“We’re not vanity…we’re a co-op”

October 12, 2011

I visited several writers sites yesterday during my coffee break and kept seeing this line pop up. Someone would write in about a vanity press, and someone else (sometimes the publisher) would jump in to “clarify” things. “No, no, we’re not vanity, we’re a co-op publisher.”



First off, co-op is the shortened version of cooperative, and is defined as working or acting together willingly for a common purpose or benefit.

In the loosest of terms, this gives the impression that both parties are equally invested toward reaching a common goal.


That isn’t the case with this form of publishing – and that’s why the proper term is vanity publishing, which is defined as the practice of the author of a book paying all or most of the costs of its publication.

Now here’s where things get muddy. Vanity publishers tell their potential victims authors that both parties share equally in the goal of publishing a book. However, all one need do is check out the pricing packages to know the author is not only shouldering the entire cost of production, but they’re also making the vanity publisher very cushy happy.

“We don’t accept just anyone”

Sure they do. Vanity publishers make their money from selling publishing packages…just like carpet cleaning salesman. The customer pays, and the company provides a service by cleaning the carpet.  And just like the carpet cleaning company, there is no litmus for accepting a client other than their ability to pay.


I remember when I took a silk blouse to my dry cleaner. I pointed out the stain – I’d glorped mayonnaise on it – and asked if they could get it out. Sure, sure, they said. No problem. I went to pick up my blouse a few days later and nearly fainted. My beautiful silk blouse (formerly a dusty rose) had been washed out to a pale pink. In place of the stain was a giant white blotch.


I give the guy credit for sporting a confident grin and puffy chest. “Looks good, yah? No more mayo stain.” Then he presented me with a bill of $14. My jaw dropped. He actually thought I was going to pay for the honor of him ruining my blouse. After much haggling that would have made any street peddler proud, I walked out of the cleaner with $50 to replace my blouse.

And this is exactly what happens with vanity publishing. You enter into an agreement, hopeful they will turn your manuscript into a thing of beauty. Instead, you paid a couple grand for a cover so ugly that the beagle would bury it in the backyard. The layout is so horrible, a third grader could have done it. And the editing? Well…what editing?

But where I got satisfaction in buying a new blouse, the author is stuck. They can’t complain about the appearance of their book and get their money back. They’re screwed. Oh sure, the publisher will happily make fixes, but it’ll cost the author extra.

There is nothing cooperative about it. The author pays for everything, and the “publisher” provides an inferior service that will ensure the author will never get a return on their money.

So the next time you hear the word co-op, take the time to enlighten the person who said it because it’s gobbleycock.

How publishing doesn’t work…

August 17, 2011

Click to enlarge

So they’re at it again. Selling services that do little more than raise the hopes of many and line their bank accounts. They literally just got spanked by JK Rowling (see the entire mess at the AW Water Cooler) and took the advertisement down because the implication was that this “publisher” has a relationship, when, in fact, they don’t. But nonetheless, they were going to charge their authors $49 to write a wee blurb.

So fresh on the heels of their latest smack-down, they are now offering authors to part with $79 to have Ms. Magazine review their works. What saddens me is that a percentage of their authors will partake of this black hole, which will do nothing but swell this publisher’s bank account.

I have to wonder how they justify this fee. We submit our books to magazines for review all the time. Know what authors pay for that? Nada. Zip. Bupkiss. Niente. Zero. And it’s not just because I’m all fuzzy nice. It’s simply the art of doing business. We put a lot of money into each title, so it makes sense to maximize our investment by getting it seen by anyone and everyone.

The trick to this is that there is no guarantee Ms. Magazine (or any other magazine we submit to) will read or accept our book for review. They get hundreds of these requests every month, so it’s all a crap shoot. They’re looking for a big topic that will appeal to their readers. Real publishers pay attention to a magazine’s target readership and submit accordingly.

But what this publisher has done is a) not take Ms. Magazine’s target audience into consideration and will, therefore, submit any and all who paid their submission fee, and b) they haven’t told their authors any of this, and c) they haven’t justified why authors should pay $80 to have their sent to a magazine.

So why am I wasting my breath with these people? Because I attended two conferences in as many weeks, and ran into a handful of authors who gave their books to this publisher. Some were very proud of this fact and were shocked to find out the real story behind that company. Others had learned the hard way that their books were sent down the rabbit hole, never to be seen or read by anyone other than those they personally sold.

