Why paying someone to help publish your book isn’t always a bad thing


This post is part of First Time Author, a series of blog posts in which I share my journey going from having an idea for a book to (traditionally) published book. Learn more here.

In my last post, I summarised the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs self-publishing. To summarise, with self-publishing, you do all the work, but you also keep all the rights. With traditional publishing, on the other hand, the publisher does a lot in terms of editing, cover design, marketing, etc., but they usually also get all the rights. That means, they will be in control of when, where, and how you're book gets published.

While these are the two most well-known forms of publishing, during my research, I came accross some other options in between, where the author pays for publishing services. Here is what I learned.

Companies that offer these types of services often don't have the best reputation. In most online writing groups that I am part of, you can regularly see questions from members along the lines of; "A company wants to publish my book, but has asked me to contribute to the cost, what should I do?" The responses are usually; "RUN", "SCAM", "DON'T DO IT!", and similar strong-minded comments.

My personal opinion on the topic is a less extreme "it depends" and "proceed with caution". I think instead of running away, writers who want to get their books out there should consider a few factors when evaluating an offer like that.

First of all, here is a simple fact: A reputable traditional publisher would never ask the author to contribute to the cost of publishing the book!. However, the reality is that it is tough to get traditionally published – especially for new authors. Many of us are forced to look at other options if we want to get our books out there. And often, paying someone to help us do so can be a good thing. 

I often see 'it's free' listed as one of the benefits of self-publishing. While that is technically true, I think it's a dangerous part to take. Most writers know, it's incredibly hard to proofread your own work with objectivity. And few writers have all the skills needed to put together a truly great book including things like cover and page design and of course a marketing plan. Most people with a lot of experience in this field seem to agree that authors who want to self-publish a great book need to be willing to invest some money.  

However, that is not to say that you should accept any offer that comes your way. There are a few things you should consider before you sign any agreements or transfer any money.

1.    Are you paying for valuable services or just to get the book printed? 

Some companies are offering services to writers who will self-publish their books. These services include things like editing, proofreading, cover design, page design and help with developing marketing plans. They are not publishing companies as such, but some of them do also offer printing and publishing services, like setting your book up on Amazon and other ebook platforms, as well as distribution services in some cases. If you want to self-publish a high-quality book, chances are you will need help with at least some of these things. You can, of course, engage individual freelancers for each of the things you need help with, but you could also work with a company that offers all of these services under one roof.

Other companies position themselves as publishing businesses and essentially ask authors to pay them to print their books. This is called vanity publishing and generally has a bad reputation - for good reasons. The issue isn't so much with what these companies offer but how they position it. Quite often, the vanity publisher reaches out to authors with praises of their book saying how much they love it and how interested they are in publishing it. Writing a book is hard. Those of us who had their fair share of rejections from traditional publishers and agents can probably imagine how great it feels to get a message like this. But then you read on and pretty quickly the publisher will be asking for a contribution to the cost of publishing the book. However, when they say 'publishing', what they often really mean is 'printing'. They will take your book as is, often without any editing, print it and send you the copies. They have no invested interest in marketing or selling your book because they already got paid anyway. Since all you get in most cases are copies of your book, I would recommend being very cautious with offers like this. In the days of print to order, there are often cheaper ways to get hard copies of your book.


2.    Who owns the rights to your work and who is in control of the process? 

Another critical factor to consider is who will own the rights to your book and who is in control of the publishing process. If you get an offer from a business that asks you to pay them AND hand over the rights, I would agree with the RUN and SCAM comments you so often see in Facebook groups when this topic comes up. If a publisher wants the rights to your book, they need to pay you an advance, or at the very minimum cover the costs for editing, cover design, printing, distribution, and so on.

Reputable companies that offer services to authors who self-publish will not ask you to sign over the rights to your work. You will be in full control every step of the way. You choose the cover design, you choose exactly when, what, and where you publish, and you decide what marketing you do or don't do.

So read any contract you sign carefully and make sure you remain in control of your work if you are asked to pay the business.


3.    Does the business have a track-record? 

Finally, make sure you check the track-record of any business you consider paying for services. Ask them for a list of books they have worked on. Make sure you ask for examples of work they have done in the specific area you need help with. For example, if you're considering paying them for editing services, make sure you get samples of books they have edited. In many cases, it can be smart to ask for samples from the specific person who will work on your book. These companies often use contractors. Just because one of them has done a good job on another book, it doesn't mean that the one who will be assigned to your project does.  Also, make sure you get more than just two or three examples. It's easy for businesses to do an excellent job with a small number of projects, and then use them as references. Meanwhile, the rest of their work is nowhere near as good.  

Ask for names of authors who have used their services and reach out to them. Don't just rely on the references and testimonials the company gives you. Most authors have a website or Facebook page, so once you have their name, you can often find them and reach out to ask for their experience with the business. And do some online research to see what others have to say about the business. 


Those are three things to consider before paying someone to help publish your book. I think a good general rule of thumb is this: If the company tries to look like a traditional publisher but wants you to pay them, proceed very carefully! If the business openly promotes themselves as a service provider to writers, do your homework and check their references. If it checks out and they offer services you need, it might be a good option for you.

Paying business to help publish your book seems to be frowned upon in many writer communities. But I think it would be incredibly hard for any writer to self-publish a high-quality book WITHOUT paying someone for certain services (like editing). 

As always, all of this is just my personal opinion and experience, based on the reading and research I did to get my own book published. You might have different experiences or ideas. If you do, feel free to share them in the comments below.

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