A warning for writers who wish to self-publish

A lot of the traffic to this site is for my page of Resources for Self-Publishers (link in the menu at the top of the page). I try to only add resources that I can personally vouch for, or that someone I trust has used and recommended.

But there are a lot of “resources” that writers who want to publish their own work need to avoid. It’s not unusual for problems to show up in one-person shops where the editor or artist has flaked out or otherwise ripped someone off. I remove those links as soon as I’m aware of the issue, but wouldn’t normally highlight the person here.

Sometimes, though, a company has the potential to harm so many uninformed writers that it’s important to point out how bad their offered services are, and to recommend that no writer ever sign a contract with them. Even if these companies live up to their stated offerings, those offerings are so one-sided, such a bad deal for the writers who might use them, that it’s worth the time to point out why.

One such company showed up this week, as noted in the New York Times:

Simon & Schuster Steps Into Self-Publishing

Simon & Schuster is testing the water in the booming self-publishing market.

The publishing company announced Tuesday that it was teaming up with Author Solutions, based in Bloomington, Ind., to create a separate house called Archway Publishing, which would be available for authors wanting to self-publish fiction, nonfiction, business or children’s books….

Simon & Schuster hopes to distinguish Archway from other self-publishing options by positioning it as a premium service, at a premium cost to the authors. In addition to the standard editorial, design and distribution services normally offered by Author Solutions, Archway will offer a new options created in consultation with Simon.

Authors can buy packages ranging from $1,599 for the least expensive children’s package, to $24,999 for the most expensive business book package.

The Times does not mention that these packages don’t include even basic services that writers might need: editing, proofreading, cover art and design. Those services are available from Archway at an additional cost. The Times also does not mention that Simon & Schuster’s Archway company will take half of the author’s ebook royalties for providing, well, not much other than a chance to put the Archway brand on your work. They also keep the majority of the proceeds from print sales.

In many cases these services are available at lower cost to self-publishers who are willing to contract for them individually. And almost no freelance editor or artist, whatever their rate, would expect a royalty interest in your work. Perpetual payment for a one-time service is almost unheard of when you hire freelancers.

Fortunately, independent authors are drawing attention to these problematic contracts. David Gaughran has written a good analysis of some of the trouble areas. The comments on that post are excellent, too. And over at the Kindleboards Writer’s Cafe, there’s a multi-page thread with writers chiming in with their own thoughts. I recommend you read through those as well if you’re considering signing up with Archway or Author Solutions in any form. And if you haven’t already read the Business Rusch Publishing Series that Kris Rusch updates weekly, you should. No one writes better about the business side of publishing for authors, whether traditional or independent.

As a self-published writer, you are responsible for your publishing choices. Don’t let your need for validation lead you to make bad ones. Research any editor, artist, or publishing company you’re thinking of signing up with. Vet any contract carefully, with a lawyer if it’s anything substantial or detailed. Know that you have many options for getting your work into the hands of readers, and that as the author, as a creator, you stand in the position of power. At least you do if you allow yourself to. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s liberating too. Embrace it.

Updae: Dean Wesley Smith weighs in: New Way For Uninformed Writers to Spend Money.

Update: Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware is unhappy with the deal and adds an interesting point I hadn’t seen before:

There’s also this disturbing tidbit in PW’s coverage of the launch: “S&S will refer authors who submit unsolicited manuscripts to the Archway program.” I didn’t find this in other news coverage, and I’m hoping it’s not true–or if it is true, that S&S will re-think it. Such referrals are seriously questionable, since authors who receive them are likely to give them more weight because they come from a respected publisher.

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