From the Archives: “There is No Such Thing as Free Lunch”

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: May 28th, 2012 ]

Have you heard the cliché “There is no such thing as a free lunch”? Everything has a cost, even if it appears to be free. This true for self publishing as well as all other areas of life.

While there are companies who say they publish your book for free, there are still costs to you. For instance, you may have to buy large amounts of merchandise after the book is printed, or you will have to spend vast amounts of time marketing your own book. In addition, a “free” publishing company could harm your reputation has an author if your book is not of professional quality.

Authors who want their books to be taken seriously need to invest in their projects. This means you’ll at least need a good copy editor and possibly an experienced graphic designer. Depending on your skills and goals, you may also require marketing services. Not all self publishing companies offer these extra services.

Authors should invest in their books by choosing a full-service self publishing company that offers a variety of production and marketing services as well as excellent customer service. This will ensure that you have access to skilled professionals who will help make your book a masterpiece.

I’d love to know, what additional services do you plan to use when self publishing your book?

– by Wendy Stetina

free lunch

While a good (almost) five years have ticked by since Wendy first wrote this post, much of what she has said remains true. Yes, you still need to watch for hidden fees tucked into your self-publishing contract. Yes, you still need to guard against paying for any package that leaves big gaps for you to cover, especially if these gaps coincide with a lack of experience or expertise on your part that you can’t hope to redress in time to sell your book effectively. And yes, many of these issues naturally resolve themselves if you take care and exercise sound judgment in choosing the finest self-publishing company you can.

And since you’ve opted to pursue self-publishing, clearly your judgement is a finely-tuned instrument to begin with!

But I think Wendy had another, greater point buried within her original post, all the way back in 2012. The point of reputation. Your reputation is, for all intents and purposes, inseparable from your personal brand. And your personal brand is what, in the end, sells books. In an age where boycotts have been proven an effective means of communities exercising influence over what works of art get funded and produced, an author’s reputation means a lot. A lot. So much, in fact, that it might as well mean everything, because once it’s even faintly tarnished, it’s rather a complete loss.

The natural end of this formula (a + b = c) is that, yes, the self-publishing company you choose is fundamental to either losing or building a stellar reputation. While self-publishing authors and companies don’t have exclusive ownership of this formula (consider the rage boiling over a certain Twitter troll’s contract with Simon & Schuster, for example, which will affect both of their reputations in the long run), the self-publisher lives and operates an awful lot closer to the line of no return.

And several self-publishing companies have mistreated their customers. This is a sad fact, and not at all indicative of the general trend (which we hope we espouse) towards respectful and honest, unilaterally positive treatment … but even one rotten apple in a bushel is enough to inspire caution, isn’t it? (Or maybe a carton instead of a bushel. I cracked open a rotten egg a week ago, and let me tell you, I have struggled to walk through the kitchen ever since. The memory sticks.)

My point is this: listen to reviews from authors who have self-published already. Spend some time sussing out the dark corners of the internet to verify the company of your choice is, in fact, generating the kind of reviews it should be. Don’t pay any attention to general naysayers who give all self-publisher’s the middle finger, but do listen to articles and posts that are company-specific, and rooted in individual experience.

There’s no margin of error when it comes to your reputation and its relationship to your decision of where to take your next self-published book. Take it somewhere where it–and you, and yes, your lunch–will be in safe hands!

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,

In Your Corner: Choosing a Self-Publishing Company

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” (1916)

You may very well be asking what Robert Frost has to do with self-publishing.  After all, he’s rather more a titanic figure in the world of literature (read: traditionally-published literature) than an icon of the D.I.Y. generation.  But here’s the thing: Robert Frost wrote about choices.  A lot.  And while the poem means as lot things to a lot of different people–a lot of things and a lot of people–Frost himself was taken aback to discover how seriously his readers took it.  He’d written it, quite literally, about his friend and walking buddy Edward Thomas, who had rather a lot of trouble making up his mind where to go while they were walking together.*


If Frost had a point, it was that indecision can lead to rather long walks–and maybe damp hair, if there’s a fog or a rain cloud about.  And as you can no doubt verify, the same principle is at work when it comes to choosing a self-publishing company: indecision leads to long waits, and long waits have more consequences for books than just damp hair.  Timeliness is an important part of a book’s appeal, and when we delay publication for whatever reason, that timeliness is undercut.  But making a rash decision can be equally if not more problematic, can’t it?  Finding yourself trapped into a contract which privileges the company and not the author is always a bad thing.  And so we come to it; if I have any advice in choosing a self-publishing company from my years working with self-publishing authors, I could boil it down to these three pointers.

