In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss some of the scams that abound in today’s self-publishing, and how to navigate your way through the sharks to find the “dolphins” who can help you.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- The extent of the problem
- How to keep ourselves safe
- Attitudes and insights for finding good help.
Mentioned in this episode
- Writer Beware blog
- Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) – membership organisation with a Facebook forum where you can ask questions, and free guidebooks for members
- ALLi blog – lots of self-publishing topics
- ALLi watchdog – rates self-publishing service providers
- Joanna Penn – The Creative Penn blog
- Joanna has published many books – start with her self-publishing book
- David Gaughran’s blog
- David’s self-publishing book
- Gracewriters Forum – ask other Gracewriters for input
- Gracewriters Podcast – check out our self-publishing series
- Reedsy blog
- Anne R. Allen (She is traditionally published, but has an informative blog on scams etc)
- Belinda’s blog on How to tell if you’ve received a genuine publishing offer
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which can help cover the costs of running Gracewriters.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, knowing who to trust in self-publishing.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator. I have four adult children and I live here in south-east Queensland. I write romance under the pen name Alison Joy and you can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my preaching and teaching and more recently my blogging and writing. You can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today is the next in our self-publishing series: knowing who to trust in self-publishing. Basically, how to tell the dolphins from the sharks! And there are some sharks!
We will be looking at three basic points under this topic. Firstly, the extent of the problem; secondly, how to keep ourselves safe; and thirdly, some attitudes and insights for finding good help.
Alison, you’ve been doing some research and you have some personal experience as well. What are the sorts of things that are happening to eager self-publishers out there?
Alison Joy: Okay. Well, first of all, like any industry there’s going to be scammers. There’s going to be people trying to rip you off and get your money. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you do, there’s always somebody out to rip you off. And the fact that there is a website called Writer Beware that has been running for over 20 years and it’s devoted to exposing concerns about questionable practices and things like that just goes to show that it’s a big issue in our industry – in this field.
Belinda Pollard: I guess we need to go into it being aware that not everybody in the world has our best interests at heart.
Alison Joy: Yes. And it’s basically, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, where do you start? I mean there’s contests, awards, there’s literary agent, there’s editors and assessment services. There are vanity presses. There’s just such a whole gambit of things that you have to be aware of as a self-published author and that’s why you need places like Writer Beware and the Alliance of Independent Authors. So, you can actually get on and find your way through.
I think Writer Beware is particularly good because so many writers from around the world have been relaying their experiences that they have a pretty good database. So, if you get an offer and you find somebody online that you’re not sure about, then maybe you can get on there and do some research and find out about it.
Belinda Pollard: And who have you found trustworthy in the realm of finding information?
Alison Joy: Well, Joanna Penn, I think, has always been quite good for that and David Gaughran and I guess because they’ve got the runs on the board and they have a big network and they have connections with a lot of other authors. So, they can say, “Okay, from personal experiences this is what’s worked for me. This is what’s worked for this person and this person. This is what’s not worked.”
Belinda Pollard: And I think we get quite excited about the possibilities because our books are so close to our heart and we’re really excited about the opportunity that sometimes we leap at things without necessarily checking them out in full.
I think, too, there might be a situation where, definitely not all, but some of the people being preyed upon the most are in the older age groups and they’re not used to the internet being the Wild West. They’re not aware of the sheer number of malicious actors that are out there on the internet. So, if they get a message from someone with certain information, then they will often take that at face value.
Donita Bundy: This is one of those times when if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And it’s one of those times when you should be taking that, if it sounds great, and then asking other people about it. Again, which is why it’s so important to belong to community. Alison, those websites you mentioned like the Alliance of Independent Authors and the Beware one is so helpful and also the community that you belong to. Getting information from the people that you connect with.
Belinda Pollard: You’re connecting with Gracewriters. Going into our forum to see what other people might have experienced or heard. Going into some of the forums related to some of these other things.
Did you have anything more to add there, Alison?
Alison Joy: Double down and do your research, that’s all. You’ve got to research, research, research and find the reputable people that you can go, “Okay, this person knows what they’re talking about. We’ll follow them or we’ll follow their advice.”
Belinda Pollard: And I think that’s a really great kick-off into how to keep ourselves safe which was the second section, Alison. Knowledge is power and being informed of how the self-publishing industry works, what some of the scams are and what some of the great services are that you can also get from different people. I would totally agree that Joanna Penn’s blog which is thecreativepenn.com is a powerhouse of information and she is someone who has proven to be a good actor in this industry over more than a decade. So, if she gives ideas and advice, that’s going to be trustworthy.
