Where Publishing Gets Practical (sm)

The following is a discussion of some of the factors in getting published and how "Vanity" or "Subsidy" publishers fit into the picture. These are based on conversations with individuals who have had "bad" experiences with so called vanity or subsidy publishers. Opinions expressed are those of the author and are not intended to describe or reflect upon any particular publisher.

Please keep in mind that this discussion applies to unethical "vanity presses" that now often call themselves "subsidy" presses. There are ethical subsidy presses that assist authors who wish to self-publish with the assistance of a reputable publisher. To protect yourself, you should always fully understand what you are contracting for, how much it's going to cost, and what you should expect from your publishing contract. It is highly recommended that you review all publishing contracts with a competent lawyer who works with intellectual properties as a significant portion of their practice.


The "Normal" Publisher

In the normal publishing process, an author submits a proposal (or a manuscript for a work of fiction) to literary agent(s) or publisher's acquisition editors in the hope that it will be selected for publication. If a work is selected, the publisher (usually) pays an advance to the author and negotiates a "rights" contract that transfers the publication rights from the author to the publisher. The publisher agrees to pay royalties to the author. (The "advance" is a payment against future royalties.) The publisher files the copyright with the government, and provides the ISBN, and secures a Library of Congress CIP, if appropriate. The publisher provides all editorial and production work without charge to the author (see note). The publisher attempts to market the book and seeks reviews in appropriate media. Most important: The publisher takes on all risks of publishing the book. The author is required to cooperate in the marketing effort. For new authors (or low volume books) the author may have to pay for some travel associated with a "book tour." Likewise, "small books" will also have only a very small promotional budget.

The big publishers all work from this model. The economics of the big publishers, in recent years, have pushed more and more of them into seeking "blockbuster" titles, thereby ignoring the "mid-list" titles (which are often profitable). This may, in the long run, prove to be a poor business plan, but it seems to be the current mode of business.

As a result of this approach, the big publishers are (presently) acquiring fewer titles than was the case a few years ago.

NOTE: That's not to say that an author may have used editorial help or a "book doctor" at the author's expense before submission to a publisher. However, this would only be part of an author's effort to make the manuscript marketable.

Many authors work with a literary agent to find a publisher. There are various scams associated with literary agents. While we are not discussing literary agents here, be sure to "shop around" and compare services and costs before you sign a contract with a literary agent. Be especially sure to determine if the literary agent has made a reasonable number of sales of similar manuscripts during the past 12 months. Again, it is highly recommended that you review all publishing related contracts with a competent lawyer specializing in intellectual properties.


The (unethical) Vanity (or Subsidy) Press

How the scam works

An unethical vanity (or subsidy press) requires the author to pay all the costs and does not (really) do any effective marketing, sales, or placement of any kind. Any and all marketing efforts are totally up to the author--however, the contract signed with the vanity publisher may give the impression that considerable marketing work will be performed. More likely, the smooth salesperson will, without making any real promises, lead the author to believe that the vanity publisher will make considerable effort to market the title. The vanity/subsidy press will file copyright documents, provide ISBN, and secure LOC CIP as necessary. The author will pay all the costs (usually inflated) of editing, design and production, and printing. You are lead to believe that the publisher will "take care of everything" for you. The key concepts are that "you have nothing to worry about;" and " you don't have to do anything (much) to sell the book."

Even if the unethical vanity (or subsidy) presses did send books to the reviewers and bookstores, it is unlikely that any sales would result. Reviewers and bookstores know who the vanity press scammers are and will have little, if anything, to do with them. The reviewers and bookstores realize that a vanity/subsidy press is only interested in authors whose checks don't bounce. Therefore, it is assumed that the publications from such publishers have little merit. So if a vanity/subsidy publisher actually does any marketing it seldom has any effect.