How to Choose a Self-Publishing Company:

1. Choose the people, not the platform.

A lot of self-publishing companies keep costs down by sacrificing customer support and real humans on the other end of certain processes.  But believe me when I say these companies have lost something vital and important; publishing, even or perhaps even especially self-publishing, is about connection.  Connecting the dots between manuscript and book, between author and readers, and yes!  Between the author and the process of publication itself.  If there’s no one on the other end of the line, the final result will suffer.

A good self-publishing company, on the other hand, hires professionals who really and actually care about producing beautiful books that their authors are proud of.  A good self-publishing company hooks you up with partners, with people who care as much about bringing your vision to life as you are.  Choose the company who makes you feel like a priority, who makes you feel like you actually matter.

2. Post-publication assistance matters.  A lot.

Publishing your book is just the start; there’s a lot that comes after.  Don’t just look for a company that offers pre-publication assistance (like copyediting and custom book cover designs) but one that also offers post-publication assistance.  A good self-publishing company will offer marketing assistance, maybe some merchandising options, social media insight, and distribution not just to online retailers like the Apple iStore or Barnes ?& Noble’s Nook Store, but also to physical retailers like Ingram and to reviewers, award committees, and book fairs.  It doesn’t matter if one or two of the offerings don’t strike you as must-haves … but it does matter that you choose a company with diverse options available (which proves they have a lot of muscle, and a lot of influence) and that you choose a company which can still be useful to you after your book hits Amazon.  A company you can turn to if, for some reason, your book sales stall six months on.

3. Don’t give up what made you decide to self-publish in the first place.

Look, I get it: most of us choose to self-publish because of money.  Or because of intellectual freedom.  There’s usually a bank balance or an ideology at work, and I would caution you against thinking of this as a bad thing.  Something pulled us towards self-publishing, even if it’s just plain old simple curiosity, and that something is both valid and worth hanging on to.  Stick with your guns.  Don’t give up on your instincts–because ultimately, your instincts are the most trustworthy and valuable thing you have when it comes to choosing a self-publishing company.


You are not alone. ♣︎

*  And when Thomas himself took the poem seriously and made some rather intense life choices–for example, going off to WWI–Frost was devastated.  He was even more devastated when Thomas died in Arras.  The moral of this story being, it would seem, to make major life decisions upon thorough research and consideration, not the (misread) interpretation of a poem.


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Loving Your Self-Publishing Company

What does it mean to love self-publishing?  It’s one thing to love the theory of going indie: the creative control, the rights and royalties, the community spirit, and everything else that goes along with making your own way on your own schedule at your own page.  But it’s another thing to love the experience of going indie, and as our veteran self-publishing readers can attest, this experience depends in large part on the company you choose to self-publish through.

Has Amazon KDP moved past its “Big Bad” corporate image to provide personable services?  Will Kobo Writing Life treat you right?  Has AuthorHouse overcome its checkered past?  How do Smashwords, Lulu, and hybrid publishing companies like Outskirts Press measure up?  For those of you who are just starting out down this road for the first time, the answers to these questions may hold the key to unlocking the joyous, fervent love-affair you never expected to have.  I’m speaking, of course, about your love affair with your self-publishing company.

loving your self publishing company

I’d like to offer you a list of characteristics I think make for the ultimate lovable self-publishing company and also make for the most positive self-publishing experience.  What should you, the eager author, look for as you research what options are out there?

