8 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Custom Publishing Service to Help You Self-Publish Your Book

Long before I owned a publishing company, I started out by self-publishing my first book (which led to numerous opportunities!). Like most new authors, I had to start from the beginning and investigate my options. Trying to navigate the world of self-publishing was like driving in a dark rainstorm without a map. It was completely overwhelming.

Years later when I decided to launch Authority Publishing, I was moved to do so for several reasons. I realized that there was already a lot of competition out there, mostly large vanity presses, which are the publishing equivalent of big box stores. I also saw a lot of problems with their business models. When you shop at a big discount store, you might save a few bucks, but you also know you’re going to sacrifice customer service and quality.

And over the years I’ve heard some horror stories from countless authors who wish they could start over and re-do their books. To help you avoid the same fate, here are some important questions to ask when investigating custom publishers.

1. What are ALL of your fees?

Many lead with a low price only to nickel and dime authors with add-on services. Ask for a complete price list up front and make sure that whatever price you’re quoted includes all of the services you need (like cover design, editing, interior layout, distribution, quantity of books, etc.).

2. How much will my books cost?

While it may cost you less to publish initially, many of the big “author factories” stick it to the authors with individual book price. I’ve met authors who complain that their trade paperback books cost them $8, $10, or $12 to print—and that is simply outrageous for a book with black and white interior and color cover.

Let me be transparent: our price for a 150-page trade paperback, b&w interior and color cover is $4.30 per book in small quantities. Order 250 copies and that price goes down to $3.87. Order 1000 and the price is $3.23 or less (we provide a custom quote for large orders).

Your cost for your book should leave you plenty of room to make a profit. Also, you have to keep in mind that the bookstores take 40% to 55% off of your retail price. So if your book retails for $14.99, a bookstore will pay you $8.99. Deduct your costs for printing and that is your remaining royalty. If your custom publisher charges you $9.00 per book, you wouldn’t make a penny. In fact, you’d owe a penny!

3. Who sets the retail price on my book?

Along with the whole individual book pricing discussion, make sure to ask about how the retail price is set. Here’s another issue that happens too often—the publisher sets a price that is far too high. For example, a romantic novel priced at $24.95 is going to be a barrier for readers. You should be able to use the retail formula above and choose a price that is appropriate for your market, yet still makes at least a few dollars in profit when sold through retail channels.

4. What are the terms of your contract?

If you remember nothing else from this post, please remember to ask this question. Keep in mind that with a custom publisher, you are paying them to help you publish your book. That means that you should retain all of your rights, including the right to cancel the contract at anytime. If a traditional press like Random House calls and wants to buy the rights to your book, you should have the option to pursue that transaction. Unfortunately some of these operations are locking unsuspecting authors into contracts between one to three years.

5. How long will it take to produce my book?

In most cases, it should take 90 days or less to produce your book (provided there isn’t extensive editing involved). If the company takes four, six, or nine months to turn your book around, ask why. Often times these companies are churning so many authors through the system that they get backed up. Your project shouldn’t have to wait in line when you’re paying for it to be produced properly and efficiently.

6. Do you use templates?

Like it or not, people do judge a book by its cover. Cover templates should be avoided completely. When it comes to using templates for the interior design, I personally don’t like them either. Your book should be distinctive in every way. Ask to see samples if templates are in use.

7. Who will guide me through this process?

With the big custom publishers, you will likely work with someone in a call center, and you might talk to a different person every time you call. If that is not important to you then skip this question, but keep in mind that some companies actually employ publishing industry professionals who have experience in the field. These folks are more qualified to guide you through the process and provide advice when needed.

8. Are you selective about the books you publish?

Most custom publishers will produce anything in exchange for a check. This may or may not matter to you, but consider the company your book keeps. If your publisher doesn’t stand for quality, then its brand will be known for that. It’s that simple.

Bonus: Do some research. Be sure to do a Google search on any company you consider working with. Better yet, search <company name> + “scam” or <company name> + “problem”. Finding out what their past customers are saying online and in community forums is more valuable than any pre-screened customer reference they may provide you.

Also, in lieu of asking for references, do your own homework. Look on the company’s website to locate authors they’ve published and contact the authors directly. You’re much more likely to get a real answer by approaching their clients this way.

Also know that there are just as many good publishers out there as bad ones. Just do your homework and ask the right questions before you make a decision!

Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including “Booked Up! How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book to Grow Your Business” and “From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur: Make Money with Books, eBooks and Information Products.” Stephanie is also founder and CEO of http://AuthorityPublishing.com, which specializes in custom publishing for non-fiction books, and http://BusinessInfoGuide.com, a directory of resources for entrepreneurs. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, BusinessWeek, Inc.com, Wired magazine, and many other media outlets.