I frequently receive emails from authors who have paid a company to publish their book, but who are later surprised by some of the terms of the contract they signed (that they usually didn’t read), and are also flustered by the myriad of add-on services offered by their POD publisher. Understandably, they can’t believe a company that they paid to publish their book has taken such liberties. There are some things you should never, ever agree to when paying another company to publish your book. And, there are optional extras that will cost you a small fortune, and will, in all likelihood, never be paid for with any resulting book sales. Here, I’m examining the contracts and add-on services offered by the most popular POD service companies – iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Lulu and BookLocker (the latter of which I own, by the way). All the information below assumes the book is a standard, black and white interior paperback with similar distribution (through Ingram).
You wouldn’t believe the ways some of these companies milk authors!
Rights – If you pay someone to publish your book, you absolutely MUST refuse to hand over any rights. The company has done nothing to deserve owning any of your copyrights. All the major POD service companies take no rights. If you see a POD contract that does take rights, run as fast as you can in the other direction.
Period to Publication – Almost every day, somebody emails me asking me how long it takes to get a book to market through POD publishing. More and more authors are starting to feel like numbers as POD service companies hire more employees, and even subcontract some of their work overseas. iUniverse says it takes them 90 to 180 days (3 to 6 months!) to get a book to market. The AuthorHouse contact states they have 180 days to get a book to market…but they’ll go faster if you pay them an extra $500. Milk! Xlibris advertises “four to five months” to market. But, you can pay them an extra $349 to $599 to expedite. Milk Milk!
When you publish through Lulu, they provide you with page after page of service providers that can help you get your files formatted to Lulu’s specs. Trying to figure out which one is the best, or cheapest, is a very confusing task, and different companies offer different services. So, you might need to buy an ISBN through Lulu, and hire another company to format your book, another to create your barcode, etc. I spent over an hour trying to figure out just how much formatting and cover design would actually cost, only to discover I’d be charged extra for pdf file conversions, upload fees, and more. The period to publication through Lulu will depend on which of their service providers you hire.
At BookLocker, we publish a book in four to six weeks…often faster, but we like some breathing room. All authors work directly with me, Angela, to ensure their book turns out the way they want it.
Internal Images – A couple of years ago, I started receiving emails from authors asking how much we charge to include photos, charts, drawings, or other graphics inside a book. We have never charged extra for this service. Having those things included just really doesn’t require much extra work on our part. We were surprised to learn our competitors charge this much to include images in books:
iUniverse – $100 to $200 for 1 to 50 illustrations. They only allow 50. If you need more, too bad.
AuthorHouse – Through their “standard” program, you only get up to 10 images inserted. Then, you have to pay $10 per image.
Xlibris – If you use their basic service, $10 per image and $20 per table!
Lulu – $2 per image if you use their provider, Dixie Press, to format your book.
Booklocker – No extra charge.
Royalties – It seems POD service companies continue to raise their service prices while lowering their royalties. iUniverse pays authors 20% to 25% of the payment “the publisher actually receives.” That means if somebody buys your iUniverse book from Amazon, which would be a discounted sale, you only get 20% of the money they actually receive. Boo! That s a really bad deal! The 25% royalty only applies to sales through Barnes and Noble and B. Dalton stores. And, 25% royalties for consumer sales, for an author who paid iUniverse to publish their book, is too low. Ebook royalties are 50%.
AuthorHouse only pays 25% royalties for ebooks, which is ridiculously low for an automated transaction with zero production costs. The AuthorHouse print royalties range from 5% to 50%, depending on how an author prices their work. They do not state in their contact if these percentages are based on the retail price of the book or their net profit. We suspect it’s the latter. And, we can’t find their “Book Pricing Agreement” anywhere online and they didn’t respond to my email requesting a copy. Hmmm… Do any of you have a copy of this?
Xlibris.com pays 10% to 25% royalties. And, their list prices are way too high. The minimum list price for a 108-page paperback is $17.84! Ouch! Oh, but if you want to “supercede” their pricing structure and lower your royalties, you can pay them $249 to do so. Milk Milk! That makes NO sense at all!
Lulu’s royalty structure is calculated like this: List price, less production costs, less Lulu’s take (20%), less any discounts given to wholesalers. The author gets the rest.
BookLocker pays 35% royalties based on the list price for print books sold through the BookLocker’s website and 15% based on the list price for books sold through third party retailers/distributors/wholesalers. BookLocker pays 70% royalties for ebooks priced $8.95 or higher and 50% royalties for ebooks priced lower than $8.95. All royalties are based on the list price of the book. We never calculate royalties based on “net profit.” That is WAY too confusing for authors. They’d never know how much they’re getting!
Payment of Royalties – If your readers have paid your publisher for your books, and there are quite a few of YOUR dollars in your publisher’s bank account, why should you have to wait for your money? iUniverse, AuthorHouse, and Xlibris all pay quarterly to authors owed certain amounts of money, usually around $20. For those requesting checks, Lulu pays quarterly, 45 days after the close of the quarter. If you want your money by paypal, Lulu will pay you monthly, 31 days after the end of the month.
BookLocker mails royalties monthly, by the fifth business day of each month, to authors who are owed $20 or more.
Upselling! – You wouldn’t believe the amount of money your POD publisher can tempt you to spend AFTER your book gets published! Forget about the fact that the publisher profits from each sale of your book, too. They really don’t seem to care how many books you sell because they’ve already nickle and dimed you to death. iUniverse offers an assortment of marketing products and services. They even make you pay if you want a copy of their Marketing Success Workbook for (gulp!) $49.00! Why don’t they just email you a copy for free? Let’s not even talk about the bookmarks and business cards, co-op advertising for up to $400, their $199 press release service, their $1500 publicist, and more.
