Are you sending spam?

Spam, we all hate it. Or at least we say we do. Unless we don’t, and we do it ourselves. Oops.

We like to talk about whether something is spam or not in very black-and-white terms. But in reality it is a much more grey area than that. If you shop at a particular store, and they have your email address because the transaction took place online, do they have the right to send you emails? Are those emails spam?

Some people might think they are, because they did not ask for those emails to be sent. Some people would be happy to be reminded of special deals. In an ideal world, there would be a checkbox at the checkout process to let the recipient choose whether to put their name on an email list or to opt out. However, many companies don’t do that and start sending email regardless. In general, it is considered to be fair use of an email address to send someone who buys something from you a couple of emails after their purchase.

But what about those people who have nothing to sell, and want to promote a new business or a new service?

This is what the Australian anti-spam act has to say about unsolicited email. Or read about the CAN-SPAM act in the US.

Both (and the laws of other countries) specify the following I would like to highlight:

  • Each email you send must have an unsubscribe link. If you use an email service (Mailchimp or the like), they will do this for you. But if you send regular email to a list, it is the law that you offer people a way off the list.
  • You must also identify yourself with a physical address.
  • The biggie: you may not harvest email addresses from forums, participant lists, customer lists of other but related businesses or activities.

I will not sugarcoat it: many small presses and writer organisations are terrible about the latter.

This is the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

  • You go to a writer con, and because you register online, the organisers have your email address.
    They didn’t expressly ask people if they wanted to be emailed, but I don’t think anyone will have an issue if the organisers email you again when the con is on the next year. This is fair use. So far, so good.
  • But one of the con organisers has a small press. They use the con attendee email list to advertise their books. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone who works as volunteer for the con takes the list and starts emailing, a few years later, about a second, rival con. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone from this con regularly visits a forum and adds in people who frequent the forum and starts emailing about their editing business. This is NOT COOL.

Those last three items are illegal.

Yet it is exceedingly common for this to happen in the world of small press and volunteer organisations. Every month I have to unsubscribe myself from several lists collated by overly eager small press people who clearly have no idea what they are allowed to do. I don’t think any of these individuals mean ill, but certainly the cumulated effect on my inbox is infuriating. And despite plenty of publicity about spam as well as warnings by the email companies that they signed up with, these people do not seem to get it.

We—the recipients of the emails—are asked to grin and bear it “to support the community”. Well, I’m through with it. I’m reporting them all for spam. I have to comply with the laws, and so can they. They’ve had over a decade to learn.

Please stop sending people email that they have not asked for. You are giving small presses and volunteer writing organisations a bad name.

If you want people on your list, do this in the same way everyone else does it: by adding a signup box to your website, by adding a link to forum posts, by putting it as pinned post to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, by putting it on all publicity you send out, by using paid ads to increase your audience.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Single Opt-in And Double Opt-in–What Should You Use?

Recently, the email marketing company Mailchimp announced that the default setting of their signup forms was going to be single opt-in. A lot of people who use email marketing were up in arms about this. Why and what should you use?

In most email list providers, double opt-in is the default. It works like this: when a subscriber enters their email address in the signup form, they get an email asking them to confirm. There is a link in that email that they have to click in order to confirm that they want to be on the list. In single opt-in this does not happen. The process might take you to a page that says thank you, but at that moment, you are already on the list.

As you will understand from the above examples, it is much easier to get a lot more addresses when using single opt-in. Less hassle, less chance of an email going unopened, forgotten or undelivered. So why use double opt-in?

Before I go any further, I am going to tell you that I use both, so I am not advocating one over the other, just that there are situations where you want to use double opt-in and situations where single opt-in will do.

According to its advocates, double opt in reduces the chance of someone accidentally or maliciously ending up on an email list. It may be hard to understand the sort of sick people who enter other people’s email addresses on email lists just because they can, because they have time and obviously nothing better to do. It is also amazing what sort of robotic entering processes exist for entering email fake addresses in all kinds of places where emails can be entered.

It really boggles the mind why people would do things like this, but the fact is that it happens.

I have experienced this. I have an app that allows me to run competitions where you give away a prize and people can increase their chance of winning by getting other people to enter in the competition. There are obviously apps that generate fake email addresses on free services like hotmail and gmail and automatically enter these into the competition so that the original entrant (the owner of the app) can have more chance of winning the prize. I am sure these apps are sold at forums that shall not be mentioned, but as owner of the competition, you can spot it easily when you get thousands of entries within a short time period that all point back to the same address and that all use the same syntax.

