All posts by Brad Pauquette - Columbus Publishing Lab CEO

The Self-Publishing Spectrum

Some of this information is an excerpt from the “Navigating Publishing” seminar Brad Pauquette will be providing for Columbus Creative Cooperative on November 12th.  The seminar is free and open to the public, get the details here.

The publishing industry can be broken into three large groups:

Traditional Publishing – books published by one of the “Big 5” publishing companies–Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster, or one of their imprints (subsidiaries).

Independent Publishing – books published by a publishing company that isn’t owned by one of the Big 5, and that produces the work of authors who do not share in the ownership of the company.

Self-Publishing – books published in which the author is one of the primary financiers or decision makers within the production process.

Self-publishing encompasses a huge spectrum of publishing processes and strategies.  From the little old lady who pays a vanity publisher to produce her book to celebrities like Jim Carrey who approach the process with tens of thousands of dollars, lots of different people are self-publishing and for different reasons.

For simplicity, we’ll break “self-publishing” down into three big categories–vanity publishing, hobby publishing and author-publishing.

Vanity publishers typically want a hands-off experience, where they’ll be treated as if their book has been published by a legitimate for-profit publisher.  The cost is often high, and in most cases, the author has little to no realistic expectation of recovering those costs or turning a profit on the book.

Hobby publishers are your typical CreateSpace users (note that not all CreateSpace publishers are hobby publishers, some use a professional production process).  This person has little money to invest in the production of his book.  While of course they hope their book will go bananas and be the next Fifty Shades of Grey, sales will be fairly modest.  The hobby publisher may spend a little money here and there, but is mostly interested in free tools and resources to get the job done.

Author-Publishers are self-publishers in name only.  In reality, they’re creating small publishing companies.  The budget to produce a book may range from a few hundred dollars to $50,000+, but the author-publisher (AP) will invest money in their business.  The only difference between the AP and an independent publisher is that the AP is producing his or her own work.  While the AP may choose to do some tasks herself, she does have a budget available to spend on the production of her book, to hire expert editors, designers and various marketing services.  The AP is expecting to invest money in her project, and is ultimately expecting to return a profit.

The notable quality of author-publishers is that they treat their project as if they’re starting an independent publishing company (one that just happens to produce their own work).  This means committing themselves to the same process that a publisher would use, which begins with objectively examining their manuscript for ways that it can be improved.

Real publishers use a five step process to make their books the best that they can be (and the most likely to be profitable).  As an author-publisher, you can replicate these same five steps.  For more information, check out The Self-Publishing Handbook: Five Key Steps to Professionally Publish Your Book, which you can get for free (click here).

The disadvantage to author-publishing is that there are a lot of hats to wear.  Within your new micro-publishing company, you’re the CEO, COO, director of marketing, creative director and so much more.  Before self-publishing, it’s important to honestly ask yourself whether you’re the type of person who can effectively wear all of those different hats.  Remember that any job that you can’t do well you’ll need cash to pay for, or your results will suffer.

From a career standpoint, there isn’t a lot of merit to hobby publishing or vanity publishing.  You’ll see your book in print, and that’s always fun, and you’ll meet lots of interesting people at author fairs, but that’s about the end of the road.

However, author-publishers can make real income and successful careers.  Like any startup business, there’s a lot of risk, but effective author-publishers can and do turn a profit on their projects, even with a limited investment.  Like any other micro-enterprise, success is determined by product quality, market research and contracting experts, with a little bit of intuition and luck.

Companies like Columbus Publishing Lab, among others, make experts available to you.  Expertise helps you protect your investment, like insurance.  Especially when you’re working with a small budget, it’s important to know that your dollars will hit their mark.  When you can only do it once, it’s often worth it to pay a little more to know that it’s done right, rather than taking a risk with your only shot.

Companies like Author House, among others, charge exorbitant rates for editing, design and production work, and pay very little for books sold through their distribution channels.  It’s nearly impossible to make a project profitable with those kind of numbers in play (or the poor production work), which is why these companies belong in the Vanity Publisher category.

Columbus Publishing Lab is set up for author-publishers.  Whether you’re approaching your book project with a lot of money or just a little, we want to help you put that investment to its best use, to improve the likelihood that your book will be widely read and that your project will be profitable.  We’ve helped lots of different authors with lots of different budgets to invest their money in ways that make sense.  You can be a successful author-publisher, and we’d love to offer our expertise.

Brad Pauquette is the author of The Self-Publishing Handbook and the CEO of Columbus Publishing Lab. He has worked as a publishing consultant since 2008.

How We Price Our Services – A Better Way to Do Business

There are three common ways that businesses price their services.