From around $250 for 500 bookmarks, to $299 for a book review campaign, to $999 for press release distribution, to $1799 for a 5,000-media-outlet press release campaign, there are quite a few ways Xlibris likes to separate authors from their money…and, we bet, very few that generate enough book sales to pay for those expenses! (By the way, you can get 500 bookmarks at printingforless.com for only $79!)
Don’t even get me started on the king of upselling – AuthorHouse. Sure, they offer the standard bookmarks and business cards (starting at $400 and $250 respectively – remember, you can get a much better deal on both at printingforless.com), and a “standard publicity package” along with an “extended publicity package.” But, the biggie in their upselling offerings is their New York Times Advertising program, where a small ad with your book’s cover and a short description appears on a page with lots of ads for other AuthorHouse books as well, along with a dandy ad for AuthorHouse itself (which tells people that all those authors paid that company to publish their books). Do you think any of those authors ever earn back the $2650 they paid AuthorHouse for that ad? We doubt it! Oh, and, let’s not forget the AuthorHouse “personal media valet” for a mere $4,000! Milk! Milk! Milk!
Lulu offers so many products and services that you’ll get dizzy trying to figure them all out. From a report on how to get on QVC for $5, to paying $425 to be a guest on a radio show, to even more bookmarks and business cards, to $569 web design, you’ll never tire of finding ways to spend money at Lulu.
Let’s be honest. If these marketing products and services really resulted in impressive sales, don’t you think these publishers would be giving away these products and services for free? They don’t. That’s why they upsell you on them. It’s just plain common sense.
BookLocker doesn’t believe in upselling authors on any marketing services and products. When you sell a book, BookLocker profits, too. We offer a free marketing area for authors, free blogs for print authors, and free one-on-one marketing advice. If you need help with google ad words, Richard will be happy to explain the program to you, and to walk you through the process. Likewise, if you want me to read an ad you’re thinking about running, or if you need me to review your press release, fire it over by email and I’ll be happy to review it and give you advice….free of charge, of course.
If you absolutely must have press release distribution, or bookmarks, business cards or even coffee cups with your book’s cover on the front, we can refer you to companies that offer those products/services at a reasonable price. We make absolutely no money whatsoever for referring you to those companies.
The rights to your digital files – Unfortunately, most POD service companies claim ownership to your cover and text files once you publish with them. What does this mean? You pay them to format your book and/or create your cover…and then they claim ownership to those files. Good luck getting copies! Why do they do this? To keep you from switching to another POD services company, of course! iUniverse charges authors (choke!) $1500 for their own files if the author terminates their contract before 18 months has passed, and a “nominal fee” of “only” $300 if 18 months has already passed. What I want to know is, why should authors pay iUniverse $1500 or $300..or even $1 for files they’ve already paid iUniverse anywhere from $299 to $1199 to create?!
The AuthorHouse contract simply states: “AuthorHouse will have no obligation to provide to Author any submitted materials or production files at anytime or for any reason.” Pretty blunt, huh?
The Xlibris contract states, “Xlibris retains all digital property and ownership related to all completed production data and files.”
Lulu diverts authors to a myriad of service providers. You would need to check the contract of whatever service provider you decide to hire.
BookLocker provides all authors copies of their digital files on request, whether they are still active or have decided to terminate their contract. It’s your book. You paid us to publish it. You own all the files. It’s as simple as that.
Cancellation Clause – Some self-publishing companies require writers to stay with them for a certain period of time. But, if you have paid a company to publish your book, you should be able to cancel their services instantly, at anytime. Why is this important? Increasing numbers of authors are landing traditional contracts after proving their self-published book has been successful. Traditional publishers don’t want to wait while an author tries to terminate another contract.
iUniverse makes you wait 30 days to terminate after you send them a written request. Why? It only takes a few minutes to remove a page from a website and to alert the printer that the book has been terminated.
AuthorHouse also makes authors wait 30 days. At Xlibris, it appears you can terminate at anytime, though a time period is not specifically mentioned in their contract. Lulu also requires a 30-day wait to terminate.
BookLocker will terminate your contract same-day with a simple email notice.
Other – You should know that, if you decide to use Xlibris, you will likely end up talking to one or more persons in the Philippines. They laid off 35 people in 2004 so they could hire more people (who earn less) overseas. And, if you think your book will be stocked by Barnes and Noble stores just because iUniverse is owned by the same company, think again. Only a handful of the tens of thousands of books they’ve published are stocked by Barnes and Noble stores.
The Fine Print of Self-Publishing has been lauded by many experts as the Consumer Reports of the self-publishing industry. Attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, gave these ratings to the POD Publishers listed in this article:
“Outstanding Self-Publishing Companies” – BookLocker, iUniverse and Lulu
“Publishers Who are Just Okay” – Xlibris
“Publishers to Avoid” – AuthorHouse
Two more things. Most POD service companies publish just about everything coming over the e-transom. The quality of their inventory is questionable at best so your book will be for sale alongside some really bad stuff. And, just looking at the homepage of these firms, your readers will know you paid to have your book published. Booklocker.com’s homepage makes it obvious we are a bookstore. And, BookLocker publishes less than 5% of incoming submissions. That’s why we are able to work with all authors one-on-one.
Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing emag for writers, featuring new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is one of the top-rated POD publishers in the industry.
This article may be printed/redistributed freely as long as the entire article and bio are included.