Even though BookLocker is one of the most affordable print on demand publishers on the market, we are often asked why we can’t offer our publishing services for free. After all, the publisher gets some money each time a book sells, right?
(NOTE: In the comments below, an author asked how we provide our services for such a low price. Please read my response under his comment.)
While it would be nice to offer free services to all authors through BookLocker (our Abuzz Press division DOES but the qualifications are stringent), the fact is we can’t know what an author’s intentions are with regards to book promotion. Despite their best intentions and claims from the get-go, some get tired of book promotion after only a month, and move on to other endeavors. Other authors are real go-getters, follow our advice in 90+ Days of Promoting Your Book Online (which all BookLocker authors receive for free), and sell books like hotcakes. If they sell 1,000 copies of their BookLocker book, they qualify for free publishing through Abuzz Press. But, again, we don’t know what any specific author will end up doing when they first approach us…and neither does each author.
Also, offering free services is a sure-fire way to go out of business. Look at what happened to America Star Books / PublishAmerica. That was a losing business model from the start (publishing tens of thousands of books for free) and now all of their victims (authors) are out of luck, needing to start over with their books. You don’t want to use a publisher, even a free one, that is going to ultimately go out of business. Also, some firms that claim to offer “free” services aren’t really free at all!
Today, I’m sharing a list of things your publisher must do behind the scenes – administrative tasks that cost money whether a book sells or not. This will explain why publishing services by a a legitimate, stable company can’t be offered for free in exchange for a share of future royalties.
THINGS YOUR PUBLISHER HAS TO DO, REGARDLESS IF YOUR BOOK SELLS:
CORRESPOND WITH ATTORNEYS (but not for reasons you think)
I am frequently contacted by attorneys representing authors who have become unable to manage their own affairs. We must then wait for court orders to determine who will be taking over the author’s affairs, update the author accounts with new contact info., correspond with the attorneys multiple times back and forth, etc.
RIGHTS ISSUES / GREEDY FAMILY MEMBERS
When an author dies, we must exchange numerous emails with family members and even attorneys when rights are in question. Sometimes, this also means terminating a title when the family doesn’t want to keep a book on the market. Sadly, when an author dies, family in-fighting over the author’s rights may begin. We must engage in correspondence with those family members and attorneys when this becomes an issue. It is a disturbing yet necessary task.
AND, SPEAKING OF TERMINATIONS
Terminating a book involves removing it from Ingram’s system, as well as individually from all the ebook retailers we use. We must move the author’s files to our archives, terminate their book page, update our spreadsheets, etc. etc. We can’t just flip a switch. It doesn’t work that way.
DEAL WITH FALSE LAWSUIT THREATS
Yes, the publishing industry is rife with false lawsuit threats from people featured in non-fiction books. While we screen manuscripts for this type of problem, we know that a certain number of books per year will raise the hackles of someone, even if the author was 100% truthful in the book. This is not a fun task, as you can imagine.
DEAL WITH AMAZON AND OTHER RETAILERS REGARDING ERRORS ON THEIR SITES
We spend several hours per week submitting “tickets” to Ingram regarding book page corrections needed at Amazon and other sites. Sometimes, Ingram or Amazon has a database error that can result in hundreds of hours of back-and-forth communication over days or weeks while we help them figure out what’s wrong on their end.
PAYROLL, BILLS, BANK RECONCILIATIONS, MONTH-END REPORTING, LICENSING, SALES TAX, PAYROLL TAXES, FEDERAL TAX, ETC., ETC.
Some small publishers do all the accounting and taxes themselves while others have an accounting department. These services don’t come cheap. And, if your publisher is not adept at accounting (I used to work in accounting), you just might find yourself with no royalties and no book on the market some day. I process payroll myself every Thursday. I also pay the bills every week (BookLocker has no business loans, and is debt-free because we keep our belts tight). I reconcile bank statements, run month-end reports, scrutinize the financials for any transaction errors, and much more. Then, there is the compilation of tax items for the CPA each year, and meetings with the CPA several times per year, as well as state income tax returns, and much, much more. None of this is related to book sales but the expenses must still be paid.
RETAILERS’ ROYALTY REPORT CONSOLIDATIONS, REPORTING, AND AUTHOR ROYALTY PAYMENTS
We receive separate royalty reports from Ingram and from the ebook retailers every month. Every report is in a different format. They can’t be consolidated into one master report. Ali here spends approximately three days per month reconciling the royalty reports, posting the royalties to the author accounts, and then paying royalties to our authors. It’s a huge task. Don’t even get me started on errors in some of the reports that we must contact the distributor or retailers about.
Running a website like BookLocker is an expensive undertaking. You can’t just turn on a laptop and run the company from that. The website requires multiple servers. There are frequent software updates, maintenance, additions, removals, editing, tweaking, etc. Our servers are located in Virginia and we have a back-up server as well in case one goes down. Early this year, we added another back-up server overseas. Our tech guys are VERY happy for all the money we send them each month. It ain’t cheap but they’re worth their weight in gold. Without a solid, dependable back-end, you can literally go days without business while you try to find and fix a problem. That doesn’t happen to us because we have invested in a robust system with two sets of backups located thousands of miles apart. We do this so our authors won’t lose even one sale if something goes awry.
