Last time we talked about three very important bits of overhead that are essentially unavoidable in the author business. They may seem basic, but it turns out they’re a bit more complex than most authors imagine.
This week we’re going to look at the scams and predatory practices that could cost an author a lot of money for no reason. We’ll also look at some optional overhead that can help you save that most precious resource of all: Time.
To Be Avoided
There are plenty of predatory services out there, taking advantage of the passion and dreams of will-be authors. And while there’s nothing wrong with a business answering the needs of an industry in exchange for profit, there are some who prey on the fears, anxieties, and hopes of authors just to turn a buck.
We’d generally like to kick these people in the teeth. But we’ll settle for pointing out some of their practices, so you know what to avoid.
Do Not Pay for Distribution
Not to toot our own horn, but Draft2Digital currently distributes to some of the biggest digital bookstores on the Internet. We have a global reach, and we have fantastic relationships with our vendors. And we’re growing the list of supported storefronts all the time.
Oh, and all that is free.
We’re not the only eBook distribution aggregator around, of course. There are others. But all of us share the same glowing trait: We don’t charge authors to distribute their books.
We may take payment some other way, such as a percentage of royalties. But we never send an invoice, and we never demand upfront payments.
The same can’t be said for some predatory services online.
Naming names isn’t really something that D2D wants to do as a company, because it can get messy on the legal front. So instead, we’re just going to point out that if a business is asking you for a large sum of money just to make your book available on digital bookshelves, they aren’t looking out for your best interest. In fact, chances are they’re outright scamming you for dollars, and you can expect they’ll do more any chance they get.
As a rule, you should always avoid services that offer to put your book into stores in exchange for paying them a fee. It’s true, there are a few services out there that might manage some sort of expanded distribution network, and they may ask for a fee for that service. But such services are rare, and for the most part distribution isn’t something that should cost you out of pocket.
Also to avoid: Don’t sign over the rights to your work in exchange for distribution. Unless you’re publishing traditionally, through one of the Big Five, there’s really no reason to sign over the rights to your book anyway. If a service you’re considering says they can put you in book stores, but they own X% of your book, and you must pay $X in fees—run. They probably have a swarm of trained bees ready to sting on command. Or they’re after your money, which is equally bad.
Do Not Pay an Agent Reading Fee
First, if you’re publishing as an independent author, it’s likely you do not need an agent. That said, there are some circumstances where having an agent is right for you, so it’s best to know how to judge the scrupulous from the unscrupulous.
Agents are amazing for helping you navigate the waters of the publishing world, pointing you to resources and opportunities you might not have known about otherwise. And if your goal is to get to a more traditional publishing model, or if you want to negotiate rights to your work for other media such as film and television, an agent is (eventually) a must.
The rule here, though, is never pay an agent to read your work.
You’ll often see ads in the backs of writing magazines, or maybe even in Google search results, that offer to connect you to an agent. All you must do is pay the reading fee. And this fee can range from ‘affordable’ at a couple hundred bucks to ‘for the seriously committed only’ at thousands of dollars.
Don’t fall for this.
After talking to hundreds of agents, I can tell you that most legitimate agents never ask for a reading fee. Agents make their money from negotiating a great deal on behalf of their authors, and if the book sells they collect a commission. It’s in their best interest for books to sell very well—and this means they are incentivized to fight for you and your work.
Paying an agent an upfront reading fee guarantees nothing for your book, and depending on the contract you sign it could well end up limiting you on where you can take your book from there. You may lose the right to publish it on your own, or even with a publisher who refuses to work with your ‘agent.’
Always be careful about what you sign. Read everything, have attorneys review everything, and if you’re pressured to sign ‘right now or the deal is off,’ run. There are bound to be trained bees around.
There are a few legitimate services out there that require you to pay a reading fee, but the best rule of thumb is to avoid paying anyone to read your work.
Do Not Pay for Reviews
You’re going to be tempted.
When your book has been sitting there like a digital lump for a month, and no one is buying, and none of the people you’ve given the book to are leaving the reviews they promised, you’re going to hover your cursor over that listing on Fiverr and think, “How bad could it be?”
Answer: Very bad.
Paying for reviews violates the terms of service of not only Amazon but most other online retailers as well. And if someone discovers you’ve done it, you stand a chance of losing not only those bogus reviews but also your legitimate reviews, your book and author rankings, maybe even the right to sell your book through that venue at all. You may also lose any money you have made from book sales during that period.
Sound extreme? Maybe it is. Consider, though, that retailers like Amazon are zealous about protecting their own source of income: Their customers.
As an author, you’re just one of thousands of service providers who operate using Amazon’s storefront (or the storefronts of any other retailers). These retailers assume all the risks of offering your product to the masses. They assume all the overhead and expense. And, because of these assumptions, they get to make all the rules.
Buying reviews is tantamount to trying to game the system, to fool readers into making a purchase, and basically cheating everyone. Don’t do it.