This company is a prime example of how publishing is not done. They have long called themselves “traditional,” and I maintain that just because they say something doesn’t make it so. Real publishers don’t charge their authors to market and promote their books. They don’t sell their books at vastly inflated prices – $29.95 for a 300 page book, for example – and they don’t threaten their authors with tone letters if they dare to ask questions.

Take a page from this publisher and do the exact opposite. This is not “traditional” publishing.

Edited to add:

If you want to see all the other “offers” this company has, click on this link and scroll down. All of these fees they’re passing to their authors are normal fees that real publishers assume. This is like ordering a la carte off a menu…

They’ve screwed up all our words.

March 30, 2011

I’m in a mood. I just came back from reading someone’s blog where the word “Indie Publishing” was mentioned. Oh, thinks me, do we have a new small trade press on sidewalk? No. She was talking about self publishing – as in DIY.

Blink. Blink.

How and when did “indie publishing” become the definition for doing it yourself, and why did I not get the memo? Indie publishing used to mean a small trade press who was independent – that they weren’t part of a conglomerate. They acted just like their big brothers in New York, assuming all costs of production, marketing, promotion, and distribution – but their balance sheets lacked the same number of zeros.

But there are no clear-cut definitions anymore, and it’s all up for grabs as to what means what. And that puts me in a mood.

Much has changed and gotten more confusing since the time I wrote my Definitions post a year and a half ago, and it makes for some puzzling conversations.

Vanity/POD/Self/Indie Publishing

Take the lunch conversation I had with a very lovely author. Over a tasteless lunch (but wonderful company), my friend told me how she’d pubbed her first book with a POD company.

Um, no you didn’t, sez I.

Yah, I did, sez she.

No, you pubbed through a vanity press…AuthorHouse. They’re a vanity press. You paid them money to publish your book.

It was her turn to blink. But they called themselves a Print On Demand sez she.

Heh, sure they did. It sounds a lot better than calling themselves what they are: vanity. Perhaps a more polite term is “subsidy press.” But the term was originally coined because the author pays for all the production costs, which is far from free – thus the company is appealing to the author’s “vanity.”

They are not Print on Demand, which is a whole other business model, and you’ll find the definition here.

But wait, it gets even better. While at a writer’s conference, an author told me she was published by an indie press. Ooo, I know lots of them…which one? Poisoned Pen? Tyrus Books? No, she said, iUniverse.

Blink. Blink.

Um, didn’t you have to pay to get your book published? Sure, she replied.

This is when I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to ten.

It wasn’t until I got back to my room and glugged back a glass of wine that I wondered, if iUniverse is an indie press, then what the hell am I? The idea of being classified with the likes of iUniverse or AuthorHouse is as attractive as having my eyebrows singed with a flamethrower loaded on crack.

But hold on – the Gods of Insanity weren’t done with me. At that same conference, an author told me she’d self published her book. Wow, sez I, gutsy move. What’s the name of your publishing company? AuthorHouse.

Blink. Blink.

Cue pinching of nose and counting to ten.

All I can say is that the vanity/subsidy presses have been hard at work retooling their PR strategy. And why not, they certainly have the money for it. So now the word is that they are one of the following: POD, Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing.

There…doesn’t that sound nicer? Cleaner? More attractive?

It’s like the old saying, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Except in this case, the axiom is, “We do care what you call us and we want to show you that we’re really nice guys as we stick our hands into your wallet.”

I have no problem with vanity/subsidy presses, per se. But I do have a problem with purposefully fooling the public in order to look gentler, kinder, benevolent. It’s like politicians calling for “revenue enhancements.” Puhleeze. Does anyone not realize it’s simply gentler word for TAX? Why do you think those blockheads changed the terminology? To make it more palatable, to fool us.

And this is exactly what the vanity presses do. “Let’s call ourselves something else so we sound better.” And it makes for very confusing conversations because there are so many authors who are genuinely flummoxed about the manner in which they published their book.

Eh, so what’s in a definition, Pricey? Well, glad you asked. If you make writers believe you are an “indie press,” then the writers have expectations about what you’ll do for them. They see their books as being on equal footing as, say, our books. And this is where disillusionment and anger sets in.

