author solutions

The Simon & Schuster Author Solutions Self-Publishing Firestorm

There’s been a firestorm of sorts in the self-publishing community recently with regard to mega publisher Simon & Schuster partnering with a company called “Author Solutions.” The issue isn’t about SS getting into self-publishing. They’re ALL doing it now that they’ve admitted e-books aren’t going to disappear. It’s more about the alleged reputation of Author Solutions.

I come to this topic with a lot of self-publishing experience. I self-pubbed four e-books alone last year with “Ryan Field Press” without the help of a publishing service, a literary agency who offers self-publishing services, or a publisher who offers self-publishing services. And while I know the ins and outs, so to speak, about self-pubbing e-books, I’m not familiar with Author Solutions at all and I think I can be objective. This link will lead you to several things I posted while I was self-pubbing for the first time last year.

In a recent blog post by David Gaughran, I found a few interesting things I think are worth mentioning. I’d also like to state, for the record, as publishing continues to evolve I have seen more than my fair share of rip-offs that are allegedly designed to “help” authors. The problem is that most of the time these “things” are a waste of both time and money…especially the marketing and promotional offers. Another issue is that you’re not getting good information, or all the information you should be getting. So now more than ever before, authors have to be on guard at all times, because it seems as if there’s someone waiting to rip us off at every corner. And I’m not even talking about the bad advice that’s going around. That would be another blog post.

According to Gaughran, this is the pricing structure SS and Author Solutions are offering:

Fiction packages start at $1,999 and go up to $14,999. If you have written a business book, prices are saucier again: $2,999 to $24,999.

While the upper end of the pricing spectrum is obviously shocking, some of you might think that $1,999 isn’t too bad if you are getting a proper edit and a decent cover.

Ultimately, Gaughran goes on to state that for a basic package, including edits, the charge will be about $5,000.00. And then SS will take half of the sales along with other retail web sites like Amazon who will take their cut of the profits. I recommend reading the entire article…and everything you can read about self-publishing if you are just getting interested in it…to get the full impact. After he talks about SS, he goes on to explain and discuss a few serious allegations that have been made about Author Solutions and other self-publishing enterprises associated with them.

Gaughran then links to this post where Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware weighs in on the topic. I used to follow her blog all the time back in the day, but frankly I didn’t even know she was still around.

Strauss says this:

How lucrative, though? The action in self-publishing right now is in the ebook realm, where publishing services are available free. Beside Smashwords, Amazon’s KDP program, PubIt! from Nook, etc., expensive POD-centric ASI-style services seem clunky and old-fashioned. Why invest in a costly publishing package when you can ebook for nothing on Smashwords, POD for nothing on CreateSpace, find reasonably-priced cover design services on DeviantArt, and so on?

You can’t argue with that, at least not on the surface. She even says that there are other services available that are less expensive than what SS and Author Solutions are charging. I know that’s true because I checked a few out when I started to think about self-publishing my first book, “Chase of a Lifetime.” But what I found was that the less expensive services don’t return e-mails, aren’t interested in erotic romance, and don’t provide the most detailed information. I’m sure not all are like that. I’m speaking about what I learned from those I contacted. Which is why I ultimately decided to self-publish alone. (As a side note, each company Struass listed above is set up differently. In other words, if you self-pub one thing on Amazon and then do it on Smashwords or Kobo it’s a different experience each time. So far I’ve found that allromanceebooks.com has the best set up and is the most author friendly…Go ARe!!)

This past week alone four different authors contacted me privately and asked about self-publishing. The one thing they were all apprehensive about was that they were not technically advanced enough to do it alone and they didn’t want to spend tons of money either with a publishing service. I can’t even count the number of authors who have contacted me in the past year who are self-publishing alone and they asked for tech advice because it’s not easy to find certain advice on the Internet about self-publishing…at least not in plain English. And a good deal of the information is mixed. Of course I was more than happy to help in any way I could free of charge. And even that took hours of my time.

The thing Gaughran and Strauss fail to mention in their posts about self-publishing is that it’s not as simple as it looks. Let me repeat that. It’s. Not. As. Simple. As. It. Looks. I’m lucky enough to have a partner like Tony who can run circles around IT people in the most complicated situations. And even he had issues in the beginning with “Chase of a Lifetime.” For those who don’t know, and for those who make self-publishing sound so simple, HTML is like learning a foreign language. And if you don’t learn it you’re going to have trouble formatting and there are going to be issues with the e-book upon release. Serious issues that will make you look stupid. And the companies offering free services offer you little help, if any. The first time I released COAL the paragraphs wouldn’t indent. Picture me freaking out. I couldn’t live with that so Tony took the book down, figured out the problem (a week), and finally put it back up again. In fact, getting that one book out was probably one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done in my entire publishing career. And I have been contracted to write full length romance novels in a three week time frame, and I have over 100 published works with publishers out there. So I’m not exactly a novice.

I’m not going to weigh in on the discussion about SS and Author Solutions. I do think they are expensive and I personally wouldn’t use them for that reason alone. But I’m not ready to knock them yet either. And I’m not trying to talk anyone out of self-publishing by talking about how difficult it is to do alone. It’s difficult, but if you work hard enough it’s also doable. By doing it alone you can save a great deal of money. But you also have to be prepared to learn how to do it well enough to put out a professional e-book. Here’s an example of how critical it is out there. The other day I read a review for an e-book and the reviewer made a comment about one word that had been misspelled. I know that’s a little extreme, but this is the kind of scrutiny you’re going to be dealing with if you self-publish. And you should know what you’re in for, especially those who haven’t pubbed before and don’t know what it’s like to deal with critical reviews.

A lot of people these days feel that everything on the Internet should be for free…including self-publishing. Kind of like the dude in the photo above. He’s adorable, but I don’t see him getting any books out any time soon. It’s almost as if there’s a law against anyone making money these days. But if you aren’t knowledgeable enough, and you tend to be technically challenged, you aren’t going to be able to take advantage of the basically free (nothing’s really free) self-publishing opportunities out there. And unless you’re lucky enough to have an agent that offers self-publishing services, you’re going to have to pay someone to do it.

Both of the articles to which I linked above talk about how expensive SS and Author Solutions are, and I tend to agree with them. But I also know that it takes a lot of time and effort to get an e-book out and that’s not something that should be offered for free. No one should be expected to work for free. I speak from personal experience right now. The time it took to release each digital e-book I have out isn’t even something I can even calculate. I don’t really know if there is a standard price for self-publishing services, but I do know that what I did alone just with COAL was worth at least a thousand dollars just to get that book out. And if I were to do it for someone else I wouldn’t charge a penny less. I’m still here for free advice. I don’t mind doing that.