Non-Traditional Alternatives

My novel (the first book of a trilogy) has been out on query for months now. I’ve gone through a list of agencies and am now trying publishing houses that don’t require representation. I also want to try a few small presses and see what they can do for me. But I have to admit that the idea of self-publishing has begun to shine a little brighter in the realm of possibilities. The old, dated stigma of self-publishing has begun to fall away and works like The Martian are coming into their own with notice by Big Names in the industry.

Because the digital age has opened new doors into publishing opportunities, getting your work into print is no longer an either/or matter – either you bend your work to the idiosyncracies of the mass market demand or you remain anonymous. That’s definitely a good thing for those of us who hope to make our stories/novels/essays available to the general public. These days there are many evolving trends in the business, tides in the workflow that change on a regular basis. It’s almost a full-time job just keeping up with the latest news.

Unfortunately, the alternative routes to publication are fraught with risk. There are so many writers with the same strong desire to publish, the fields are ripe for scammers who will promise you publication and recognition just to get you to empty your wallet. Many of these companies have zero interest in getting your work out there, only 100% interest in paying themselves.

Work smart. Stay informed. Don’t jump on the first deal you find. Look around at all your available options before you even think about signing anything. Decide what kind of arrangement you will seek and/or settle for, and what sort of house or service is best for your particular project. Then, do your homework! Research the companies that catch your eye. Stay tuned to writers’ support sites whose job is not to sell you a service, but to keep scammers from giving you the business. WriterBeware (a service of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), is one of these. Their site lists a few alternatives to traditional publishing, as well as the red flags that should put your hackles up when researching their services. Fee-based publication is one of those to approach with caution. Some of these companies are legitimate, but the ones that aren’t are plentiful.

Keep in mind as a starting point for your research that traditional publishers do not charge the writer for any part of the publishing process. On the contrary, they purchase certain rights with regard to the author’s project. They pay the writer, not the other way around. Of course, the traditional (or legacy) route can afford to be very selective. If you’re like me, and you’ve queried so many agents or houses you’ve had to keep a database to track them all, you know it’s difficult at best to get a publishing deal with a traditional house, especially the large ones. In addition, not every traditional publishing house is author-friendly for us newcomers.

On the other hand, vanity publishers make no bones about the fact that they charge the author, sometimes exorbitant fees, to produce a book. Their profit comes mainly from the authors, not book sales. Further, the price the writer pays is not only counted in dollars and cents. For example, they often contract rights on an exclusive basis, which means if the writer finds a better deal elsewhere, they’ll be out of luck. WriterBeware has a list of scamming vanity publishers who’ve been in the news. Read it. Bookmark it. You’ll want to refer back to stay on top of whatever new names these bozos are using today.

“Stealth” vanity houses claim to be traditional publishers, yet charge “hidden” fees for various reasons: set-up, reading, editing, or the like. In other cases they withhold royalties until their “expenses” are recouped. There are a dozen different ways these scam artists bilk the writer for costs the publisher should cover. Subsidy publishers are vanity publishers in disguise. Don’t be fooled.

Hybrid publishers, on the other hand, at least offer fee-based packages that actually carry value for the writer. In addition, genuine hybrid services are selective in what they will and won’t accept in submissions. They take care of the editing/design/marketing and distribution, depending on the package you buy, and as part of their payment, they keep a percentage of the sales. Thus they have greater incentive to actively market your work. They also offer the potential for actual distribution of your book in brick-and-mortar businesses. Reputable hybrid services can even offer better royalties to the writer and hold themselves to an industry standard of ethics.

Writers’ service companies charge the writer for various pre- or post-completion services such as copyright registration, marketing on display sites that display a portion of your work for feedback and/or critique, publicity, query and submission services, marketing, and more – for a fee. If you’re a busy writer with literally no time to market your own work, this may be helpful to you, but in many cases the work they claim to do for you is work you could do yourself.

DIY or do-it-yourself publishing is available through companies that offer upload programs which allow writers to go straight to online availability, whether in print (see print on demand) or e-book format. This route involves a lot more work for the writer, and is not necessarily free—at least, not if you want a good product. See below.

POD, or print on demand, is an option in self- or DIY publishing wherein books are printed one at a time or in small lots rather than the more standard large print runs. It’s more expensive, thus the cover price for such a book must be higher to recoup the costs.

DIY and POD are both commonly available through self-publishing services, many of which go through platforms that are free of charge; let me repeat that – you needn’t spend a penny to self-publish this way. The services take their cut from each sale at the time of purchase. However, you’ll want to at least consider an independent editing service, which can be pricey. The deep edit I contracted from a professional editor cost around $6/page which, in my case, ran to a total of somewhere around $2,400. Believe me, it’s money well spent. A published novel that is full of spelling or grammar errors is not a good reflection on the writer’s professionalism and will leave a lingering bad impression with readers. You know, those folks you’re counting on to buy your books again in the future?

These are just a few of the options out there. In the last couple of days alone, I’ve come across two suspicious services who claim to be able to help me get my project noticed, perhaps even placed with a big (or small) publishing house, for a fee. I have deliberately not named any individual or company I suspect or might have read about who fall into one of the above red-flag categories because I haven’t done enough research yet to be sure. Others, like WriterBeware and similar writers’ resources sites, have. Search out everything you can find on a company that attracts your interest. Read the fine print. Know who you’re dealing with. Be sure they are who they say they are before you hand over your credit card number. Writers already struggle to make a living at their trade. Don’t hand someone else your hard-earned money before you’re absolutely sure they can deliver a worthwhile return on your investment.