There’s also selfpublishingadvice.org which is the Alliance of Independent Authors blog. So, stuff is going to be pretty reliable if it comes through that avenue. Reedsy is another one that’s quite good and we will put links to these in the show notes for this episode on our website, Gracewriters.com, so that you can find those.
There are also the episodes of this podcast because we’ve been doing a series on self-publishing so there’s a number of things we’ve covered there.
Another one that I quite like is Anne R Allen’s blog. Now, she is not a self-publisher. She is traditionally published but a lot of her blog posts actually are very useful for self-publishers as well and help us to understand some of the scams and things that are going on out there.
We can also get books on the topic to inform ourselves. Joanna Penn has a whole suite of books; we can grab those. I think David Gaughran has some books as well. Again, we’ll put some links to these different people.
We can take courses, for example, from a reputable writer’s centre. Say, your local state or city writer’s centre may well have some good courses. Reedsy has some courses including some free ones.
I have one which I’ll link to from the show notes on Gracewriters.com (coming soon). We can also keep an eye out for some of those warning lists. Alison has already mentioned Writer Beware which is a service of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of America. So, there’s a lot of good stuff there.
Alison Joy: Can I just butt in there and say it’s not just for sci-fi writers, it’s for everyone. It’s just that’s where it started from but covers a whole range and covers everybody basically.
Belinda Pollard: That’s right but it was founded by them. The Alliance of Independent Authors has a self-publishing watchdog and actually creates a list of services with ratings. And some of them have red on them! And there’s various other colours according to how they are rated by that service. So, it’s always a good idea to look at that.
And always a good idea to really look at the fine print of whatever you are being offered. One of things that I’ve noticed happens a lot is that the fees particularly in some of the packaged offers that are being offered will be out of balance. So, I’ve said before my policy is that your words and the appearance of your book are the two most important things. Your words are the most important and then the next thing is the appearance and then everything else after that is much smaller.
So, those are the things to be giving the most time, the most money and the most energy for the best value in the long term. But look for things in a package that are out of balance. Is the edit cheap but something else is really expensive? And be alert to the way things are described. I’ve often seen packages that provide an editorial something or other. They’ll use the word ‘editorial’ and then some other word and so you think you’re getting an edit of your book. But if you look into the fine print, you find that someone’s just going to read the first three chapters and give you some feedback. Or a whole bunch of other different possibilities as to what might be happening there.
So, do be alert. A good quality package will have the biggest price being on the editing and then probably the next one being on the cover and then all the rest will be under that. Whereas sometimes they’ll be charging you $5,000 for something obscure like marketing on Twitter or strange things like this that are probably not going to give you the result that you’re looking for.
So, also be alert to service providers masquerading as traditional publishers. And I actually have written a whole article about that on my Small Blue Dog blog and I will provide a link to that in the show notes.
Also make sure that before you sign anything that you are keeping your rights. Your copyright to your work is important. Don’t give it away to someone else. You need to be getting the earnings and you need to be the publisher if you’re the one paying the bill. So, those are just a few of my ideas.
Donita, have you got any ideas regarding attitudes and insights that will help us to find good help?
Donita Bundy: Belinda, I’ve really liked the advice that you gave when we were talking about editing a number of episodes ago and you reminded us all that we are the captain of our manuscript. And I really feel like this applies to every aspect of our writing not just the editing. From the dawning of the concept to the building of the story to the polishing and ultimately the launching. When we choose to self-publish, we are in total control and we can and should look to others for advice, help and teaching. Whatever we need.
Personally, I feel that connection of relationship and community is where I go and I ask advice. Who have you used? What have you found? And can you point out what you’ve done? But in the end the decisions are ours and this can be terrifying and liberating. You can forge your own path to fulfil your own goals for your own work. You can listen and learn at the smorgasbord of knowledge that’s out there and take what you want and leave the rest. But if something goes wrong, the buck stops with us.
So, before we begin it’s imperative that we understand what our goals are. What do we actually want to achieve? Is writing going to be a profession or is it a hobby? And this will determine which path we go down. When do we want to achieve it? Is there a timeline? Is it a meandering project to fill rainy days or is there a burning desire?
If it’s something that we’re really wanting to get a short timeline on, be cautious about not rushing in and just taking what sounds the best and the quickest and the cheapest. Who is your audience? Is it the world or is it intimate friends and family? Again, the cost and who we go to will depend on where we want our work to end up.
Consider what our own available resources are. What can we do ourselves? And as both of you mentioned, some great courses. It’s not just on the publishing. There’re great courses on book covers and using the programs that are available to do things ourselves.
So, what can we do ourselves? And what do we need to outsource? What our budget is. I think, right at the start, having that attitude of stewardship is a Christian responsibility. And not just with money and belongings but with our giftings and ministries, as well.
