From the Archives: “Self Publishing Authors Beware: Cheaper isn’t Always Better”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: February 25th, 2015 ]

I recently saw a commercial with the message “cheaper isn’t always better.” The advertisement illustrates that cheap is good and sushi is good, but cheap gas station sushi isn’t good (or something like that, I’m sure you’ve seen it).  This analogy immediately made me think of self publishing. For authors considering self publishing, it is important to remember that cheaper isn’t always better. When choosing a self publishing company, consider these two questions.

1. What are the upfront costs, the per book cost and royalties?

You may find a company that has incredibly low per book author costs, but don’t let that govern your decision.  Just because a company promotes a low per book cost doesn’t mean they are the best bargain — they may have high upfront costs and low royalties.  And just because a company offers low upfront costs doesn’t mean they are the best bargain — they may have high per book costs, low royalties and even requirements for you to purchase hundreds of books yourself.  You must find a good balance of upfront costs, per book cost and royalties.  Consider all of this when self publishing.

2. What services are available?

In many cases, the cliché “you get what you pay for” is true, and self publishing is often one of those cases. Not all self publishing companies are created equal, and you need to consider your professional goals and needs when choosing a company. A cheaper company often does not offer all the services and support needed to create a quality book, and if you want to be respected as an author and sell books, you need to offer your readers a quality product.

Ultimately, the self publishing company you choose depends on your goals and needs as an author. Some people can go with the cheapest option and be completely satisfied, but many serious authors find that spending a little more is worth the extra expense.  You want to find a company that will produce a top-quality product, offer you plenty of options such as professional editing and custom covers, and a variety of options for marketing and promoting your book.  As you research self publishing companies, be sure to consider all the costs as well as the value of the services offered. You may just find that “cheaper isn’t always better.”

by Jodee Thayer

You know all about hidden fees and the small print, don’t you?  At some point or another, we’ve all fallen victim to it: in paying off student loans, in signing a work contract, in paying for that one trip to the emergency room six years back, in getting called up for jury duty–and of course, in selecting a company to self-publish your book.  Back in the early age of the internet, when everything was wild and self-publishing was as yet an unformed and unregulated process, lots of people were straight-up swindled out of their money by scam websites advertising cheap publication, no problem, no questions asked.

These days, you’re a lot less likely to run across a mustache-twirling self-aware villain than you are to be taken advantage of by a legitimate, if soulless and heartless, company.  These companies offer–you guessed it–real and legitimate services, but they do so in a way that deliberately obscures the real costs beneath layers and layers of fine print.  The only way to really know what you’re getting when it comes to a self-publishing company is to read every line of the original agreement as well as every line of every product bundle–and to verify with past customers that they got exactly what they paid for in addition to quality customer service, and that they were never strong-armed into paying for services they didn’t want or need, used-car-salesmanlike.


The first step to a successful (and enjoyable) self-publishing experience is to shop wisely, and only go into business with a company you trust.  Can you trust Amazon to put your needs–one customer in a billion–first?  Probably not.  How about a smaller family-run company or passion project?  You’re probably on the right track there.  The second step is not to equate cost with quality–to recognize that hidden fees are reprehensible, yes, but that there are also delayed costs in publishing.  A cheaper cover design option now might cost less now, but the cost is simply delayed–a few months down the road, it becomes clear that a cheap and unattractive book cover is, yes, costing you.  Costing you customers!  The same goes for poor interior design, and poor marketing.  You might have savvy in some of these areas, but it’s rare for an author to have a deft hand with both Photoshop and listserv blasts.  The key is in knowing your strengths and taking advantage of them, and knowing the strengths of your publishing platform–and being willing to pay for the ones you need.

Because, ultimately, the truth of the matter is that pretty much every product on the planet, including your self-published book, is inevitably shaped by one simple formula, and it’s not “lower cost = better service.”  Rather, the formula that shapes your book’s destiny is instead:

quality of service × expense of production = quality of product

And the thing about a formula like this is that if you reduce either of the terms, service or cost, the quality of the product can only go down.  Now, every company starts at a different point; some self-publishing and hybrid service really do offer better offerings for the same price as others.  That has to be researched, and can only truly be verified by checking in with the experts and with past customers of all of the different companies you have an eye on.  (Research is never a bad idea.)  As long as you are looking for balance in all things–between costs now and later, between time and energy and skill set and the challenges before you, I’m confident you’ll make the best choice in what services you pay for!

better service lower cost balance


Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

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