[Watch on YouTube instead?]

Want to make sure you choose a good publisher?

Here are a few questions to help with your first chat. Some of the answers to these questions might make you sad. Some questions may elicit awkward silences. Don’t despair. Self-publishing your book should feel like the fun kind of adventure. Before starting out on your journey, I want you to be armed with an array of smart questions.  

These questions act as a defence against book bandits, self-publishing scammers and other charlatans. Go grab your trusty pen and paper. Take notes of any questions that feel important. Then tactfully bring them up in the first chat with your potential book BFF.

Who am I?

Over the last decade, I have advised 100’s of bright-eyed authors preparing to embark on their virgin book voyage. I have published 100’s more to the shelves of Amazon & beyond. Some call me The Self-Publishing Safari Guide. Allow me to be your guide for our short time together.

🛑 How about a deal? If you leave this article smarter 👉 please would you drop a comment for me down below? 🙏

For those in a hurry, here is a linked summary of the questions.

#1: How do I know I can trust you?

Jokes aside, this question is a great way to start off any lasting partnership. Any experienced publishing enterprise understands that a new author is nervous about being scammed. A quick Google returns pages upon pages of authors who have invested money in a publisher only be a left disappointed and without a book to show for it. If your publisher takes offence to this question, they probably aren’t the best people to work with anyway.

  • Can you find a track-record of past customers on their website?
  • Browse their Facebook & Google pages for reviews from past authors. Not having a FB or Google page is a red flag for me 🚩
  • Spend time on Google searching for “Is #PublisherName a scam?”.
  • Trusts your instincts here. 

To help you, here is a list of well-known publishing scammers.(Thanks to the kind folks @WritersBeware for helping protect authors from these publishing bottom-feeders.)

#2: If you publish my book – what would my responsibilities as the author be?

First. Try be as involved in the publishing processes as you can.

  • Editor finished their work on your manuscript? Take a look and share your thoughts.
  • Cover designer completed your captivating first draft? Did they get the look you wanted?
  • This also applies to the interior layout of your print-ready book.

As a publisher, I would much rather have a curious author ask questions, instead of a distant & distracted author leaving all design choices up to us. Which of these two author-types would you guess is happier with the end result? Exactly.

Next, expect to be involved in the marketing process. For those of you hoping to hide from any sort of marketing responsibilities – you’re going to have a bad time. Marketing (finding new readers for your book) can either cost you an investment of time, or money. Decide which you have more of, then engage with your preferred publisher as to tools & packages they might offer.

Finally, do your homework. From choosing the right publisher through to possible marketing options. The curious author enjoys the publishing process more.

#3: Is marketing of my book included in your cost?

This is possibly the most misunderstood part of any publishing process. That’s why it’s found near the start of our list. To help manage your expectations, don’t expect marketing magic to spout from your publishers’ fingertips. A prospective publisher often tries to excite you using words like “engagement, likes, views or BookTok”. This is mostly bullshit.

Rather, I want you to be prepared to get your hands dirty in the marketing of your title. Expect that most of the marketing efforts will need to be driven by you & you alone.

#4: Does your publishing quote include editing of my manuscript?

Editing is normally quoted per Word. The more words = a larger editing bill. As a result, many publishers prefer quoting once they’ve seen and assessed the author’s manuscript. The cost of editing should also factor in your writing level. I want you to be wary of quotes received for editing before the publisher has seen your manuscript. If a potential publisher courting you quotes an upfront editing fee, before seeing your writing, this means that the author risks suffering through a sub-standard edit. The editor might understandably also be resentful, having to edit a potentially large manuscript where they only receive a flat fee. Would you want a grumpy editor working through your words?

Brownie points will be given to those authors who also ask what level of edit their publisher might be selling them.

#5: Does your publishing costs include any printed books?

This question has no right or wrong answer. Some publishers include the printing of a few books in their fee, others won’t.

#6: Can you get my book into physical bookstores?

Local bookstore distribution is where most self-publishing companies struggle. Amazon? Easy peasy. Getting your book into a well-known brick and mortar bookstore chain such as Exclusive Books? This often involves knocking on the door of each bookstore, one at a time and chatting with the store buyer. This is a slow and understandably frustrating process for the author.

Does access to local bookstores translate into riches? Probably not. Royalties from books sold through physical bookstores tends to fall far short of what online platforms can pay an author.

#7: Are your fees upfront?

I want to help you avoid being surprised by hidden costs or fees. Ideally, you should be receiving an obligation-free quote from your publisher, stating upfront what the costs ahead will be. A good publisher should be chatting with each new author, ensuring that they fully understand the sort of publishing process that best suits their needs and budget. Slick scammers often catch new authors out this way. After paying an initial fee, the naïve author is then upsold on “essential” marketing packages that they “absolutely must have”. My rule of thumb? Avoid any publisher who’s hard selling makes you feel uncomfortable.

#8: Do you take a commission from my book sales?

Ideally, I want you to be earning 100% of the royalties paid by stores like Amazon. If a publisher wants to share these royalties with you, BEWARE. It works our better for most authors to rather pay for book services fully upfront – than to give up control of your future book earnings.

Google “Vanity Publishers” to better understand why they should be avoided like a politician’s empty promises. Or read this article.

#9: Do I need to sign a contract?