So, yes, robotic entries happen. It is a risk of single opt-in forms.

If you are with an email provider that charges you per email address, as most of them do, this can potentially inflate your costs. Because all these bogus email addresses don’t need to be verified and because they are normally valid, meaning that if you send an email to them they won’t bounce, if you send an email to your list and include addresses like that, your open rate will plummet.

The potential for misuse of a single opt-in system is huge.

On the flipside of the coin, I don’t know how many email lists I have tried to subscribe to where the confirmation email never arrived and I therefore could not get material I wanted. Also, filling out forms like entering captchas on a tiny mobile screen is a pain, so people would just prefer to do the one click subscribe.

I use a single opt-in form for internal signups and confirmations*, for example in the process where people want to change their email address or put themselves on the ARC list. It seems silly to ask these people to reconfirm their intention, because they’re already on my list and I do not want to risk losing any of them because they can’t jump through the hoops.

So in short, yes, I think you should use double opt-in as default, but also I think that it should be the default option on your mailing list subscribe form. A lot of people won’t have the technical gumption to find out how to change it or won’t even know that they should. This move by Mailchimp seems to encourage artificial inflation of people’s lists and cannot be seen as anything other than a money grab.

* I use Mailerlite which allows the option to enter a tick box on the single opt-in form. Since bots can’t tick boxes, the chance that you’ll get a flood of junk subscribers is vastly reduced.

Here is the box:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.49.31

Here is how to turn it on:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.50.06

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Why rank-chasing leads to madness

Let’s do a little exercise.

Find 10 random readers, and ask them why they buy their books.

I bet that nine times out of ten they will say that the book was recommended to them by a friend or a place that they trusted.

Ask those ten people why they bought the book they last bought. I also bet that in the majority of the cases, they bought that book because they read and liked a previous book by that same author. They are repeat customers.

Ask them if they remember how much that book was ranked in the store where they bought it. I bet that none of them will remember.

I bet that very very few of them will randomly go to a retail website and buy the book that is best ranked in the category.

They will know that either that book had a publicity push or it is a new release, but if they have never heard of the author or the premise does not appeal to them, they won’t buy that book.
People buy books because they know the author, have read something by the author before, or because a friend recommended the author.

So why then, are authors so terribly obsessed with the rankings of their books, and worse, their author rankings? Clearly, no one cares.

Well, a higher ranking increases visibility in most retailer stores. A higher ranked book is going to come up higher in some searches and may be more likely to be recommended to buyers of related books.

But this would be most important for books that come up on the first page of important and popular categories. Anywhere below that, rankings are simply a measure of the number of sales. Now if someone were to look at it in detail, they would understand that a book that’s ranked at 1000 would sell better than one ranked at 10,000, but the rankings on Amazon hide quite a long way down the page and and even an informed reader would have to look for them. As far as I know any ranking outisde the immediate top 10 has not ever influenced someone to buy a book. Does a book that is ranked at 10,000 get less visibility than one at say 5000?

Even so, since ranking reflects sales, what can you do about it?

If you are in a really popular category, your book maybe higher up in the ranking of that particular category, but as I already said if the category is really popular that’s not going to make much of a difference, because people who shop by ranking, uncommon as they are, are not going to scroll through pages and pages of books. Those people will buy something off the first page.

When your book has sold more copies, it will be recommended to more people. In that way, ranking has a latent influence, because it takes a while for all this information to filter through and be reflected in the site.

So yes, ranking has some influence, but mostly it simply reflects prior sales.
But, and here is a big but, many authors are so fixated on ranking that they forget many other things.

One of them is what I have said many times before: you can make a perfectly good living by selling one copy a day of each of your books on each of the retailer sites. Ranking on Amazon US—the factor that invokes all this ranking anxiety—does not reflect sales in the UK or other parts of Amazon, which can all add up to a substantial amount. It doesn’t tell the story about print sales and audio sales, which are also on Amazon, but are not reflected in the ranking. It does not reflect sales on any of the other platforms.

Most of all, it does not take into consideration the subscription program Kindle Unlimited. When your book is in Kindle Unlimited, and exclusive to Amazon, your ranking will jump when someone borrows the book. It will do nothing when someone reads the book, even though that is when you get paid. It is perfectly possible that people borrow the book and never get around to reading it, or look at a few pages, decide it’s not their thing and then return it in favour of another book. It is entirely possible for a book to be ranked at 5000 in the US Amazon store but generate less income than a book ranked 50,000 that is not in Kindle Unlimited, which does not get boosted through borrows that are never read, but which gets sales from other platforms.

