Dear Self-Published Author, Don’t Overpay to Play

“Don’t Overpay to Play”

– Vivica A. Fox

I low-key don’t like this picture because that black shirt was cuter in my mirror at home, lol.

I met Vivica in 2018 when she released her book Everyday I’m Hustling, which I read and reviewed. In it, she talks about not overpaying to play. When applied to Self-Publishing, this kind of advice can save us tons of money and wasted time.

The scammers are getting clever by the day, and they gear their tactics toward Self-Published authors. One thing we can do to arm ourselves is to understand the difference between investing in ourselves and our books and paying to play. 

Investments

An investment in your book is anything that will help with the publication, promotion, and marketing of your work in a way that brings value. These are usually services offered by well-known, reputable people and organizations that produce quality. It is when you vet and hire a competent editor, when you pay for a dope cover design, when you buy ads, when you pay for web design, coaching, and so forth. These are investments that can take you to new levels. It’s an investment because you get a return.

Paying to Play

Paying to play is paying an obscene amount of money for hype that offers no real value. They usually package these as opportunities to take your business to the next level. It could mean paying 10K to a vanity press to publish your book only to come out with a crappy cover and poorly edited book slapped up on Amazon or paying 2K to attend a pointless conference. 

Vivica explains it this way:

“When you get a little bit of success, you start getting invited to these big dinners and awards nights that on paper look like a great place to network. These invites can cost three hundred dollars and up! After you go to a few, you realize that you really just get the cocktail hour to network, and then it’s hard to see anyone once you’re seated for the presentation.”

Anytime you are paying tons of money to “get in the room,” you are overpaying to play. It doesn’t have to be literally in the room, as in Vivica’s example, but it could be anything that promises luxury but is not worth it in the end. Here are some examples from Anne R. Allen’s Bogus Agents, Phony Communities, Fake Conferences, and Pay-to-Play Anthologies: New Scam Warnings for Writers:

  • Republishing your book to send to “investors” or “get you a traditional publishing contract.”
  • Filming a pricey book trailer
  • Book-to-Film “licensing” (See my post on this heartbreaking scam And here’s Alli’s warning, including business names the book-to-film scammers use.) I hear from people every day who have been snagged by this scam.
  • High-ticket, useless marketing services.
  • Buying you an interview on a podcast or radio show nobody listens to.

And I will add to that:

  • Paying to be featured in an article no one knows exists or reads
  • Paying thousands to a vanity press only to receive poor editing and crappy cover art
  • Paying to speak at an event in exchange for “exposure” (seasoned speakers should get paid to speak)

Let’s say someone offers to promote your book to their 20K followers. What you want to look at is their engagement, not followers. No one will see your book if they have tons of followers, but no engagement. Engagement is likes, comments, saves, and shares. If they charge you money to promote on their page and they have 20K followers but 0-3 likes on a post, this is a red flag. It means chances are they bought their followers. (Buying followers is also a form of paying to play.)

Note: There’s nothing wrong with not having much engagement for the everyday social media user who is learning. I am talking about the people charging you money to be featured on their platform and using their millions of followers as bait.

Paying to play can also look like being offered a chance to be featured in an article in Forbes for the low price of $500.

Umm. Why would I pay to be featured in an article if I’m for real dope? Shouldn’t Forbes reach out to me?

This is the stuff we have to pay attention to. Many of these features in articles and media have been bought, not earned. This is paying to play the game.

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this book tbh, but Fox drops some great gems.

Everything is Not a Scam, But Vet People

I am not one of those “everything is a scam,” type people. Some businesses are new to what they are offering and we all know to become an expert, you must start. Everybody was a newbie at something at some point. You will know the scammer by the services offered in relation to the price tag. Why am I paying 5K to attend a conference for you to tell me to have more faith? Not when I can take that money and pay for professional therapy.

AJC Book Festival

I’m passionate about sharing my experiences as a Self-Published author because there are so many scams aimed at us. They mainly target the novice Self-Publisher. I do not mean the novice writer. You can have written before and be a master of the English language and still get scammed because you know little about Self-Publishing a book. Or, you can have Self-Published and still get scammed. It can happen to any of us.

That’s why our greatest weapon against it is knowledge and experience.

“I always tell people to educate themselves with real experience.” – Vivica A. Fox


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Pricing Your Self-Published Book As a New Author

Note: These are suggestions based on my experience with my own books and books of authors I’ve worked with. These suggestions are not law or set in stone. In the end, each person must do what is right for them, but I hope these tips can help you decide. 


Pricing your book as a new Self-Published author can tremendously impact your writing career and the momentum of your launch. Price the book too high, and you lose the interest of those who want to take a chance on a new author. Price the book too low, and people start to worry the book isn’t good quality.

So, what to do?

How Well Known Are You

Before I get into it, we must consider there is more than one kind of new author.

Some people may have never written a book before, but they have influence in other areas.

By influence, I mean that these writers have thriving businesses or are already known in their community for their expertise. They might not have published a book, but their success in other areas gives them leverage.

Because they have an impact, they can price their books higher even if they’ve never published a book. For instance, you wouldn’t expect Viola Davis’s first book to be cheap. She’s already a celebrity.

However, in this case, we are speaking of everyday dreamers who always desired to see their words in print. For us, we have to be a bit more strategic.

Now Let’s Get to It

Self-Published Ebooks: Usually less than $5.99. I recommend pricing the ebook low for new authors to encourage more sales and reviews. I would say anywhere between $0.99 – $2.99. 

You can change your ebook price whenever you want, so you have room to experiment with this once the book is live. You might start with 99cents and then increase it later. This is up to you.

You can also set your first book in a series or your debut book price low once you’ve published other books to entice new readers. I am Soul, my award-winning poetry collection, was published in 2017. I have the ebook set to 99cents so new readers can get a taste of my writing style. Usually, this is the first book people read of mine, and they almost always want to read my other books next. This is intentional. 

Self-Published Paperbacks: This is where I see the most problems. You are a new author no one has heard of before (and who no one ever thought was into writing in the first place), and your 50-page self-help book (half of which is blank pages so we can “fill in”) is $50 PLUS shipping.

Make this make sense.

For a new Self-Published author, I recommend pricing your paperback between $9.99, and $19.99, depending on the length. The book’s length is important because longer books cost more to print, so you will have to charge a bit more. Again, this price assumes you aren’t already a celebrity or someone of influence with a massive following, in which case the price will go up.

Either way, just make sure it makes sense.

The most important step you can take is to study other books in your genre to get an idea of how to price your book (considering all we’ve discussed.)

Go to Amazon and look up the category of where your book will be sold. What are the prices of top-selling books?

Do this for Kindle eBook and paperback.

And remember, Google is your friend. Here, we focus on the basics, but I am sure there are many other articles from other sources that can provide deeper insight into this topic.

All I ask is that you do not go into this blindly. The cost of your book is a big deal. Don’t throw darts at the wall and come up with random numbers.


Need more Indie Author Tips?

Check out the IAB archive here.

Can you afford to be an Indie Author? | Angela J. Ford

Finances are a big deal when it comes to Indie Book Publishing. For those who want to do it right, it pays in more ways than one to have a budget for every book you intend to publish. Check out this article from Angela Ford on ways to break it down and later, I’ll publish a separate post on how I break down the costs for my very own books. Until then, enjoy:

“Can you afford to be an indie author? As independent authors, we have to be aware of the way cost plays into self-publishing. Cost can mean the difference between turning book publishing into a business versus having a very expensive hobby. The question is, how much is too much? When do you know if your books are bringing in a positive return on investment?” – Angela J. Ford

Keep reading through to the original article here.