The booming growth of self-publishing has been great news for authors as well as providers of all variety of self-publishing services, including editing, designing, and consulting. But as services have proliferated, promising all variety of benefits and recipes for boosting sales, it’s more important than ever for indie authors to have a discerning eye when seeking out assistance. Being able to identify when a particular service is overcharging—or just overpromising what they are actually able to deliver—is an important skill for any author to master.
Know Who You're Dealing With
The first step any author should take when determining whether a particular service or consultant is worth tapping for their publishing efforts is to get a clear sense of their background.
“[I]f you're not dealing with a specific individual whose resume you can study, figure out who's behind the service,” says Jane Friedman, a publishing expert and consultant who has worked in the industry for more than 15 years. “Do you trust who’s behind it? Are there specific names attached? There should be! Do these people have experience that applies to what you’re trying to accomplish? How many years of experience?”
To help fill in this background, an author should determine how long the company or individual has been in business, and if they have testimonials from other authors who have used their service, or what Friedman calls a “track record and history of achievement.” Many services and individuals will have these endorsements right on their websites, but if that’s not readily available, make a direct request for examples of customers they have worked with. A reputable company will usually provide this. (Of course, it may be easier to work in the opposite direction and begin by asking other authors for service providers they would recommend and going from there.)
“It’s likely that, if the company produces low-quality work or is unreliable, the Internet will be chock full of horror stories and warnings,” says Hellen Barbara, founder and president of Pubslush, a platform that connects editors, publishers, and authors. “My biggest piece of advice is to never sign a contract with a company before doing your due diligence and knowing exactly what you’re signing.”
She adds that an author should also avoid going for the first company that seems to provide the service they need—instead, “compare and contrast several different companies before making a decision.” This includes getting a sense of the average cost of services, the staff’s speed of response, and the quality of the company’s work.
In addition to its track record, an author can spot a questionable service by understanding its business model—what services they provide, the terms, the payments and fees involved, and exactly what is delivered.
“By uncovering the business model, you have some insight into what actions that business wants you to take,” explains Friedman. “Are they upfront about what they do, what do they have a stake in, and how do they make money? Are they upfront about how the work gets done? I favor the ones who have nothing to hide, as well as those with a point-of-view and distinctive personality.”
Spotting the Danger Signs
As an author researches her options, a red flag should go up for any service that is not transparent about these points, or willing to provide speedy answers to questions about them. A slow response, even from a totally trustworthy service provider, should still be seen as a concern for an author.
“A lack of responsiveness or attention could mean if something were to go wrong—a mistake, poor quality work, a billing issue, etc.—there might not be someone available to assist you with your problem, which undoubtedly can be aggravating and unfair,” says Barbara.
They should clearly lay out exactly how much the project will cost—whether in hourly terms or for the whole project—and when you will be expected to pay. A significant upfront charge should raise red flags.
If everything seems above board, but there is extensive paperwork or a contract involved, an author may also consider getting a legal expert involved to review the document and make sure it’s a fair deal. Either way, an author should get the terms clearly in writing.
But often, the best protection from shady service providers comes from a different type of expert: fellow indie authors.
“Take advice from companies you trust, as well as other authors,” says Barbara. “There are more people willing to help than you might realize, so never feel like you’re in the publishing process alone.”
Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist and the author of Weird-o-Pedia.