Ranking, especially ranking in a single part of a single retailer store, and a single country, is it very poor metric for either writer success or income. Worry about your total income, not the rank of your books.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find out about the Three Year Plan self-publishing books here.

The scheduling of editors and cover designers

Someone on Facebook asked me to talk about scheduling of releases with special emphasis on scheduling designers and editors.

The question was: since I talk about publishing three or four books year, how do I make sure that cover designers and editors fit in my schedule, because some of them need to be booked well in advance?

I have to admit, that I am probably one of the worst people to talk about this, because I don’t have a rigid publishing schedule. I will not formally announce a publication date of my book to my readers unless I know for certain that it can be ready by that date. Amazon penalises you when you don’t make a pre-order date. You can release your pre-orders earlier, but if you need to delay a book, you lose the ability to do pre-orders for a year.

The subject of pre-orders is one for another post, but you can think of pre-orders as a type of publishing schedule, and a pretty rigid one at that.

In the past year or so, I have not been putting up any books for pre-order for more than a few weeks, and then only when they were done.

Why do I talk about pre-orders when the question was about editors and cover designers?

It is because the availability of editors and cover designers can be quite unreliable and can throw your publishing schedule out of whack. It can happen that after a talk with my editor, I realise that I need to do another draft and change few things around that will make the book better. I want to be able to have that opportunity. I don’t want to have to release a book that has flaws just because I said I’d make a particular deadline. Similarly, I don’t want to get into trouble for delaying a pre-order because the book cover is not ready.

When do you get covers?

Recently I have been designing my own covers, and those are usually done before I even start writing the book. I find it helpful to be able to look at the image to see what sort of feel the book needs to reflect. I know a lot of people who get their covers done long before they start writing the book. It is a bit more tricky with editors, because they can only start working on the book after you have finished it.

Even then, I would only put a book up in my public publishing schedule—which means I announce a publication date to my readers—once the first edit has been done and has not revealed any major problems that I need to work on.

I think if you want to keep a fairly regular three month schedule on which to publish, the key is to bank material. Because stuff goes wrong, people are late and problems arise.

When I first started publishing, I had no material other than the books I was working on, and I would publish them the very second they were done. I don’t do that any more, and hang onto books until such time that releasing them is going to be beneficial to me.

For example, I am now holding back the publishing a book that is done because I know there is going to be a slack time later in the year. I have just secured a Bookbub on one of my other titles, which will keep my sales going into December, but since I am going to be away the entire month of January, that is going to be a slow period, and so I delay the publication of the book until immediately after. This also gives me the time to have a draft of another book done, so that when I return in February I can hit the ground running.

I think that really is the key to publishing regularly: to make sure that you have some material in reserve that is done and ready to go. That way you’re not dependent on the speed at which cover designers and editors work, because you do not want to be that annoying person on a too-tight schedule harassing them. That will make sure that they don’t want to work with you again.

Some cover designers, like Tom Edwards who I use for my Ambassador series, have a full schedule months in advance. In this case, I would order the cover long before I start writing, I would plan to work on a different project while I am in the pipeline for this cover, and I will do the same with editors. I have to main editors, but I also keep the names of others on file in case the editors I normally use can’t do my work within the few months that I have allocated for it.

I schedule my new releases about three months in advance, which is when I announce a date to my readers, and I don’t announce that date until I am 100% sure that I can make it.

If you want to publish on a very rigid schedule a year or more out, you’ll have to book these people much further in advance, but you also have to make sure that you can actually deliver the material to them. Writing is a bit of a fickle thing, and some people are able to do this, but I know I would not. Not only does life happen, but sometimes the book just won’t gel and you need to spend more time on it. In this case, I feel it is useful not to have such a rigid schedule. I can say with reasonable certainty that I will publish a new book within the next three months, but I am not always sure what it is going to be. If I have to book ready that I’m thinking of releasing, great, but if not, I like to have something else in reserve.

Remember, with publishing schedules, there is only one person doing this to you and that is you yourself. So whatever your choices in working with editors or cover designers, you are the one who makes the choices. If you want a particular designer, but they are booking five or six months in advance, then it is your choice to plan yourself around it, or to choose someone else. I would go with the more awesome cover.

Remember that nothing in this industry says that you have to publish like clockwork every three months. The world will not come crashing down if you publish a book two months after another book and then you have a break of four of five months before you publish the next. Just make sure your books are awesome. That’s more important than making the date.

