11 Tips to Avoid Self-Publishing Traps

by Marilyn and Tom Ross

Self-publishing used to be the Rodney Dangerfield of book publishing. It didn't get "no respect." Today that's all changed. To be successful, however, it's mandatory that you adhere to certain guidelines. By following the tips below, you'll avoid the pitfalls and enhance your chances of flourishing.

1. Educate yourself.  Self-publishing is a business. Approach it as such. There are informative books on the subject, seminars offered, and associations where you can learn the ropes and network with the more experienced. This can be very lucrative if properly approached. Conversely, you can waste thousands of dollars by blundering along without knowledge or a plan.

2. Study the competition.  Don't add more to a subject that's already glutted. Be sure the topic hasn't been overdone. Just checking a local library or bookstore is not adequate research. Look in Books in Print Subject Guide and Forthcoming Books in Print Subject Guide. You'll be amazed at how many books there are on the topic. Yours must be better than what's already available. Make it shorter, longer, easier to use, more informative, funnier, richer in content, or better organized. For fiction, try to tie into a hot topic so you have a "hook" for publicity.

3. Write what other people want.  Catering to your personal desires often makes for lackluster books nobody buys. The fact is, few care about your life history or your deep-felt opinions. Personal journals and impassioned tirades are best saved for family and friends, not foist upon the general public.

4. Think "marketing" from the very beginning.  The time to generate marketing ideas is before you write the book, not after you have 3,000 copies in your garage. Identify and target your market. How can you reach them? Start folders of ideas: what catalogs might be interested, which associations reach your potential readers, what magazines and newsletters are relevant? Can you sell the book as a premium to companies that would give it away as a gift to entice new customers -- or use it internally for training? Think about who else reaches your potential customer and how you can partner with them. Do you have contacts who have national name recognition and might write an advance endorsement?

5. Get professional editing.  No, we repeat, no author should edit or proofread his or her own work. You'll miss the forest for the trees, overlooking things that are obvious to you, but unclear to your reader. And it's so easy to pass by the same typo time after time.

6. Create a snappy title.  The right title can make a book, just like an uninspired one can be a death peal. Short is best. While clever is nice, don't sacrifice clarity. For nonfiction, be sure to include a subtitle as it gives you extra mileage in helping readers know what the book is about.

7. Include all the vital components.  Just as a cake falls flat if you don't add the right ingredients, so do books. Yours needs an ISBN, LCCN, EAN Bookland Scanning Symbol, subject categories on the back cover, etc. (If you don't know what these are, refer back to #1!)

8. Have a dynamite cover.  The cover is your book's salesperson in bookstores. Get it designed by a professional who understands cover design...not just somebody who does nice logos or pretty brochures. You have enormous competition -- and a wonderful opportunity to stand out.

9. Make the interior inviting.  Go to a bookstore and study the insides of books. Find one with clean, "user-friendly" pages. Use this as your model. It may not make sense to purchase and learn typesetting software if you're only doing one book, however. In that case, consider hiring an outside vendor such as About Books, Inc.

10. Use a book manufacturer for printing.  Don't expect your corner print shop to have the knowledge or technical capabilities to turn out a quality book. Book manufacturers specialize in this type of printing and can save you enormous grief and considerable money.

11. Publicize, promote, publicize, promote.  Eat, sleep, and talk your book. Nobody cares about it as much as you do. Ongoing, enthusiastic marketing is the real key to success. Never quit. Keep your antenna out for new review opportunities, freelancers who write articles on your topic, etc. We have books that have been in print since 1979 because we're tireless promoters.

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Marilyn Ross, considered the "Self-Publishing Guru," has self-published 13 titles of her own, and with her consulting help, thousands of writers have produced and sold millions of books. Her best-selling Complete Guide to Self-Publishing has racked up book sales of over 100,000 copies and continues to receive rave reviews.

Find more great self-publishing advice at www.marilynross.com

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Feature

Helping Authors Navigate the Tricky World of Self-Publishing Contracts

An interview with Mark Levine

Editor's Note: The term "Self-Publishing" is used in this article to mean "publishing your work independently of a traditional publishing house." To be more technically specific, the act of Self-Publishing implies that the author is the publisher and owner of the book's ISBN. If an independent author uses a Print-on-Demand publishing house that owns the book's ISBN and/or charges a fee for its publishing services, "Subsidy Publishing" is a more technically accurate description.

