1. “The press did everything they said they would do” or “they did everything specified in the contract.”
This one implies trustworthiness and reliability. Living up to the terms of a contract is a good thing, isn’t it?
The problem is that such contracts are usually written to favor the publisher rather than the writer. For instance, a contract may specify that the writer has to promote the book, whereas the publisher will only market it “at our discretion” – meaning, “if we feel like it”.
Some contracts are set up to ensure that legally, the publisher need only do the bare minimum - turning the book from a Word document to a pdf, assigning a stock image cover, adding an ISBN, and submitting the information to online bookstores (no editing, no reviews, no marketing, no distribution). It’s very easy to live up to a contract which allows so little to be done.
2. “This press will publish your book for free” or “I didn’t have to pay a cent for publication”.
This is like saying, “I didn’t need to pay a cent to borrow money from Manny the Loan Shark.” Well, no, you didn’t. Not upfront, anyway. But that’s hardly an understanding of how the loan shark’s services operate. Or, for that matter, of how loans work in the more… traditional, shall we say… institutions which offer them.
With commercial publishing, writers never pay for publication and so you don’t see them stressing this as a selling point when it comes to their publishers. With the vanity presses that don’t request fees upfront but get the charges in through the back door, it’s a major defense – and a red flag.
3. “I am satisfied with this press’s services.”
I once emailed an author to say that I had completed a manuscript and wanted to get it published; did she have any suggestions? She replied,
“For a first book I suggest Publish America. Also they have a nice discussion board and all of the new authors can share questions and it is helpful.”
Satisfaction, niceness, a pleasant atmosphere – all this is extremely subjective. Some authors are satisfied by the sale of a single book, or by their families’ and friends’ support.
"Success is my mother pitching my book at Barnes and Noble. Success is the six books purchased by my son for his friends."
There’s nothing wrong with this – provided that it’s what you want for your book. The problem comes where there are crossed wires, when writers who want commercial publication (and sales to more than a pocket market) end up with a vanity press because they believe that claims of satisfaction = good sales or publication credits.
The best thing to do, therefore, is not to go by assurances of dream fulfillment or personal definitions of success. Ask about advances, sales and royalties instead, or the relevant experience of the editors. Facts are objective. And they’re better than emotions when it comes to choosing publishers.
The author who recommended PA to me didn’t say anything about marketing, royalties or the numbers of copies sold, so I knew that we had different goals when it came to our manuscripts and publication.
4. “The press works hard to put books on shelves in bookstores.”
I saw this used as a defense of Tate Publishing once. Not only is it clever, it’s one of those statements that are difficult to refute because they may well be true – just like “the publisher did exactly what the contract said it would do”.
But look at exactly what the claim states. That the vanity press actually put books on shelves? Not quite. It says the press “worked hard” to do so.
I could work hard to climb Everest. That doesn’t mean I’m going to succeed. And since there’s no specific definition of “works hard”, I could mean that I do an extra minute on the Stairmaster every day. Accomplishment is what ultimately matters, rather than attempts (or claims of such attempts).
5. “A book is better printed – by anyone – than sitting on your hard drive.”
“Every book I publish is a stepping stone, which is better than hiding my manuscript in my laptop. We all need to start somewhere, and be willing to work for it!”
This is a false dichotomy. The defense assumes that there are only two fates for a book rejected by the major leagues – vanity publication or permanent residence on one’s hard drive. It also assumes that the former is better than the latter.
Other options :
• Submit the manuscript to a small press or even micropress
• Self-publish (not recommended for all books)
• Set the manuscript aside temporarily while you work on another. Time and space always help when it comes to objectively evaluating a manuscript.
• Correct whatever problems the manuscript has that might have caused the rejections
I’ve done three of these, and they’ve helped a great deal. Much more so that sending my manuscript to a vanity press or author mill, which would have eaten the rights of first publication and left me with the bones.