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Is there still a point to use free books?

In Self-publishing Unboxed, I mentioned that I don’t use permanently free books any more.

People have asked me when I would recommend using free books, and when not to use them.

Free books are excellent for giving away samples of your writing. People will download the free book and then will read the other books if they liked it.

But if you have a permanently for a book on Amazon or any of the other retailers, you will find that after initial burst of downloads, the number of people downloading your book reduces quite a lot.

When that happens, you will have to advertise.

And with advertising comes a cost. Also, there are only so many venues where you can effectively advertise your free book, like ENT, Freebooksy and, if you can get it, Bookbub. Eventually you’re going to run out of places to advertise, and it will be harder to get free downloads. You can ask fellow writers in similar genres to post about your free book to their mailing list, but you have to work harder and harder to give your free books away. There are people doing this very successfully by the way. But don’t expect the fact that you have a free book to just lead to higher sales by its self.

On Amazon, I tend to only get free downloads if I have advertising going, on Kobo, the free books are right at the bottom of the rankings, so people will only find them when you point them to the free book, and this is the same at Google play. Apple is the only retailer that still shows free books to readers in a place where they can actually find them, but unfortunately, a soon as you make your book free on Apple, Amazon will make it free, too.

When I say that I no longer use free as a tool, that is not entirely true. I definitely use free, but I give away free books in exchange for people’s email address so that they can be on my mailing list.

This is a huge advantage, because now you know who your readers are.

I started doing this when I noticed that all the downloads on the retailer sites were through activities of mine. If you’re going to have to pay to get people to download your free book, you might as well pay for a place where they need to leave your email address to get the free book.
I uploaded my free books on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel and required mandatory email signups for people to download their copy.

I will occasionally make a book free for month or so, but I won’t leave it like that, because the downloads diminish when your ad campaigns have finished, and there is no point leaving the book free if you are driving all the downloads.

In short, free is useful when there are external mechanisms that will direct new readers to your books. If you are the only one directing the readers, you should dictate where people download it. It might as well be in a place where you can get their data.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find out about the Three Year Plan self-publishing books here.

Relaunching books–when does it make sense?

In a previous post, I said something about the wisdom of relaunching your book when it is your first book and you’re beginning writer. I cautioned against spending too much time and money on a book that still has significant flaws because you may need to learn more about the craft.
But there are definitely situations where relaunching your book makes a lot of sense. When would that be?

In that post, I also mentioned that the time to relaunch your first book would be after you have written a couple of additional books. When you are certain that you have learned enough to write an engaging story that people want to read, that is when you go back to the first book, and use what you have learned about writing, editing and cover design to fix up the book, especially when you have a second book in that series ready to go.

This is the most common way in which we see people successfully re-launching books, but it cannot be done in a vacuum. Just re-launching a single book is probably not going to be terribly effective, but it is a lot more effective if it goes hand-in-hand with the launch of a second book in the same series.

So what would be the best way of going about a relaunch?

If you have a first book that is just sitting there gathering digital dust, the cover is not terribly ideal, the editing was not that great, you may want to take it down if you plan on writing a second book and then relaunching both as s series.

Another reason to relaunch your book may be because you want to change the genre it is in. You may not be editing your book, but changing everything about the packaging to make it more in line with the new genre you are targeting. New title, new cover, new blurb.

Other reasons could include change your pen-name, re-organising your series of rebranding your covers.

Almost all of this type of stuff is done when you have a number of books and you want to fix up your first book or bring it up to speed with the other books.

Relaunches can be quite successful, but they work best if you treat the books like a new product. Change the title and change the cover and to make sure you have a whole series of books for people to buy.

This means not simply copying the new version of the book over the other version, but taking the old version down completely and re-launching as a new book with some ads and announcements to your mailing list.

Relaunching can work very well, but you need to have a plan, because just putting a new cover on an old book is unlikely to have much effect.

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Publishing as ESL writer

People ask: English is not my first language, can I make money as a writer?

My first reaction to this would be: hold the phone, who says that you can’t publish no matter what your first language is.

There are numerous traditionally published authors whose first language isn’t English. When you think of it, the concept of first language is a sliding scale anyway. If someone learns to speak another language in the childhood but then went to an English school, is that still a first language?

But let’s just suppose you did not grow up speaking English for any part of your life, and you live in a country where English is not a main language.

Can you still publish in English?

