If you are a writer, have searched out anything about writing, or just clicked an ad about publishing services you’ve probably seen an influx of ads offering to help yup self publish your book. “Buy my book to learn how to become a bestseller,” or “With this ten part seminar I’ll teach you how to sell 4 million copies on Amazon.” Meanwhile, you look those folks up (try it, I did) and you can’t find a single thing published by them. One guy I asked, “What have you written that was a best seller,” to which I got back, “I’m not a writer, I’m a publisher.” Kind of belies the idea that he’ll help you self publish, he’s a publisher! It’s not self publishing if someone else does it for you. One of the ones that was selling books about becoming a best seller…only had books on how to sell books. Another, “How I got best selling in a category on Amazon,” only had one book out, that was top in an obscure category once.

I call these predatory players because they are using our desire, more than anything else, to see our work in print coupled with the frustration of how challenging it can be at first. First of all, no one can teach you how to be a best seller, they literally have disclaimers: “Results aren’t typical”. They might be able to tell you how they did it, if they’ve done it, but results aren’t typical. That means success is uncommon. You’re more likely to become a best seller, selling books about becoming a best seller. Just like all those ‘secrets to making money’ scams, that should really say the secret it making books and DVDs about how to make money and selling them to people.

The worst, to me, are the ones offering a publishing package. “All you need to release a professional looking book” without the hassle…for example:

“In our Essential Publishing Package, our team manages proofreading, custom cover design, custom interior design, the metadata to make sure your book is easily found, and publishing your book as an ebook, paperback, and hardback so that anyone in the world can buy your book from the Amazon.com global marketplaces.”

This is a $7500 package from one of these places. Notice, it doesn’t say editing, it says proofreading. Just for clarity, the average cost of proofreading is $.0113/word or about 780 bucks for a 70K word book. Getting your book on Amazon…free. Getting a hardback on Ingram…40 bucks last time I checked. Covers? Well, I do my covers myself with royalty free stock images, and an author I work with does hers for the cost of the images, which is often less than 50 dollars. Even if you buy custom cover art you’re only looking at between 200 and 500 dollars. Still well below the $7500 package price. You’re basically paying them over $6000 to save you an hour or so of your time to format and upload the book to Amazon. A process that’s actually pretty easy, with simple to follow instructions available on the KDP site.

Realistically, if you get out there and sell your book in person (something I highly recommend and they don’t help with) you might make that money back in a few years. But, to stay relevant you’ll need to write and publish more. It’s hard to sell a book when you only have one. So if you do this every couple of years you will remain consistently in the hole the entire time.

Now, imagine you want copy editing, and a week long ad campaign, their next package up. $10-15000. You can get a copy editor for 1200 bucks. A week long ad campaign on social media and Amazon? Nowhere near the added cost. You can do that out of pocket, though I haven’t found them to be very helpful. The last package, which adds a developmental editor ($5000 cost normally) is over $20,000. I’m going to be honest, if you have a book good enough to earn you 20K in your first year, you have a book that can be picked up by any traditional publisher who will pay all those costs up front.

Do not sign up for these services! Indie publishing is hard, I won’t lie to you. Doing all the work yourself is a lot of time spent not writing. It’s tempting to have someone do that for you, but you’re honestly paying people to do things you can do for free, or cheap. The odds of you seeing a return on that investment? Not good. Not typical. Look at the things these places offer, then see what it costs to do them on your own. You want a good editor? Hire one on your own. Even if you do go with one of these ‘publishers’ you’re still going to be doing all the hard work. Setting up shows and signings, getting the books in stores, and selling them in person. Just uploading to Amazon and spamming Twitter is not going to do it I’m afraid. There is no easy button on the indie side of things.

Do your research. Find out how many authors have made any money going with these places. Make sure you understand the difference between an Amazon best seller and a NY Times best seller. They are wildly different. Find out exactly what they’re offering, and compare that to what it would cost you to do it yourself. I guarantee you your afternoon of formatting in Word and uploading to Amazon isn’t worth six thousand dollars. Want some perspective on that? At 40% for a 10 dollar book, you’d have to sell 1500 copies to pay for that before you even started seeing a profit. Ask the other indie authors around you how long before they sold 1500. An old article in Publisher’s Weekly states that on average an indie author may sell up to 3000 copies over the life of the book. Most will see about 250-300 copies sold. I have had a book out for two years this month, and I can tell you I’m still shy of the 1500 mark.

If I paid one of these services to publish it for me, I’d still be paying it off, along with the cost of doing the other two books I’ve put out since then. I’d be about $20K in the hole at this point. Doing it all myself, including the cost of all my advertising, show entries, contests, artwork, and so on, I’m looking at a profitable year this year. Not much. I won’t be quitting my day job, but two years in and I will be able to claim that I’ve made money as a published author. Something to think about when you’re considering one of these deals.