Imagine our surprise when an NWU member reported that he had received a royalty statement from CreateSpace —Amazon’s self-publishing arm—which indicated that he was being paid a penny per book.

A representative sent him a detailed explanation concluding, “Rest assured, you’ve received the royalties correctly and there is no discrepancy. . . I hope this information proved helpful.” Our member was referred to a royalty calculator on the CreateSpace site.

We checked out the calculator, which no one had told our member about before. It verified the representative’s claim that CreateSpace’s initial share was 60 percent of list, or $7.194 for an $11.99 book. To that was added an 85-cent “fixed charge” and a “per-page charge” of $.012, or $3.936 for 328 pages. Total: $11.98. While he could renegotiate his contract, at this time he’s chosen not to pursue it.

Still, the message here is that self-publishing is exactly that. No one at a “self-publishing” company will hold your hand unless you demand it. These companies take pride in giving decision-making authority to authors, including the authority to set a price that limits your royalties to a cent a book. So if you’re publishing with one of them, use all the tools at your disposal to learn how they work, and go over your pricing strategy with someone who can tell you what you’ll get out of the deal. If our member had been advised to price his book at $13.99, he might’ve received something he could have taken to the bank.

And check in with the Grievance and Contract Division before agreeing to anything. Self-publishing contracts often don’t come as one document, but as a series of snippets that you sign off on one at a time. They’re online, and can disappear before you have a chance to print them. Save or salvage all the bits and pieces you can, and send them to us. We have the experience to advise you, and will be glad to provide you with another pair of eyes.

Barbara Mende is coordinator of the NWU Grievance and Contract Division.

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