I knew a woman on Staten Island who had a knack for finding coins. She, being a devout Catholic, thought it was some kind of telepathy / magnetism thing rather than any mystical ability (and no, she didn't have a metal detector walking-stick). By all accounts, she racked up a tidy sum over the years - in dimes, nickels and pennies.
I've developed a bit of a talent myself, lately. It seems that wherever I submit my books, the first thing the editor says in reply is: 'Have you got any spare money?' Well, it's more subtle than that but the end result is the same. I'm talking about shared cost publishing. I have mixed views at this point; a cocktail of disappointment, hope, cynicism and bewilderment.
On the one hand, I can see that publishing a book is expensive, especially where one of my novels works out to almost 500 pages (I did the maths on Lulu and gave up!). And I'm not blind to the global financial meltdown that's still pooled at our feet like last month's candles. But somehow it feels like I'd be buying someone's endorsement rather than earning it.
The excellent Writers Beware waves from the shore to steer me from the rocks of vanity publishing. I could quote you horror stories aplenty now, of writers who invested their cash only to see poor quality material - or no material at all - and a non-distribution service to match.
Then there is the question of sales. It's one thing to see your work on Amazon but another entirely to generate enough actual sales from the web and shops to get a return on your investment. And let's not forget that you'll likely be selling off your debut work. Something that may have taken a long time to create.
So, what to do? Well, apart from checking with Writers Beware and the Society of Authors, you could try my approach. I ask straightforward questions. They're not difficult - any self-respecting publisher should have them to hand.
1. Will it be Print on Demand or Print in Advance (conventional printing)?
2. What's the distribution network? i.e. Are you linked in with Gardeners / Atlas so that shops can order the books as well as there being web sales?
3. How do the costs break down - and how much money is involved?
4. What is the break-even point? This is crucial if you aim to recoup your investment and / or turn a profit.
5. Is there a marketing plan for my book? Basically, how do they propose to sell it?
6. What's the success rate with other authors?
7. Can I speak to two or three of those authors?
8. What's the frequency of payment for sales?
I think, if writers approach it as a business proposition, they're less likely to be swayed by other factors that might part them prematurely from their hard-earned cash.
As for me, I remain open to all options, while I wait for three different lists of answers!