I received a brochure from a self publishing company today, touting their services as "The Future of Book Publishing." It's a slickly produced ad promoting the various ways their company will help you self publish your book, and the various ways to help the authors after publication.
So, how can you tell a legit self-publishing place from a scam? The real answer is that you can't because for some authors, almost any company will deliver to them a product that they feel was worth the money. If you feel you got your money's worth, then you weren't scammed, right?
I have a hard time believing, though, that someone who bought this company's $999.00 "diamond" package that includes the formatting and publication of their book, plus "worldwide availability and distribution," plus an ISBN and a handful of other items, which an author could do for himself for WAY cheaper or free, wouldn't feel ripped off. You know how it goes, though: different strokes for different folks.
It is a buyer beware world out there, so someone who pitched their money at this company would be doing so at their own risk, but the implied promise of the brochure is that you will make your investment back when this company mails quarterly royalty checks "ranging from hundreds to tens-of-thousands of dollars."
They didn't mention any of their "tens-of-thousands of dollars" success stories by the way. So I'm not going to say that this press is a rip-off. They probably deliver everything they explicitly promise for the price they advertise--you get what you pay for--although here is a blog site that says exactly why an author should be wary of this company.
Here's an advertising trick. Most hopeful folks who read an ad that says checks range from "hundreds to tens-of-thousands of dollars" don't believe they will make the "tens-of-thousands," but the low end of the ad, the "hundreds," sounds good. I only know of a couple self published folks who even made that. Most of my self published acquaintances lost money.
I know just one person personally who self published, who I didn't feel was ripped off. She has MS, and she self published through iUniverse. She told me that she wasn't sure how long she was going to be able to continue to function, so rather than wait to see if her book could winnow its way through traditional publishing, which might be never, she chose to self publish so she could see the book in her lifetime and share it with friends and family.
Numerous reasons to self publish exist, by the way, like the church group that wants a good looking version of their congregation's cookbook, or the person who is doing his family's history to give to all the family members, or the author who has a predetermined audience, like someone writing a local history, but, in general, most people who self publish never make their money back, don't gain a reading audience, don't attract the attention of a larger publisher, don't end up on local or national talk shows (like Oprah, as the ad I received today suggests), don't have their books available on the shelves at the chain bookstores, aren't reviewed by the major reviewers, don't improve their reputation among editors and agents, and do end up with books they can't sell or even give away.
For a writer who is hoping to build a career in publishing, who plans on writing and selling numerous books, the self publishing route is probably not the way to go. If you'd like to see more discussion about legitimate self publishing, and how it separates itself from vanity press, which I think is what the ad I received today was probably more like, check out this article.
You can tell me about the exceptionally rare success stories in self publication--I know them--but they won't change my advice. In 1960, a seven-year old boy named Roger Woodward fell into the Niagara River wearing a life jacket. The river carried him over the falls. Miraculously, he survived, suffering only a light concussion.
Roger Woodward went over Niagara Falls and lived, but I'm not telling anyone to go swimming at the edge of the falls. One miracle is not the basis for sound advice. If you're planning on building a reputation in writing and hope to be successful, don't self publish.