When we’re considering outsourcing, whether that’s editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, publishing help or all of the above, like we’ve been saying this whole episode, do your homework. Pray. Ask for guidance. God knows it all. Pray for wisdom. Ask around, get references, reviews. Do the research as Alison had said.
But, as I was thinking through this, the verse from Matthew 10:16-17(a) came to mind and Jesus says:
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard.
We are living in a world where there are sharks looking for an easy feed but we should be encouraged knowing that there are also in our oceans dolphins who want to help! So, as much as I dislike taking Scripture out of context, I think this is really good advice.
Always, in all that we do, remember Whom we serve. Whom we represent and Whose Word we carry in our gracenotes and do all we can to honour that calling. I think, first and foremost, as we go into this adventure is pray for wisdom. Pray for guidance, heavenly as well as human, and give thanks that we are not on our own. We’ve said this so many times: writing is an individual sport but we belong to a team. So, connect with the team, get that encouragement, get advice, find out where to go, get references and finally keep notes. You will forget! Everything that you think you will never forget because you’re learning it and it’s been huge and big. Take notes.
So, we are life-long learners and we won’t get it right the first time. We will make mistakes. If you make mistakes, you are normal. But whatever the experience you have, good, bad or ugly, remember you can use that to help other people and encourage them. So, you can pass that information on. You can be one of those sources that other people go to, to find out. Be ready to share that and that way we can be dolphins, too!
Be prayerful. Be wise. And it’s okay to make mistakes but just be guided and enjoy the adventure. It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. Just get up and do it again.
Belinda Pollard: But maybe without the same mistake or maybe with!
Donita Bundy: Until you learn differently it probably will be the same mistake. So, be a life-long learner! And don’t do the mistakes again!
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Donita. And thank you for letting me know that I am normal because I make mistakes! Because I do! So, thank you.
Yes, any thoughts that prompts for you, Alison?
Alison Joy: I know this topic we’re talking here is that saying dolphins and sharks and because I’ve got that kid’s song in my head going round and round and round, “Baby Shark, do-do-do-do-do-do!” Sorry, I can’t help it.
It’s like an earworm: once you get it in your head you can’t get rid of it.
Donita Bundy: So, what you’re saying is swim the other way! Is that what you’re saying, Alison! Swim away.
Alison Joy: There’s big sharks and little sharks. There are all sorts. You’ve got to try and find your dolphins!
Belinda Pollard: And some people will tell you that “this is how you’d tell what a shark is” and it’s not necessarily accurate. So, for example, some self-published writers they really want to do everything themselves and they will push you to do everything yourself, too. But that may not be the thing that suits you the best. And that is okay. You’re allowed to ask for help and get help.
Also, some forums people will say, “Oh, it shouldn’t cost more than $300 to edit a book,” and I’m thinking, “Well, that’s about $2 an hour!” It’s things like this that sometimes happen so just get your information from multiple sources and check against the different sources and pray about it and work out what works best for you.
And sometimes if you get an offer and you’re not quite sure about it, a very simple thing you can do is google the name of that service provider and the word ‘scam’. And then if they are someone who is known for scammy behaviour, you will get a lot of results that come up with different bits of information that can help inform you. And if there’s not much information that comes up on that search, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a good actor and not a bad actor or that they’re necessarily the right actor for you but you can start there.
And then you can potentially go to one of the various forums, for example, the Alliance of Independent Authors has an online forum for members. We have the Gracewriters forum where we can send you to various sources of information and you then can ask some other questions about that particular organisation to see if they are the right one for your needs and if they are well respected in the self-publishing industry.
Alison Joy: Yes. I think that’s the thing. You’re going to have to find somebody that’s the right fit for you. Just because x, y and z author does it doesn’t mean it will be the right way for you to go. The right approach for you to take and you might even consider that it’s a bit of shark as far as you’re concerned because that’s just how it is but somebody else might think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
And that’s the thing. It’s the individual journey and you’ve got to find what works for you. It might not be someone that’s an outright scammer but it might just be something that’s not quite the right fit. That’s the thing on the writing journey is just trying to find which way to go and what works best for you.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. Fantastic. Any extras to add, Donita?
Donita Bundy: No. Just pray and pray for wisdom and connect with the communities that you belong to and do your homework.
Belinda Pollard: Excellent advice.
How about I pray for us and the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that we live in a time where we have so many opportunities. We thank you that the sharks and the dolphins out there are all known to you and that you can help us to discern who is who and help us to find the way forward to service providers and helpers that will actually be the right fit for us and our projects and our goals. Please help us to encourage and support and protect one another and please guide us as we seek to serve you and to bring glory to your name and serve your purposes through our writing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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