Of course, every employee’s computer must also be maintained and updated on regular basis as well. When one croaks, we have to buy a new one. Don’t worry. We are all meticulous at backing up our laptops!
EMPLOYEE AND CONTRACTOR ISSUES
Hiring, terminations, training, personnel issues, and other items of this nature are also time-consuming, and not directly related to book sales. Yet, they must still be done.
We are frequently negotiating with suppliers and contractors to get our authors the very best deals for the very best quality. When a contract expires, I always vehemently fight for the best prices and services before renewing. I’m considered a hard-*ss by our printer. I never just accept a standard price on something and move forward. Everything is negotiable and that’s just one of the reasons BookLocker is so inexpensive, and is debt-free.
Some publishers have entire marketing departments (often located overseas) where workers not only earn a salary, but also get bonuses on how much they can convince an author to buy. We don’t do business that way. I spend most of each day exchanging emails with authors who are considering using a print on demand publishing service. I will often exchange 10, 20, or more emails with an author, answering their questions, helping them make decisions about paper color and such, and explaining the publishing process to them. While I do have numerous “form responses” for most of these questions, no email I receive from a hopeful author fails to contain something unique, for which a form response would not be appropriate.
And, don’t forget about social media marketing. One of our employees handles all of our social media posts, as well as correspondence with folks who contact us through those sites.
Some publishers, like BookLocker, own other websites as well. We use those websites to bring more business to BookLocker, and to promote our authors’ books when possible.
Remember, if you are looking for a “free” publishing service, it’s not going to be entirely free. You may need to hire someone else (a freelance book design professional) to perform some of the services required to get your book print-ready. You may also receive royalties far lower than you’d anticipated. Worst of all, that publisher may very well go out of business someday, forcing you to start all over. You truly do get what you pay for.
Angela Hoy lives on a mountain in North Georgia. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the President and CEO of BookLocker.com and AbuzzPress, and the author of 24 books.
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I have been with two places since Lulu.com and Createspace canned me. There are a few ISBN interception outfits who are a v-a-n-i-t-y press racketeer.
I admire your humane corporate philosophy. Employees are people, not cows to be milked dry. And thank you for the peek behind the publishing curtain. Very insightful.
I agree with Johnny Townsend: You guys rock!
I can’t even imagine why anyone would think their book should be published free. Good for you for practicing “minimalism”, the world would be a better place if everyone lived that way. Thank you for your contribution to sensible living. We are old hippies (old being the key word) and a hippie motto is not to be materialistic. Buying our home 43 years ago is the only debt we’ve ever had. Keep up your good work, Angelia. I always enjoy reading your interesting articles. Judy Pearce
how do you do it for so little cost to the author ?
As stated in the article, we keep our belts tight. As most readers know, we live on a boat (it’s a spiritual thing for me – see: https://gotnotanlines.com/), not a mansion (contrary to some of our high-priced competitors). We practice minimalism, which means living on as few material things as possible. Those serve only to stress people and we really didn’t need all that “stuff” we had when we lived dirt. Of course, living this way means we can afford to work for our authors for less. We don’t hire cheap overseas labor. All of our employees and contractors work out of their homes as well because we insist our team be available for their children at all times. We pay our folks well because they treat our authors so well. They are extremely loyal because their work environment is so relaxed. They are on flex-time. The rule is, as long as you do your job well, and on time, you can work whatever hours of the day you choose. We also give them generous vacation time, family leave, and we pay for 14 holidays each year, including each employee’s birthday. We don’t have a high-rise office, warehouses, and boring conference rooms. I abhorred the corporate world! I have never been one to conform to “society’s standards” and it works! BookLocker continues to grow each year because we offer the highest quality services at the lowest prices, we don’t upsell authors on garbage, and we have an outstanding reputation because every BookLocker author is considered family. 🙂
– Angela Hoy
President & CEO
Oh – P.S.
This article should be posted on a yearly basis for everyone’s benefit.
Thank you for this informative article which could be entitled, ‘How Every (good) Business Runs’.
Whether its a business with one employee and a lot of outsourcing or multiple employees and everything is kept in-house, the same basic tasks must be performed for the majority of industries. There is no free ride.
Well said, Angela,
There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. 🙂 I appreciate all Booklocker.com does for me, and I’m happy to pay my share.
I think most of us knew some of this, but I doubt many of us knew all of the different things you guys have to do. I’m sorry so many people these days will complain about almost anything. I expect in the ten years I’ve worked with you that I made a stupid complaint or two myself. I want to apologize for that. While I recognized from the start you guys were the right choice for me, with each successive book, I have the same epiphany again and again. You guys rock!