Trade publishing, self-publishing services, vanity press, self-publishing
The trade publishers, the big five, were the kings until recently. They were important, almost like royals. They thought the situation was status quo, comfortably forever—a dangerous thought. They had big, posh places and endless respect. They employed professionals for each job, editing, cover, layout, etc. They didn’t even talk to unknown writers, the mere mortals, unless the writers went through agents, the so-called gatekeepers, sometimes even two levels of gatekeepers. It was very difficult to find an agent who would accept a new writer to their meeting room, as they were so busy and so much in demand.
Desperate writers sent their unwanted manuscripts to trade publishers anyway, hoping the publishers would accidentally pick their manuscript from a so-called “slush pile” and discover how marvelous and unique it was. Some manuscripts went through dozens of rejections before being finally published to great acclaim, while most never got published by trade. Imagine the feelings of all the trade publishers who had turned them down along with millions of dollars.
It’s not that the trade publishers were good or professionals. In fact, they were not. They had so much money that they were able to hire a dozen professionals, one for cover, one for editing, and so on. Those experts did not know anything beyond their own job—they simply did the routine front matter or layout with no need to think further. They had important, time-consuming meetings to decide which new manuscripts they would select to keep the money rolling in. They chose manuscripts from celebrities and previously known authors as safe bets. The rest were unsure. How boring and risk-free was that? The previous sure-bet authors were paid a lot of money as an advance, the best getting millions of dollars. Some new writers were included and the luckiest ones became important authors.
Most manuscripts lost a lot of money, while many broke even, and only a few top money makers were so successful that they carried the entire business afloat in style and paid the salaries of their important personnel. And the business continued like that for a hundred years. No problems. Why rock the boat? The business was great.
Then something went wrong. First sign of trouble was with vanity presses popping up luring some writers off the trade publishers that had turned them away for years. Those discouraged writers hopped over to the vanity, oops subsidy press that were ready to publish any book with a lot of money, typically some tens of thousands of dollars changing hands, except that the money was flowing the wrong way, this time from the writers to the vanity press before any work was done. Desperate writers were so eager to get their books published that they did not know what else to do. Vanity press retained all the rights without offering anything useful in return, no editing, distribution, publicity, or marketing. A stigma was attached to vanity-published books—they were not reviewed by reputable media nor purchased by libraries or bookstores. The vanity press convinced their authors to buy the pile of books they had written at a “discounted price” and sell them to family or friends. Some vanity-published authors were so ashamed they did not tell about it to anyone, and maybe it was the end of their dreams of writing books.
This is a multi-billion dollar market, so it was inevitable that apart of vanity press there soon appeared a somewhat better option, in fact many options—if you had money. So, there are now self-publishing providers (or services), better and different from vanity press. They also advertise everywhere to get your contact info. You also must pay them in advance. It’s like buying the proverbial pig in a poke, sight unseen, and it can get misleading and very costly. The more work they do, the more it will cost you before your book sells even one copy. The less you do, the less money you’ll pocket even if your book sells well. Whatever else you do, be adamant about buying and owning your own ISBN. Don’t rush into debt or mortgage your house: there are no guarantees your book will sell. First, before paying self-marketing providers a penny, learn frugal self-publishing and intelligent marketing so you understand what those providers are talking about. You may decide to create your own team by using help from a reputable company, do some things yourself, and use a contact you trust for the rest. If money’s no object and you don’t want to market your book beyond family and friends or give away as gifts, some self-publishing providers might offer a good solution to print beautiful books: your family history, yearbook, memoirs, recipe collection, poems, or short stories for a limited print run, and possibly also books to sell for profit. Take a book or two they have published to your local bookstore or library and ask if they would carry such a book, the pros and the cons.
Apart of new breed of self-publishing providers, many giant trade publishers also became self-publishing providers. The important trade publishers we used to admire suddenly discovered they don’t have to give new writers any money to publish their books when the same writers are willing and able of paying thousands of dollars to see their manuscript in print. They had an important meeting, crunched the numbers, and decided that why should the new providers charge big bucks when the trade had dozens of years in business and knew more and deserved more. So they now have self-publishing arms with many names. Some are called assisted-publishing services, or helpers to self-publishers, or self-publishing providers. All they want is your money, of course, but in return they will fix your manuscript into shape better than vanity press did. And they will do at least some marketing and distribution. Some operate alone while others joined forces with dozens of other publishers under a new name and umbrella. They don’t seem deterred by negative publicity, bad comments, or court cases—maybe only a few writers know about such things and it’s easy to explain to them that the court cases have all been minor and settled. Don’t be intimidated by trade publishers even with a hundred years of experience offering you their services. They have beautiful websites and ads all over the internet. They want your telephone number and would call you relentlessly every week. They are friendly and likable. There is a desperate competition between some to convince new writers to trust them with fresh manuscripts and credit cards. When I was researching several for my new book, some said I know too much and hung up on me.
Do your research and look through the websites of self-publishing providers. They’ll list dozens of services with names like substantive editing, post-layout proofread, automatic printing, expanded platform, enhanced distribution, consultation and strategy. Before pulling out your credit card, devote a day or two, maybe more, for research. That time is well spent and will save you a lot of money. Don’t pay for costly publishing packages before doing your research. They have several packages from roughly two thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars, and soon you’ll discover that’s just to get started—as somehow, for many reasons, the costs keep rising.
