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How Do I Find a Publisher?

Reader Question: How do I Find a Publisher? (#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop)

This blog post comes from a question I was asked on Twitter: could I help the writer find a publisher. It’s also part of the August #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant.

Can I help you find a publisher?

No, I can’t. Not directly.

But I can provide you with some advice that might help. First, know your genre. Then understand the paths to publishing, and choose the best path for you.

Know Your Genre

No publisher publishes anything and everything. Small publishers specialise. Big publishers have dozens of imprints, each specialising in specific genres.

Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB) are a great example. HMB publish romance novels under a range of branded imprints. HMB are also subsidiary of HarperCollins, one of the big five multinational publishers, who publish a huge range of romance and non-romance titles.

As an author, this means you have to know your genre so you can target the specific publishers and imprints who publish your genre. Don’t submit your post-apocalyptic thriller to Love Inspired (the HMB Christian romance line). Don’t submit your historical epic to a publisher that specialises in flash fiction.

Instead, do your research and find out which publishers represent your genre. These sources might help:

Know Your Path To Publishing

There are various paths to publishing, each of which I’ve covered in detail in previous blog posts. You can:

  • Publish through a major trade publisher
  • Publish through a small press
  • Self-publish
  • Vanity Publish

I’ll look at each of these:

Major Trade Publisher

(see Paths to Publishing: Trade Publishing for more information)

Major trade publishers are probably the publishers you’ve heard of. If you read books in your genre (and you should), they are books from these publishers. You’ll find their books in your local bookstore and at your local library. And you’ll find their books in your local supermarket or big-box store.

The problem with major trade publishers is that every aspiring author wants to be published by one of an ever-shrinking number of publishers. Almost none take submissions directly from authors—instead, you’ll need to be invited to submit, usually through a recognised literary agent (click here to read my post on finding a literary agent).

If you can’t get an agent, your other traditional publishing option is a small press.

Small Press

(see Paths to Publishing: Small Presses for more information)

You probably haven’t heard of many of the small presses, although the better ones will be represented in your local bookstore or library. Many accept submissions directly from authors (although some only accept submissions from recognised literary agents).

The main problem with small presses is that they are small, which means they can’t do everything well. They might be good at editing, but have mediocre cover design (or vice versa). They won’t have the distribution networks a bigger publisher has—you might find your novel in your local Christian bookstore, but you won’t find it at the supermarket or airport.

Some offer digital-only or digital-first contracts.

This means your book is only produced as an ebook, probably because the publisher can’t afford to invest in cheap offset printing without having a print distribution network (and perhaps can’t make a profit of the more expensive print-on-demand).

There is nothing necessarily wrong with the better small presses. But if you choose to publish with a small press, you need to make sure they are doing a better job than you could if you self-published.

Self-publishing

(see Paths to Publishing: Self-Publishing for more information)

Self-publishing means you wear multiple hats. As the author, you write and revise your book, and you have primary responsibility for marketing. (That’s the same no matter what path you take to publishing.)

You then have a role as a publisher, where you’re responsible for all the business aspects of publishing: finding one or more editors, getting your book edited, proofread and formatted. Finding a cover designer and agreeing a cover. Finding reviewers and influencers. Sending your book off to print (if you’ve decided you need a print run—many authors don’t). Converting your book into ebook format, and uploading to the various retailers.

Self-publishers still need partners to distribute their book. The most common distributors are:

For paper books:

These distributors list your book in their online catalogue, then print it when an order is received, and ship it directly to the purchaser. As the author, you receive the profit on each sale (i.e. purchase price less printing, handling, and distribution costs).

For ebooks:

There are two main formats of ebooks: epub, and mobi. All retailers except Amazon sell ebooks in epub format. Amazon uses mobi, their own proprietary format. Distributors such as Draft2Digital and Smashwords will sell books in a range of formats, as selected by the purchaser.

As an author, you receive the sale price less a distribution fee. This distribution fee varies from 35% to 70%, depending on the retailer and the sale price. For example, if you publish on Amazon Kindle, you keep 70% of the sale price on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35% for cheaper or more expensive books.

There are an increasing number of companies who advertise themselves as assisted self-publishers.

Some of these are legitimate companies providing quality services to authors (e.g. editing, cover design, formatting, or printing services). But many are vanity presses, charging a lot of money and not delivering a quality result.

Vanity Publishing

(see Paths to Publishing: Vanity Publishing and Author Services for more information)

This is not my recommended route. In fact, it’s one I recommend you avoid. These publishers might tell you they are self-publishers (but they ask for money), or they might tell you they are traditional publishers (but they ask for money). They may call themselves a co-operative publisher, a hybrid publisher, a partnership publisher, a self-publisher, or even traditional royalty-paying publisher.