You are probably thinking of those cases where reviewers make nasty comments like: I don’t think this writer’s first language is English. They mean this as an insult, and just to be sure, it gets directed at writers whose first language is English, too. Not only that, it doesn’t always mean that there is something wrong with the author’s English. It’s often the reader’s perception of it.

English is a very varied language, and there are many different flavours. As an exercise, I once tried to write a story in Indian English. They use sentence constructions and words that are perfectly correct English, but are not used in the same way in some other parts of the world.

So, before you get hung up about English not being your first language, consider that English is a fairly wide spectrum and that the insult that English is not the writer’s first language gets levelled at native English speakers, too.

Now, of course this does not absolve you from having to learn English grammar and spelling. But I know many non-English speaking people whose English is better than that of people who grew up speaking English. So it is completely possible.

In the beginning, with your first book in English, you are probably going to need an extra layer of editing. You will need an editor who is clued in about your native language and the common mistakes that people make when writing English.

I would recommend that you read a lot in English and absorb the right phrases and terminology through books that you love.

One thing you should never do is apologise. When you publish a book to the best of your ability and have used a native English speaking editor, don’t tell anyone that English is not your first language.

Why not?

Because people are going to put copious amounts of extra nitty-gritty attention into looking for flaws (that mostly aren’t flaws at all) and all you’ll do is put words about English not being your first language in people’s mouths when they write reviews. You will end up with stupid comments like “I enjoyed this book despite the fact that it was written by someone whose native language isn’t English”. Seriously, don’t even give people a reason to say dumb stuff like this.

Even in the self publishing world there are many writers who neither live in an English speaking country nor speak English at home. Some of them are very successful, some of them have published under an English sounding name. If you want to be like them, that is totally possible.

Initially, you may need to work a bit harder on your prose, but there is no reason at all why you can’t take part in the fun.

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Sick of juggling sales spreadsheets?

When your books are distributed wide, you will be bombarded with sales spreadsheets from vendors every month.

What to do with them?

There are a number of options to aggregate your sales data so that you can make sense of them.
One of those options, which I recommend in Self-publishing Unboxed, is a program called Trackerbox.

Trackerbox and allows you to see your sales per country, per retailer, per series, for any time period that you choose. It gives your sales in all the different currencies and also tallies pages read if you are in KU. It gives free downloads. Other than the usual venues, like Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Nook, it supports formats from more unusual sales sources like Bundlerabbit, as well as print books, audiobooks, and even a user uploaded spreadsheet option for hand sales at cons.

Trackerbox is a program that you download and use on your computer, rather than give all your passwords to run online. Therefore your financial data, and your passwords, are secure.

Trackerbox has only been available for the PC. But Mac use amongst writers has exploded, because there are so many great programs for the Mac. The owner is now running a kickstarter to make a version of Trackerbox for Mac.

You can support the kickstarter and will get your version of the program when it is done.

So if you use a Mac, why not support the kickstarter now, so that this version will become a reality.

Should you pay for Amazon or Bookbub followers?

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of promotions coming up that help you get followers on Amazon or Bookbub.

“Followers on Amazon?” you ask. “I didn’t even know that was a thing.”

Yes, you can follow an author through the little button under the “buy” button that says: do you want to hear when this author has a new book out and on the Bookbub site it is pretty much the same.

So, when you have a new release, the site will email to all the people who have clicked that button that you have a new book out. That’s a good idea, right?

Well, many authors ask, how do I find out how many followers I have on Amazon? Can I see who they are?

The answer is: you wish.

Bookbub does show you how many followers you have, and how many of those are in the US, but again you don’t have access to their email addresses. If you have more than thousand followers in the US, you can get access to a pre-order announcement service to those followers, but you have to pay for it. Sounds like a money grab? You betcha!

When Amazon sends out a notification that you have a new book, you can definitely see it, especially for pre-orders. They will send out one email to your followers when the book is on pre-order, and they will send another one it is available for sale.

However, they don’t always send out emails (my last three books were ignored by Amazon), and you have no control over when this email goes out.

Bookbub is a lot more reliable about sending emails, but again you have no control over when this happens.

So, you are going to spend money to put my people into this nebulous pile of email addresses that to the list owner may or may not use when you have a new release?

You can probably already tell that I’m not a fan.

Furthermore, if you advertise for these “likes”, a lot of the clicks to your profile are going to be polluted with people who haven’t actually bought your book and who don’t care about what you’ve written, they just wanted to enter the competition. It’s much like taking part in cross promotions where people have to sign up to your list in order to win a prize. With the huge disadvantage that you don’t get their email addresses.