As for the inventory, in the worst case, the vanity/subsidy press, after the specified length of the contract, will tell the author that the books are not selling and therefore will be destroyed--unless the author buys them. So the author, who has paid up front more than the cost of producing and printing the books, does not own them. Now to keep the books, the author must buy them (again) from the publisher. At this point, the author is also "stuck" with the vanity/subsidy press ISBN, which is almost a "kiss of death" in the trade market. (See the previous paragraph.) It is also likely that the author has given an assignment of rights to the vanity press--and, depending on the contract, may be forced to "buy back" the copyright.

In summary, with unethical vanity/subsidy publishers:


Online Subsidy Publishers

Sometimes these are called "POD Publishers." Get published "for free!" says one. Most of the others offer low or moderate-cost means to "get published" with various packages offering services that "take care of everything" (just like the classic vanity press scam). Most talk about paying "royalties" --- after you've paid for everything.

The common features include: They prepare or you provide a PDF of the book interior. You select a cover design, usually a stock design, but some offer more options or even allow you to suggest/provide cover art. They claim to submit your book to reviewers. They will put your book in their online store (that only is viewed by other writers desperate to be published). Most will offer to put the book on Amazon.com (usually at an unreasonably high, uneconomic price). And, of course, they will all sell copies to you at a discount from list price.

What they don't tell you is that the average title sells less than 100 copies (including sales to the author) --- this number is based on publicity reports released by some of these publishers. That the books they publish are rarely, if ever, reviewed by reputable reviewers (most "important" review sources recognize the names of these publishers and reject their books out-of-hand.) That the discounted "author" price is so high that you can only afford to make direct sales. Selling through bookstores or other retailers at normal industry discounts is, typically, economically impossible. (The discounted selling price will be below your cost.) Or, you will need to price the book well above a reasonable market price. To add further injury to the insult, their contract may tie up your book and they will refuse to release it from their contract --- without further payment. (One of these "publishers" requires payment of 10% of any advance you might get, should a traditional publisher decide to accept your book.)

If your book has a very limited market --- the classic example being a "family history" that is likely to appeal only members of the extended family --- then some of these Online Subsidy Publishers may be an economical way to have the book published. In most cases, these "publishers" are a waste of money to anyone who is seeking a larger market for their book.

For a list of general ways to spot a scam publisher, see the Warnings page at the Predators & Editors (tm) web site: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubwarn.htm Another helpful web site is Writer Beware at http://www.sfwa.org/beware/


Book Packager

A book packager takes on the risk of producing a book. It will offer the work to various publishers at a 'fixed' price. The publisher is guaranteed receiving a completed, printed book. Although the book is produced by the packager, the book will appear to be a regular title from the publisher. Few authors are able to market an unsolicited manuscript through a book packager. Nearly all "packaged" books are based on proposals or ideas generated by the publisher or packager and a suitable author is selected. Often these are books by "lesser" celebrities and notables, for example a book on medical care by a "TV doctor."

There are some book packagers who work with beginning self publishers. In this case, the book packager handles the details of editing and production for the client. Charges are usually based on the actual costs incurred plus additional fees to cover the administrative and management costs of the project. (Unlike packaging books for traditional publishers, the fees will vary based on the services provided.) The author-client will then become the publisher (with their own ISBN and ownership of all rights to the manuscript). In this case, the book packager is providing the author-publisher with professional services and is charging for the services provided. Depending on how much "project management" is undertaken by the packager, additional fees for management and administrative services may also be involved. (Aeonix Publishing Group would mostly fit this characterization as a book packager working with independent author-publishers.)


Small Publishers and Co-publishing

There are some regular (small) publishers that will do the production work and help you with marketing for a fee. However, you are, usually, the publisher with your own ISBN and ownership of all rights to the book. The publisher gains by keeping production staff busy (and employed), the author gains by obtaining professional services.

There are also co-publishing arrangements. Sometimes a particular title is not attractive to a small publisher, yet the work has merit and could be successfully marketed. Or, the small publisher is interested in the title, but is unable to afford to make the investment in the work. In a typical co-publishing arrangement, the author may pay for some or all of the production and printing expense and will take title to most or all of the inventory. The publisher will provide ISBN, LOC, and CIP, if applicable. The publisher will distribute the book and offer it to their usual customers. One example is a small publisher of historical books that produced a history of an large company that was written by an author associated with the subject company. The company took most of the books to be given to stockholders, customers, employees and others. The publisher kept some inventory and distributed the title to their normal markets paying a royalty on any sales to the author. Other niche publishers make similar co-operative arrangements to enlarge their offerings, but limit their investment risk.