What they won’t call themselves is a vanity publisher. But that doesn’t change what they are. But you can learn to recognise them: vanity publishers ask for money.

Check out their website: are they trying to sell books to readers, or publishing packages to writers? A genuine publisher makes their money by selling books to readers. A vanity press makes money without ever selling a single book. They don’t usually offer editing, and their books are often overpriced relative to the market. The contract may well assure you that you earn 100% royalties, but 100% of no sales is nothing.

If you have any doubts, don’t sign.

To my Twitter questioner:

No, this doesn’t directly help you find a publisher. But I hope it helps you understand the publishing industry, and brings you a few steps closer to finding the right publisher for your book. It might just be you.

Are you a published author? Which path to publishing did you choose? What advice do you have for my Twitter questioner?

This post is part of the August #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant. Click here to find other blogs participating in the Hop.

Why I’m Against Vanity Publishing

I’m against vanity publishing.

Why?Why I'm Against Vanity Publishing

There are many reasons. Most of them are illustrated in this story.

A few months ago, I received an email that made me want to cry.

It looked innocent enough—a request from a debut author for me to review her book. My website said I wasn’t currently accepting review requests, but that’s only kind of true. I still look at each request I receive and consider it, as I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to read and review a great book.

So I read her email instead of just sending my standard “I’m not currently accepting books for review” response.

She says:

I chose to publish [book title] independently to retain control over my book.

That’s fine. I have no issue with whether a book is traditionally published or independently published, as long as it’s good, and in a genre I like.

My book is considered to be Christian Romance.

Christian romance? Excellent—it’s one of my favourite genres. She continues:

There is love in the book … but I don’t feel it overwhelms with Romance. I would rather it be called Historical Fiction …

Well, I like historical fiction as well, so that’s not a sticking point. But what she said next got me worried:

but alas … I don’t have that much control over it.

That’s a red flag.

You, the self-published author, don’t have control over your book’s genre? And this seems to contradict her choosing to publish “independently to retain control over my book”.

This made me curious about the book, probably for all the wrong reasons. I then read the book description from the back of the book, which was rather meh. It didn’t really describe anything—certainly nothing to grab my attention as a reader. However, she’d also included her own synopsis of the book, which definitely described a historical fiction novel, not a romance (hint: in a romance, the couple get together at the end of the book. It’s not about their marriage).

At this point, I wasn’t sure what to think, so I clicked on the link to the Amazon book page.

The first thing I saw was a cover that is best described as average. A stock photo featuring purple flowers on a nondescript green background, with the book title and author name written in an ubiquitous and boring script font. There was nothing about the cover to show the reader what kind of book they were reading, and it smacked of the worst kind of amateur self-publishing.

Then I checked the book description. Sure enough, it’s the completely unengaging one. Next I checked the publisher, where I wasn’t surprised to find the book was from a notorious vanity press (which explained why the author didn’t have control over the book’s genre even though she’d supposedly published “independently”).

Then I looked at the reviews.

Six, all five stars, and one of them from a reviewer with the same last name as the author. While it’s not an uncommon last name (like, say, Goulton), it’s not Jones either. The review is almost certainly from a family member, which suggests the other reviews are from personal friends: hardly reliable. Two of the reviewers have only ever reviewed this book (one reviewed this book twice, so that’s two of the six reviews). One has reviewed three other items, but this is the only book.

None of the reviewers have the Amazon Verified Purchase tag (which can be faked, so having the AVP tag doesn’t really prove anything), yet none of them acknowledged they’d received a free book in exchange for review (as required by Amazon Reviewing Guidelines and the FTC).

I clicked on “Look Inside”.

A quick read of the first page of the prologue showed the book either hadn’t been edited, or had been edited by someone who doesn’t know anything about modern fiction. There was dialect. There were adverbs. There were creative dialogue tags. The proofreading was also substandard, with apostrophes that faced the wrong way, missing punctuation, and commas where there should have been full stops (or periods, for American readers). There was also a language glitch that distracted me: if she’s going into town with her brother, surely the reference should be to “their father”, not “his father”. And this is me reading with reader brain: editor brain would be far more harsh.

I feel sorry for this author, because she’s poured her heart and soul into this book (that much was obvious from her email), but she’s been shortchanged by a publisher who has given her a dirt-cheap cover that tells the reader nothing about the book. They’ve offered little or no editing, then slapped the book up on Amazon where it’s not categorised properly. To use my daughter’s current pet phrase, it’s nasty.

And she’s paid for this.

