Self publishing is an outstanding way to go. Dean Wesley Smith has just sounded off that his position is now that for novels, self publishing is a better method than traditional publishing unless you're being offered a solid six figures per book. And possibly even then, depending upon the contract clauses the traditional publisher is trying to force on the writer. I concur.
However, there are a ton of scam companies out there trying to make money from writers who are struggling to learn about this whole self publishing thing. I don't use the term lightly. Merrian-Webster defines a "scam" as a "a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation." Which is exactly what these companies do. They take enormous sums up front, then take 50-90% of the income off book sales, and they present a polished appearance as a "self publishing help" company, attempting to make writers believe their deals are some sort of standard.
Not everyone wants to do their own ebook or print book formatting. Some writers can; others hire these tasks out. And hiring these tasks out IS an acceptable way of doing business. But there are legit companies doing this sort of work - and scams which will do the same work, but take you to the cleaners in the process.
Here's some rules to avoid getting skinned as you're learning the ropes:
Rule #1: Upload your own PDF files directly to the printer. Printer might be Createspace, Lightning Source, Lulu, or some other printer. Upload your work to YOUR account. Always.
Rule #2: If buying copies of your book cost more than Lightning Source charges for printing, you are being ripped off. Lightning Source charges 1.3 cents per page plus 90 cents per book, so a 300 page book costs $4.80. If a company is charging more than that for author copies, PASS.
Rule #3: Printer you upload to MUST distribute directly to the Ingrams Catalog, and MUST handle fulfillment without your needing to do anything. Createspace and Lightning Source both do this.
Rule #4: If you are hiring out the cover art, interior print book design, and/or ebook conversion, you should pay ONE TIME fees only. They should give you the finished work. You should upload the finished work yourself. That means setting up your own Createspace or Lightning Source account for the print book upload (upload interior PDF and cover PDF). It means creating your own KDP, Pubit, Smashwords, and maybe Apple accounts for uploading the mobi (KDP), DOC (Smashwords), and epub (everybody else) files.
Bottom line? If someone is taking money from you for editing, for covers, for interior design, for ebook conversion, or for any other publishing related services, and is then uploading the book to THEIR account, they are a scam. If you use them, you are being scammed.
This is a scam because they are billing you up front (legit) and also taking the majority of your income on sales.
It is the equivalent of there being two auto mechanics. One charges a flat fee for replacing brakes and lets you go on your way. The other charges you the same flat fee and additionally charges you a penny every time you tap the brakes.
Which mechanic would you want to use?
Don't throw your money away. Get services from someone who charges you for the work, GIVES YOU the files, and then you upload those files.
I know we have some experienced self publishers who visit here. What other rules would you suggest novices can follow to navigate around the scams and find good providers? Any service providers you know that you'd especially recommend?