Guest blog: Brian Kittrell: Don’t Go Broke in Self-Publishing: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself in the Digital Revolution

My guest post today is a must-read, don’t-get-scammed post for all beginning self-publishers. I am deeply indebted to Brian for writing this awesome article. Brian, of course, is a self-publisher way more successful than me, so he knows what he’s talking about. For information on Brian and his books, please go to his website Late Nite Books.

Digital and print-on-demand publishing has created a new world of opportunities for the intrepid self-published writer, but all around this new industry, another group of people are eager to benefit: scammers, con artists, and others wanting to make a quick buck from the many uninformed authors taking to the online stage. How are authors being scammed and how does a writer, new to the whole idea of self-publishing, survive in such a hostile environment?
 

Publishing Service Providers

It seems like every day there are new service providers–editors, proofreaders, cover designers, formatters, and ebook programmers–hanging out a shingle. How is an author to know who is good or bad?

Tip #1: Vet, vet, and vet some more.

Always, and I mean always, vet your service providers. Don’t take the testimonials on their website as the only referral. Talk to people you know about the provider. If you have a more experienced author friend, have them take a look at the service provider, too. Memorize the Preditors and Editors link and check all service providers against it. Look at their gallery or portfolio from past work. Demand to see one if you can’t find one.

As a general rule, the best service providers will be people you don’t know who will render judgement and advice based upon the manuscript, not you as a person. Friends and family have a way of being supportive even when they know the book isn’t good or needs lots of work.

 

Tip #2: Know the normal rates.

Knowing the normal industry accepted rates will help you weed out those who aren’t serious and those who are overpricing. Strong editing (as of the time of this writing) can often be found for around a penny a word. Some charge fractions of a penny less or more per word. If a provider is charging considerably more or less for the job than what you’ve usually been quoted, it could be a sign of danger.

The only exception to this rule is if the service provider is very new and does not have an established base of clients. However, you should be very guarded about dealing with inexperienced service providers; treat your books like your own children and make sure they have the best.

 

Tip #3: Demand a sample of work.

Professional editors and proofreaders will provide a sample edit or sample proof of your work. This usually consists of several pages for a full-length manuscript. The idea here is to demonstrate the editor’s skill, to see if you think, based upon the edit, if the editor or proofreader will be a good fit for your style and voice, and to get an idea of how things will work during the process if you decide to hire them.

With artists, review their portfolios and galleries and discuss the intricate details of the project. Do NOT ask them to produce a sample cover for you to think about; asking an artist to render even a very basic drawing for free is in bad taste. Artwork, even sketching a concept, takes considerable time and effort, and their portfolios should be sufficient to judge if their style meets with your project or not.

 

Tip #4: Prefer Flat-Fee Deals to Royalty Share Agreements.

Whenever possible, pay flat fees for service providers instead of royalty share agreements. Don’t tie yourself to your service providers wherever you can get away from doing so. Think of it like this: if your book goes on to sell $1,000,000, is the cover you got from your designer worth $100,000? Most likely not. Additionally, what if you sell 100,000 copies of your book and a big publisher takes an interest in it? Would you be willing to give your proofreader 5% of your income for the rest of eternity? Do you have a contract which stipulates that a buyout by a major publisher voids the royalty share agreement?

Think forward on this kind of thing. Flat fees are best because you pay once and you’re free to go whatever route you like.

 

Common Scams and Cons

Outside of the flourishing field of publishing services, you may come up against a scam designed to deprive you of your hard-earned lucre. Here are some common ones and some tips about what you should do when facing a suspicious situation.

Tip #5: Avoid Gifting Scams

With my books, I give away lots of copies in hopes of garnering reviews and a little buzz. If my book is good enough, those who receive review copies may post up written reviews or give recommendations to their friends about my book. It’s a great practice for the author to get unbiased commentary while giving readers a brand new book at no cost.

In favor of explicitly describing the attempt I received, I have imported a post I made on Kboards.com into this article to relay a recent experience with a giveaway:

just got done with a giveaway through LibraryThing for ARCs. I do this with all of my new releases so that I have a chance of picking up a couple of reviews and maybe moving some books. Anyway, I have a very specific format for my giveaways which has been honed over a long period of time. I send this email (included in its entirety because, well, someone may find this thread while searching on ways to send out emails to winners):

“You are receiving this email because you entered into the Members Giveaway/Early Reviewer program through LibraryThing (http://www.librarything.com), and you were selected to receive a giveaway/review copy of the title described below. Please do not reply to this email. Instead, direct any responses to admin@latenitebooks.com or brian@latenitebooks.com.

