Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Profitable Publishing

I came across this publisher through a thread on the Absolute Write forums, and checked out their webpage. Profitable Publishing is a vanity publisher run by E. J. Thornton, who seems to be trying to pass this off as self-publishing, judging from the start of her book, The Basics of Profitable Publishing. There were so many misleading points in the foreword that I decided to address them here – quotes will be in blue, with my comments beneath.

The story of how I became a publisher is unlike most. I wrote a book.

It was a good book. Everyone who saw it, loved it. It was not a perfect book, as many who fancied themselves editors loved to point that out.

Somehow I’m getting the impression that the author didn’t like criticism of her work.

But it was a book that touched souls and changed lives and I knew that it had to be in print.

It’s great to have a book commercially published. I congratulate anyone who accomplishes that. But there’s no immutable law of the universe that says a book has to be published, even if an author has sweated and slaved over it. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is. An athlete might spend years training, but that doesn’t mean he has to win a medal. There are only three spots on the podium, and a lot of athletes competing for them.

Similarly, there are only so many slots for commercial publishers. Maybe this book won’t make it but the next one you write will. Maybe the book won’t get in this year, but next year it’ll be hot material. To believe that any book has to be published makes it likely that the writer will become bitter at commercial publishers for rejections and will be more willing to settle for vanity presses – either disguised or honest about what they are.

But at least she said it had to be in print, rather than published.

I joined "writers" clubs to see what other authors had done in this situation

I don’t know why the word writers is in inverted commas. I wonder if Ms. Thornton would like it if she was referred to as a “publisher”?

I wanted to learn what tricks it took to get a publisher’s attention.

Write a good manuscript.

Though thinking of this as a “trick” may not be the best approach.

I learned how to write query letters and submit manuscripts - paying strict attention to guidelines. So, I did - I submitted and submitted and submitted and got rejected and rejected and rejected.

Par for the course. I don’t think there’s any field of human endeavor which promises victory without defeat, success without frustration and publication without rejection.

No one else could see my vision, yet I saw it as plain as day.

If this is the case, the author needs to work on communicating that vision better.

One of my fellow authors spoke of his experiences self-publishing and it caught my attention, as he was very successful. He had first commercially published and subsequently self-published and vowed to never commercially publish again.

Compared to the number of people who try self-publishing and fail, the number of successes is small. The successes were generally aiming for a niche in the market, and had a platform on which they could build. This could work for specialized non-fiction; it’s unlikely to work for fiction.

In both cases, there were 5000 copies of the book sold.

In the case of the commercial publisher, he was given a royalty check of roughly $900.00.

And he didn’t get an advance? Which commercial publisher was this again? What kind of contract did he sign? Did he not have an agent or a literary attorney vet this contract beforehand?

In the case where he self-published the book, he grossed $50,000.00...

The staggering difference between the two amounts changed his way of thinking forever.

I’m sure it did. Which author was this again, and what are the titles of the books?

(crickets chirp)

Unfortunately the author doesn’t mention the cover price of his book or what percentage of the royalties his contract gave him. So let’s assume the commercial publisher prices the book at $6.99. If 5000 copies sell, that’s a total of $35000 (and since it’s priced more cheaply than the self-pubbed version - where 5000 copies sold for $50,000, meaning each book cost ten dollars - it ought to sell more copies).

The author got $900 of this in royalties, which is 2.5% (and I'm assuming that the royalties are paid on the cover price, rather than the net price, though it's difficult to be sure since no information is provided about this). Still, the percentage the author got is nowhere near the industry standard, which is usually much higher - see this article for more details. Assuming everything about this story is accurate, the unnamed author's experience is highly nonstandard. To imply that people should avoid commercial publication because of this is like warning people about luxury cruises because the Titanic sank.

Control: If a book is bought by a commercial publisher, they buy the rights and the right to change it. When self-published, the control remains with the author.

This is sometimes called Golden Word syndrome, and it’s the idea that one’s writing is of such a standard or quality that it does not need editing. While I love my work, I can’t say that I feel this way about it, since I’ve found that critiquers, agents and editors were often more adept at spotting weak points in my work than I was. And I’m very glad they did, since their feedback helped to improve my manuscripts.

I’d also suggest not thinking of the editors as bent on changing a manuscript, and thinking of them as committed to improving it instead. But if an author wants full and final say regarding the manuscript, the other options are vanity publishing and self-publishing.

Time: Most authors don’t last through the months of submissions, rejections and sending the queries back out again.

No question about this – weathering rejection can be a grinding, depressing process. But then, so are most other things in life. Some people drop out of college, some give up halfway through training, some quit before the sports championships, some don’t last through months of submissions.

Others do.

They get discouraged and believe that their project is no good because they get rejected. First, of all, nothing could be further from the truth - but I will address that another time.