Another co-publishing arrangement may involve the publisher paying some or all the production costs and holding back any royalties until the production cost has been recovered. Often a somewhat higher than usual royalty is paid to the author after the costs have been recovered.

There are subtle, but very important differences, between these (ethical) small publisher subsidy/co-publishing arrangements and the (unethical) Subsidy/Vanity publishers. Be sure you know you are working with an ethical publisher before you sign any contracts or make any deposits. Usually you can spot the scam artists by their continual assurances for you to "not worry" and their insistence that you must "act immediately" (for some reason that you probably don't really understand) to ensure publication. Any "fair" deal will be available after a wait or 24 or 48 (or more) hours--if the deal "expires today" you can be sure it's safe to pass up.


Book Coaches and/or Publishing Consultants

A "book coach" or publishing consultant is someone knowledgeable about self publishing who will help you with the editing, production, and printing of your book. Usually, they will set you up as your own publishing entity (true self publishing) and will provide the production services and assistance you need to get from your manuscript to a finished book. (Note: Aeonix Publishing Group is in this category).

Often, this is an excellent way to become self published without the negatives of the vanity/subsidy/online POD publishers. You will have to be more involved in selling your work, but the reality is that author must be actively involved in selling their book no matter who publishes it.

The downside is that it might cost somewhat more for these services than what the subsidy publishers seem to charge ... but when you consider the quality of the services and lack of success with the alternatives, it is usually much more cost effective.

Since publishing a book can be the third most expensive investment you're ever likely to make at one time (#1 a house, #2 a car), you should check references, ask questions, and be alert for possible problems.



If you want to be published, but are unable to have your manuscript accepted by a regular publisher, you should:

Avoid unethical vanity or subsidy publishers (both online and offline). You are likely to pay an inflated amount and will receive very little of value for the expense.

Look carefully at small publishers and co-publishers. (Watch out! When "vanity" presses became identified with publishing scams, they changed their identity to "subsidy" publishers. Now that "subsidy" publishing is sometimes identified with the scam artists, some of them are beginning to use the term "co-publishing.") Be sure to carefully read any contracts and have them reviewed by a lawyer--one who is familiar with the publishing industry. Be alert for all the usual signs of a scam--if it seems "too good to be true," it probably is.

Consider self-publishing. (Become an independent publisher.) While it is unlikely that an author will have the skills to truly do it all, there are good, honest, and competent consultants, graphic artists, small presses, and publicity firms that can help you successfully self-publish your work.

Be realistic. The dream is to write the best-seller that allows you to retire in comfort. While this is a great dream, it is a somewhat rare occurrence. (Don't believe everything you hear at cocktail parties!) You may not be able to generate enough sales to make a profit. Or, through your hard work, you may be able to bring a successful and profitable book into being. Improve your chances of success: learn about the process. Get help from experts. Join organizations for small publishers, such as the Small Publishers of North America (SPAN) or the Publishers Marketing Association or one of their local affiliates, such as the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. (These organizations can help you avoid the rip-off artists and will direct you to competent consultants, designers, publicists, distributors, etc. that can help you achieve success in publishing.) Become an independent publisher and maximize your success through the control you have over the process.

There are many issues in creating and publishing a professional-looking book to be sold in book stores, specialty shops or through direct mail and the Internet. Aeonix Publishing Group can help you with producing your book. We can give you advice, as a consultant or trainer, or we can produce a complete camera-ready book for you. If you wish, we will design covers and marketing materials for your book. In addition, we can help you prepare RFQs for printers and evaluate the bids you receive and give you guidance with tax issues, marketing, and distributing your book.

To contact Aeonix Publishing group, send an e-mail to Info@Aeonix.com

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