Twelve Questions to Ask Before Working with a Publishing Services Company

Mar 22, 2016
Photo by @emthegem
Photo by @emthegem

For authors who want to publish at a professional level, self-publishing is a misnomer. Usually you will end up hiring publishing professionals to help you with your book. Those may be individuals, such as freelance editors and designers, a hybrid publisher, or a publishing services company like Page Two. There are now so many of these companies that it can be hard to know who you should work with. Asking yourself these twelve questions will help you make an informed decision.

1. Who heads up this company?

Make sure the people behind the company have significant publishing experience. There are a lot of people out there who have published one or two books and now call themselves experts.

2. What is the company’s reputation?

Talk to some of their clients if you can, or ask other authors what they’ve heard about the company. Note that just because you’ve heard of it doesn’t mean it has a good reputation. Author Solutions, for instance, is one of the best-known publishing services companies, and they were recently named in a class-action lawsuit for failure to deliver on services. (The lawsuit was dismissed in 2015.) You might also look at websites such as Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware, which report scams and questionable business practices.

3. Is the fee structure transparent?

You should be able to find out up front what it will cost you to publish your book. Look for hidden costs (e.g. having to pay extra if you make changes at proofs). The company may not advertise its rates publicly, but you should be able to access a clear quote on request.

4. What royalties will you be paid?

At Page Two we feel strongly that if you’re funding your book, a hybrid publisher should give you full royalties, or at least much better royalty rates than a traditional publisher would pay (i.e. better than 10-15% of the retail price).

5. Do they require exclusivity?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing if the company requires you to work exclusively with them. But make sure that the arrangement gives you the flexibility you require. For instance, if you would like to supplement the company’s sales and distribution with other distributors or sell your book direct at events, you’ll want to be sure your contract permits that.

6. Exactly what production services will they provide – and who’s doing the work?

Get clear on what levels of editing are included in the fee. Does it include substantive editing? Line editing? Copy editing? Proofreading? (For reference, check out our blog post “Who else is confused about what editors do?”) And are the people actually doing the work true book experts? Just because someone is a good newsletter editor doesn’t mean they will be a strong book editor. Have a look at some of the company’s previous books, or at their covers, to make sure you’re comfortable with the quality.

7. Is there a print run of physical books, and if so, who pays for them?

Not every book requires a large print run of physical books in order to succeed. If your agreement includes one and you’re the one paying for them, make sure you have a plan to sell or distribute those copies that warrants the cost.

8. Where will they distribute your book?

It’s relatively easy to make a book available online these days through POD distributors such as Createspace and ebook distributors such as Smashwords. So don’t be wooed by claims such as “We can sell your book through Amazon.” If selling to brick-and-mortar bookstores is an important part of your strategy (and we would argue that it shouldn’t always be), find out whether the company can do that, and whether they have a team that will actively pitch your book to stores.

 9. What will they do to market your book?

Beware of generic, one-size-fits-all campaigns, for example, claims that “We’ll send a press release to 500 media outlets!” Without a targeted pitch, those outlets are unlikely to pick up the story.

10. What is the timeline for publication?

If possible, get a delivery date in the contract. We’ve seen too many authors’ work get hung up in an unduly long production process.

11. How do you get out of the arrangement if it’s not working for you?

Make sure there’s a termination clause in your agreement that specifies how you can end it if the relationship isn’t working. Ideally, you’ll want to have paid the company at various milestones (e.g. on delivery of first proofs) so that if you do want out, you won’t have paid the whole fee up front.

12. What kind of customer service do they offer?

Can you get a real person on the phone? How fast do they respond to your inquiries? And will you be in direct contact with your editor and designer, and other members of your team, or will your conversations flow through one single person? Ideally, you can build a relationship with the key members.


A final word: Read the fine print and ask questions! You’ve worked so long on your manuscript, and it’s important to make sure you have the right team in place to help you bring it into the world. If you have questions about Page Two’s services, please drop us a note. We respond quickly!