directly from the distributors, I would have had no way of knowing just how deep her deception ran and how much money she had stolen. Sadder still is the fact that I'm not the only one she defrauded.
The morale of the story is: Be careful. As an author, you’ve poured your blood, sweat, time and tears into your book. It’s your creation, your baby. Don’t be hasty to get it out there and settle for something less than what your work deserves. Look at the quality of work the publisher is putting out. Are there typos and formatting errors strewn throughout their author's books? If so, don't sign with them. That's a red flag. Are the book covers unprofessional looking? Are their video trailers novice and unprofessional? (I don't know the correlation, if any, between video trailers and book sales, but Vanilla Heart's trailers were so awful that I never marketed using theirs and had my own made instead.)
There are ethical small press publishers. They’re out there, but companies like Vanilla Heart are sadly giving them a bad name. Companies like Vanilla Heart are tainting the world of small press publishing. If we turn a blind eye and continue to allow the unethical ones to exist and flourish, we are only hurting the ethical publishers, each other and ourselves.
This is OUR industry and it is OUR responsibility to protect it.
The long and the short of it is this: If you are in a hurry to get your work out to the masses, then my advice is to self-publish it rather than jumping into bed with a publisher that is literally going to emotionally, mentally and financially screw you. ~