Shayne on You: Don't fall for vanity press scam

Dear Maggie,

I am ready to publish my first book, and Iíve got several prospective publishers on my list. Iíve done all the research and gathered all the details, and the only things that seem to be different between them all are the prices. Iíve seen them for as little as $599, and as much as $1,600. Of course, they all charge extra for things like editing, and embossing on the cover, and advertising. Which extras should I pay for? Which ones are worth the money? And which company would you go with? I can hardly wait to get my book out there!


Hopeful Author

Dear Hopeful,

Well, you havenít done all the research or youíd have learned thatís not the way commercial publishing works. I was lucking that early on, a fairly famous author told me to repeat the following mantra to myself in the mirror until I knew it by heart. ďI do not pay people to publish my stories. They pay me.Ē

There are several types of publishing. Self publishing, in which the author pays a company to print her work into book form. In this publishing, the author gets full responsibility for selling those books, they never see a bookstore shelf unless the author personally puts them there, (if the bookseller will allow it) and the author keeps all the money from the sales of her books. The average self published book sells about 100 copies. Most of those to the author. A ďbest-sellingĒ self published book is one that sells 500 copies. Those are facts.

There is also vanity publishing, which differs from self publishing only slightly. In this one, it works the same way, but the company offers more help (everything for a price, though) and also offers help in selling the books (which does not work.) In this publishing the author pays for everything and the publisher keeps part of the money from the sale of the books. And there are many companies that blend bits from each of these types together, so the lines are blurring.

Then there is commercial publishing. This is where the publisher pays the author for the rights to publish her book. The publisher pays for the editing, the cover art, the marketing. The publisher gets the book into bookstores through its own distribution network. And the author gets to keep the money she was paid up front (and ďadvanceĒ) plus a percentage of the sale price for each book. Every book you see in a bookstore is a commercially published book.

A new trend has developed in the past couple of months where established commercial publishers are opening up new divisions that are vanity presses. The intent is to nudge the authors of books that are sent to them, but rejected by them, toward these vanity press divisions, with the subtle but very real suggestion that if they do well there, they might end up being published for real.

Do not fall for it. Itís nothing but a scam.

Self publishing has its place; family histories, memoirs, things only of interest to you and the burning desire to get it into a permanent format, etc. A career as an author, however, is not likely reached by this route. In the history of publishing one can count on one hand, the number of self-published books that have gone on to any sort of success. And all of those only achieve that success when they are eventually picked up by a commercial publisher.

So thereís your lesson on publishing for the day. Go forth and learn more!


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