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Down the Road

The problem with self-publishers
By Milit Gross
Mar 23, 2014 - 12:17:43 AM

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"We'll publish your book," is one promise you'll find in many self-publishers' ads.

Of course, many self-publishing companies do little or no more than print copies of your manuscript, charging you the big bucks or some bucks at the least. They also promise, for a fee, editing, planning, distribution, and other services -- for more fee bucks.

I review a fair number of such books, and my opinion of many of them is...well, bah humbug, or words to that effect -- with no fee attached.

And I recently read somewhere online that many reviewers won't read books from self-publishers.

I think that of 20 I've read, perhaps one or two have some merit. They have fair to good stories and have been edited by somebody. I have found some riddled with "typos," mistakes in grammar and misspellings. Who "edited" them? Or did those self-publishing companies simply turn a manuscript into a book?

I've learned a little too along the way, despite what self-publishers write in their list of promises to publish your book -- and turn you into an author?

The most recent lesson I've learned from not just a self-publisher but a company also claiming to do "traditional" publishing.

Traditional publishing is when the publisher buys your manuscript and publishes it at its own expense -- and markets it to gain back the money they spent publishing it and earn a profit for themselves and for the writer.

I think companies that do self-publishing and traditional publishing, including one that may have "suckered" me into sending some money its way, may be either operating a profitable game or taking advantage of writers.

Think about it; I'm going to publish your book manuscript at no cost to you, the writer, or I may self-publish it at your expense. Is there a conflict of interest here? Why would I pay to publish your book if I can get you to pay for it?

Leaving that question hang for a few lines, let's look at traditional publishers. Many have bought out others, leaving very few from which the writer can pick. Many don't accept unsolicited manuscripts or even query letters. In other words, "Don't bother us, we're busy."

Some accept manuscripts and queries only from agents.

What's a query letter? The letter you send, explaining and attempting to sell your manuscript. It includes your background, in other words, the reason(s) the company should publish your manuscript. With that query, the writer often sends a sample of the manuscript...a few the publisher can judge for itself the quality of your writing.

That's how it used to be done, but rarely these days. So where do you get published?

And along came the spider...oops, I mean the self-publisher.

I recently Googled for traditional publishers and on my screen arrived a list of self-publishing companies. Leaving the question, where do I find traditional publishers. Generally, you won't. They're too busy to advertise.

You might find some in the Writer's Market, a book published yearly for writers that includes lots of good information, including the names and contacts of some traditional publishers. There are a few other books like that, but this is one I'm not familiar with. It cost $16 or more, but the heartbrake its cost saves may be worth it.

So, I don't recall where I found the name of the traditional and self-publishing company I contacted. Probably online. But its line was that it does both traditional and self-publishing. Traditional if it's good enough, self-publishing otherwise. (We all know that my manuscript was not "otherwise.")

The company also charged a reading fee and couple of other fees the stated reasons for I forget. Oh, it also wanted a hardcopy manuscript -- one printed out and mailed or sent via an express company. I did that, using UPS because regular mail wanted to charge me a fortune unless I sent it as a manuscript, which entailed leaving it unsealed for postal inspection.

Most publishers take months to review a manuscript, and many don't reply unless they want to use it. After two months, I contacted the company, which replied they were reading the manuscript and would "report" in two weeks.

My daughter suggested to me that the head of the company was a bit "ditsy," meaning didn't bother reading anything unless reminded. Then the question is, will it actually be read?

Three weeks later I received from the company an e-mail, "We regret..." the rest of which is a string of words that basically mean, "no." Then the publisher said the company would self-publish it for a hefty fee. ("Hefty" is my description.)

Hold it right there. If it's worth publishing, go ahead an publish it. If it's not, don't tell me you'll do that for a price. The publisher gave me two weeks to respond to their offer. It'll be a lot longer than that, I promise.

Can they steal your manuscript and print it as their own? Sure, unless you have written on it that it's copyright...protected legally as yours. Of course, they can still pirate it, planning not to be sued.

My ex-wife had sent a book manuscript to a publisher, and a year later she saw it in print after she had been turned down by the publisher. She had no money for an attorney, so the pirated book was published unchallenged.

After all this verbage, do I have any advice for writers? Sure, definitely avoid companies that say they publish traditionally as well as by the self-publishing method. Why would they pay to publish it, if they can get you to pay for that? Secondly, avoid self-publishers. They don't care if the manuscript is good or terrible, as long as your check to them doesn't bounce.

Look for a traditional publisher, which can be a long search. Try looking for an agent, which also can be hard, but which, once you find one, you can know somebody is looking out for your interests.

Right now I'm looking for an agent. I'll try the Writer's Digest or another book Dolores found at the site. In the past, I've sold directly to traditional publishers. But they're playing hide-and-seek nowadays.

So, I'll spend some bucks for a book or two that may contain some real information.

The "traditional and self-publisher" waiting for my reply?

Hope they're patient. But they probably don't care.

There's always another sucker out there.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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