Friday, October 24, 2008

Five misconceptions about vanity presses

1. Misconception: Vanity presses don’t reject anything.

Here's an example of this myth.

"Here is why Tate won't advertise that they are a vanity press. They don’t fit the criteria.

Because they: Don’t accept all manuscripts."

No vanity press accepts everything it’s sent. For one thing, some material may be legally damaging (eg. child pornography). For another thing, there’s no need to.

Let’s say I own a vanity press. I’d like to make $10,000 dollars a month in profits. I can do this by signing up ten authors a month and convincing them to pay me $1,300 each (the extra $300 should cover the costs of printing each book if I cut every corner possible – no editing, stock image cover, no reviews, etc.). After that, I can regretfully reject all the other queries. It’ll convince a lot of people that I’m a selective publisher.

The more money a vanity press makes from each author, the more authors it can afford to reject.

2. Misconception: Vanity presses don’t pay advances.

While vanity presses are supported primarily by the money that writers pay them, the less-than-honest vanities try to pass themselves off as real publishers. One way to do so is to pay advances (or claim to do so).

Now, how to be an advance-paying publisher and still make a profit from writers? Well, the advances could be very low. For instance, $1 per author, non-negotiable. The publisher could also pay – or claim to pay – advances to some authors but not others. Maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t. Maybe you will if you're a celebrity.

"For example: Shane Hamman, two time Olympian and currently the strongest man in the world. He rec’d a $20,000 advance."

Although this claim was made about Shane Hamman on September 20, 2006 (where he has supposedly just been paid) and on August 1, 2008 (where he is described as one of the newest authors of Tate Publishing), his book is nowhere to be found on Amazon or on Tate's online store.

To summarize, a non-negotiable single- or double-digit advance is a transparent fig leaf. And if the advance is a maybe/maybe not deal, find out what the criteria are for payment and who has received such an advance – then look for corroborating evidence. For instance, a newspaper article erroneously claimed that a writer was paid “a significant advance” for a book that AuthorHouse printed. Writer Beware discusses that in more detail.

3. Misconception: Vanity presses don’t pay royalties.

Many vanity presses pay royalties. Some, however, pay royalties on the net sales rather than the cover price – meaning that they deduct their costs from the profits before paying the author. PublishAmerica does this, leading to extremely small royalties for the authors. A vanity press which takes in thousands of dollars upfront can also afford to pay smaller amounts back to its authors in the form of royalties and still make a significant profit.

4. Misconception: Vanity presses let authors keep all the rights to their work.

“When you work with a professional POD firm… you retain ALL rights to your work, forever." Link

This claim is made by a number of vanity presses. PublishAmerica also claims in bolded letters that “Movie rights, audio rights, TV rights, merchandising rights, the copyright, they all remain the author's”.

It probably looks very good to writers who aren’t aware that

a. when a book is commercially published, self-published or vanity-printed, the rights of first publication are used up. Once that’s gone, it’s gone for good.

b. commercial publishers also allow writers to retain the copyright, movie rights, etc. Some vanity presses hint or imply that this isn’t the case, to make writers believe that they’re getting a much better deal with a vanity press than they would with a commercial publisher.

5. Misconception: Vanity presses do a wonderful service for “nobody” authors.

"But the quality of writing has nothing to do with how well a book sells, or whether a publisher should publish a book." Link

A writer’s first book – or first few books – are often learning experiences. Even when a manuscript is accepted by an agent, the agent usually requests revisions, and when it goes to an editor, there’s more critical feedback. Writers learn to balance the love of their work with professionalism, and they’re unlikely to believe that everything they write is deserving of publication – only the best.

With vanity publishing, as the quote says, the quality of a book doesn’t matter (though the quality of the checkbook does). Writers aren’t expected to hone their talent, to look at their work realistically or even to edit it. And even if their writing improves to a level where commercial publishing is feasible, how likely is it that writers accustomed to the swift acceptance and constant praise of vanity publishing will be able to outlast rejections?

So they tell themselves that nobodies could not have succeeded in commercial publishing anyway. And they pay up.


Unknown said...

It's easy to suck in the newbie in this field. I did, with PublishAmerica. I got a whopping big advance ($1.00) and royalties in the same amount. In other words, STAY AWAY from PUBLISHAMERICA!

Marian Perera said...

Hi unwriter, and thanks for commenting.

Sorry to hear about the royalties. I don't know if this is your book, but I looked your name up on Amazon and found a book called "Computers in Plain English". Sounds like the kind of book I'd pick up if I saw it in a library or store.