How to Tell Which Self-Publishing Company is Right For You



The following is an update of a post I wrote for Joel Friedlander’s ever-helpful blog at

On the path to self-publishing, your first decision will be whether to:

  • Engage a self-publishing service company (SPSC) to do everything from editing to distribution. Some SPSCs are BookLocker, Mill City Press, Outskirts Press, and Dog Ear Press.
  • Do it yourself (DIY) by hiring editors, designers, and other freelancers and uploading your finished, formatted cover and manuscript to POD providers such as CreateSpace and IngramSpark and ebook distributors such as KDP and Smashwords.

  • You may also mix the two, since most SPSCs have a la carte menus, and many POD providers offer editorial, design, and marketing services as add-ons. Alternatively, you could hire a self-publishing consultant to walk you through the process. Literary agents are also jumping in and offering to help—for a percentage, of course.


At first, almost everyone is tempted to hire an SPSC. After all, DIY involves hundreds of decisions. What’s the best trim size? What colors will make your cover pop? What font conveys the correct tone? How do you price your book? What do you say on the back cover? How do you hire the right editor, designer, or publicist, and what if you have to fire them?

In contrast, the websites of SPSCs promise to deliver stunning books into your hands in a few weeks.

In reality, the DIY process is manageable if you take it one step at a time. But for those considering the SPSC route, here are seven questions to help separate the good SPSCs from the bad.


What is the lowest retail price you may set for your book?
Believe it or not, some SPSCs control the retail price of your print book and set it unrealistically high. One company claims its high pricing is author-friendly because it increases potential royalties.

Forget it. You may have a fabulous book, perfectly edited, with a stunning cover and interior, but if it is priced at $20 alongside bestsellers priced at $15, $12, or $8, no one will buy it.

To market your book successfully, the price must be competitive. I would stay away from any SPSC that will price your book out of the market. You should control the retail price of your book. Period.


What is the author price for your book (the price you pay per copy)?
As an indie author, you will be buying a lot of books and giving them away to reviewers, bloggers, friends, and family, or reselling them at readings, school visits, conferences, and through your website. Choose an SPSC that will sell your books to you at a reasonable author price.

The SPSCs that set high retail prices typically offer to give their authors a measly 30% discount. So, if they price your book at $19.95, you will pay $13.96 per copy, plus another $2 to $3 for shipping and handling. That’s ridiculous.

The author price should be the actual printing costs plus a reasonable markup (15-20%) and not a discount from the retail price. Why pay more because the SPSC sets the retail price at $20 instead of $10? The printing costs are the same.

You will have already paid the SPSC hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for design, editorial, and marketing services. Why pay double or triple the printing costs for a copy of your own book?

Let’s take a hypothetical 250-page, 6” x 9”, black-and-white trade paperback on standard paper. The cost for POD printing is approximately $4.65 per copy. As of December 2013, for this hypothetical book.

  • Author House fixed the retail price at $19.99, and the author price was $13.96 per copy for orders of 24 or fewer copies.
  • Dog Ear Press would not fix the retail price, and its author price was $6.28 per copy.
  • Mill City Press would not fix the retail price, and its author price was $4.65 per copy.
  • CreateSpace would not fix the retail price, and its author price was $3.85 per copy.

In my opinion, an SPSC that sets a high retail price for your book is not expecting to make money by selling it to the public. They are going to make money selling it to you at a high author price. Dump that SPSC from your list and move on.


What royalties will you earn?
You should be able to calculate your royalties online by assuming different trim sizes, pages, and retail pricing. I would be suspicious of any SPSC that did not have a royalty calculator on its website. If the website states that pricing, royalties and such cannot be determined until your manuscript is reviewed or formatted (and typically after you have given them your credit card number and paid a nonrefundable amount), move on to another SPSC.


Is the agreement exclusive or non-exclusive?
You should never give an SPSC any exclusive rights to your work. And no options on any other works, formats, movie rights, subsidiary rights, anything. SPSCs are not traditional publishers that has invested capital in your book. They are service providers only and are not be entitled to any exclusive rights or options.

You might not be able to answer this question without looking at the SPSC’s contract. A reputable SPSC will post its contract online. Avoid any SPSC that will not release its contract until you sign up. For help reading the contracts, check out my post A Writer’s Worst Mistake.


Is it easy to terminate the agreement?
You should have the right to terminate the relationship following no more than 30 days notice delivered via email. None of this certified mail, return receipt nonsense.

