How To Choose A Publisher/Agent/Self-Publishing Site with Jim Elstad

Taken from Jim Elstad’s talk, May 21st 2017

For anyone using to check up on publishers, don’t. The site is going/has gone down. Other sites you might use are:

Jim’s Excel file (you can pick up a copy from the free table next time) includes some natural choices for self-publishing, wise questions to ask any publisher/agent, and space for your own publishers and answers. Jim’s advice is

  • Do your research before you commit!

In longer form, here are the things you should look for:

  1. Does the publisher have a website?
    1. How does it look?
    2. Do you even want your book advertised there?
  2. Does the publisher give you one-on-one support?
    1. Do they have a phone number?
    2. Do emails vanish into black holes?
    3. What do other clients say about them?
  3. Do they charge you to publish?
    1. Will they hook you with cheap offers then charge the earth when you go “over your limit”?
    2. Jim paid $2600 to publish his first book, including editor and art work. The second and third cost $1500 and $1800
    3. By carefully self-publishing, Jim controls the costs—
      1. he decides how much to spend on editing—
        1. $1.50 per page is good
        2. Look at how much per word and work out what you’re in for.
        3. Edit it yourself first.
          1. If there are lots of errors, an editor will miss about 30%.
          2. If there are few errors, the editor will only miss 10%
      2. on cover art (say $250)
      3. on conversion to audio (he can hire and fire his actor… or himself)
  1. Do they provide custom covers or just retouched generics?
  2. What packages do they offer?
    1. How expensive are the packages?
    2. How inclusive are they?
    3. How easily will you be dragged into spending more than you want?
    4. Make sure you know what the packages are called, so you can refer to them if you phone for help.
  3. How do they provide the ISBN?
    1. Do you have to buy your own?
    2. Can you ask them to reserve a set of ISBNs for your series?
  4. What kind of proof do they provide?
    1. Do you have to pay for print proofs—the costs can mount?
    2. Do they allow you to proof electronically first—cheap?
    3. Do they offer proof-reading services? (say $50 per hour)
      1. You should look for widows and orphans, badly hyphenated words, poor page endings, unmatched page lengths etc.
      2. Doing some yourself gives you confidence and saves money but
      3. You still need another pair of eyes (not computer eyes)
  1. What sort of distribution do they provide?
    1. How much will online distribution cost you?
    2. Can you get books into a bookstore?
      1. Do they have a return program—i.e. do they buy back unsold copies?
      2. Otherwise the bookstore will only take them if they know and trust you enough to buy directly from you, on consignment.
    3. Do they offer world-wide distribution?
    4. What royalties will you get?
      1. And what currency will you be paid in?
  2. Do they provide professional marketing consultation?
    1. Do they help you with bookmarks, business cards, posters and flyers?
    2. How much does it cost?
    3. You might pay $50 an hour for someone to help design marketing material, or $175 for 500 business cards
    4. Or you can do it yourself, much more cheaply
  3. Do they provide complimentary author copies
    1. How many?
    2. Bear in mind, if you’ve already paid them, they’re not really free!
  4. How much do they charge for ebook conversion?
    1. And how much profit will you make from ebooks (with no print costs)?
  5. Will they give you a website?
    1. And will they help you with it, or just leave you to watch the YouTube video?
    2. Website services might cost $500 for initial setup, then $50 an hour for maintenance
  6. Will they help you with copyrights and library of congress?
  7. What control will you have over the back cover information?
    1. Can you choose the photograph?
    2. Can you choose what to say about your book?
  8. What’s the quality of their product?
    1. Createspace produces good quality books.
  9. Can people “look inside” your book on the internet?
    1. And can you control what they see? (Just a table of contents might not be productive)
    1. Will they help you take advantage of search engines so your book can be found?
  10. How much will a book-signing kit cost?
    1. And what will it contain?
      1. Display posters
      3. Business cards
      4. Giveaways
    2. Or you can design your own, email the design to Office Depot, and get it printed on the spot.
  1. Do they provide social media help?
    1. Facebook groups
    2. Help finding editors online
  2. Can you buy your own copies?
    1. What discount per copy?
    2. What volume discount?
    3. Will they help if copies are damaged in the mail or go astray? (Createspace will)
  3. Are you signing a non-exclusive contract?
    1. Can you take your work elsewhere later?
    2. Can you take your cover elsewhere later?
  4. Will they archive and protect your work?

Jim chose 21 companies, made notes, narrowed the field to 7, then spent an hour on the phone to each of those 7. He settled on Createspace because:

  1. The book price (to you) is the same whether you buy 1 or 101—all that changes is the postage. This makes prices your books easier.
  2. Shipping is prompt and not overly expensive
  3. Quality is good
  4. Responsive people at the end of the phone line (Jean can attest to that too)

Sheila likes Createspace too because

  1. it connects to Amazon for online sales,
  2. it allows for easy connection between the kindle and print versions,
  3. the book price to you is relatively cheap, even compared to the discount prices offered by other companies.
  4. You’re free to pay for as much or as little help as you want.
  5. The eproofing system is great – you can even download a pdf proof.
  6. Uploading covers is easy
  7. Free ISBN (perhaps not ideal in general but great for Writers Mill Journals)

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