“Publishing World SA. Unprofessional”

“One star is too much”

“No service”

These were just 3 of the headlines grabbed off the HelloPeter listing of Publishing World SA. These reviews weren’t buried in the furthest corners of the dark web either. These reviews of a local South African publishing business were displayed prominently in the Google search results. The very first page of the search result actually.

To put this into perspective, would the numerous authors & freelancers who complained through HelloPeter and other platforms have done business with this publisher if they had first read these scathing reviews? (Rhetorical, don’t answer.) This article is not meant as an attack on Publishing World SA or their alias BooksAfrica. It is meant to prepare an author who is about to enter the market with their very first book on how to better protect themselves.

After completing the first draft of your new book,  a first-time author you are understandably excited. Your baby is ready, and soon your book will be gracing the shelves at your local bookshops whilst you are being interviewed on local talk shows about how your book has become the next “Fifty Shades”. The exaggeration here is deliberate, and I hope you get the point. A new author is a vulnerable author. Faced with daunting choices, a first-time author plunges into the depths of a vast ocean of other authors. Did I mention the sharks?

A few typical questions asked by new authors

  • Should I self-publish or should I find a traditional publisher?
  • How do I find the right people to work & partner with?
  • How do I know I am not paying too much for publishing?
  • How do I protect the rights to my content as the author?

The SA publishing landscape is by and large populated by good and hard-working companies who truly care about writers. However, as you could have guessed, it also has its share of publishing “sharks”. Predatory companies who typically over-promise & under-deliver, if at all.

Where to start?

Forgive me reader if you are an already experienced author and well versed in literary lore however the best place to start is always with a reminder of the different publishing-paths an author faces once their draft is done. How should you publish?

Traditional publishing is where a larger company (typically consisting of a team of people, working from actual brick & mortar offices) will review your manuscript. If your writing is at an acceptable level & matches that particular publisher’s target readership, you might be rewarded an all-expenses-paid trip into Exclusive Books. More succinctly put, the traditional publishing model will see your book production handled by the publisher with no expenses being carried by you as the author. That is right, ZERO money paid by the author. The carrot for the publishing business here is that they will take a percentage of profits from each book sold. Think of companies such as Penguin Random House, Jonathan Ball, Macmillan etc.

  • No expenses are covered by the author.
  • No guarantee of having your manuscript accepted by the publisher.
  • Leverages an existing distribution network of the publisher; they help you get physical books into popular bookstores.

 

Self-publishing is a self-funded process.  You might either find a company that offers all the publishing services you – as the author –  need or, you might prefer assembling a team of freelancers where each would be tasked with a specific area of your publishing project. Think cover, editing, typesetting, eBook conversion etc. This process is one where the author foots the bill for each step.

A few benefits of self-publishing

  • Quickest time to market.
  • No risk of rejection (of your story…)
  • You collect maximum royalties from sales of your book.
  • You retain full control of the process without navigating through restrictive contracts.
  • Ok, I am biased and should stop now.

 

That is it. The publishing journey starts with a choice of these two distinct paths. No path is better than the other, they just suit certain personalities better. Simple right?

{Enter the bastard love child of the two publishing parents…}

Vanity Publishing. This is a mix of worst aspects of the aforementioned options. It might also be where I lose my composure and start frothing at the mouth. Bare with me. A vanity publisher, also known as a vanity press, is where the author both funds the publishing process AND the company still gets a slice of the royalties made. They get to have their publishing-cake & eat it whilst the author is hiding in the corner waiting for the leftovers. These guys don’t have a great rap and worldwide there are movements dedicated to raising awareness about how they work.

There will be some of these vanity presses that deliver on their promises, I am sure.  However, the author choosing to work with a business like this tends to always be on the back-foot (and out of pocket.)

 

6 simple tips for new authors 

  • Is the company a vanity publisher (Are they asking for upfront payment & taking a royalty-split?) Be very careful before choosing to work with this sort of business-model.
  • Stay on top of the latest industry scams & scamming techniques by regularly visiting the blog Writer Beware blog.
  • Do a simple Google search of your publishing company to see what the first page or two of results returns.
  • Pay close attention to any complaints found on a platform such as HelloPeter or even the review section of their Facebook page.
  • Join a local Facebook/ LinkedIn author group and ask their advice or experience with the company in question. ( SA Writers World on FB for example has an amazing collection of knowledge for authors.)
  • Is the company part of an industry body? Our local publishing body PASA has a useful members list here.

 

Final Thoughts

No business can please every customer. If a publishing business has been running for long enough they are bound to have a few authors that for any reason were not satisfied. Don’t run after reading a single bad review of your potential publishing partner. However, don’t rush into a publishing deal like it’s black Friday either. Do your homework and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Avoid a publisher who tries the hard-sell approach. *Cough* Partridge Africa *Cough* Rather look for relationships where you could – if you wanted- comfortably share a cup of coffee with the person on the other end of the phone.

 

A quick thanks to my friend Michelle Richardson for alerting to me to the exposé of this publisher initially featured on an episode of Carte Blanche.