Congratulations, and thank you for entering!

You may get your free copy of (BOOK) with the following steps:

1. Visit http://www.latenitebooks.com/(REMAINDER OF URL)
2. Click “Add to Cart” button.
3. Click “Checkout”.
4. Scroll down the page to Discount Code and enter: (CODE)
5. This will reduce the price of the book to $0.00 / free.
6. Download the book in PDF, ePub, and/or Mobi format.

You will also receive an email with links to download the books so you can save this information for the future. If you do not receive that email, please check your Spam folder.

This download link is active forever; you can re-download the book if you lose it. If you would like to read on multiple devices, you may download one, two, or all three formats. My books are not burdened by DRM technology. All I ask is that you do not redistribute them.

If you have any problems with the process, advise me and I will correct the problem as quickly as possible.

Thank you very much!

- Brian Kittrell, Late Nite Books

Please be advised: If you received this email in error, please disregard it. No further action is necessary on your part. Receipt of this email and/or signing up in the LibraryThing Giveaway/Early Reviewers program does not automatically add you to any Late Nite Books email list or program. I value your privacy as much as my own, and I do not share your information with other third parties. Coupon code is valid from (START_DATE) until (END_DATE). Please visit the Late Nite Books store and secure your copy prior to (END_DATE).”

Some write back and say Thank you or I’ll get to it right away! One person had some extreme trouble with the store, so I sent the file to them directly. But I receive the following email aside from the rest:

“Hi, I am happy to have won a copy – Your book sounds very interesting!
Is there anyway you could be so kind to send that to me as an Kindle Gift from Amazon?
I keep everything on Amazons Kindle activity webpage so I can store, organize, manage, take notes and higlights to help with my reviews using different Apps to help remember more of what I read.
For this the ebook must be purchased from Amazon.com for it to be added into my Kindle library page.

Thank You,
(NAME REMOVED)”

Don’t do it. I repeat, DON’T DO IT.

If you need reasons why you shouldn’t:
#1 Nondescript. Feels like a form mail that could apply to any book. Couldn’t even be bothered to talk about the book in the giveaway; probably sends hundreds of these out per week.
#2 Reader asks for you to spend money on the review copy after you’ve given a very easy way to get the book for free. You may have even attached the book to the email you sent out.
#3 Kindle activity webpage… I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen that before. My Kindle (as I’m sure most are) is equipped with highlighting, taking notes, and organizing books no matter if I side load them or get them from the Amazon website.
#4 Apps to help someone remember what they read? As preposterous as this sounds, I’m sure Apps can be used regardless of where a book came from.
#5 Yes, a book must be a valid purchase from Amazon.com to appear on Amazon.com’s library page. That, I cannot argue with. However, what do I care? The presence or absence of my book on the library page does not prevent it from being read, downloaded, or transferred to your device. ~50 people so far had no problem using the directions I sent, and the one that did have problems just asked for the ePub to be attached to an email. No problem.

Here’s the scam, from the scammer’s point of view:
- Convince author to gift ebook to me.
- Redeem the gift into a gift card instead of getting the book.
- If I really want to ream an author, I’ll send the convincing email from one address, wait for the gift, redeem it, then tell the author that the gift needs to be sent to my “Kindle email” so I can get the book. Two for the price of one.
- Further, the scam can be extended to a third email address. The chances are lower on the second gifted copy and even less so on the third, but it’s worth a shot.

Now, repeat this process with the dozens of books from independent authors having a giveaway ending each day.

Let’s say 3 authors fall for the first level of this scam each day from the same con. Let’s say that the books are $2.99 to gift. That’s about $9.

$9 * 300 days (because even cons take breaks) = $2,700 per year in Amazon gift cards.

What to do if you get a suspicious email?

Contact the service hosting the giveaway immediately. I sent an email to Jeremy at LibraryThing, and he told me that the subject who sent this email is “nearly a serial offender,” that they’ve gotten a few reports about them already. I leave the handling of the issue to LibraryThing because, on my end, it’s handled. The person won’t be scamming me.

What can I do to mitigate my risk?

Before you do your giveaway, establish ground rules that you will not break, such as the delivery method. I chose my own website. Smashwords coupons are a good choice, too. Do whatever you want, but gifting via Amazon is going to burn a hole in your pocket for very little–if any–reward. The gift redemption scam has been going on for a while now, and more and more people are getting keen to it. The method is explored on various shady forums, chat rooms, and so forth.

