Independent Publishing asked Australian Society of Authors (ASA) CEO Olivia Lanchester whether the ASA had specific advice for authors considering making an agreement with a hybrid publisher. Lanchester’s response is below:
- Inspect books previously published by that publisher. What is the final editorial and production and printing quality like?
- Do some simple internet research. Read reviews of the company concerned. If a company is behaving badly towards authors, it won’t take you long to discover warnings posted by other authors. There are also websites and blogs set up to alert prospective authors of the risks of companies that use high-pressure sales tactics, for example, an American site called Writer Beware, and the Alliance of Independent Authors’ rating of self-publishing companies. Speak to other authors. Shop around. Get competitive quotes.
- Seek transparent, itemised costings. In the hybrid offers we’ve seen, the services are typically not detailed, the overall cost is not broken down and the financial risk to the author is almost never adequately explained. If you are funding the costs of production, shouldn’t you know the cost of editing the book, the cost of designing the book, the size of the print run and print cost, and, in fact, whether any stock will be printed at all, the proposed marketing activities, the recommended retail price of the book, the revenue per unit sold at average bookseller discount, how many units must be sold to break even? Consider whether those sales are likely. You need information to make considered decisions on your risk and likely return on investment. Authors should consider carefully whether they can afford the contribution amount. The safest assumption is to factor in a possibility that those costs may never be recouped. If that is going to cause financial hardship, don’t agree to that model.
- Understand distribution channels. Where do your readers shop for books? Does your hybrid publisher supply those retailers? Many hybrid publishers largely rely on print-on-demand services to make print books available, which means that your book won’t be stocked in bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Claims about ‘worldwide sales’, ‘international marketing reach’, reaching ‘millions of readers’ and so forth must be tested. Is the reality that your book is simply listed on a database which is accessible by many booksellers in various countries?
- Understand the marketing plan and budget for your book. Will this fall entirely to you? What specific activities have they planned for the book launch and first month of release?
- Understand the contract. Don’t grant rights that will never be exploited. Make sure there is a timeline for the delivery of all services. Don’t leave yourself without an exit route. If you are being paid royalties, ensure they reflect your level of investment.
- In publishing, you get one bite at the cherry for each manuscript. Don’t publish your manuscript with a hybrid with the hopes that a traditional publisher will see it, and choose to make you an offer for that book. This is a myth. Your book is released onto the market ONCE and it would be only exceptional circumstances that would persuade a traditional publisher to re-publish that work.
- Most of all, don’t rush in. Author-funded publishing might be right for you but it’s worth doing your homework first to be sure. If in doubt, get help from the ASA or have your contract reviewed by Authors Legal.