Author SolutionsIf this isn’t Rule One of self-publishing, it should be:

You should never, ever, ever pay someone to publish your work for you. Full stop. End of sentence.

Now, it’s fine to pay for useful services, of course. If you can afford it, it could be a good investment to pay someone to edit your work, or to design your cover art, or even to format your book for you if you don’t feel confident of your own skills in that regard. (Though I’d honestly recommend paying $40 for Scrivener and spending a few days learning how to use it instead. It produces clean, professional-looking EPUBs that pass validation checks. You don’t need more than that for most projects.)

But when it comes to actually publishing the work, reputable places will publish it for you for free, then take their money as a percentage of the book’s retail sales. For example, Amazon will either take 70% or 35%, depending on which program you go with and which price point you set. Even if you let them take the lion’s share, that’s still a better deal than you’d get from a traditional publisher. Even if you’re self-publishing in print, when you have free-to-use print-on-demand programs like CreateSpace, there’s absolutely no reason to pay setup or advertising fees.

Have you ever stopped to think about what an incredible bargain that is? Ten or fifteen years ago, the only way to self-publish was to pay for your books to be printed and then hand-sell them. While a few people like Robert Ringer or Christopher Paolini were able to make that work, for most people it was effectively an expensive sop to their vanity—hence the derisive nickname “vanity publishing.” But now you can publish a story for cash money with just a little more effort than slapping it up on a free Internet writing circle. (I really should get around to that myself one of these days.)

But there are still vanity scam-meisters around. One of the big ones is Author Solutions, who did so well scamming authors that they were bought by Penguin. I you ever needed proof of how traditional publishers are no longer authors’ friends, if indeed they ever were, well, there you go. A Big Five publisher bought one of the scammiest vanity presses around…and happily continues to operate it. And other major publishers, such as Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Harlequin have vanity imprints Author Solutions runs for them. What’s more, many bastions of the traditional publishing establishment continue to support them.

For example, there’s this little piece by anti-AS agitator David Gaughran, pointing out that Publishers Weekly (who still accepts advertising from AS) was happy to report on indie booksellers aggrieved that the LA Book Festival had dared open affiliate membership with Amazon…but not a word did they say about how Author Solutions continues to be a welcome guest there, scamming authors to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars that they may never end up making back.

Of course, as Paul noted last month, The Bookseller recently stopped taking ads from Author Solutions, though Writer’s Digest continues to do so. It’s incumbent on us to get the word out, and put pressure on organizations that continue to support these scam artists. And to warn new would-be self-publishers: Don’t pay one red cent to someone to publish your book for you. Don’t pay for advertising or signings either—or if you do, at least contact the publication directly; don’t go through a middleman. If you want to arrange signings, contact the bookstore yourself. Odds are many of them will be happy to do anything that might bring more readers in.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)