I know because I see it all the time at writer’s conferences. Doe-eyed authors come up after my seminars and ask if their iUniverse books will be nationally distributed because they said they are an “indie press” and, gee, you said in your seminar that you’re an indie press, too.

Cue the nose pinching and counting to ten again.

No. iUniverse isn’t on the same footing as we are. Not by a long shot.

But it doesn’t stop with vanity/subsidy. Print On Demand companies have done a lovely job of calling themselves “indie presses” as well. They aren’t. Not by a long shot. If you haven’t already, go check out my post on Definitions, where you’ll see what a POD company is.

I give a seminar that breaks down all the different types of publishers, what they can and can’t do for you (based on my chapter from The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box). I also include the proper terminology so we can establish who is what. When I got to the Print On Demand section of my seminar, a woman in the audience got very red-faced and stormed out of the room. Yikes. I was fearful I’d hit a nerve.

Later that night, she bought me a glass of wine and apologized for bursting out of the room. She was recently published by a well-known POD press – except they don’t call themselves POD, but rather, “independent publisher.” Because of that, she thought she was going to be nationally distributed in bookstores, along with marketing and promotion. Yes, yes, she’d been told they use the Print On Demand for their books, but big deal…so does every other publisher. And as far as distribution is concerned? Bah, no worries, sez they. We have the same distribution as Random House – Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Based on that, she’d signed her contract.

Only until she heard my seminar did she realize she’d been duped. And this makes me so cranky. POD publishers – the skanky ones – stay in business by fooling people. They water down the definitions and play loosey goosey with the truth in order to make themselves palatable. Why? To make money, of course.

Print On Demand printing isn’t the right term. It’s called Digital Printing, and yes, everyone uses it. It’s a cost effective way of doing a short run, say, for Advance Reader Copies (ARCS), or backlist titles. But less-than-honest POD publishers are very savvy at the art of dilution, and they water down the facts to make themselves appear to be our equal.

The long and short of it is this:  if authors never bought any of their books, the POD publisher would fold up their tent and go home because their primary marketplace is selling to their authors, not the bookstores.They are hindered by the fact that they don’t have distribution (Ingram and B&T are warehouse distributors – a different animal) , so they can’t sell enough books to keep themselves afloat.

I have written many posts on POD publishers because of the confusion they’ve created:

Print on Demand Series
POD and Readership
Series #1
Series #2
Series #3
Series #4

Series #5

Series #6

Series #7

Print on a Dime

I hope you take the time to read them because there is a lot of good information in there.

At any rate, all of this editing of definitions of vanity, indie press, POD, self publishing has made for some strange conversations because I first have to figure out what they mean by “self-pubbed.” Vanity is not self-pubbed. Check the copyright page. Does it have your name there? Nope. Did you set the retail price? Nope. Your publisher did.

You. Are. Not. Self. Pubbed.

Self publishing is when you are the publisher and you assume all aspects of production, marketing, promotion, distribution, and order fulfillment. You set the retail price, and it’s your name on the copyright page. It’s hideously expensive and time consuming, and not for anyone with weak intestinal fortitude.

What this screwing with our definitions has achieved is general confusion. And this is great for the wanna-bes. But I have to admit that it drives me buggy. A couple years ago I had a writer ask me what I charge to publish books.

Blink. Blink.

Where did you get the idea I charge? Oh, sez she, I read your bio the conference website, and it said you are an indie press.

Gah. Since then, I’ve changed our bio to say that we are a mainstream publisher. I don’t think the vanity and POD guys can stake that claim for themselves, so I’m safe.

For now.

I think.

Writers Digest jumps in bed with Author Solutions

January 24, 2011

I had an out-of-body experience upon reading the news about Writers Digest partnering with Author Solutions to form a new vanity publishing company. It boggles the mind so much that I need to repeat myself.

Writers Digest…a company who has a earned a solid reputation over the years has joined with…

Author Solutions.

As quoted in their press release:

Writer’s Digest editor, Abbott Press is devoted to helping writers improve their work and realize their dreams of getting published.

For starters, any kind of verbiage that includes “helping realize authors’ dreams of getting published” makes my hair hurt. I appreciate there are authors whose books are wonderful and, for whatever reason, can’t get published. It could be for lack of a market or a heavily impacted category/genre. But MOST of the vanity books flooding the market simply aren’t publishable on any level.

