Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vanity presses and faulty reasoning

Writer Beware’s latest post is about the vanity publishing arms of certain commercial publishers (e.g. DellArte and Harlequin). They contracted with publishing services firm Author Solutions to set up their vanity divisions.

And the second comment to Victoria Strauss’s post is from Kevin A. Gray, a representative of Author Solutions, who uses some interesting arguments to support his position.

We are the first to say, if you can get a large advance from a major publisher; do it! Quickly! But, as you know, those advances are becoming fewer and fewer as the industry changes.

There’s no evidence that the publishing industry is changing in such a way as to offer “fewer and fewer” advances, so this just sounds alarmist.

I especially like the exclamation marks! Both of them!

These partnerships do indeed create revenues for publishers (most that I'm familiar with aren't set up as non-profits), but they also provide opportunities for authors.

What “opportunities” are these? The opportunity to hold a printed, bound copy in your hands? The opportunity to have books stocked in stores?

I’m willing to bet the one is more likely than the other.

Is it your contention that if authors can't get an advance from a traditional publisher, they should just give up on publishing their books?

This is a false trichotomy, which doesn’t acknowledge choices other than the three mentioned or implied. By this reasoning, you can either:

1. Get an advance from a major house (“traditional publisher” was a term coined by one of the founders of PublishAmerica to make it appear that their company was something other than a vanity press)

2. Give up on publishing.

3. Use a self-publishing service - which is really vanity publishing with a less off-putting name.

It’s intended to make Option the First seem too difficult, and Option the Second seem too depressing. Therefore, Goldilocks-like, you're meant to find Option the Third not so bad in comparison.

The answer to such a question is to mention all the other choices writers have. For instance, they can submit manuscripts to small presses or e-publishers. They can try real self-publishing – which doesn’t involve buying an expensive package from a self-publishing service. Or they can continue to write and improve their skills.

No one is forcing anyone to self-publish and no one is guaranteeing that if an author does self-publish he or she will reach Rowling, Palin or Grisham sales numbers.

But will they reach even mid-list numbers? Will they make back their investment?

What guarantees are there in this kind of self-publishing, anyway?

You can convince people to do something that will ruin their manuscripts’ chances and sabotage their hopes of a career in writing, without forcing them. Overly emotive language is another thing to watch out for.

Also, understand that authors' personal definitions of success vary as much as the books they write. Some want the NY Times Best Seller list. Some publish to support a business. Some to support a cause. Some for very personal reasons.

I agree, but that’s one of the concerns I have about vanity presses which try to pass themselves off as legitimate publishers. Or, for that matter, which hold out the hope that a writer printed through them may be picked up by the parent company (which is a commercial publisher). A writer who just wants to see their work in print may be satisfied with a complimentary copy and a few sales to family and friends.

What about the writer who wants the NYT bestseller list?

If their books are treated in the same way by a vanity press, it’s unlikely that the second writer will ever achieve it. And the press is equally unlikely to warn them, “If your definition of success involves the sales of thousands of copies, you’re better off refining your manuscript or improving your craft until a commercial publisher accepts your work.”

It’s because the authors’ personal definitions of success vary that there are several kinds of publishers and choices when it comes to publishing.

It’s also not clear how buying expensive publishing packages can support a business. Unless Mr. Gray meant that the business they support is the vanity press?

If an author has a book they believe in than they should publish it.

This is… disingenuous, at best.

Firstly, such a book may be very close to the writer’s heart but not necessarily good for the writer’s career. I’ve got five or six manuscripts on my hard drive, each of which I believed in when I first wrote them. With time, I realized they were not good enough for publication. They were learning experiences.

Every creative effort is not automatically suitable for public display.

Secondly, believing in a book doesn’t make it ready for publication. A book may need rewriting or editing. When writers leap from “I believe in this book” to “therefore I should publish it”, without any other reasons for said publication, they’re likely to be disappointed by rejections for the prematurely released manuscript. Which may make self-publishing appear more attractive in comparison.

Finally, writers need to be aware of what they want from a manuscript. Is it intended as self-therapy? In which case you can believe in it without publishing it. Is it intended for local sales? In which case you can believe in it while utilizing a local printer. Is it intended to sell copies to the largest readership possible? Then you can believe in it while sending it to commercial publishers.

But the idea that belief in one’s book = publication is misleading.

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Marguerite Butler said...

Well said, Marian. Vanity presses feed on the fear that one must either garner the attention of the big houses or perish the idea of publication forever. Expensive vanity publication isn't the answer.

If one has a niche book or family keepsake, that author can self-publish without spending thousands of dollars.

~Soccer Mom

Marian said...

Thanks, Soccer Mom. :)

Especially when there are cheap options like CreateSpace, there's no reason for writers to get into the red with self-publishing services.

The only thing those might do for a writer is capitalize on the prestige and name of whatever commercial publisher they're associated with (e.g. Harlequin Horizons). Even that is pretty limited - and may not translate to enough sales to cover the cost.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for such a well-reasoned response, Marian. I've linked to your post.

Marian said...

Glad you like it, Victoria! And thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

There are many self-published authors today than there were years before. This has a lot in part to do with the rise in internet sales and ebooks. The average consumer doesn't care where the book was published. With that said, I think potential authors should be cautious with publishing their books with expensive vanity press companies. They should also take the publishing process very seriously if they are going to do it themselves. Don't allow people's comment's saying that you are not a real author or that just because you believe in your book no one else will. If you believe in your book then everyone else will too. It's all about positive energy and doing the work.