Paperwork is usually only signed when either royalties are being shared OR ownership of the book files created might not belong to the author. Most self-publishers shouldn’t require an author to sign a contract. The reasons are simple,

  • The author should own the book files created. (Cover, interior, eBook.)
  •  All royalties should also be going directly to the author.

I accept there will be exceptions to this, please just be careful before signing any contracts. As soon as you are signing a contract, there is a good chance you are either dealing with a traditional publishing business OR worse, a vanity publisher.

#10: How do I make changes to my book at a later stage?

Adding or editing content to your book after publishing has completed is never as quick or simple as the author thinks. Even if you are simply adding or changing a few words. This is especially true if the book is sold in eBook form online. Most publishers allow an author a limited number or rounds of changes to a cover or book interior whilst in production. Changes or updates needed after these initial rounds, once some time has passed, will most likely need to be quoted for.

To help you reduce the need for these possible future updates, I recommend:

  • Investing in the help of good book editor to help reduce the need for corrections to your text.
  • Only start your book layout process once you are happy that the interior text is as final as it can be.

Wondering the best way to share these potential updates with your publisher? I recommend commenting directly on your print-ready PDF.

#11: What book formats will you create?

New authors have a few packaging options to choose from: A digital eBook, a physical paperback or hardcover, don’t forget the audiobook option too. Most authors should be asking for at least for the combination of the eBook and paperback editions. For the hardcover and audiobook, these production costs tend to be higher than the other two formats. Royalties earned from these latter formats are often not worth the added expense.

On a tight budget? Consider starting with the paperback edition first, then converting to eBook later once your budget allows.

#12: Will I own the print-ready book files?

Before deciding on your publisher, confirm that you will own the final print-ready files. If the publisher won’t share these, I would strongly consider walking away. These book files (typically PDF filetypes) should be shared with you before the end of your publishing process.

The book files every author should keep safely stored include,

  • The print-ready cover (.PDF)
  • High-resolution eBook front cover image (.JPG)
  • Print-ready interior (.PDF)
  • The eBook file (.ePUB)

Too many authors forget to ask for these vital bits & pieces. Years later, when they do ask, the printer has vanished.

#13: Who owns the book’s design master files?

This is important for those authors wanting to make their own changes to the book months or years after publishing.

Most professional publishing companies use software such as Adobe InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop to design & assemble your book interior and cover. As mentioned above, the author should always own the PDF files output from this professional software. This doesn’t however mean that the author will own the Adobe design files used to create the print-ready files. Most often, ownership of these “master” files will be quoted for separately. This is an industry norm.

#14: What does “Print on Demand” mean?

(And how to benefit from this book printing technology?)

Print on Demand (PoD) means that your paperback is always available and fully stocked for readers to order. I specifically use 2 print on demand platforms on a regular basis to help my authors:

  1. Amazon’s KDP platform ensures my author’s printed paperbacks are available for readers in most countries,
  2. Whilst TakeAlot ensures that South African readers can also easily place a paperback order. More on the TakeAlot listing process here.

Print on demand implies that no stock should ever need to be printed by the author. Each new order is simply printed “on demand” to satisfy the order.

#15: Will my eBook be published on Amazon?

Every author should list their (e)book on the Amazon KDP platform. Too many authors fail to benefit from the visibility that the world’s biggest bookstore provides. Does publishing on Amazon mean your book becomes the next 50 Shades? Probably not. Amazon is simply a massive online store, enabling seamless delivery of your book to your eager readers.

  • BTW, Amazon accepts books written in Afrikaans too.
  • Written your book in an indigenous African language? I recommend rather publishing using the Draft2Digital platform.

#16: Who will control my (Amazon KDP) publishing account?

If your book will be published on Amazon, I want you to ensure that the Amazon account created uses an email address that you own & control. You want to avoid the risk of having access to the Amazon KDP account being withheld by a publisher, effectively holding your book hostage. This logic applies to any publishing accounts created for online bookstores. Whoever owns the email address used to create your Amazon KDP account will have the keys to the publishing account.

#17: What royalty rate will I earn from each book sale?  (From Amazon.)

There is no yearly fee to publish your books on the Amazon KDP platform. Amazon and most other online book retailers, earn an income by sharing a % from each sale made from their platform. For example, an author on Amazon can earn either 35% or 70% of the list price per eBook sold, depending on a few factors. Other eBook retailers pay an author roughly 60% of the eBook list price.

Why the 35% or 70%? royalty rate?

Wondering why Amazon eBook royalties can be either 35 or 70%?

  • For an author to earn 70% an eBooks need to be sold for between $2.99 and $9.99
  • eBooks sold below $2.99 or higher than $9.99 will only ever earn 35%.
  • An author opting for the 70% rate will be subjected to a “delivery surcharge” of $0.15 per MB of eBook filesize. The larger your eBook file, the larger the deduction from your royalties.
  • For those authors whose readers live in Africa and other 3rd World territories 👉 if your reader lives in a country that is not on Amazon’s “70% list” – you only ever earn 35% for that specific sale. 😭

Before you leave

I really hope this list of publishing questions helps prepare you for your first chats with that publisher. I understand, it can feel intimidating. Thankfully, the global indie publishing community is full of loving support for new authors joining the ranks.

Did I leave anything out? 👇🙏