Sunday, November 23, 2014

Don't Pay to Self-Publish

My name is Joe Konrath, and I write fiction.

I've sold over a million books by self-publishing.

You probably were searching for "how to self-publish" or something similar and my blog came up.

This post for all newbie writers considering self-publishing. While it would be extremely helpful to you to take a week and read my entire blog to get a full understanding of how the publishing industry works, here's the most important thing you need to know:


Now you can certainly pay people to help you publish. Freelancers such as editors, cover artists, book formatters, proofreaders, and so on.

But when you hire a freelancer to assist you, you keep your rights.

That's very important.

When you write something, you own the copyright. That's automatic, even if you don't register with the copyright office.

Copyright means exactly that; you have the right to copy it, to distribute it, to give it away, to sell it. You own those rights.

But if you pay someone to publish you, you GIVE THEM YOUR RIGHTS.


There are many publishers, called vanity presses, that exist to prey on writers who don't know any better. These presses are sometimes part of big, recognizable publishers, and it's easy to be tricked into thinking that if you pay hundreds, or thousands, of dollars, you'll be published by a major press.

The truth is, major presses PAY THE AUTHOR, not the other way around.

I have sold books to major publishers, and was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then I had to hire lawyers to get those books back so I could self-publish them. Because I make 10x as much money self-publishing as I did by selling my rights to publishers.

If you are looking to get a publisher, do your research.

Check out David Gaughran, Writer Beware, and Preditors & Editors. They have a lot of information about publishers you should avoid.

Learn all you can about vanity presses. Don't get suckered in.

Ask questions. Seek answers. And DON'T PAY ANYONE TO PUBLISH YOU.

Now some Q&A.

Q: I saw an ad for a publisher. Are they legit?

A: Real publishers NEVER advertise. Anywhere. Ever. Not in magazines, or on Facebook, or in Google Ads. NEVER. If they advertise, avoid them.

Q: I saw a publisher at a writing conference and they have publishing packages that they sell.

A: Run away from them. Quickly.

Q: But they told me that self-publishing is hard and they'll do all the work.

A: And they will also KEEP YOUR RIGHTS. You can hire people to help you. Don't pay a publisher. Don't give your rights away.

Q: I have questions about a publisher.

A: Check out the three websites I listed above and search for that publisher.

Q: But if I pay this publisher, they promise to get me reviews and get my book into Ingram and...


Q: Why not? What's the big deal?

A: First, they'll take your money. Probably hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Then they'll keep your rights, so if your book does become successful, they control it, probably forever.

I know a lot of rich self-pubbed authors. Not one of them paid to be published.

Q: But self-publishing seems so hard. There's so much to learn. I'd rather pay someone and be done with it.

A: Would you also say, "Investing seems so hard. There's so much to learn. I'd rather pay someone and be done with it."?

This is your money, your hard work, and probably also your dream and your passion. You owe it to yourself to do some work and learn the industry functions.

Q: I got this brochure in the mail...

A: Real publishers don't have brochures. They don't mail out anything to authors.

Q: I got this email...

A: Real publishers don't email authors.

Q: But they sent me a contract...

A: If you still aren't convinced that the contract is bad, have a lawyer look at it. One I highly recommend is David Vandagriff. If you're willing to pay money to a publisher, you should also be willing to have an attorney who knows publishing take a look at your contract. It will be the best money you ever spent, I promise.

Q: I'm confused. I have more questions.

A: Head on over to KBoards and introduce yourself. There are writers there who will help you.

Q: Why do you care?

A: You've probably heard that this is the best time in history to be a writer. That is correct. For the first time ever, it is possible to reach readers without having to go through gatekeepers such as agents and publishers.

But there is NEVER an easy path to success. If something sounds to good to be true, it is.

I began this blog in 2005 for newbie authors. It explains all about how publishing works. It's a public service I provide. If you're serious about publishing, take a few days and read through all of my entries. You'll get the equivalent of a Master's Degree in traditional publishing and self-publishing.

There have always been vanity presses, and unscrupulous predators who prey on eager, naive writers who have big dreams but no experience.

These companies will continue to exist only if writers remain uniformed about them.

Get informed. You owe it to yourself, your dreams, and your eventual writing career.



Norma said...

I've never paid a dime to self-publish, but I know several people who even signed a contract with a "publisher" (and I'm using that term loosely, since the research I did on the publisher in question turned up the word scam several times....

Jill James said...

It breaks my heart when friends don't listen to this simple advice. Just keep putting it out there, Joe. It IS a service you provide.

Dairenna VonRavenstone said...

I learned this the hard way. Yes, self-publishing is hard but spending thousands of dollars with a company that only wants thousands of more dollars to market...I'll take self-publishing thanks.
Still, the big two seem to con more people in over and over again. It took me too long to realize my mistake and I haven't yet tried to get the rights back for the book they own.
Great post though and I hope others thinking about going to a vanity press change their minds.

Jamie Maltman said...