Market Based Pricing – A company asks the question, “What’s the most amount of money the most number of people will people pay for this service?”  Companies spend a lot of time and money researching how much people will pay, and how many customers are lost as the price increases to a new bracket.  At some point, the number of customers lost outweighs the increase in revenue.  So they charge the most amount possible before they lose too many customers to make the increased price worthwhile.

Competition Based Pricing – Companies ask the question, “How much are my competitors charging?” Prices are determined based on what competing companies are charging, and the relative services and incentives the company is offering.  Company X charges $1,000, we’ll charge $950.

Value Based Pricing – A company asks the question, “What value does my service provide to the client?”  So, for instance, if an author can expect to make $10,000 off their book, a company who is producing the book might charge $9,000.

Any of these methods would price our services much higher than the amount that we charge. Self-publishers are paying an arm and a leg for quality book production with our competitors.  Other companies are charging $5,000 to $15,000 for similar services that we charge less than $2,000 for.  And if we’re looking at value, our commitment to our clients is unmatched, and most of our clients earn far more money over time than they spend with us.

But we employ a fourth pricing model, Cost Based Pricing.  We look at a potential service and say, “It will cost us $X to provide this service in cash out the door, and it will take us Y number of hours to do a great job.  We want to pay our employees and contractors a reasonable living wage, so we need to charge this amount.”  We don’t want to eat spaghetti every night, but we also don’t want to take advantage of anyone.  So we figure out how much we need to bring in so that we pay our bills.  That’s what you pay.

The world would be a better place if more companies adopted this model.  So many companies are asking the question “How much can we get?” when they should be asking “How much should we get?”

I believe in self-publishing.  I believe it’s a viable industry, and I believe that it can provide readers with great and valuable materials.  But I also look at the self-publishing industry and think what a racket, no wonder so many people don’t take self-publishing seriously.

One of my fears is that people will look at our low prices and ask, “How can the services be as good if they’re only charging 20% of the price? What corners are they cutting?”  I can assure you that the only corner we’re cutting is the one where we take you for as much money as we can.  I’m confident that the materials we produce at Columbus Publishing Lab blow our competition out of the water, and our clients are profoundly more successful.  We can do it for less, simply because we’re committed to charging a fair price.

We don’t have a large corporate structure or shareholders.  We’re a family owned business full of great people who want to earn a fair living wage.  We’re not here to maximize the profits on our spreadsheets.  As the CEO, I don’t report to the board, I report to my wife and kids.

We’re not here to increase shareholder wealth, we’re here to make a fair living and do something we love.  We’re here to provide a quality service that we think is important.

How Libraries Vet Books in the Age of Self-Publishing

Later today I’ll be a panel member at the Ohio Library Council’s annual conference, speaking and answering questions about how libraries should go about considering self-published books.

There’s a lot of debate across the literary world about self-published and small press literature.  With only five companies controlling the vast majority of publishing in the United States, more and more quality materials are produced by self-publishers every day.  But there’s still a lot of really bad work being self-published as well.  How is a library to decide what to add to their collection?

Self-publishers who do things right submit to the same grueling process that a traditional publisher would employ to improve and produce their book.  I outline the five steps that all self-publishers should use (and which are used by traditional publishers) in my book, The Self-Publishing Handbook, which you can currently get for free (click).  Three of these five steps can be detected by a library purchasing committee in 10 seconds or less, and the other two are easily identified with a little more investigation.  Chances are that if a self-publisher is taking the time to correctly complete these steps, and investing in their project to do so, they’re far more likely to have produced a book with quality content as well.

There are certainly exceptions.  There are plenty of terrible self-published books that the author bothered to spend a few thousand dollars on and make look pretty.  And there are rare diamonds in the rough, amazing manuscripts thrown together with free tools on CreateSpace.  The only real way to determine the value of a book is to read it. But for librarians who are bombarded with thousands of titles to potentially purchase, or just regular readers sorting through Amazon, the production quality of a book is a great starting point.

It’s not that difficult to produce your book correctly, it just takes patience and resolve.  You owe it to yourself to do things right, and you’re also doing a tremendous favor to potential buyers, whether they’re librarians or regular readers.  With so many books to sort through, production value is a reasonable first step in determining the potential quality of a book.

Quality production may be less expensive than you think.  The Self-Publishing Handbook provides lots of tips for hiring editors, designers and artists to help with your book production, but it also includes tips for the DIY self-publisher.  You can grab the book for free for a limited time here.

Librarians will be looking at your book.  I love our libraries.  Let’s make their job a little easier.

Brad Pauquette is the CEO of Columbus Publishing Lab, the owner of Columbus Press, and the director of Columbus Creative Cooperative.  Check out his books on Amazon, or visit his website at