So let’s dispense with the whole “giving you the chance you deserve” garbage. It’s disingenuous and ignorant.

It’s all about the money, baby

It doesn’t matter what these publishers anyone say, or how they try to wrap themselves in a cloak of goodwill and magnanimous benevolence – the truth is it’s about the money. Vanity publishing is a vast, untapped profit center that will earn A LOT of money because there are a record number of writers who all desire to see their name on the cover of a book.

What’s worse is that Author Solutions will run Abbott Press.

Why does my heart hurt?

Then I remembered Victoria Strauss’ post on Writer Beware. And then I knew why I felt faint for all the new, unsuspecting writers who will be caught in this web.

Ok, that might be unfair, but I urge you to read Vic’s post, and you’ll see why I’m pulling out a black armband. It seems like everything that Author Solutions touches turns to cow manure.


Writer’s Digest has enjoyed a stellar reputation for many, many years, and I can’t help but feel like they just took a small step down to SlimyTown. It’s like well-respected magazines charging for reviews. I think it’s slimy and denigrates the purity of a review. So why would Writer’s Digest – like Harlequin and their Dellarte Press – take this route and accept a hit to their reputation? Well, the money is great.

Hmm. Seems I’ve just come full circle.

So while WD and AS laugh themselves to the bank, I hope we don’t start hearing complaints about poor quality, mistakes, lost material, and ignorant customer service reps. I have to assume Writer’s Digest did their market research with this company and knows what possible fate awaits Abbott Press.

‘Tis a dark day when another solid company falls into bed with bedbugs. My only hope is that authors won’t suffer too many bites.

Edited to add: For a discussion about the differences between Self-Publishing and Vanity, visit Jane Smith’s fabulous blog.

“Dear Publishers, do we even need you?”

November 15, 2010

That was the implied response to the woman’s loud announcement that she’d self-published her book. She stood before the group of about sixty and proudly proclaimed that she’d done what “those stuffy publishers” wouldn’t do – publish her book. Her battle cry was very spirited, “Break free from the subversive reins of the gatekeepers! DIY!”

Zoiks. Considering I was due to get up and give a talk right after her, I pondered whether I should fear for my safety. Nothing worse than speaking to a hostile crowd. Fortunately, I think her call-to-arms in a valiant effort to slaughter the ruling class weren’t taken that seriously, and the crowd was very polite.

But I couldn’t help but wonder about anyone whose feelings run that deeply and passionately. Obviously, she was bitter about mainstream publishing and had probably experienced a lot of rejection. And this meant we must die.

This kind of thinking always leaves me a bit sad because there is no black and white in this industry and things often don’t make sense. A great story (and mind you, “great” is subjective) can either be sold at auction for millions, or be rejected because the “gatekeepers” don’t believe it will sell. Or sell in enough quantities to justify the production and marketing costs. So instead writers stand tall and cry:

“We don’t need you!”
“You’re irrelevant!”
“It’s a brave new world, and mainstream publishing is passé!”

Eh, not so fast. We don’t reject books because we have nothing better to do. We’re in the business to sell books – lots of them. Rejection happens for a lot of reasons that might have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. And sometimes rejection is nature’s way of separating the wheat from the chaff. But before you brand mainstream publishing as the root of all evil, let’s talk about why authors might find us relevant.


Before you make any decision about a publisher, think about your intent:

  • What kind of writer are you? Hobbyist? Serious? Beginner? Experienced?
  • Do you see your books on the store shelves (I know, everyone does), or is this a book for friends and family?
  • Do you have a lot of books in you, or are you a one-book wonder?
  • Do you have a platform?
  • Have you given any thought about how you’ll promote your book?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is your competition?

In short, you need to do some honest self-analysis and do the proper research so you know what publishing option is best for you.


Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart or weak intestinal fortitude. How much do you know about the publishing industry? Given the hundreds of authors I speak to on a yearly basis, I’m continuously surprised at how willing people are to turn their hard work over to someone without knowing whether they’re making a good decision. Heck, I’m one of those noobs. In another lifetime, I blithely turned over a book that took me over a year to write and included extensive research. The “publisher” was one of the most popular skanks in the industry, proving that when I go, I go big.

