Many authors are confused about what services self-publishing companies provide and how to find the best self-publishing companies.

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “self-publishing companies.”

In a blog post from 2018, I talk about what it means to “self-publish.” Before looking for a company that helps authors self-publish a book, it’s helpful to know what that means.

To publish means to “bring printed works before the public, usually for sale.” (Merriam-Webster). Thus, to self-publish means to bring your book before the public and offer it for sale or for borrowing. IngramSpark and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) are companies that provide indie authors with an access point to selling books to the public. The “self” part comes in when the author uploads the files to either one of these platforms for “publication” and distribution to online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and to make the book available for ordering by libraries and brick-and-mortar stores.

Best Self-Publishing Companies?

Indeed, either one or both of these companies is the “best.” Who and how they distribute and at what cost to the author differs. In this blog post, I explore the difference between IngramSpark and Amazon KDP.

But, what about all the work needed to get the book to the point where it can be self-published? This question is, in my opinion, the source of much of the confusion around indie publishing, as there are many paths to that point.

Options for Self-Publishing

Basically, there are three options:

  • Do it all yourself, with or without the assistance of templates and freelance designers.
    • Pro: Maintain editorial and design control over the project, keep 100% of your royalties, low-budget.
    • Con: Time-consuming with often substandard results. Can cost a lot to fix and result in lost sales.
  • Contracting with a publishing services company that does the production work necessary to publish a book, namely editing and book design.
    • Pro: Maintain editorial and design control, with assistance from professional designers and editors. Keep 100% of your royalties. A professional product that competes with the bestsellers in your genre.
    • Con: Higher upfront costs. Watch for companies that provide cheaper services in return for a portion of your royalties.
  • Handing the whole thing over to a company that does the production work and publishes your book.
    • Pro: Can seem like less work for the author. Many companies do nice work.
    • Con: Can be expensive and may result in fewer royalties if the publishing is seamless. Keep in mind that only KDP and IngramSpark do print-on-demand; the company is just the middleman, a service the author pays for. If the company provides the ISBN, they are the publisher of record. Can be difficult to get application files from the company if changes are needed to the book. Beware of scams.

How Do I Know Which Are the Best Self-Publishing Companies?

If you choose to hire a publishing services company or contract with a company to do everything including the publishing, how do you know which company to choose?

Make sure you get quotes from any company that you approach to do the production and publication of your book. Aim for quotes from three different companies. If you’re not sure whether to hire a publishing services company or a company that will do the production work and publish the book, get quotes from each.

Here is my checklist to help you wade through the information online, decipher and compare quotes, and ultimately decide on the best route for you and your book.

  • Is the company asking you to apply and pay money for them to “publish” your book? This is a red flag and an immediate disqualifier, especially if they ask for an application fee.
  • Has the company/freelancer provided you with a firm quote and clear terms and conditions?
  • Does the quote detail each service that will be provided? Can they tell you what other costs to expect, such as the ISBN purchase, title set-up, printing costs, or marketing? Are there any hidden costs or additional costs down the line if this, that, or the other thing happens or doesn’t happen? (Note: A red flag regarding hidden costs is a company that provides you with a quote that is substantially less than the other quotes you have received.)
  • Based on the quotes, what are the fixed and variable costs per book? Fixed costs are those costs that don’t change with the number of books you sell, such as design or editing. Variable costs can be calculated per book, such as printing. If the company includes publication (e.g., printing and distribution) of your book, have they broken out fixed and variable costs so that you can make an informed decision?
  • What percentage of the book’s retail price will you receive as publisher compensation (sometimes called “profit” or “royalties”)? If the percentage is less than you would receive by self-publishing through Amazon KDP or IngramSpark, understand why and know what you are sacrificing. Read more about calculating your per book profit here.
  • Are you within your budget? If one company’s quote exceeds your budget, what are you gaining for that additional expense?
  • Who owns the ISBN? If it’s not you or your business, just know that you may never be able to publish your book via any other route in the future without spending much time and money—and sleepless nights—wrestling the book away from the original company. If the company is not transparent about the ownership of the ISBN, it’s time for you to move on or thoroughly understand what you are giving up. In the US, ISBNs may only be purchased from Bowker; in Canada, ISBNs are available from Library and Archives Canada for free.
    • How do you find out who will own your ISBN?
      • Ask the company the publisher name that will be printed on the book.
      • Ask the company to point you to their own literature about the ISBN and how it is issued to you. Read their literature carefully; some warning signs may be language such as “ISBN assignment,” “we will give you a unique ISBN,” or “free ISBN.”
    • Have you been provided with examples of covers and pages from actual books the company or freelancer has designed? How do the designs measure up with bestsellers in your genre? Do they fit in or do they look amateurish in comparison?
    • Does the company or freelancer receive positive customer reviews? Are reviews easy to find (i.e., on their website or Facebook page)? Don’t forget to Google the company and see what people are saying. If there are no reviews, can they provide you with references?
    • Will your book be accessible to book stores and libraries? Note that IngramSpark is the only print-on-demand company that will distribute to and accept returns from book stores in return for a higher wholesale discount (i.e., fewer profits to you). Some companies will not distribute to book stores because doing so is not as profitable for them. Note also the difference between distribution and marketing. Just because a book store can order your book doesn’t mean your book is on their radar screen.

You may notice that we haven’t talked about marketing. Book marketing—telling the world about it—is YOUR job, regardless of which route you take. The company that you hire, be it a publishing services company or otherwise, may offer some marketing services such as PR, author website design, coaching and more.

1106 Design is a publishing services company. We provide the book design (cover and interior) and editing services authors need to prepare the book for self-publishing. Because authors take care of the publishing part of the process (along with some handholding from us), 100% of the book’s profits are theirs. We also offer author coaching for marketing, the 3:3:3 Book Launch Plan, and author website design. If you’d like to understand how to get started with 1106 Design, contact us here.