Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
As many of you may know, earlier this year Writer's Digest terminated its involvement with Abbott Press, the white-label self-publishing imprint created and powered for it by Author Solutions, Inc. Although Abbott Press remains online, all reference to Writer's Digest and its parent, F&W Media, has been removed. (Interestingly, there's no reference to Author Solutions, either, unless you dig pretty deep into the Abbott Press website--deeper, probably, than many authors will go--and Abbott Press does not appear anywhere on AS's list of imprints.)
Now Writer's Digest has re-entered the self-publishing services space with the just-launched Blue Ash Publishing.
This time, WD is partnering with Bookbaby, a self-publishing service that, unlike Author Solutions, has a decent reputation. As with Bookbaby itself, the emphasis at Blue Ash is on ebooks rather than print--a change from print-centric Author Solutions. Also unlike Abbott Press, Blue Ash Publishing doesn't keep a commission; authors get 100% of net sales.
At $417 and $842, Blue Ash's two lowest-cost publishing packages are less expensive than the cheapest Abbott Press package. Sticker shock does start to set in with the Prime and Ultimate packages--$1,230 and $3,137 respectively (ouch). However, when I contacted Phil Sexton, Publisher of Writer's Digest, he emphasized that "all of the various components of each package are optional. There's a 'customizer' function that allows you to get only those things you want...so you can get a mix that meets your price vs. benefit requirements."
Marketing and promotion add-ons can be major profit generators for self-pub companies, because so many are cheap to provide and all can be sold at a premium. As a result, authors who sign on for publishing packages can expect to be subjected to relentless solicitations to buy services that are often overpriced, frequently ineffective, and sometimes downright exploitive (such as the Hollywood packages offered by some self-pub service providers).
Blue Ash does offer a modest suite of marketing tools, some of which involve extra expense if writers choose to pay vendors. The tools themselves, however, are included in the publishing packages rather than offered a la carte, so hopefully writers won't be subjected to upselling pressure. I do take issue with the inclusion of Reader's Favorite as a review source; Reader's Favorite is one of those high-entry fee "awards" programs where the principal aim is for the awards sponsor to make a profit, and the reviews it provides (and sells) are often not of professional quality. I've mentioned my concerns to the WD folks, and I'm hoping they'll take a second look.
Many in the self-publishing community believe that any fee-based self-publishing service is "vanity" and should be avoided. I believe that fee-based services have their place, as long as they're transparent, reliable, reasonably priced, and don't send writers to Spam Solicitation Hell. It's much too early to judge the reliability and value of Blue Ash Publishing--but what can be said is that it's a big improvement over Abbott Press.