Are there exceptions? Possibly. There are legitimate services, such as Kirkus, that will offer unbiased reviews you can use on your cover, in your book description online, on your website and anywhere else you like. Retailers traditionally allow reviews from sites like these because they are historically unbiased.
These reviews offer reliable ‘social proof’ that your book is as good as you say it is, and you can use them if you’re willing to pay for them.
Buying positive reviews from a service you found on Fiver.com or similar sites, however, will always be against the rules. And the consequences just aren’t worth it. Not only will you waste your money, you may end up losing out in bigger ways.
Those are some of the expenses to avoid when it comes to author overhead, but below we’ll cover a few ‘options’ that might be worth putting your money into. These can enhance your chances of reaching your target audience, and thus increase your chances of success as an author.
There are numerous free services that will help you with layout for eBooks and print. Draft2Digital will do both for you automatically and for free, for instance. But there is some benefit to seeking out a layout artist to give your book extra visual appeal.
When seeking a layout professional, consider these points:
- What other work have they done, and how is it doing in terms of reviews, sales, etc?
- What other authors has this professional worked with, and can you reach out to them to ask about the work?
- What is this professional’s background and history?
- How does their rate stack up against the rates of other layout artists? If it’s much higher, is there a discernible reason for that? Are they in high demand?
Asking questions and seeking out past clientele is the easiest way to determine if any service is reputable and above board, so make your own list and vet the professional or service before signing any contracts.
We talked about agents earlier, but just in case you left with the wrong idea …
Agents are an incredible resource, and one you should consider if you are ready to take your work to the next level. A good agent can negotiate terms for things such as foreign language translations, rights in specific markets (such as film & television, foreign markets, etc.), and publishing deals that include writing additional books.
Agents will take a percentage of your royalties in exchange for their work, and it’ll be up to you to determine if that percentage works for you. But the benefits can be wider exposure, better deals, and a faster path to success.
If you’re an indie publisher, don’t fall into the trap of thinking an agent has nothing to offer you. All the things we just described can apply to you as well. For instance, you may keep your books indie but have an agent who represents you for distribution deals. Having an agent could be money well spent.
Professional Memberships & Conferences
For every genre you could possibly write in, there is a professional organization and a conference.
Membership and attendance for these can be a huge benefit to you as an author. Not only do you stand to meet other authors, you can also meet agents, publishers, and service providers who can all benefit your career.
The name of the game is relationships.
It might seem a little odd to pay to establish these relationships, but consider auto insurance deductibles.
When you own a vehicle you are required to have auto insurance, and so you contact a company, set up an account, and agree to pay a monthly fee for coverage. If you are unfortunate enough to get into an accident (we’ll say a fender bender, because nobody has to get hurt here), you call your insurance agent and arrange for repairs. The agent tells you that you have a deductible to pay before the repairs can be made.
You could make the argument that if you’ve been paying your premiums every month for years, you should be well paid up on any repairs the insurance would have to cover. Why pay a deductible? Isn’t that kind of unfair, considering how much money you’ve shelled out?
But the deductible isn’t there to cover the repair. Its actual purpose is to act as a screen. To keep customers from filing frivolous claims, the insurance company charges a fee to initiate repairs. This keeps people from filing any time they get a tiny scratch in their paint, or every time someone dings their door in a parking lot.
In terms of building relationships as an author, membership fees and attendance fees help filter the au
thors and providers you’ll meet. You know that an author you chat with at a member’s meeting is at least capable of the same level of success as you are, and that any services you encounter at a conference aren’t likely to be fly-by-night operations.
The benefits of joining an organization or attending a conference can mean speeding through the learning curve, discovering new resources, and connecting with allies who can help you build a better career, faster. They’re well worth the money you spend.
The most challenging thing about marketing yourself as an author is that it takes time away from the work you really want to do: Writing.
Keeping things organized, making sure you’re on top of your ads, your podcast appearances, your guest posts, or any of the other things you might commit to as an author can be a real time suck. So, it’s worth considering outsource solutions to take the weight of these things off your shoulders.
Hiring someone, such as a virtual assistant (VA), can be a little expensive, but it could also give you back the time you need to write and publish the next book. And since you’re paying someone to market that book on your behalf, a VA can often pay for him- or herself.
But we’re not just talking about VAs here. Outsourcing can include any and every task that takes you away from your writing. Consider hiring someone to keep up your yard or clean your home, to deliver groceries, to manage your finances. You would also delegate tasks such as book cover design, layout, and editing (all things we’ve discussed in this series).
Remember, money is a shortcut for time. And often you can use your time to increase the money coming in, so the money going out doesn’t smart so much.
When it comes to author overhead, it’s important to remember that what you’ve started here is a business. Some authors hate thinking of it that way, but it’s a reality regardless. And like any business, there are some expenses that can’t be avoided, and some that can. The best way to tell the difference is to connect with other authors, and keep a dialogue going about expenses and scams. You’ll learn to spot the latter easier, and you’ll learn to keep the former as low as possible.