After termination, the SPSC may have the right to sell off its existing inventory, but that’s it. It should not have the right to continue to print and sell your book, even if the right is nonexclusive. If a traditional publisher were interested in your work, they might want you to buy out your former SPSC before they penned a deal. See my post Welcome to the Hotel Author Solutions about the traps of a contract that goes on and on.


Will you get production-ready files upon termination?
If you terminate, the SPSC should give you the final production-ready files of your cover and interior at no or low cost. Not PDFs of your print-ready files, but the actual, functional production files in Adobe InDesign or comparable format.

If you move your book to a new printer without the production-ready files, then you’ll have to create new files at considerable cost. It is outrageous for an SPSC to hold onto these files after you’ve paid for the design, editing, and layout work. You own the work product and should control it.


What is the reputation of the company?
Go to websites like Predators & Editors, Absolute Write Water Cooler, and Writers Beware and search for information about the SPSCs. Reviews may be available at The Independent Publishing Magazine site. Read about the lawsuit against Author Solutions and its affiliated companies.

Every company will have its share of unhappy customers, so sort through the complaints to get a sense of which ones are legitimate. If you find multiple reports from unhappy customers, stay away.

I do not want to scare you away from using an SPSC. Some offer reasonable deals and enjoy solid reputations. They permit you to control the process and the result. But do your homework before you commit.



Guest post provided by Helen Sedwick. Helen is a business lawyer with 30 years of experience assisting clients in setting up and running their businesses, legally and successfully. She is author the author of The Self-Publishers Legal Handbook. Check out more of her work on her website.

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26 thoughts on “How to Tell Which Self-Publishing Company is Right For You

  1. Reblogged this on COW PASTURE CHRONICLES and commented:
    I’m am not yet ready to make the decision on who or how to publish my novel. However, years ago while looking at publishing a picture book, I investigated some of the SPSCs, including Author House.
    The information is the kind you want to save, even if you’re not quite ready for publication. Thanks to A Writer’s Path for sharing this valuable guest post by Helen Sedwick.


  2. Thanks for your positive comments, everyone. If you have any followup questions, feel free to post them here or to email me through my website.


  3. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I self-published my first novel. They printed it in a 9 font. Considering I’m an unknown and this was my first book, I had 2 strikes against me from the get-go. A 9 font was the final straw. I’ve sold a few books online, given away most of the ones I ordered to family and friends, and sold maybe 5. I questioned them about the print size and they told me they fix my error for $200. My error? Yeah, I sent it to them in that size. Really? I have enough trouble reading 12 font and you think I sent it in 9? That’s the size we got it in. Your rules say 12. Why didn’t you question me? We thought you wanted it that size. – That was basically my phone conversation with them. They have called me a dozen times wanting to print the next book, and have made some very nice offers; but they did that the first time and I don’t want my 2nd novel ruined as well. I’m planning on using a regular publisher for the next book.


  4. Great post. But wondered what if you have alternatives on who to use to print books that authors can sell on Amazon? As a Canadian author, my biggest dilemma when ordering books from CreateSpace is the shipping charges at $6.99 per book U.S. which is amount $9.00 Canadian.


  5. Reblogged this on For my writing journey and commented:
    Today, I’d like to focus on the writers who choose to self-publish. Far be it from me to be seen as some sort of expert on the subject, since not only I haven’t published a novel-length work. I’m only investigating options and always keep in mind that someone else may be interested. Because I know some of you may find it useful, or may have something to add or correct, I feel it’s best to provide reference to other people’s views and knowledge who are more experienced than me, and maybe even from some of you. Always keep in mind that everyone’s path to publication is different, so don’t take anyone’s opinion to heart. Research before you do anything.

    *Chris leans forward, narrows an eye, and beckons you closer as if in conspiracy – If you’ve self published in the past, that means you, means you’re an expert in the field compared to me, so please share your experiences and wisdom with the rest of us who stumble in the dark, ‘kay?*

    A while back I told you about Jane Friedman’s infographic regarding available publishing paths, which obviously included self-publishing.

    As it turns out, self-publishing is not all about you, the writer, doing all the work and making all the decisions a publisher should make, like typesetting, formatting etc. There are companies out there who do the job for you. Whether you opt to go for that or not – that’s a totally different decision, one that’s up to you – the following questions found on Ryan Lanz’s blog might prove helpful in making the right choice when it comes to self-publishing companies.


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