Surely this doesn't mean that every manuscript rejected by a commercial publisher is good? I suppose that would depend on the definition of "good" - though I'm fairly sure that reading through such a publisher's slush pile would change anyone's mind about why manuscripts are rejected. Just reading about someone else reading through the slush pile is enough for me.

If the work is accepted, according to most publishing firms, it takes between 12-24 months for an accepted manuscript to make it onto the store shelves... Self-publishing allows the author to set the timeline. It won’t take several years to get the book into print. It will take however long the hired printer takes to produce it. Usually, just a few weeks.

This doesn’t sound as though the book has been gone over by an editor, a copyeditor and a proofreader. It doesn’t sound as though a design department has come up with ideas for the cover and assigned an artist to work on it. It doesn’t sound as though review copies were sent out to Publishers’ Weekly and Kirkus, or as though a marketing department has put the book in the publishers’ catalogue, or as though sales reps have pitched the book to buyers for the major bookstore chains.

I’d like all that to be done for my novels. That’s why I’m going for commercial publishing. Sure, that takes more time, but this is not the fast-food business.

Ultimately it’s everyone’s individual choice to make. But sites like this aren’t going to make writers aware of the facts before they encourage the writers to make that choice.

Love: The book is a baby to its author, an addition to the family.

This is one of the most disastrous mindsets a writer can have. Professional figure skaters don’t say that their programs are their babies, and scientists don’t say that their research projects are their babies. The vast majority of published authors don’t say this about their books either (and the ones who do behave as though their books are above criticism are thankfully few and far between). An author who is so bound up in his or her creation will be unable to improve it and unprepared to hear anything other than positive feedback about it.

There’s love and then there’s blind inappropriate love.

No one loves it the way the author does, so to let it out where it can be changed, or taken away for literally years, is hard to accept.

Would the author who feels this way even allow the book to be sold after it was printed? What if it was bought by someone who didn’t love it as much as the author did? What if the buyer wrote a bad review?

I love my work, but I’m not going to put it on a pedestal. And I’m helped in this regard by having more than one manuscript, which means that my hopes aren’t bound up in any one of them; even if one gets rejected by every publisher and agent in the industry, there’s always another manuscript I can fall back on. Throughout the foreword, Ms. Thornton has spoken as though the author has only one book/baby – perhaps that could be why rejection is so anathema.

The author wants the book close enough to touch. Self-publishing allows the author to keep the work close and safe.

I don’t want my work close and safe. I want it out in the wide world, being read by reviewers, stacked on the shelves of bookstores, in libraries for people to browse through. I don’t need it close enough for me to touch – it's closer than that, in my mind. I want it close enough for everyone else to touch.

That’s something a commercial publisher can do for me.

This is one of the reasons that authors chose to self-publish. It isn’t because publishers won’t ever pick it up - it is because of the love they have for their own creation.

I wonder if any publisher ever made an offer on Ms. Thornton's book/baby.

Some people call self-publishing, vanity publishing, but this author and I call it Profitable Publishing!

There’s a world of difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. For Ms. Thornton to call the one the other, and then to give it a different name entirely, is not what I’d call being honest, nor is it keeping a writer’s best interests in mind. Though one thing is true – her vanity press must be quite profitable to her, since she apparently charged one author nearly six hundred dollars to print the book/baby. I hate to say this, but even PublishAmerica would be a cheaper choice.


auria cortes said...

I love it when you break things down like this. It cracks me up every time.

Luc2 said...

I applaud you for warning other wannabe authors like me for this stuff.

I've been warned already on other websites/blogs, but I guess there are still enough people out there who'd fall for such schemes, given the fact that Mrs. Thornton, PublishAmerica and others are still around and making money.

Marian said...

Thanks, auria. :) I'll do the same with my next Writing Scams post as well.

Much appreciation for the feedback, Luc! I think most Google-savvy people now know the basics of publishing - that an upfront fee is a red flag, for instance - but this means the scammers are getting more deceptive as well. For instance, getting the authors to buy their own books in bulk. Because of that, writers need to be aware of what mindsets these scammers prey on - not just on the uninformed, but on people who are tired of rejections, who feel big publishing is a closed door to them, who think that after all the work they've done, surely they deserve a break (and to be honest, that describes me at times). Being in this state of mind makes one that much more vulnerable to the snake-oil salespeople.

If a writer still wishes to go with PA or another vanity press after being aware of all this, then at least it's an informed choice and they're less likely to be disappointed and frustrated later on down the line.

Thanks again for commenting!

Becky Mushko said...

"But it was a book that touched souls and changed lives and I knew that it had to be in print."

In what way did it change lives? Did people who read it change into someone else? Spontaneously reincarnate?

Is a book that "touches souls" somehow better than a book that merely touches hearts? Tickles your funnybone?

"In print" sounds so tawdry. No doubt this book deserved to be copied by monks using quill pens and homemade ink.

Marian said...

No doubt this book deserved to be copied by monks using quill pens and homemade ink.

On parchment made from the skins of unicorns. :D