Thanks for using your platform to signal boost this message, that great people like Gaughran and TPV do a good job with. You'd think it's not necessary, but I've met people locally that talk about their self-publishing journey and then you find an xlibris mention somewhere and want to cry for them. Good job Joe.

Rich Meyer, harbinger of Chaos said...

Best blog post of the month! Thanks, Mr. Konrath!

Anonymous said...

Suz Korb *MSc *because I've read all of your posts.

Anonymous said...

In my former writing critique group, one of the guys—a stereotypical needy trembly-lipped validation-seeker—had been taken to the cleaners by PublishAmerica some years back. He didn’t like to talk about it much, but I got the impression that he hosed himself financially in the process and ended up in debt.

The same guy was a big anti-self-pub voice in the group, saying he was looking to be a “real” writer
when I suggested self-publishing. He crowed and did backflips when some half-assed publisher picked him up. I saw his cover art and felt bad for him -- it looked like a seventh-grader did it in PowerPoint. He then proceeded to get all depressed a year and a half later, when he got his first royalty statement. To his vast surprise, he realized his books weren’t selling. (I could have told him that — his books were priced at $9.99, his Amazon ranks never climbed out of the millions, and he had zero reviews after six months... but apparently he never checked. After all, his agent took care of all that business stuff).

When I suggested self-publishing to him again, he said that he didn’t want to “give up” like that, because his agent told him that it takes many years or decades to “break in” and he should just keep submitting until it happens.

So bottom line is, you can't really feel sorry for some of these folks. You can lead a horse to water and all that…

The saddest part? This guy's plan to keep submitting instead of self-publishing got a bunch of support from the rest of the group. I bailed on the group after that, especially since at that point I had sold something like 30,000 books in my first few months after releasing my stuff... and the prevailing attitude was "how nice for you, but we're in this to be real writers." It was just too depressing listening to these folks reinforce each other's self-deprecatory "I’m-just-not-good-enough" bullshit.

It made me realize that there are tens of thousands of writers who buy so wholeheartedly into this “validation” nonsense that I can see how vanity presses do so well off their backs.

They are victims born. Lemmings running to the slaughter.

There's no hope for these dumbfucks, really.

But for the smart ones, there's your blog :)

And Gaughran's, and Passive Guy's, and DWS and KKR and Barry's.

Rock on, man. Rock on.

The One True Ben said...


Thanks for putting this so succinctly. I've always been a big advocate for authors' rights, especially after meeting and talking to Ann Crispin a decade ago (give or take a couple of years LOL).

I've been struggling to find one aspect of the predatory pay-to-publish "self-publishing services" companies, and you've hit on the most important part of it. Konrath's Law of Self-Publishing: Always keep your rights.

A. E. Mableson said...

I have been reading this and Dean Wesley Smith's blog for a long time. I have self published a couple of hundred titles on Kindle and Smashwords. I am finally, after four years of hard work, beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Any newbies reading this, pay attention to Joe's advice. It ain't easy. It ain't quick. And it sure as hell won't get you rich fast. Maybe it never will. But it is fun and there is a LOT to learn. Even if I never make a fortune, I would do it all over again because of what I have learned in the process. Thank you, Joe for this blog.

Terrence OBrien said...

This would make a good ad for the Sunday NYT. Maybe Patterson will pay for it.

Rick G said...

Had a similar conversation not too long ago. Here's one I got during it to add to the FAQ:

But they have a "Best Seller" package for only $500 more. If I go with them won't I be more successful selling books?


Peter Spenser said...

It’s sad, really, to see some of these otherwise fairly intelligent people who somehow have gotten started down the wrong path and now won’t (or can’t) give up and start over. I know a young woman whom I met in OfficeMax where she was getting a promotional poster done for her self-published paperback. I saw the book. Great cover. Professional-looking print layout. A nice job all around. I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know if she is any good as an author, but… she borrowed money from her parents to pay the $7,000 that she spent for some company to make up 1,000 of these things! Now what does she do with them? She is stuck with marketing and selling and distributing them all by herself: local author readings, craft fairs, etc., maybe? She will be an old lady before she gets rid of them all and she will never break even.

Darren Sapp said...

Thank you, Joe. Like many, I entered this journey thinking I needed to find an editor and publisher. After reading your blog along with Eisler and Howey, I saw the light.

Today, I announced that my novel went live on Amazon. I spend $1800 for cover, formatting, and editing and had volunteer beta readers and proof readers.

I own 100% of my rights. It's a beautiful thing.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Keep preaching, Joe. They won't stop scamming...

Jim Self said...


You are the creator of value. The publisher helps you package it. "Legitimate" publishers will pay you for that valuable content, not the other way around.

Remember, though, that even those publishers will want to hold your publishing rights beyond your death, and will take the majority of profits.

Michael N. Marcus said...

>>Real publishers NEVER advertise. Anywhere. Ever. Not in magazines, or on Facebook, or in Google Ads. NEVER. If they advertise, avoid them.<<

This blanket warning may cause damage. Most publishers have ads aimed at readers and booksellers. That's fine.

