Self-Publishing Companies & Having The Socks Knocked Off My Books!

A couple of weeks back a comment was posted to POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing through the integrated Facebook section I introduced about a month ago. As many long-time visitors to the site know, I don’t operate a system of moderation or censorship on comments posted to the news, reviews and articles I post. I think it is only fair that if I am afforded a free voice to record my research, interests, opinions and write about them here, I should also extend the same privilege to visitors—be they avid followers of the wide world of publishing, active self-published authors, or representing publishers, publishing services and printers large and small.

The only comments ever deleted here are those posted deliberately to the site as spam, advertising an unconnected service or product. On occasions I have left comments where no effort was made to engage in discussion or comment with any relevance, but merely advertise an editing or print service. I respect that the visitors here are savvy enough to recognise a posted comment which serves only to shamelessly link to another bloggers article or website.
Now, back to the comment posted earlier this month by an anonymous visitor called ‘Artwaste’.

Mick, it seems that you are very critical of some publishing companies over printers. After all, publishing is much different than printing. In fact, your highest rated “publishing” company is a printer called Lightning Source (a subsidiary of Ingram Distribution, no less). Yes, you can go to Lightning Source and get your book printed and distributed and they are much cheaper than other publishing companies, however you end up with dull, quite lifeless covers, like yours, that seem to be designed by amateurs.

I’m critical of author solutions services that don’t deliver what I feel is a fair deal to authors. I’m a believer in the philosophy that you get what you pay for. In some cases I have reviewed services that are overpriced—charging for publishing services that an author can get for free or a small rate under their own steam—and also gouging authors out of potential profit by selling them books at huge print mark-ups and books with a retail price that makes them entirely uncompetitive in the retail marketplace.
Most of the companies I review here offer services to authors looking to self-publish, and the reviews can include printers, book packagers, so-called ‘self-publishing’ companies (an oxymoron of itself), out and out vanity presses, imprints of commercial publishers branching into ‘self-publishing’ services, hybrid publishers offering investment and partnership programs (Tate, Janus, Matador, Pen Press), as well as publishers developing innovative programs (HarperStudio, The Friday Project, Concord Free Press), and DIY publishing services (Wordclay, CreateSpace, Lulu). The Self-Publishing Index listed every month rates all author solutions services reviewed on the site, not just ‘publishing’ companies.
Regarding Lightning Source—this company is not just a ‘printer’. A printer takes a submitted proof file and creates a hard copy of that file in paper in however many copies is required. You can do that at your local high street print shop or with a local offset printer. LSI is a global provider of print solutions specifically for the publishing trade utilising digital and offset means and combining that with logistics and distribution programs and partnerships.
If you go to Lightning Source and end up with ‘dull, quite lifeless covers’, it is because the file you submitted was dull and lifeless and nothing to do with LSI. LSI has contracts with many commercial publishers and small presses throughout the world. Although I do have US and UK contracts with LSI through my own imprint, I’ve actually never used them to print my books.
Regarding my own book covers as described by Artwaste, ‘designed by amateurs’, I assume Artewaste means all my book covers. I have published using Lulu, my own publishing imprint, and also ‘traditionally’ published resulting in book covers designed by my publisher’s graphic design department. Maybe I should play devil’s advocate and ask Artwaste which he thinks is which just by looking at the covers. Actually, one of my book’s covers is often cited as the very reason readers tend spot it and click to investigate and purchase it. I’d say that is one of the primary reasons how a cover can actually help sell a book.
Publishing companies publish books. Their business is generally negotiating with agents, commissioning book projects and most importantly selling books to the retail trade and ultimately the customer. To present some clarity from the below section of Artwaste’s comment, let me state that the only ‘publishing company’ I have ever reviewed on my site is Maverick House. I do hope to look at other commercial enterprises like Faber and Canongate sometime soon.

I can tell you that I have used a publishing company that you ranked below Lightning Source and my cover, the presentation knocks the socks off your books.

