Publication Services – Who is For Real?

Imposter_masks-internet publication servicesI have received a fair number of inquiries from aspiring authors about e-mails they have received from “publishers”. I have received one or two of these myself. The messages vary, but in essence they portray the sender as a publisher, generally they use impressive names that include the word “press” to give the impression that they will print the book.  Most are, at best, publication services.

Some offer to convert the author’s book manuscript into an eBook for a minimal fee – often about $50.00. Others offer to oversee the entire publication and printing process and request fees of several thousand dollars. Are any of them on the level? Do any of them offer genuine value?

First let us deal with “conversion”. It needs to be clearly understood that “conversion” of your manuscript needs to be done only if you plan to sell your books exclusively through your own web site or on places such as ClickBank. If you plan to sell your eBook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, or Smashwords, conversion of your text manuscript into the appropriate eBook format will be done by each distributor as part of the submission process. They will not accept your pre-converted file. In the vast majority of cases, paying someone to “convert” your file is a scam.

Formatting your manuscript, however, is a goose of another color. Formatting is essential prior to submitting your file to distributors (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Smashwords, etc.) for conversion. You can produce a manuscript in Microsoft Word that will print out a fine looking book manuscript. But, the actual formatting you used as you wrote will have a tremendous impact on whether the eBook looks anything like your manuscript.

Just one example would be chapter titles; did you use the Header 2 formatting command or simply make it a larger font size and bold it? Did you perhaps mix the two methods in the manuscript? Printed on paper, these may look identical, but during parsing for eBook conversion, a header will produce one effect, large text something else – if it is accepted at all. There are, in fact a bevy of hidden command codes that will wreak havoc on your beautiful manuscript if not stripped out and replaced with the proper formatting commands that the conversion script will be looking for.

Those skilled in this formatting process may use terms like, author services, publication services, book designer or interior layout and they will certainly not be offering to format a novel length manuscript for $50. The work is not difficult – you can do it yourself if you want – but it is time consuming, therefore tends to be expensive.

Then there are printers or presses. When considering eBooks, the term is totally superfluous. I find the terminology annoying, especially in light of the fact that this “press” will probably submit the file they produce to Smashwords and Smashwords will produce the eBook and distribute it through their network of dealers, but not necessarily deceitful. They may be trying to pattern their electronic publication business after the model of traditional publishing. And, being known as Big Pants Press is more impressive than being Big Pants Publication Services.

There is one last bone to pick on this topic however, and that is to clear up the business of “printing” actual paper books. Last time I checked, there were only two companies in the USA capable of actually printing and binding real paper books on a commercial scale: Lightning Source and CreateSpace.

One of the publishing companies I have worked for could and did print small numbers (a few hundred) of paperback books using an off-set press and bindery set-up. But if large quantities of books were wanted, or if they needed to be hard-bound, we sent it off to Lightning. In the vast majority of cases, “publishers” who say they will print your book are hedging the truth. They will have it printed, but they themselves will do nothing more than the design work. If that.

If you are a hands-on sort of person you can format your manuscript and submit it directly to the various eBook distributors individually, or to Smashwords to cover them all with one submission, or to the printing service; all by yourself.

If you are a very busy author and don’t want to spend the time on these technical details, by all means hire them out. But, make sure you do your homework and investigate those you hire to do the work. A reliable formatting or lay-out service can save you many hours of labor and produce an exceptionally nice looking book. However, as in any industry, there are many weasels skulking the woods hoping to separate you from your money.

My book, Writing for Profit or Pleasure, Where to Publish Your Work, devotes several chapters to a detailed discussion of cleaning and formatting your manuscript as well as the exact process of submitting your files to eBook distributors and printers. My book is available for Kindle and Nook or as a paperback, and yes; I formatted the files and submitted them all by myself.