  • Expertise.  A company that says it knows what it’s about is all well and good, but a company that actually knows what it’s about makes for a far superior experience.  Since this year is a presidential election year here in the USA, bear with me a second: it might prove helpful to think of your publishing candidates the way you would your political ones.  What do you look for in your future president?  Know-how, that’s what.  Companies that lack this crucial characteristic slide headfirst into problems of honesty, accountability, schedule-keeping, transparency, reliability, and trustworthiness.  When researching your options, you can get a good sense of a company’s expertise by watching for those tell-tale symptoms of a company in retreat––a company that throws up smokescreens to disguise its lack of expertise.
  • Experience.  Coming on the tails of its close cousin, Expertise, this characteristic is of equal importance.  You simply won’t feel confident in your choice if you know you’re a living and breathing guinea pig for a wet-behind-the-ears company looking to build its portfolio.  And if you don’t feel confident, well, you won’t find yourself falling in love anytime soon.  As you carry out your research, watch for testimonials provided both by the company on its own website and by past clients elsewhere.  It’s easy to find out if a company has the necessary experience, since authors love to blog about what they love and hate; all you need is Google!  (And some spare time.)  The benefit of going with a hybrid self-publishing company is, in my mind, that you only have to research one vendor (the company itself), whereas if you take time to research your cover and interior book designers, editors, publishing coaches, website designers, copywriters, eBook and print on demand experts, and marketing specialists … well, you’re looking at a substantial investment of time and energy.  With a hybrid self-publishing company, these experts are vetted for their skills and reliability already.
  • Diverse offerings.  Your book is a work of art, and every work of art has its own special demands.  One of my college professors once compared books to babies, not just because authors feel a deep emotional connection with them, but because they seem to take on lives of their own and often prove as troublesome and demanding as a fractious toddler.  Because your book by its very nature requires special treatment, you as an author need to trust your self-publishing company to provide diverse customizable offerings to fit it––and you.  And while some self-publishing platforms might be willing to work with you on creating something totally custom from the ground up over the course of a dozen panicked phone calls, it’s better to start with set of offerings that you can winnow down to something close to what you want––and customize from there.
  • Flexibility.  Is this self-publishing company going to be a pleasure to work with?  Are they going to be calm, flexible, and eager to please––or are they going to be stubborn, inflexible, and resistant to your suggestions?  Are they willing to revisit decisions you’ve already made, or change course in the middle of the design process if you find this is what your book requires?  At the heart of a company’s openness to flexibility is its fundamental perspective on the nature of books.  If a company looks at your book as merely a product it is bringing to market, then of course it’s going to look for the fastest, most expedient way to do so.  If that company, however, understands that your book is a masterpiece and you are a partner rather than a problem or an obstacle in the way of publication, its representatives will work with you rather than around you.
  • Soul. “Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are,” wrote José Saramago in his book Blindness.  When you go looking for a self-publishing company, you’re not just looking for an entity that ticks all the boxes in your “looking-for” list; you’re looking for a company with that little something extra, that thing which moves a person or a company out of the realm of “things I’d be okay with” to “things I feel a deep connection to.”  You’re not looking for a company.  You’re looking for company along the journey.  You’re looking for a good match between you and professionals who know what they’re about, and who share your heart and vision for your book.  If this sounds a little like you’re looking to fall in love with someone, then you’re not far off!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Summary Edition

Ten posts and eleven weeks ago, we started out on this foray into merchandising together.  My original list was only five items long, but as the weeks ticked by, I realized there was just so much more to unpack––so, so much more.  There were weeks when I faced a great recurring quandary, the same quandary that every book-to-film adaptation seems to face these days: “Do I stick with the original vision for this piece, or do I split it into three shorter pieces and fill in the gaps with editorializing?”  Which is not to say I quibble with the unstoppable Hollywood machinery; in fact, it’s entirely apropos, I think, to compare merchandising to such a vast and powerful cultural institution.

Ultimately, in the end, merchandising is about making money off of your books, and making money off of books is a difficult enterprise, even when your book is published with a major traditional publishing house.  It might sound mercenary to say so, and thereby take books out of the lofty world of ideas and philosophies and re-shelve them among the lower reaches of the sticky-fingered common folk … but at the same time, we must recognize that a book which sells well spreads its ideas well.  A well-marketed book is an effective vehicle for those lofty ideas.  We cannot shy from the twin facts that merchandising is a) good for us, the indie authors of the world, and b) good for our readers, who are presented with more options, and drawn into more worlds of ideas.

There’s also a third completely parenthetical side benefit … which is to say, c) merchandising can be loads of fun.  Who doesn’t love to participate, in some small way, in the stories that taught them to dream big?  (….and I’m saying this while I wear a tee-shirt that literally glows in the dark with the schematics for the Space Shuttle.)  It might be escapism to try and keep dreams alive a little while longer––whether by slipping on a tee-shirt, or purchasing a special edition––but it may also be exactly what someone needs to forge ahead.

There’s simply no way around one fact: Merchandising can be a lot of work.  For the self-published author, it’s a daunting idea at the very least and quite possibly even a paralyzing one.  In my first post, all those weeks ago, I wrote that publishing a book does not always equate to instant success––in fact, it only very rarely catapults an author past the breaking-even point.  But merchandising, specifically, and self-publishing in general are made so much easier by the presence of a dedicated and supportive community of fellow-laborers, and hopefully by the resources that blogs like this one compile.  This series of blog posts (listed below for convenience) may only represent one feeble drop in the bucket when it comes to the resources you can turn to, but I hope that I’ve managed to find a balance between the “Big Picture” (AKA “Concise and Readable”) and some of the finer points of merchandising (AKA “I Should Probably Break This Up Into Twenty Sequels”).


