When in rains jellybeans

I always say that when something happens that I can’t quite wrap my cerebral cortex around. All my little synapses spontaneously combust, and I face bodily meltdown. These are the few times that I thank the beagle because she usually revives me with a fresh margarita and a Twinkie. Rather than go through all that trouble, I say, “good god, it’s raining jellybeans.”

Victoria Strauss’ blog post created one of those jellybeans moments. Her post is about a vanity publisher who is swinging the other way by offering a mainstream imprint. As Vic explains in her post, we’ve seen mainstream trade presses who open up a vanity imprint, and they do that to raise capital. Oh sure, they tell anyone with a pulse that they’re doing this in order to give “everyone a fighting chance at publication,” but I’m not buying it. This economy makes people do things they might not ordinarily do.

This is not a benevolent industry; we are profit based – nothing more, nothing less – and these new vanity imprints are the “bank” for a conglomerate publisher’s faltering bottom line. I don’t believe they do this out of choice, but rather, they are directed by their conglomerate benefactors who make financial demands.

So whazzup with this raining jellybean moment where vanity presses are crossing the road to trade publishing? It could be any number of reasons. But I do wonder about their ability to cross the road for several reasons.

*Please note that I don’t know anything about the publisher in Victoria’s post, and I’m merely discussing my own personal mind boggle.

Experience

Does a vanity press knows how to sell to the trade marketplace? Their experience is selling to authors, so I wonder whether they know how to market and promote, which is the lifeblood of our industry. Without it, a publisher can nosedive faster than the beagle can down a bottle of tequila. The flipside to that coin is that they have plenty of money, so they could hire experienced people who do have this experience.

Who’s Paying the Bills?

Trade publishing takes money. A. Lot. And I think it’s safe to say that the vanity side is funding the trade imprint. I may be wrong, but this bothers me. For starters, if I was a vanity author who’d paid out a couple thou to have my book pubbed, how good would I feel knowing I’d just helped launch a trade imprint who bring in authors for a mainstream publishing contract? I think I would resent the fact that these other authors are getting something off my back.

Mainstream publishers have to make money the old-fashioned way – selling lots of books. If these guys don’t sell a lot of books and their bottom line stays in the red, well…they can always go back to The Bank of Vanity Authors. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The flipside is that mainstream publishers who add a vanity imprint are staying afloat off the same Bank of Vanity Authors. It makes my teeth itch.

Separate But Equal?

Publishers who add a vanity imprint and vanity publishers who add a mainstream imprint say the same thing: The two imprints will remain completely separate. And for all I know they may. But my cynical side taps me on the shoulder and gives me a couple sly winks. The facts are that the two imprints are under the same umbrella and it’s just so easy to play footsie with each other. And I’m willing to admit that I may be unduly skeptical, but, well, I can’t help but wonder if a rejection from the mainstream side will engender an offer for the vanity services.

I realize that every company who is in this position states unequivocally that they would never do that, but…well, I”m cynical and there is a lot of seduction in crossing the lines to bring in an infusion of cash.

Lineup

What kind of books will they publish? Vanity presses print anything as long as the author has the money, so what will the mainstream side do? Will they specialize with a niche, or will they continue to publish all genres? If it’s the latter, do they have all the appropriate editors in place to properly edit all genres? Do they have the right publicists on board to market all genres?

The Test of Time

The main question is what is the result going to be? A vanity who dabbles into the mainstream world is an untested machine with no reputation to speak of. At least when Harlequin opened up DellArt, they had their mainstream reputation to stand on, so it was theirs to screw up or be a success. The vanity press who adds a trade imprint is swimming upstream because they have no mainstream reputation whatsoever.

Things may look great – the mainstream side may have good distribution in place and plenty of money – but that doesn’t equal a quality publisher. I’ve seen a number of publishers who had great distribution and plenty of money, and they imploded.

My advice is the same as it always is: let time decide whether any new publisher is worth their salt. Just because they have distribution and will get their books stocked is no guarantee that they’ll SELL. Distributors make the books available, but the real test comes through sales.

Any new company may be a great thing. And if they are, then they’ll succeed and everyone will be happy happy joy joy. But are you willing to play guinea pig with your book? Always look before you leap so you won’t think it’s raining jellybeans.

4 Responses to When in rains jellybeans

  1. Pelotard says:

    I’m reminded of Pratchett’s spoof on opera, “Maskerade”. The Ankh-Morpork opera house is bought by a former dairy owner, and he has to have the economical basics explained to him:

    In a dairy, you put milk in, and at the other end of your operation, money comes out.

    In an opera house, you put money in, and music comes out.

    This clash seems to be alive and well in the world of publishing. Especially if you decide to publish poetry. 🙂

  2. Janie Bill says:

    I agree with your comment that if the mainstream publisher rejects the manuscript, it is likely the vanity sister will approach with an offer. Creating the arm of mainstream could even be a marketing strategy to attract writers and educate their new audence about the vanity press available. Thanks for keeping writers posted on the developing marketplace trends and how to handle them.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    Yeah. I’d be rather wary of such a publisher.

  4. I found this a very interesting blog and more so because you were fresh in my mind from your speaking at the Laguna Woods Writers Club Friday. I hadn’t thought about the connection between vanity and mainstream publishing, much less that they were two business models from what you describe as competetive branches of the same company.

    My business background included sizeable stints in the Insurance idustry and I saw three lines of business in the same companies, competing aggresivly with their own business as well as trying to get market share from other companies: commercial health, PPO and HMO managed care. To a large extent this followed the market for servicces, but I suppose it also could be described as you descrive publishing. Interesting!

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