Ads aimed are writers indicate pay-to-publish. That's not fine.

Anonymous said...

@Darren - Congrats, man. I recently jumped into the fray too and it's so exciting. Hope your book (and the next one and the next one, etc) takes off!

@Anonymous - I too had a similar experience with a writing group. A lot of us here spend so much time reading Joe's/Gaughran's/Passive's blogs that we forget just how many aspiring writers out there still look down their noses at self-pubbing. It's definitely the overwhelming majority.

I stopped attending that writer's group for a number of reasons, but the two big ones were: everyone used the meetings to bitch/explain why they were too busy to write (I can't stand pity parties) and 95% of them had this snobbish attitude toward "non-traditionally" published books. The other 5% were non-committal or could see pursuing a hybrid approach.

Enough was enough for me so I bailed. The older I get the less patience I have for people who refuse to treat writing like it's not a business. I'm not talking about the people who treat it like a hobby, I'm referring to the folks who want to do this full-time for a living.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

This is probably the only writers group worth attending.

adan said...


Amen, ditto, and yes sir!

Joe Flynn said...

"When you write something, you own the copyright. That's automatic, even if you don't register with the copyright office."

Right, but if someone screws with your work the only way you can take the SOB to court is if you've already registered your copyright.

Otherwise, you're SOL.

G.B. Miller said...

That is a lesson I learned the hard way.


(yes, you can slap me with a wet towel across my backside if you so desire)

Now I simply do both Smashwords and CreateSpace for my self-publishing ventures.

Unknown said...

I was most fortunate to stumble upon your site and articles, Joe, a year or so ago, and made the decision to self-publish rather than seek traditional publishing after reading about a number of self published authors able to live off the incomes they create for themselves.

And I am happy to say I have finally published my first-ever book a couple of days ago. It feels fantastic and rewarding having accomplished this. (Now, I just need to start getting some sales).

Great articles, keep sending out the message Do Not Pay to Publish. People do listen (well, I did.) I think I've avoided many mistakes because of authors like you sharing their advice.

Anonymous said...

The first time I heard of you was when you wrote the cover article for Writers' Digest several years ago. Even when traditional publishing was the only game in town, you were doing well and guiding other authors in their journey. Thank you so much for your generosity.
Your blog was one of the first that I saw when I searched for Self-Publishing and when I clicked through, it was a virtual goldmine of self-publishing info. You're the best!
ps: The kboards sign up process is a pain. I answered all the questions correctly but it won't let me in. And I really am a human! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I self published with 48 hour books. their prices were reasonable, they were great to work with, and I got an ISBN and bar code, so the work is completely mine. A printer company is what they are, and they help you with formatting and proofing. If you're going to self-publish, it's your responsibility and yours alone to market it and promote it.

Steven M. Moore said...

Here's another danger lurking: even if you find a self-publishing outfit where you keep the copyright, they can over-price your books so they have no chance of selling. You should also be in control of the price of your books as much as possible. Of course, even Amazon's KDP Select has time constraints and conditions on price changes, but the more control you have, the better you can follow market trends and competitively price your books.
Not that any of this works for me....

Anonymous said... it possible to find a simple step-by-step HOW TO SELF-PUBLUSH guide?
I don't plan to pay anyone to publish my work. I want to self-publish.....but I can't find anything I can read that actually tells me HOW.
I also need to know how to establish a pen name to keep my name anonymous, because I write erotica. I make my living teaching kids to write. You can see the professional conflict I'm sure -lol.
Can you help? Can you advise me or send me to an informative, succinct source? Thank you for any help!!

Nazmul Hussain said...

I stopped attending that writer's group for a number of reasons, but the two big ones were: everyone used the meetings to bitch/explain why they were too busy to write (I can't stand pity parties) and 95% of them had this snobbish attitude toward "non-traditionally" published books. The other 5% were non-committal or could see pursuing a hybrid approach

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the support!
Writers / Buyers do need to be aware of 1. vanity presses 2. chintzy author services like bad covers or marketing promises, and 3. one-channel-only distribution (CreateSpace and nook among others).

Lots of free info for authors looking to self-publish here, too:

Unknown said...

Hi Joe! First and foremost, thank you for putting up this article! I stumbled on your blog when a friend recommended me to read it for a journalism story on self publishing. Having read it carefully, I must admit that it was certainly an eye-opener. I read this just in time. It is unfortunate how vanity presses seem to feed on unsuspecting writers. Thank you!

Davusicion said...

Joe I just submitted a query letter yesterday to Wordserve literary agency, requesting an agent. Today, I got a call from Westbowpress, from an agent who said they were linked to the agency. It turned out to be a vanity press. Gretchen, the agent I spoke to crunched when I asked her point blank if it was. You said something about selling our rights away. She had stipulated in the contract that I would keep all the rights to my book if I purchased one of their packages. What are your thoughts on that?