Whether you’re choosing between self-publishing companies or you’re weighing up different designers or editors, there are a number of questions to ask when choosing the right publishing team for you.

These include:

  • What service are they providing?
  • What books have they worked on?
  • How much will they charge?
  • What are their turnaround times?
  • Can you see a sample of their work?

1. What service are they providing?

While you might think that all cover designers or all editors offer the same service, the truth is that their services can vary greatly.

If you take editing, for instance, some editors will simply offer a human spell checking service while others will completely overhaul your book, creating a new structure, removing repetition, and recommending new content as well as looking at the language.

When it comes to designers, some may offer cover design and internal layout while some just offer covers. Some may have a limited number of revisions or concepts they provide, while others might keep providing designs until you find one that’s a match.

The key is being clear on what you need, and what the person quoting you is actually offering. This then makes it easier to compare quotes, as you aren’t comparing apples with watermelons, and it helps ensure you’ll get the result you want.

2. What books have they worked on in the past?

Visit any bookstore, or jump on to Amazon, and you’ll see books on countless topics across a range of genres. What many first-time authors don’t realise is that those genres all have clear conventions, and working within those conventions is key to getting the results you want.

Let’s take cover design. Erotic romance books look a certain way. Thrillers have another look. Business books look different again. While it can be tempting to create a cover that stands out, the fact is that your cover is the first thing readers will be judging to determine whether or not your book is a match for them. If they’re a fan of romance and your book doesn’t look like a romance book, they’re not going to buy.

The right cover can have a dramatic impact on your sales, and one of the keys to getting the right cover is working with a designer who is familiar with your genre.

The same goes for editing. Epic fantasy trilogies and nonfiction how-to books are all very different. The goals of the author are different (to entertain versus to help their readers get a result), which means they are structured differently and the content they include is different. While some editors work very well across genres, I find that when an editor works predominantly in one area, they become familiar with the typical issues that crop up in that type of book, which means they’re looking for opportunities to solve those issues.

In fiction, those might be issues around pacing, point of view, character motivation, plot holes, backstory and so on. In nonfiction, many of those issues simply don’t come up. Instead, the issues I see in nonfiction tend to be around providing evidence, explaining the benefits of taking a certain action (or the risks of not taking it) and providing actionable advice for your readers, which helps them achieve the goal they wanted to achieve when they bought your book.

You need an editor who’s familiar with the typical issues in your type of book, because they are better positioned to help you address those issues.

3. What are their lead and turnaround times?

You finished your book last week and you want it published next month, so if you book an editor for next week, everything should work out perfectly. Right?


When new authors are mapping out their publishing schedules, a common mistake is only taking their turnaround times into considerations, such as three weeks for an edit. However, Good suppliers are often popular suppliers, and this means they can book out weeks, if not months, in advance. So your three weeks for an edit suddenly becomes three weeks in two months’ time.

When speaking to any supplier, ensure you ask about both their lead and turnaround times so you can map out your publishing schedule. If you find someone you really like (and whose work you really like), you may decide to adjust your print deadline for them. If your deadline’s non-negotiable, you can keep looking to find someone who can work within those constraints.

4. How much will they charge?

If you go to three self-publishing companies and ask for quotes to produce your book, you could get three different prices. The same goes when contacting editors, cover designers and printers.

Should you just choose the cheapest option?

The key is understanding why you’re getting different quotes so you can make an educated decision.

This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • The suppliers are quoting different services. If one self-publishing company thinks you’re providing an edited manuscript whereas the other one thinks you need editing, you will get two different prices. If one editor is quoting a proofread and another is quoting a multi-edit package, you will get two different prices. If one printer thinks you want a standard book size and another thinks you want something different, you will get two different prices.
  • The suppliers have different levels of experience. Experienced suppliers who have built a good reputation tend to charge more, because they can. Someone who’s just starting out will often charge less to get their first few clients.
  • The companies are different sizes. As I discussed earlier, end-to-end self-publishing companies tend to charge more than freelancers. Part of this is for the convenience of their service, but another part is simply that their overheads are much higher. The same goes if you choose to work with an editing or design agency rather than a solopreneur.

Once you’re confident you’re getting quoted for the same service, the next step is to consider what’s important to you. Are you comfortable working with someone who’s just getting started and who may not be familiar with your genre or the publishing landscape in general? Or would you prefer to pay more to work with someone with a proven track record?

5. Can you see a sample of their work?

You’ve asked your suppliers about their services, which books they’ve worked on, their turnaround times and their prices. So how do you choose?

Get a sample of their work.

It can be hard to figure out what you’re getting based on a description and a price. Different suppliers may use different terminology to describe their work, and many have different understandings about what’s expected of them.

If you don’t get a sample of their work, you might not be getting the level of service you need, which can lead to tensions during the publishing process. The worst-case scenario is that you will have to redo everything with different suppliers down the track.

If you do, not only will you know what you’re getting into, but you’ll be more likely to achieve a professional result.

For different suppliers, request the following:

  • Editors: A sample edit. This may be an example of a chapter they’ve worked on previously (ideally you want to see the original as well as the edited version, or the edited version with Track Changes turned on so you can see what has changed), or they may offer to edit a chapter from your book as a trial.
  • Cover designers: Samples of covers they’ve designed in your genre.
  • Internal layout designer/typesetter: Samples of chapters they’ve designed in your genre. If you have special features you want to include, such as diagrams, tables, featured quotes or other decorative elements, ask to see samples that feature the same elements.
  • Illustrator: Other illustrations they’ve done.
  • eBook designer: If you have an eReader, like a Kindle or iPad, ask them to send you some of the files they’ve designed.
  • Printer: Physical copies of the books they’ve printed, with details of the paper and finishes used for each book. If you find something you like, you can request the same specifications.
  • Marketing and PR: Ask to see marketing material they’ve created for other authors in your genre, as well as the results of any marketing campaign. How many sales did they achieve? Did they get the author media coverage or a speaking opportunity?

Another option is asking for the details of some of their past clients so you can speak to them about their experiences.

In a nutshell

[Tweet “A book is the ultimate business card, but only if you do it right – via @JacquiPretty #Publishing”]

Unfortunately, many self-publishing entrepreneurs don’t. Their books look like they’re self-published, with DIY covers done in Photoshop. They feel like they’re self-published, printed on poor-quality, lightweight paper. And they read like they’re self-published, filled with the mistakes that spell check missed.

Instead, the solution is to self-publish a book that’s so good that it looks, feels and reads like it was professionally published.

With increasing numbers of talented professionals going into business for themselves, and all of them just a click away, you can now access the exact same resources a traditional publishing house uses to create professionally published books. This means that, by following the tips in this article, any entrepreneur can create a winning publishing team for their business book.