Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writer Beware: The Return Of The Vanity Press

Published!

I was first introduced to the idea of the vanity press by Umberto Eco in his book Foucault's Pendulum. Eco does an excellent job of explaining why vanity presses have such a bad name: they are the literary equivalent of carnies and writers are their marks.

Years ago, before I had discovered Joe Konrath's blog, I confused vanity publishing with self publishing. Vanity publishing strips the author of their money and gives next to nothing back while self-publishing--publishing ones book oneself--is a sound business strategy.

I used to think vanity publishing was dead, driven out by a tsumami wave of embowered writers publishing their own work themselves.

I was naive.

For the past week or so I haven't paid much attention to the ads on my site. I apologize. Over the past two days I've noticed many of these ads were for businesses offering to help writers publish their books.

At first I didn't think much of it. It can make good sense for a busy person to pay someone to help with certain aspects of publication--help with cover design, line editing, content editing, formatting, and so on. These services can sometimes cost as much as $1,000 dollars. (I'm not including the cost of a book trailer, website, and so on.)

What I've just mentioned is still self-publishing because, and this is the key point, the writer themselves uploads the finished file to the stores where it will be sold (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and so on). If a book is self-published it means the writer published it rather than paying someone else to, as in traditional publishing. Yes, in traditional publishing the money flows to the writer. The publishing company shares the proceeds from each sale with you, the writer, because they are the ones who shelled out the money to publish your book. They've earned it.

At the very least, even if you get someone to help you upload the file to, for instance, Amazon, it is very important that you are the one who controls the accounts. This gives you access to your sales figures. You'll know exactly how many books you sold at each place (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc.), you'll set how much each book will be sold for and the retail outlet will give you detailed royalty statements. No guessing involved.

Now, someone might say, "But, Karen, I just don't want the bother! I'll gladly pay someone to do that sort of thing for me. I just want to hand my finished manuscript to someone, have them take care of the formatting, the cover design, the uploading. I don't want to have to bother with all those different accounts--one with Amazon, one with Smashwords, one with Barnes & Noble, one with Kobo; my head is hurting already!--I just want someone to take my manuscript, do it up, publish it and then send me a check every so often."

Okay. Fine. But that isn't self-publishing. You have two options: go the vanity press route, which I do not recommend, or shop your manuscript to traditional publishers.

If self-publishing isn't for you--and there's nothing wrong if it isn't--then by all means don't do it! There are many reputable publishers out there and sometimes small presses will accept projects that larger ones won't. But please don't waste your hard-earned money by going the vanity press route.

How to recognize a vanity press: The company charges you to format your book and then also takes a percentage of each sale.

One vanity press I contacted was offering, for the 'mere' sum of $5,000, to set the writer up with a website--how generous! When I asked if that included a blog they said no, a blog would be $350 extra. Uh huh.

Sorry for nattering on about this. I'm steamed. It bothers me when folks try and prey on writers. I'm not against writers paying others for help--cover art, formatting, editing, and so on--but for a company to charge outrageous sums for these services and then to also want 50% of all sales ... Wow. That's chutzpah.


Related reading:
- Self Publishing: 3 Steps To Success
- Penquin's Purchase Of Author Solutions: Going To The Dark Side?
- International Writers And The U.S. 30% Withholding Tax: Getting It Back

Links to reputable tradespeople:
After I published my post I got to thinking, it's one thing to say, "Stop! Don't do that!" and quite another to provide a solution. So I went over to Joe Konrath's page and looked at who he gets to help him out with formatting his books, his cover art, and so on. You can go over to his page and get this information, but I know he wouldn't mind my including it here as well:

- Joe Konrath's cover artist
- Joe Konrath's ebook designer
- Joe Konrath's print designer

Joe's books look fabulous so I have no hesitation offering these links. If anyone knows of any links they'd like to add to this list get in touch with me.

4 comments:

  1. Great advice. Anyone offering one-time services to authors (i.e. editing, cover design, formatting, etc.) that wants to take your royalties, you should run (not walk) away as fast as possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Paul. Over the past few days I've become aware of dozens of vanity publishers, many of them no more than fronts that funnel writers to larger, more established firms. I wish there were more I could do to warn folks.

      Delete
  2. Nice post, this ties in very well with the Penguin story. It's hard to believe these vanity presses are still around, much less going mainstream. For some reason, writers seem to be easy prey. Maybe we're just not very good with money. Or is that just me :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jamie, it took me by surprise as well. I, too, ask myself why writers are being targeted. I sometimes think writers believe there's a 'magic bullet' that will lead to success. They want to think spending a lot of money will get their book into the hands of industry professionals who will be able to launch them, their career, as a writer. But, as we know, there is no magic bullet, only lots of hard work.

      Delete

Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies to anyone this inconveniences, I wish I didn't have to do it. I do appreciate each and every comment.