It’s not that I think it is an entirely stupid thing to do. Nor do I think it’s something that will harm you (except you may spend money for not much gain). I think that if you going to pay to get cold leads, as these are called the industry, then actually get the cold leads and get your hands on their email address so you know who they are and you can send them what you like when you like.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions.

Should you go with a small press?

This is a question that often gets asked: what are the benefits of going with a small press?

First of all, there are a number of different definitions of the word small press. Some people define a small press as one that is not one of the big five publishing companies in the world. By that definition, a small press can be quite big.

But mostly, when people ask about small presses, they mean operations that are run by just one or maybe two or three people. They put up a website, advertise themselves as being open for submissions, and then are flocked by aspiring writers. Should you follow those writers?

There are a number of reasons why people like the idea of a small presses. It’s personal and there is a good chance that you will have some input in things like cover design, while having assistance in the nitty-gritty of publishing for those tasks that you don’t necessarily want to learn yourself. You don’t want to find an editor, you don’t want to have to worry about cover design, and you don’t want to do the marketing. But you have submitted your book to the big presses and agents already, and they all said no. So what is left? The small press sounds attractive. You can still say “my publisher”, so if traditional publishing is your aim, you appear to have fulfilled it.

But before you go any further, have a look at what your aim is.

Many people just want to be published by someone other than themselves. They like approval from the industry. However with a small press—or maybe a better word would be micro press—how much clout this approval carries will depend on the reputation and activities of the person running it. How well connected are they, how well respected are they, how good are they at getting your book in front of other people?

With the advent of self publishing, many small presses do very little that you can’t do it yourself, so why would you sign with them?

These presses are very author-centric, market and sell to the writing community. They often fall down severely on the marketing side of things. Usually these presses are run by people who do it for the love, who have a day jobs and who then juggle a number of authors in their spare time. They don’t have time to read up on the latest marketing techniques, because they’re too busy sorting out cover designers and meeting deadlines. Many are still focused strongly on print, and don’t have the resources to do all the things that you yourself could do for your books, simply because you don’t have nineteen other authors to worry about.

Many of the more successful small presses are focussed on the con circuit. They have tables at genre conventions and the main mode of selling is through these. I’m not saying that this is a good or a bad thing, just that this is what they do, and this method may not be what you envisaged for your books.

So: research the press and see what it’s doing to sell books.

If the small press has a reasonable history of publication, you are fairly safe in assuming that they will do the right thing by their authors. You can also safely assume that the press will do as it promised.

As a precaution, I would say also plan not to worry about money, because you will see very little of it. Most of the proceeds will go into covering the production cost, and there are so many occasions that I’ve had to chase up small presses for payment they never got around to making (“Oops, we forgot”) that I have given up trying. If you sell reasonably well as self-published author, you need to have a very very good reason to go with a small press. They need to offer you an advantage that you could not get on your own. Maybe the owner has awesome connections that could put you into contact with writers or publishers you have always dreamed of working with. Maybe the press is really good at getting books into local book stores, and you don’t want to go through that hassle yourself.

In any case, take a really good look at the contract. Ideally the contract should only be for a number of years with five being the most common. Ideally, the contract should only cover rights they are going to use. For example if the press deals with just print books, make sure you retain the e-book rights. If the press is very locally-focussed, make sure you retain worldwide rights to every country except yours. Make sure you retain your audio rights, make sure that in case the press does not meet their obligations and deadlines, you have a way to get your books back.

As I said most of these presses are run by only few people. Life happens. They get sick, get busy jobs, have to move, or have to deal with family crises.

So in conclusion, should you go with a small press?

It may be an option if you are totally uninterested in taking any form of control over your marketing or the production of your book. If you just want to see the book out there, and don’t want to optimise your income from it. It may be an option if the press is well respected and you want angle for an award. Or you want to be in the press’ community. Or if they can offer something that you cannot get by yourself.

However, if you want to optimise your income from your book, you want to be able to run promotions, or actually just run promotions full stop, or you want to publish a number of books in the same series and want to do it quickly, you will probably find it immensely frustrating.

A small press can be a good way to get a foot in the door if you are afraid of all the things that go into publishing. Research your press well to make sure that they put out a quality product. Don’t just go with anyone because they call themselves a publisher. Look at their product, look at the number of reviews that they have garnered for those books, look at the covers and how professional they look, buy one or two of the books to check the editing and most importantly, check the reputation of the owners.

However, don’t expect riches and don’t expect your book to appear on the bookshelves of every local bookshop.

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