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Not so many years ago, authors who self-published were looked upon as amateurish and unsuccessful. However, as the literary world continues to evolve, authors are increasingly pursuing self-publishing as a viable alternative to traditional publishing. Creative control and a faster production schedule are just two big advantages, not to mention the potential profitability from a book that “takes off.” Some of the biggest publishing success stories of the past two decades have come from self-publishers. According to R.R. Bowker, which compiles publishing industry statistics, the number of new books and new editions of old works that were traditionally published in 2005 dropped to 172,000, about 18,000 less than in 2004. As publishing houses continue to be inundated with thousands of manuscripts from aspiring authors, and with the traditional publishing market growing more competitive each day, many of these hopeful authors turn to self-publishing as a way to get their books on the shelf and make their publishing dreams a reality. Today’s dilemma is not “if” you can get published, but “how.” With hundreds of self-publishing companies to choose from, how does an author determine which company is right for them? In his new book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing (Bridgeway Books, July 2006), Mark Levine lays out the nine essential qualities authors should look for when considering a self-publishing company. Through extensive research and personal expertise gained from his experience as a corporate, entertainment, and intellectual property attorney, he analyzes and critiques the contracts and services of the top 48 self-publishing companies. With plain language and a well-organized approach, Levine educates authors about how to decipher the legalese and fine print of self-publishing contracts. Levine decided to write The Fine Print of Self-Publishing after representing several writers who were led astray by dishonest self-publishing companies. He hopes the book will help simplify the confusing and potentially treacherous world of self-publishing contracts. We spoke with Mark Levine about his book, the legal woes of authors in the news, and what he thinks the future of self-publishing will be like. IP: Especially with the recent charges or plagiarism and falsification by authors, what are some of the basics that new authors should know about the warranty and indemnification clauses in publishing contracts? ML: Simply, that if they plagiarize the work of another or use other copyrighted material without permission, they are liable for any damages incurred by the publisher. If the publisher is sued, the publisher will do what is called "third-party" the author into the lawsuit. All self-publishing contracts have a warranty / indemnification clause in which the author agrees that he/she is not violating the copyright of another, etc. Those clauses further state, that the author is liable to the publisher for all legal fees, damages, etc. incurred by the publisher as a result of being sued do to the author's violation of a copyright. IP: First it was James Frey, and now Augusten Burroughs, author of the best-selling memoir Running With Scissors, has been accused of embellishing facts in their books. Don't publishing contracts state that authors should tell the truth? ML: Not really, because if I write a memoir and I lie about things I did, so what? Yes, I might hurt myself and my book sales, but at least in the case of a self-publishing company, there probably aren’t any damages, because if an author makes things up, and as a result can’t sell his/her book, the self-publishing company hasn’t been damaged. The self-publishing company couldn’t really argue that but for the author’s lies, he/she would have sold X number of copies and therefore the self-publishing would have made Y on printing and royalties. It would be impossible to prove. Certainly in the case of James Frey, his publisher could make the argument that he defrauded them and that based on his false statements, they spent X in advertising and marketing, etc., and that his false statements caused book sales to go down. However, in that particular case, book sales probably went up, and the publisher didn’t suffer any monetary damages. IP: Print-On-Demand publishing has opened the world of books and publishing to thousands of authors. What are the most common legal pitfalls the P.O.D. "boom" has brought about? ML: From the author perspective, it’s really all about understanding what the contract says. Often times some of these companies make a lot of promises in the wooing of the author, but the contract says something else. Not to plug my book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, but any author who reads that will be better equipped to avoid contractual pitfalls. Authors can also go to www.bookpublisherscompared.com and download the Author’s Bill of Rights, which is a one page document that sets forth what an author should be able to demand from any self-publishing company.

IP: You are surprisingly frank about what you don't like about many self-publishing companies' contracts and policies. How can we in the industry help to eliminate these bad practices and scams? ML: The only way is to educate and use the platforms people like us have to get the word out. Sites like Preditors & Editors do a great job. I know The Fine Print has saved a few authors from making mistakes. The bad guys have a lot of money and will continue to present rosy pictures in glossy ads and sleek marketing materials. I wish more authors read the postings in many writers’ forums as the scam artists are routinely exposed there. IP: It appears that self-publishing will continue to grow in the years ahead. How do you think this will affect the publishing and bookselling industry as a whole? ML: I think the book industry will go the way of the record industry, where the big publishers will become less relevant. They will always be able to provide distribution and access to reviewers, etc. that a self-published author may not be able to get on his/her own. But, an author who knows how to effectively market his/her book doesn’t need a traditional publisher. The key is to learn how to use the reach and precise targeting of the internet to drive readers already interested in your book’s subject and/or theme to a website from which they can order the book. To make this happen, an author needs three things: 1. An optimized website with relevant content on topics related to the subject matter of his book (e.g. my new novel on finding one’s soul mate has many pages of content that provides information on dating, dating sites, etc.) 2. Selective online advertising on Google, Yahoo, etc. 3. Creating a viral buzz about their book on such sites like MySpace, Friendster (and other social networking sites). This alone or combined with traditional book marketing can produce some amazing results. I have experienced this firsthand with my books, and you can, too. * * * * * The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: The Contracts & Services of 48 Self-Publishing Companies – Analyzed, Ranked & Exposed By Mark Levine 215 pg. paperback, $16.95 ISBN: 978-1-933538-56-3 www.book-publishers-compared.com Mark Levine resides in Minneapolis, Minn., where he is the CEO of Click Industries Ltd., an e-commerce company that provides small business entrepreneurs and creative individuals (artists, writers and musicians) with affordable products and services to help with the business start-up process and the protection of business assets and intellectual property. He co-founded Click Industries, Ltd. in 2000 after spending nine years as a corporate, entertainment and intellectual property attorney. He is also the author of two self-published novels, I Will Faithfully Execute and Saturn Return. Contact Mark at: mark@clickindustries.com ph: 612-455-2290, ext. 201


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