One of our jobs here at Blue Pen is helping first-time authors understand the publishing industry. As a self-published author, you are the author and the publisher, which means you are responsible for all of the editing, book design, and marketing for your book. To help you with these specialized tasks, you will either need to work with one of the best self-publishing services companies or hire individual freelancers.
If you’re self-publishing a book for the first time, you may be vulnerable to scams—or just going down the wrong path for your goals. In this post, we’ll go over some common terminology and the different types of folks offering self-publishing services. Hopefully this helps you feel more prepared and confident as you take on your self-publishing process.
For this post, we’re focusing exclusively on self-publishing. If you’re trying to decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing, check out this breakdown of the different types of publishing, with pros and cons for each.
- What is KDP?
- Should you work with freelance editors and cover designers?
- Pros and Cons of the Best Self-Publishing Companies
- Self-Publishing Services Companies vs. Freelancers
- Finding Legitimate Self-Publishing Services Companies
- What is a vanity press?
- Choose the Best Self-Publishing Services Company or Freelancers for You
What is KDP?
Before we get into self-publishing service providers and the best self-publishing companies, let’s take a second to talk about the other players in the self-publishing process.
- Publisher: You, the author
- Printer: KDP or IngramSpark
- Distribution Channels: Ingram (the distributor), Amazon, bookstores, etc.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark are both print on demand (POD) services. That means books are not printed until they are ordered—and that the author does not have to front the cost of printing an entire run.
You may choose to make your book available through KDP, IngramSpark, or both. Here is a very quick comparison of these two self-publishing platforms:
|Fees||Free upload; free changes||$49 upload fee; additional charge for changes|
|Available formats||Paperback and ebook||Paperback, hardback, and ebook|
|Returns||No returns||Can make books returnable|
|Distribution||Better for Amazon and online sales||Better for bookstores and libraries|
Here is a detailed breakdown of KDP vs. IngramSpark. Generally speaking, though, KDP is great for online sales and IngramSpark is better for getting into libraries and brick-and-mortar bookstores.
There is much more we could cover on this topic, but for today’s purposes, we’ll leave it there. The important thing relevant to this blog post is that KDP and IngramSpark handle printing and distribution. They do not edit or design your book.
That means you can’t just upload your Word manuscript. Your cover and interior need to be finalized first—you’re uploading a fully edited and designed book to these platforms.
Since most authors are not experts at everything, you’ll likely need some help getting to that point. And that’s where we begin our freelancers versus companies discussion.
Should you work with freelance editors and cover designers?
Working with freelancers can be wonderful for many reasons. Authors are able to select the professional who best fits their needs. The work one on one with this person, and they are able to develop a close relationship.
But working with freelancers has its pitfalls as well. Logistically, it can be challenging. To self-publish a professional-quality book, here are some of the services you may need.
- Developmental editing
- Line editing
- Cover design
- Interior layout
- Back cover blurb
If you use a freelancer for each service, you need to coordinate everything yourself, which can be challenging. For example, editing needs to be finished before you can begin interior layout. You want the cover concept before interior as well, so the designer can match the styles. But the interior has to be finished before the cover designer can finalize your paperback.
The more service you throw in, the more difficult this coordination becomes.
Then there’s the fact that you have to find these freelancers. Although it’s easy to find freelance professionals, it’s more challenging to find the right freelancer—someone who has experience with books like yours.
And you have to vet them and know that they are reputable and skilled. There are ways to do this, and you can check out this post about how to vet editors. But ultimately, it’s difficult to vet a professional in a field you are not an expert in.
Pros and Cons of the Best Self-Publishing Companies
Self-publishing services companies can take many forms—some legitimate, some less so.
Basically, this type of company operates using the same model as freelancers. The author pays up front for services they need to self-publish. Then the author goes on their merry way, with no royalties or rights sacrificed.