Reading Artwaste’s comment, it almost made me wonder if he/she specifically set out to use a ‘publishing company’ ranked lower than LSI (it wouldn’t be difficult – you had almost 70 others to choose from), just so he/she could have a book with a cover that ‘knocks the socks off’ my books? I’m delighted Arewaste is so happy with the cover of his/her book—every author should be pleased with their book cover. It would also help if perhaps Artwaste identified himself/herself as an author and shared that book cover with the rest of us, then we can all share in the same conclusion Arewaste has arrived at. And perhaps also, just to level things up, Artewaste might name the ‘publishing company’ used for the book if it provided that good a service. However, with respect to Artwaste, I am not going to get into a degenerative argument of ‘my book cover is better than your book cover’ or ‘My Dad can beat your Dad up, lots!’ That’s just pretty juvenile.

I assume you created a label and published the books yourself through Lightning Source (let’s just hope so). If you didn’t, I would ask for a refund. People do judge a book by its cover and it seems that I have done just that and would pass your book right on by even though it may be a high quality written paperback. With that being said, there is a whole hell of a lot to be said on how a book is designed and printed and your cost only, website reading analysis is uninformed and poorly researched.
I’ll let the 108,000 visitors to POD, Self-Publishing & Independent and the 2,500 who follow the Facebook page decide whether they consider the site of value to them and whether it is well researched. I’m sure my clients are also capable of using their judgement too and the authors and pushing industry professionals who stop by here regularly and post comments on the articles and reviews. I think it is perfectly clear Artwaste hasn’t spent nearly as much time as them before diving in to comment.

And we may be talking more time, but not a lot of money here: all you need to do is research some of the SITB programs on for publishers and actually take a look at covers and quality of presentation before you judge them on your 10 point system. Your system does not take into consideration graphic designers who work for these companies who do the highest quality work or the presentation of paperbacks and how important they are ultimately for a sale.
Had Artwaste bothered to look carefully at the reviews, he/she might have noted that it is technically a 100 point rating (0.0/10) specifically on the reviews and covers all aspects of an author solutions service – top to bottom – not just on fees, and the Self-Publishing Index is a separate rating system with the reviews I carry out on a company comprising about 20% of the overall index value.

I would argue that even though you are paying more for some publishing companies, you are ultimately saving over going to a printing company like Lightning Source. It is difficult to find a seasoned, graphic designer to set-up your book and do it cheaply so you can do everything yourself with Lightning Source. I welcome your retort and appreciate the ability to leave a comment here.
I think Artwaste has made a really valid and worthy point here. It goes back to what I said at the top of this piece – you get what you pay for. Using a print solution like LSI is only a small part of publishing a book. If you are not a professional graphic designer and editor, then, if you want to have your book taken seriously as a trade product and compete with similar commercially published books, you need to outsource those tasks to professionals.
Where I may differ with Artwaste’s perspective on ‘publishing companies’ is that many of them I have reviewed charge and claim to design and fully edit an author’s book, when in reality, they do not. They are nothing more than author mills with a business model structured around making profit from author fees and selling books directly to authors at inflated prices, rather than being in the business of selling books to readers. There are still some excellent services out there, which do what they say they will do, and do it well, and provide a fair price for a fair service. All POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing has ever set out to do is highlight and celebrate those services, and engage and work with the services that do not measure up to being a decent service. I just hope Artwaste went with one of the author solutions services we have highlighted and celebrated here.
I am the first to acknowledge that rating and trying to evaluate author solutions services—whether the company is a printer, book packager or solutions service – is a very difficult and objective thing to do. I think, at heart, this is the point Artwaste is making. He’s right. The reviews measure the companies on what they claim to be and the services offered. The Self-Publishing Index takes into account many other aspects like industry reputation, years in existence as a company, consistency with title output (not volume), comments that are both positive and negative to the site, recorded comments both positive and negative to me through authors’ experiences using a service, service cost and value for money, and ongoing improvements to services provided. I have almost 70 author solution services rated in the Self-Publishing Index.
Ideally, to truly test, evaluate and review a service I would have had to publish 70 different books and spend at least $100,000 to experience what publishing a book through all those services means. Thankfully, I don’t have to, because all of you share your own experiences of self-publishing a book with me. I thank you all for your continued input and support.
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