That’s what almost made me cry. This book is her dream, and the publisher she has trusted to nurture it and bring it to fruition has sacrificed her dream at the altar of the almighty dollar. Their website claims they have “editorial standards”. This book proves they don’t.

I don’t know how much she paid for her publishing package: it could be as little as $999 to as much as $6,499 (neither of which includes editing). I suspect this author paid for one of the mid-level packages, but didn’t opt for the additional editing (although the book sorely needs it). I guess after paying an estimated $2,999 for the publishing package, she didn’t have another $2,450 for their line editing.

I didn’t review the book.

I don’t want to give anyone the idea that this is a valid path to publishing, and I don’t want to be the person who breaks her author heart by telling her book isn’t good, and her publisher has wasted her money. Put simply, I don’t want to be the person who makes her cry.

But I’m upset. I’m upset that her publishing dream isn’t going to have the happy ending she’s hoped and prayed for. But most of all, I’m upset that a Christian author with good intentions and a story to tell has been financially and emotionally ripped off by a “Christian publisher”.

And this is why I don’t support vanity publishing.

No matter how “Christian” they claim to be.

This article previously appeared at Australasian Christian Writers.

Review: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing should be required reading for anyone considering self-publishing, publishing through a small press, or publishing through a “traditional publisher” which requires the author to contribute to the publishing or marketing, or requires that they purchase books at “cost”. Seriously. Reading this book could save you thousands … if you remember a few things that he doesn’t mention. Like the number one rule of publishing:

Money flows from the publisher to the author.

Now we’ve finished the public service announcement, let’s get back to the review.

The author is the owner of a self-publishing firm, and the book is very much from that perspective. I’m not convinced by his explanation by of the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing, but he defined what he meant, and that was sufficient to give the context for the rest of the book. I’m also not convinced by his underlying belief that authors need outside help in producing a professional product, that they are unable to do it themselves. I agree that everyone needs an external editor and/or proofreader, as no one can fully edit or proofread their own work, and people who aren’t trained graphic designers need to pay for a professional cover design. And an author may well decide to outsource tasks such as formatting.

But I don’t believe that a “self-publisher” is the best place to obtain all these services. I’ve read books from several of the self-publishers referenced in this book, and while the formatting in all of them was professional, the cover designs were of variable quality, as was the editing (one was, in my opinion, 150 pages longer than it needed to be, which priced the book out of the market).

What Levine didn’t do was give an author looking to self-publish any reason to outsource the publishing rather than do it themselves using freelance contractors. He points out that all the self-publishers he refers to (other than CreateSpace and Lulu) outsource the printing to Lightning Source. Yet a savvy self-publisher can deal directly with Lightning Source and avoid the printing markups which seem to be a major way these “self-publishers” make money.

This, for me, was one of the key strengths of  The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: a clear analysis of how “self-publishers” make money not just from being paid to produce the book, but from the ongoing sales. The author also takes readers through the real meaning of standard contract terms, including royalty calculations, and the relationship between printing markups on selling price—and how excessive printing markups produce a book that’s priced too high to sell. He also covers some of the “marketing” activities these organisations offer, with some idea of the relative cost and benefit of each.

One of the disadvantages of any book examining the current state of a market is that is can get outdated quickly. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing is no exception: one of the featured publishers (WinePress) has already gone out of business since the book was published three months ago (there’s probably a lesson in there about the reliability of some of these firms).

There are also a couple of areas where I would have liked to have seen more information, specifically with regard to one publisher mentioned in the book. While they don’t charge for publishing, they do require authors to contribute $4,000 towards marketing the book … but don’t say what that $4,000 buys. Personally, I’m not going to even look at spending that much without knowing exactly what I’m getting for the money. In fairness, the company wouldn’t disclose their contract without having a manuscript—something the author couldn’t exactly provide, given the nature of this book—so that’s not the author’s fault. But I’d really like to know what an author gets for that money …

The other thing Levine doesn’t cover are the firms who publish for free, but require authors to purchase a set number of their books. Based on the printing markup figures used in the book, the cost of 1,000 copies could easily exceed $10,000. These companies are, I believe, especially deceptive, as they often claim they aren’t self-publishers or vanity publishers, but traditional royalty-paying publishers (only they don’t pay royalties on the books the author buys, and what’s more “vanity” than requiring the author purchase 1,000 or more copies of their own book?).

Despite what looks here like a laundry list of complaints, I do believe any author considering self-publishing should buy and read this book. While the author never comes out and says “use Company X not Company Y”, the analysis makes it pretty clear who are the best options. It also provides a basis for the savvy author to calculate figures such as print markup for other companies not featured.

Buy the paperback and a new highlighter pen. You’ll need it.

Thanks to the author and StoryCartel for providing a free ebook for review.