These services come with varying levels of hand-holding. You may receive your edits, designs, etc. but no information or assistance regarding the self-publishing process. At Blue Pen, we model our author communication after the freelancer-client relationship. Each author works with a Book Boss, an individual who helps authors understand the industry and their options and choose their publishing route and services. The Book Boss also coordinates each author’s services and ensures everything is completed on time, in order, and to Blue Pen’s standards.
Self-Publishing Services Companies vs. Freelancers
Let’s compare the experience of working with a freelancer to Blue Pen’s process:
|Services||Single field||Full roster|
|Specializations||One or few||Many|
|Work style||One on one||One on one (with Book Boss)|
*I am using “Blue Pen” in this table, rather than the generic “company,” because not all companies are created equal. These traits are not inherent to all companies.
Rates among freelancers can be higher or lower than companies’ rates. In any case, you’ll want to make sure you are paying rates in the industry-standard range. Check out the EFA’s information on standard rates. Rates that are significantly outside these ranges (especially very low rates) can be a red flag.
As with most aspects of writing and publishing, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Whether you choose to work with freelancers, a company, or a combination of both fully depends on your personal needs.
While the company model creates opportunities to provide a level of service that freelancers cannot, it also creates the potential for scams and low-quality services. It is easy for these companies to take advantage of authors who do not know the red flags to watch out for.
If you do decide to work with a self-publishing services company like Blue Pen, here are some important factors consider.
Finding Legitimate Self-Publishing Services Companies
Just like you would vet a freelancer, you should make sure any company you work with is legitimate and provides high-quality work.
Characteristics of a legitimate self-publishing services company:
- Charges up front only
- Does not require the author to purchase copies
- Clearly defines which services the author is paying for and receiving
- Provides a non-exclusive agreement
These characteristics only ensure that the company is not a scam in the strictest sense. You’ll also want to look for qualities like the following to make sure you are receiving top-quality services:
Just like when working with a freelancer, you should pay attention to a company’s touted credentials. For example, all of Blue Pen’s editors are active EFA members, with an average of ten years of experience. And our designers have worked in-house with traditional publishers.
Many reputable companies, including Blue Pen, offer services a la carte. The author can pick and choose exactly what they need. Companies that sell fixed packages are often charging extraneous amounts for extras the author doesn’t need.
It’s important to find a company with roots in the industry. For example, Blue Pen was founded and is run by an author and professional book editor. Some companies exist purely to make money and are run by businesspeople, not industry professionals.
What does that mean for the work they produce?
- They’re sourcing work from the cheapest bidder, not the best.
- They don’t have the skills and experience to identify high-quality work anyway.
- They don’t have the knowledge to support authors’ careers.
Rates may or may not be higher with these companies, but you’re likely to pay more relative to the quality of work you receive.
What is a vanity press?
Many negative discussions about self-publishing services companies stem from the fact that many of these companies are vanity presses in disguise.
These pay-to-play presses prey on first-time authors.
Here are a few scenarios to run from:
- A company claims to be a traditional publisher (or requires an exclusive contract) but charges up front.
- A press charges up front and takes a percentage of your royalties.
- A press claims to be a traditional publisher (or requires an exclusive contract) but requires you to buy a certain number of author copies.
Like legitimate self-publishing services companies, vanity presses typically charge the author up front. But legitimate service providers do not require exclusivity. That means you maintain all of your rights and can do anything you like with your manuscript, including submit to traditional publishers.
If you have any questions about how to identify a vanity press, we highly recommend you review this resource from Writer Beware. It breaks down different types of companies and publishers (legitimate and illegitimate) and highlights ways you can identify scams.
Note that Writer Beware itself is a wonderful resource. Before you work with anyone in the industry, search their website for information. You can even Google “Writer Beware” plus the name of the company you’re considering hiring.
Choose the Best Self-Publishing Services Company or Freelancers for You
When you’re searching for help with your self-publishing process, don’t feel rushed. Take your time. Review your options. Do your research, and read testimonials. If someone makes you feel like it’s now or never, they’re probably not who you want to work with.
And of course, if you have questions or need help along the way, book a consultation with us.