I was the Cosmic Muffin’s biggest idiot, but I lucked out and made lemonade. Most aren’t that lucky. So when you’re considering putting your book into the hands of a company whose only standard is the size of your wallet, take a second and ask yourself whether they have the experience to market, promote, and sell the book. Do you have the experience to know the difference?

Do you know how to sell and distribute books? Store placement

As I’ve said before, this industry isn’t a matter of “if you write it, they will come.” It takes long hours of work and planning, and lots of money to promote and market. Mainstream publishing knows how to sell and distribute books. They have sales teams who have established relationships with the national accounts, indie stores, and libraries. Some of the most consistent comments I hear from self-pubbed authors are that they had no idea how hard it was to sell books. Mainstream publishers have to know how to distribute and sell books and get them into the stores because that’s what they do.

Most self-pubbed authors don’t realize bookstores won’t order their books due to the lack of a return policy – where stores can return unsold stock. I talked to a few authors who had considered paying the extra $600 – $900 for the vanity’s “returnable book package” because they believed that would get their books into the stores. Alas, this is nothing more than an insidious profit center for vanity presses. Their return policies are so restrictive that bookstores won’t have anything to do with them.


Do you know who your audience is? Most folks I talk to give the same answer: “It’s for everyone who loves to read.”  Do you have “everyone” in your Rolodex? How do you find “everyone” with your self-pubbed book? Man, even I can’t do that, and it’s something you need to think about.

Mainstream publishers consider this aspect before they ever consider offering a contract. There have been plenty of books that I loved but didn’t feel there was a big enough audience. That isn’t to say that just because I can’t quantify an audience means there isn’t one. Sometimes self-pubbed authors are much closer to their audience than I am and can make some sales. They just aren’t sales that will keep the beagle in high-end tequila.


Do you know whether your book has wings? It’s one thing to THINK your book is very marketable, but do you know for a fact? Do you know readers’ tastes? Have you done any market research to determine whether you’re on to something unique, or one of the pack?

Knowing means that you’re intimately familiar with your readers and your competition – which means you’re very well read. It also means that you know the unique qualities of your book. If you’ve written a Twilight knock off, I urge you to rethink things because Stephanie Myers already did it. Do something else that has its own unique twists. The whole Twilight/vampire romance is making agents’ eyes glaze over because publishers’ eyes are glazing over as well. This is stuff you need to know.


Do you have a platform that makes your book more marketable? Mainstream publishers look for qualities in their potential authors that will enhance sales. We want to know whom you know – but more importantly, we want to know who knows you. You may have written a compelling cancer survival book, but it’s an impacted category, so that means I need an author with a big platform – someone who can attract an audience, a readership. It’s how the cream rises to the top. If you sit at home and knit nose muffflers for cold beagles, then you don’t have a ready audience who knows you. When you compare that to some actress who wrote about the same subject matter, who do you think is the cream?


I’ve noticed that most vanity books have higher retail prices than their mainstream cousins. They’re higher because, well, the vanity press can charge their authors top dollar for the print run. Since vanity presses sell primarily to their authors at a discount, the higher retail price is a tidy profit center. This makes life more difficult for the author because they can’t afford to reduce the price so it’s in line with the marketplace. Net result: fewer overall sales.

Conversely, mainstream publishing sells to the public and needs to competitively priced in order to sell the maximum amount of units. While readers are more apt to buy books from an author who has just given a talk, regardless of retail price, one also has to consider how many more they might have sold had the book been moderately priced.

There is a growing number who are crowing about the irrelevancy of evil mainstream publishing, but I hope I’ve added some balance to this issue. I do believe that there is room for all, and I have no particular problem with any of it PROVIDED the author knows exactly what to expect. To me, there is nothing sadder than hearing, “I had no idea.”

So to rebut my zealous friend, “Dear Author, yes, you do.”

When in rains jellybeans

November 12, 2010

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.


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.


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.

The Argh Moment: vanity publishing = mainstream contract?

October 29, 2010

Argh. It happened again. I received an interesting query that I could be interested in.


The author pubbed it through a vanity press just last year and now feels “confident” enough to start marketing it to mainstream publishers.

This is where I go all head-bangy like because the time to market this to mainstream publishers is when it’s UNPUBLISHED. It’s possible he did query it out and received some rejections.

