ePub Author Question – Are Author Services Companies Worthwhile?

An author services company is a sort-of a one-stop-shop for authors. Typically they offer packages of services to authors that include providing an ISBN, cover artwork, editing, interior layout, ePub conversion, print-on-demand conversion, uploading to online book stores, and marketing help. The question is: Are they a good deal?

Well, I guess I’m an author services company of sorts since I perform all of the above services for my clients except editing and cover artwork creation. It is always a good idea in business to keep an eye on your competitors and I’ve been doing just that with author services companies. I contacted a number of author services companies stating that I was a new author hoping to publish a manuscript. Since then I’ve had direct contact with the sales reps of each company and I’m on all of their email lists. Here is a summary of my experience with the author services companies:

1. An author needs to have regular interaction with the person who is converting their book into ePub or the .pdf files necessary for print-on-demand. Every conversion that I’ve ever done has involved lots of feedback and questions from both my side and the client’s side. There is no way that I could have done a good job at conversion without this regular back-and-forth with the client. I asked all author service companies about this and the answer normally implied that there would not be this kind of interaction. Typically the answer was, “The production department will handle the conversion.” I imagine that at least some of the author service companies had the conversion work farmed out cheaply overseas. It was fairly clear to me that there would be no interaction with the ePub converter in most cases.

2. An author should not have to pay for an ePub or print-on-demand conversion until the job is finished and the author has reviewed and is totally satisfied with the final product. The majority of author service companies wanted all of the money up front.

3. An author should be able to conduct negotiations with people who know what they are talking about. I asked some fairly basic questions about the company’s ePub conversion process to every sales rep. None of them had a solid understanding of the ePub conversion process. A few had no knowledge of ePub conversion at all. It reminded me a little of my mortgage loan officer days at the height of the real estate boom last decade when mortgage companies were hiring people right off the streets and putting them on the phones with little or no training.

4. An author should own the ISBNs attached to their books. Most of the author service companies will supply the ISBNs. In this case, the author service company will be listed as the publisher of record. If you are serious about being an author, you should own your own ISBNs.

5. An author who would like to provide print-on-demand hardcopies of their works should be able to expect high quality. The only real guarantee of quality in print-on-demand is Lightning Source. You want to make certain that your POD version will be done at Lightning Source if you chose an author services company. My suggestion is to go directly to Lightning Source or find someone experienced in doing POD with Lightning Source. If an author services company farms out the POD work to a lower quality printer, your hardcopy version could wind up with a shoddy binding and lower quality printing.

6. If you use an author services company, your cover artwork will produced from a standard template or by someone assigned to your account. You are infinitely better off locating your own cover artist that you are comfortable working with and trust.

7. Marketing your book is work that you will have to engage in on your own. Never purchase the marketing packages that author service companies offer. They’re a huge rip. Most of the sale reps that I dealt with tried to apply pressure on me to purchase one of their marketing packages. The “deluxe” package was normally more than $1,000.

8. Author services companies state that they will handle all aspects of distributing your book to the online book stores. That scares me the most. You, the author, absolutely want to working directly with Amazon yourself. There are many reasons for this. Most importantly, you get paid all of the royalties and you can upload any changes to your book that you want. You can’t do that if an author services company handles your Amazon account.

Another very important reason to maintain your own control over the distribution of your eBooks is that Amazon has a policy of matching the lowest price of your book anywhere it is sold. If an author services company places your eBook into an online retail bookstore that practices deep discounting, Amazon will reduce their retail price of your book to match the competitor’s discounted price. Amazon will then pay out royalties on its sales bases upon the discounted price. Amazon is the big dog that you need to take care of. Once your eBook gets into discount online retailers, it is difficult to shut that down. I went through that once and will discuss that experience in another article in this blog.

You may gather that I do not recommend author service companies. It is my feeling that many of them prey on new authors with lots of sales pressure to buy large, expensive packages that will not produce what is promised.

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