After trade publishing, vanity press, and self-publishing services, there now comes a new, brave soul of a self-publisher. Self-publishing is a multi-billion dollar business. Hundreds of thousands of writers want to get published. We don’t know everything and sometimes we know nothing to get started. But that doesn’t mean others should use us and abuse our vulnerable situation for their financial gain. The situation has dramatically changed. The trade publishers that used to turn off your manuscripts are now eagerly seeking out your manuscripts if you pay them enough. They also have bills to pay and their bosses need high salaries. There are options. We don’t need trade publishers. We don’t need ill-matched trade publishers repeatedly rejecting our manuscript—it’s unlikely they’ll make any money for themselves or for you from your manuscript unless you are a celebrity or a dramatic figure of some sort. And we don’t need trade publishers sneakily turning our beloved manuscript with false praise to their own self-publishing services stealing our time, money, and hopes. You are on your own and must find a better way. Life is not long enough to waste on futile search and disappointments to match a trade publisher with a self-publisher.
We have discovered self-publishing. And there are amazing pros:
I have just finished writing “Sell Your Words”, my fifteenth book as a guide to new self-publishers. It is now available online through many channels.
Meanwhile, there is help available about self-publishing providers, and sometimes the best help is a timely warning. Consult The Better Business Bureau, ComplaintsBoard.com, and RipOffReports.com. TheIndependentPublishingMagazine.com reviews the pros and cons of several self-publishing services by Mick Rooney, Publishing Consultant. The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, allianceindependentauthors.org) will answer self-publishing questions. They have recently published a book, How to Choose a Self-Publishing Service, which features the best and worst self-publishing services based on appraisal of multiple criteria. Remember to always use your own judgment even if a company is vetted as a partner member in the book.
Also read the reputable articles below:
Victoria Strauss’s blog “Writer Beware” (sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, SFWA, about the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls).
David Gaughran’s article “How to Avoid Publishing Predators.”
Penny Sansevieri’s article “Authors: Warning Signs That You’re Being Scammed.”
Don’t get discouraged. Instead, become a successful self-publisher. You write because you love writing: you wouldn’t if you didn’t. Words are free, the supply is unlimited, sell yours.
This sounds bragging but read on. Some well-known, successful, important, handsome, famous, self-confident, super rich (add your own adjectives) persons have publicly claimed that it is impossible to make your own book covers, do your own editing and layout, and still be successful. Well, I did all that, and still made more than a million dollars. I was not perfect but nobody criticized me. I should add that English is not my mother tongue, I did my own drawings, too (they are naïve but original and charming), I made my own press releases and got about 500 write-ups, some several pages long, I wrote in three languages, and success found me.
How is that even possible? I mention some ways in my new book, Sell Your Words. Here are some points in retrospect:
This may have happened to you. I almost stopped writing my book many times. I got discouraged and tired, wondering if this is good enough and worth the effort, and maybe others will think it’s no good. Mostly I wanted to stop everything and start from the beginning with the differently organized chapters and paragraphs. But it may or may not be any better for that.
My solution that might help you was simple: I just continued to get the work done. I can always write the second edition. I just write a book and try to make it good. Or I might hide it for a while and write something else. Some famous authors first had their second book published and only then their first book got published with the strength and fame of the author's name. Hide your first book if necessary but don't throw it away. Sometimes, in self-doubt, I started reading the pages of my my previous book, loved it, and published it.
If you absolutely want to change everything, hide your current work for a while so it won’t distract you. Start from a total zero. Decide the chapters and paragraphs like pieces of puzzle and then just drop current writing in the pre-determined slots.
It may or may not be better. It might just be writer’s block to avoid dealing with the current important work. Put your manuscript aside for a while, for a week or a few weeks. When you look at it again after a break, you’ll see it with fresh eyes and realize how good it is. Maybe. Be proud of what you are doing. It takes a lot of work and self-discipline to write a perfect book. Don’t demand perfection too fast or too early or ever. 100% is perhaps futile. Try to get a passing grade to get started, keep improving, take your time, and make it the best you can and then even better through your endless editing.
Be critical with yourself. If your book is not good enough as a complete book with adequate content, it might still be great as a blog or a series of articles or a different kind of a book. Don’t discard your work too easily. It was not a waste of time. You learned something. You work hard and are likely to have something good in your writings. Meanwhile, write something else, and find a way to organize your messy files as a crazy arrangement of writing for different purposes. Don’t abandon your true words.
My filing system is chaotic and might not help you at all. Create a system that works or you. Always write your name for you writings, otherwise you cannot remember that you wrote those amazing words you see around or if it is was someone else. Never plagiarize. If you can’t write original work, do something else.
It was supposed to be ready in a lazy month but as a self-publisher I am not accountable to anybody. I don’t count my hours. I started to realize it is getting amazing, not perfect but really good. It gives me a reason to wake up every morning. Two years later I am still at it and it is my best book. I always think so about my latest book because I give it my all. No matter how good it gets, it seems I can still improve it especially when I tear it apart into small chapters and paragraphs and sentences. But it seems to be a time to publish it about now. Otherwise other writers get ahead of me and I couldn’t help the new writers with my small book buried and forgotten in a dust under piles of papers.
By nature I am unassuming and modest, yet honest and enthusiasic. I want to give my readers something good, worth their money. I want to find customers and get good comments from my readers and reputable media. Not bad for one little idea that started out as a tiny booklet of two lines based on my personal experience. This new book without fluff is worth it for a few dollars if you like my writing style. It's time to wrap it up, start marketing, and get a few comments. Even with my prior success, this is always a scary yet exciting moment, sort of a stage fright. It's time also to start thinking of new books.