This is the common formula: I’ll query it out and see if there’s any interest. If there isn’t, then I’ll shell out my hard-earned money and pay to have it pubbed.

So they get it out on the market and promote ’til the cows come home. Yay, they say…I sold 450 units last year! Now I’m a baller…a player…a force to be reckoned with!


Ok, I’ll backtrack a little. Any sales via the vanity route is cause for celebration because the author is the sole sales and marketing force. But selling 450 units in a year is hardly newsworthy to a mainstream publisher. If he had sold 5,000 units, then I’d believe this is a book to be reckoned with.

Folks, I don’t care why anyone makes any particular publishing choice because everyone has different intentions for their careers. But what makes my teeth itch is when author believe vanity publishing will give then any kind of leg up on securing a mainstream contract.

It doesn’t.

First off, the first print rights are gone. That means that you’ve already populated the databases with your book. That means there will be two books appearing on those databases, and there is a lot of room for confusion which drives us insane.

Secondly, all the initial places we would have gone to kick-start the promo/marketing process have already been compromised. We can’t go back to that well. So we need to look for a new initial local market. That’s not easy to do. Yes, we have the advantage in that we are taking care of the national distribution, but one has to start somewhere to create that domino effect, which is your local community.

If your book just came out last year, then it’s wearisome to screech, “Hey, cowabunga! I got me this here book” The reply is going to be, “Dude, didn’t you just do this last year? It’s still sitting only my nightstand waiting to be read. Now you want me to buy the newer version? I don’t think so.”

And this is where the Argh Moment crosses the lines from publisher to author. One of the most popular things I hear – other than, “is the beagle really a drunk?” – is “I had no idea.”

There is nothing that can sink one’s career faster than decisions made in ignorance.

If you want to go the vanity route, that’s fine. But you need to understand exactly what you’re in for and how that will impact your future. First and foremost; you MUST have a clear vision of your expectations. If you have your eye on a mainstream publisher, then query the snot out of your manuscript. If you collect a slew of rejections, maybe that’s the industry’s way of telling you this work isn’t marketable.

Put that under the bed and begin anew. Remember that most first manuscripts aren’t published. Those debut authors have several making merry under the bed.

Reporting the news – where’s the responsibility?

August 28, 2010

*Warning – rant time again *

I don’t get it. A vanity press signs a six-year-old kid to a 23 book deal, and the news goes viral. Why? Because the newspaper reporting the deal didn’t do their homework – meaning they had no idea Strategic is a vanity press. But wait, it gets even better…Publisher’s Weekly reported it as well.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – stalwart publications like the Mirror and PW would have something quite snarky about the fact that a vanity press signed a kid barely out of diapers, right? Wrong. Neither publication had any remarks at all. Why? Did they not know? I’m gobsmacked.

Does no one ask questions anymore, or do we have ten-year-olds reporting the news who take everything at face value and haven’t learned the fine art of INVESTIGATION. Didn’t this deal strike these reporting agencies as odd to the point where someone with a firing synapse would ask, “Hmm…what kind of publisher signs a wee bairn to a 23 book deal? Perhaps we should take a closer look at the publisher.”

Where were the editors on this story, asking the tough questions like, “who in their right minds signs a kid? Go back and research.” I mean, that’s what editors do, for beagle’s sake. Instead, people have emailed the Mirror to point out how they missed the fact that Strategic is a scam. Oh! sez the Mirror, big thanks to ye. We will bloody well check that out.


Maybe I gave them too much credit and there are no firing synapses at these publications that are responsible for reporting the news. Gives a whole new meaning to “reporting the news,” doesn’t it?

I can almost forgive the Mirror because they don’t specialize in the publishing industry. Mind you, I said almost because it still goes to their responsibility to be an effective reporter – in which they failed beautifully. But Publisher’s Weekly? Wow. Were  their investigative pants in the dryer?

The root of my disgust is how this will impact writers. This news is all over the news and blogosphere and writers are going to naturally check out the publisher. And they’ll query. And they’ll get sucked into the vanity muck because, hey, PW and the Mirror reported it, so it must be legit, right?

And so it goes – another untapped resource opens their wallets and line the pockets of vanity presses who don’t edit, don’t distribute, don’t support. For so many don’ts, they certainly have a captive audience. It’s sad to see so many people believing there are short cuts in this industry and their desire to “be published” outweighs the desire to hone their skills.

