Using Publishing Services Companies for Self Publishing

As I said in the last blog, a company who has you pay for the privilege of publishing with them is not a publisher, no matter what they call themselves. That kind of company is called an author services firm or a publishing services firm by those in the publishing industry.

If you are thinking of doing business with a publishing services company, (sometimes called a POD publisher) – a company that calls itself a publisher but charges you a fee up front – make sure they are right for you. We’ve developed a eight-point checklist. If they can say “yes” to each of these, then you’ve found a great company to work with. If there are any “no” answers, please think twice!

1. Author retains all intellectual property rights – if you have to pay up front, there is absolutely no reason you should be selling your intellectual property in the bargain. There should be no discussion of royalties (which are only paid when you have sold rights).

2. Author benefits from book profits (isn’t just paid royalties or a commission) – again, if you have to pay the full cost of producing the book up front, why should the publishing services firm get a percentage of what you sell? If they only want a percentage from the books they are able to sell, that would be a reasonable exchange. If they are able to generate bookstore orders (unlikely, but not impossible), then they should take a percentage from those sales. Otherwise, the profits from the book sales, minus the costs to print, should be yours.

3. Author has the right to terminate the publishing services contract, preferably in 30 days, but no more than 60 days. -if you get a great offer from an established commercial publisher, you will be kicking yourself if you can’t take it because you are stuck with a bad contract.

4. Timeline the author can live with – many publishing services companies do not specify how quickly they will publish your book. There is no reason they cannot create the cover and interior and have the book printed within 90 days of when they receive the manuscript. Anything much outside of that time frame is unacceptable and you should only sign a contract that gives you a full refund if they do not have books in your hands within 90 days, unless you specifically agree otherwise for some reason.

5. Professional quality cover, interior and printing – I have seen way too many books with completely unprofessional covers and book bindings that are falling apart. A professionally-designed cover is easy to spot a mile away and if you aren’t sure of what you are getting, call in a professional to take a look for you. Many of the publishing services firms outsource their printing to (just another reason for you to go direct), but if they do, at least you can be sure that the quality will be good.

6. Author is given cover and interior design files if contract is terminated – if you have had to pay to have your book cover designed and the interior typeset, then you want the right to get the design files back (not just a PDF) if you terminate the contract. Most POD publishers do not allow this.

7. Reasonable prices for books – if part of your contract is for the publishing services firm to print your books on-demand, then you want no more than a 25% mark-up to cover their administrative costs than if you took your book to your own printer. The on-demand printer you would be smart to use is (for more reasons than I can detail here). The formula LS uses is $.90 x .015 x the number of pages in the book. So for instance, if your book were 183 page, the LS price per book would be 183 x $.015 = $2.75 + $.90, which equals $3.65 per book. Again, using this example, if the price quoted to you by the POD publisher were more than $4.56 per book, you are paying too much.

Too many publishing services companies charge a percentage of retail, like 50% of a $20 book, or $10 a book. This is how established commercial publishers work, but they do it because you haven’t paid for publishing up front – that is a whole different story.

Don’t sign a contract that requires you buy a minimum number of books.

8. Reasonable prices for other services – many of the publishing services companies want you to buy marketing services and they will offer you a menu that you feel like you need to be successful. Much better to interview qualified professionals and choose your own after talking to other authors and others in the industry. Don’t sign a contract that requires you to buy any additional services.

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  • Helen Gallagher  On July 17, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Good summary, Jan. I have a different opinion of only Point 2: “if you have to pay the full cost of producing the book up front, why should the publishing services firm get a percentage of what you sell?”

    My POD firm does get a percentage of each book sale, but in return for that small profit, they work with me on an ongoing basis. They list my book on their site for web orders, and handle all shipping and credit card orders from customers who order there, fulfill orders for book stores, etc. And they make my book available at all major online retailers. They are available to support me with a request for a company-branded cover, an offset print run for a national chain, etc.

    They let me manage the marketing because they handle everything else, and I get a monthly royalty check.

    As you say “make sure they are right for you.”

    Best regards,
    Helen Gallagher

  • Arwan Smith  On April 13, 2011 at 7:23 am

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