Thank you for sticking it out and being a part of this series––your feedback and suggestions have always been of such great use, dear readers.  The comments box remains open, but in the meantime, get ready to come at self-publishing from a wholly different angle starting next week Wednesday!  I’ll be examining a whole host of social media platforms and breaking down the most surprising ways in which they can be of use to you.  It’s going to be a blast!  ♠

KellyABOUT 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,

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with CreateSpace & Others

In this, my tenth post in an ongoing series about Self-Publishing and Merchandising, I’ll be taking a close look at how you can optimize your use of the CreateSpace platform––as well as recommending a few others for your consideration––just as last week I put together a few words about working with Barnes & Noble to merchandise your work, and the week before I examined Amazon’s platform to similar effect.  (And really, these brick-and-mortar or digital retailers end up doing much of the work for you, which is lovely of their algorithm-wranglers.)  I also mentioned the fact that much of the merchandising we’ve looked at together over previous weeks takes for granted that the book is its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), and the sum of other parts, too (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  While retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble certainly have a head start and therefore an enormous edge over their competition, it’s still worth taking a peek at a third party or two to see what they have to offer!


First, to clear the air: CreateSpace is an Amazon subsidiary.  Back in the days when it was known as CustomFlix, the company that is now CreateSpace was mostly known as a place to create “flix” or movies.  These days, its mission is “to profitably connect filmmakers, musicians, and authors to their worldwide audience,” a mission that has seen it rise to the top of companies offering Print on Demand (POD) books as well as Audio Books on Demand (ABOD)––a wonderful mission for readers and self-publishing writers on the whole, but not necessarily good news for those who wish to publish out from under the shadow of the giants.  If you’re looking for a platform that gives you glossy and polished POD books as well as the benefits of beautiful algorithms that will more or less take care of your merchandising for you, then keep CreateSpace on your list––and follow my directions for working with Amazon.

If you’re looking to branch out, here are a few more options for you!

  • BookBaby allows authors to distribute their ebooks through Amazon, Apple’s iStore, and elsewhere. This platform’s nonstandard payment model makes it a great fit for those authors hoping for strong sales of their books: rather than subtract from royalties, its basic package charges $99 in an initial sign-up fee and then $19 for every following year.
  • Booktango creates opportunities to convert, upload, and edit manuscripts, distributing through Nook, Amazon, and other digital retailers. Booktango claims to offer authors 100% of royalties from its own online bookstore as well as 100% of net royalties from other online retailers once they’ve sliced away their own commissions.
  • FastPencil serves as a publishing and networking service for authors and publishers by providing assistance with content, distribution, marketing, and workflow for both print books and ebooks.
  • Kobo Writing Life is the digital publishing arm of Indigo’s Kobo hardware program. It offers analytics, a learning center that helps guide new users through the (global) publishing process.
  • Lulu provides for-pay premium services, such as editing for manuscripts and promotional video creation, not to mention free e-book conversion.  In addition to commission fees charged by distribution websites like Apple’s iStore, Lulu charges an additional 10%.
  • Outskirts Press (and other hybrid self-publishing companies) offer paid publishing services for authors who are looking for entry into the self-publishing market without the hassle of taking on all of the work themselves.  The best part of choosing a hybrid self-publishing company like Outskirts is that authors get to keep their profits (thereby recouping the original expenditure of purchasing a publication package) while benefiting from professionals who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to editing, design, distribution, and––yes!––merchandising.
  • Printful + Gumroad have teamed up to create a simple payment and digital delivery system which will allow authors (or anyone else with digital products to sell) to weave e-book sales directly into their website. Websites like Sellfy, DigitalDeliveryApp and e-Junkie offer similar services.
  • Pronoun (formerly known as Vook) is currently going through a transition before it relaunches, but has a history of offering design work for both digital and print books, marketing, and distribution. It makes (made?) room for video and audio features, and polished, professional-looking POD books. Vook offered free consultations before it even provided a quote, and distributed through all major online retailers.  It also had a lovely dashboard.  There’s no reason to believe that in its next incarnation, Pronoun/Vook won’t continue to offer the same services.
  • Smashwords remains one of the largest distributors of self-published ebooks in the world, and its “Meatgrinder” program lets authors convert their Microsoft Word documents into any of the offered ebook formats for sale in any of the big online ebookstores. Authors get around 85% of net sales made through Smashwords’ online store, a bit less through other retailers.
  • Wattpad is a social writing and reading platform built for those looking to create visual design-driven projects, including interactive novels. The process begins with choosing a template, then text and images, animation and three-dimensional objects. It does not provide authors with ISBNs for their books, but those can be purchased elsewhere if necessary.

In short, if you’re looking for a new indie platform on which to launch your latest work, we’ve got you covered––or rather, the internet does, and we simply put a few words together.  We hope you take the time to explore them all––and to learn the peculiar quirks and wonderful merchandising benefits that each has to offer! ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT 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,