If you’re suspicious of any other potential scam, ask about it on KBoards. Chances are that another writer has heard about a scam (or, in the most unfortunate circumstance, was a victim of the scam). Look before you leap.

 

Tip #6: Literary Award Scams

You may have already fallen victim to such a scam or you may have seen these going around. The idea is that authors enter the contest for a literary award and pay a fee to apply. The winner is announced later and usually gets a shiny seal of approval and a letter or something. Always perform deep research on any contest you’re planning on entering. See how often the contest has been held and how long the organization has been running it. Do deep research on the organization. Search Google for the names of the people involved, the name of the organization, the name of the award, and any other identifying details you can locate (such as the mailing address; some fly-by-night operations change their names but keep the same mailing address, for instance). Search Google for all of these things.

Literary award programs have become a dime a dozen. The most respectable ones usually have no entry fees, too.

If a literary award contest seems shady, skip it. Awards do so little for your publicity that spending large sums of money on them is pointless.

 

Tip #7: Avoid Reading Fees

Avoid anything with a reading fee attached. If money flows out of your wallet, you had better be guaranteed to get something in return for it other than a form rejection letter. If an agent, editor, proofreader, or other service provider demands some kind of payment just to talk to you, run away as fast as your hooves will carry you. Consultations are free. Editors and proofreaders should provide a small sample of work (on YOUR manuscript) at no cost. Agents don’t deserve free money for looking your way, and neither do publishers.

 

Tip #8: Beware the Referral Monster

Lots of scams involve referring authors to third party services, deals, or opportunities which aim to plunder your vault and leave you high and dry. If you submit to a publisher or agent, that party advises you to seek editing or proofreading help, and then they refer you to someone they know, it’s probably a referral program. That party is usually getting a cut of the proceeds for referring you in the first place. So, you’re automatically paying a bit above cost plus a little profit to the service provider. Sometimes this is ten or fifteen percent. Sometimes this is considerably more.

If an agent or publisher sees promise in your work, they should secure the services of an editor (on their staff or otherwise) after the contract has been signed.

 

Tip #9: Scammy Publishers

Which brings me to my next point: scammy publishers. A publisher is a company or individual who makes it his/her/its job to publish books. This process starts where the author’s original manuscript ends, and the work continues all the way to the distribution of the final book. In this process, there are many steps:

- Editing
- Proofreading
- Cover design
- Formatting (interior and/or ebook)
- Distribution (to retailers)
- Promotion, publicity, and advertising
- Accounting
- Paying the author due royalties

A publisher should not ask you to handle any of the above yourself, with the exception of promotion/publicity. (You will be asked to do whatever promotion or publicity you can to help sell your book.) If a publisher asks you to cover any of the above costs up front, you’re not dealing with a professional outfit.

Watch out in your contracts, too. Sometimes some or all of these services may be put against royalties which means that your sales will pay for some/all of these services before you get paid. These deals are not necessarily scammy, but you should take great care in studying the contract to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

In simpler language, you should not be paying anything upfront to a publisher to publish your book. That’s… you know… the point of having a publisher in the first place. If any of your production and ongoing promotional activities are charged against royalties, that should be clear from the start and you must understand the implications before you sign on the dotted line.

 

Tip #10: Step Right Up! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

In regular life, we see this kind of scam all the time: act fast! It won’t last long! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

My advice to you: take as much time as you need. Time-limited offers are designed to inspire impulse buying, and doing things on an impulse will not yield the kind of results you want for your books, your writing career, or your legacy. Take as much time as you need to decide. Ask opinions from the people you trust and respect. If the timer runs out, it wasn’t meant to be.

 

And Much More…

The idea of this article was to give you a primer, to help you protect yourself against common schemes and to save yourself some money down the line. It won’t protect you against everything out there or what will eventually come; for that, you need a skeptical, cynical eye cast upon every “offer” and “opportunity.” Your survival depends upon your ability to smell a scam, and I can tell you that you’ll run into them on an almost daily basis. If it doesn’t smell right, you shouldn’t bite. If it’s too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

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5 comments on “Guest blog: Brian Kittrell: Don’t Go Broke in Self-Publishing: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself in the Digital Revolution

  1. Pingback: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself in the Digital Revolution « eBook Conversion

  2. Pingback: A Hodgepodge of Useful Bits & Pieces for May 2013 | KD DID IT Takes on Books

  3. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #31 — The Book Designer

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