I think this story should have absolutely been publicized in order to show how Strategic will stoop at nothing to get some hefty bucks. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Instead, these “news” outlets did nothing to educate the public or protect the unaware. With news like this, it might be better to read comic books.

For a less ranty post, I recommend reading Victoria Strauss’ post at Writer Beware on the subject.

This is how the sleazoids do it

March 10, 2010

As I’ve mentioned any number of times, POD and vanity presses will stop an nothing to get you to buy your own books. Why? Because YOU are their source of income. You are the golden goose. These folks aren’t open to bookstores and exist solely to make your book available to you in print format.

The options are limitless, but there is one sleazoid who does it better than most:

[Vanity masquerading as a POD] will send your book to Oscar winner Sandra Bullock!

Sunday night’s Best Actress won the award for her role in The Blind Side, a movie based on a book that she read before she agreed to play the role. We will now submit your book to Sandra Bullock and ask her to read it.

Here’s how we do it for authors who choose to have a few extra books on hand: Go to [sleazoid’s website], find your book, click on it, then add to cart, indicate quantity, and use this coupon: SandraBullock25. Then click Recalculate and finish the transaction. Minimum volume is only 6 copies.

You will receive your books at a 25 pct discount, and we will print an extra copy that we will send to Sandra Bullock at no cost to you, or more if she requests more, also at no cost to you.

In the Ordering Instructions field, you may write a note for Sandra if you want. We will include your note when we ship your book to her.

Note that [sleazoid publisher] will keep your note confidential, and that Sandra Bullock may treat your book and your personal note in any way she chooses.

Full-color and hardcovers excluded. Offer expires this weekend on Sunday night.

What’s particularly sickening is that they make these mahvelous offers on a regular basis. The unwary, uninitiated, and just plain gullible fall for this stuff all the time.

Show them the money!

Let’s say that just 100 gullible authors [mind you, these folks have authors in the thousands] take up sleazoid publisher’s offer. Think they’re really going to send ol’ Sandy 100 books? Not without facing a call from Sandy’s bank of lawyers telling them to shove off in all sorts of colorful ways.

So while you forked over a minimum order of six copies for your overpriced book – and really, who can stop at just six? – they’re raking it in hand over fist because they fooled hundreds of their paying customers to do just the same thing. WoOt! Cha-ching!

What a steaming pile of yak droppings. Don’t be fooled.

When vanity and mainstream publishing collide

November 29, 2009

So I was thinking about the Harley/DellArte (formerly Harlequin Horizons) vanity press debacle over the holiday – even though I swore I wouldn’t – and hit upon a big snag that pushed my laissez-faire attitude right over the cliff: The Great Sucker the Author Incident.

It’s folly to think that mainstream and vanity imprints can live happy, yet separate lives under one roof. Anyone with a working brain realizes vanity publishing brings in huge bucks for the publisher, so the logical thing for the mainstream publisher to do is give a gentle nudge toward the vanity publishing option. True, nothing illegal about it, but it is sneaky. How to do this?

The Enticement:

First, you need to offer something delicious. Ahhh…a chance at mainstream publishing! So they put out this lovely blurb on their vanity site: “We will be monitoring your books for excellence and marketability, and MAYBE we’ll choose YOUR book for mainstream publishing!”

Wow! Gee! Where do I sign up? Here, take my money! And to prove their point, I’m willing to bet the beagle’s chocolate martini and stash of Twinkies that they’ll choose a few lucky winners to legitimize their claims. What better way to get the unpublished masses clamoring with their wallets in hand? Crikey, it sounds like a paid version of Authonomy. This is literary version of Russian Roulette. Some get an empty chamber, others get a live round.

In reality, there will probably be very, very few books that make the transition from vanity to mainstream – just enough to keep up appearances. Hungry authors who don’t know enough about the publishing business to discern a snow job of epic proportions will buy it hook, line, and sinker. And they’ll hand their money over to these guys rather than AuthorHouse or iUniverse. Very clever.

And this is my big Ah Ha moment. Anytime a mainstream publisher adds a vanity imprint, you can be certain of two things:

  • They need the money
  • They are going to woo you with hints at greater success in order to sucker you in.

This is a conflict of interest.

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