Robert Walsh

Freelance writer from Cornwall

Self-Publish? Publish-On-Demand? Vanity Publishers?

“You wish to make a deal, yes..?”

Vanity Press: A publishing house that publishes books at the author’s expense —called also vanity publisher – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

You’re an author. You have a book you want published. But there’s a problem. Either your work is too niche for even small-press publishers to invest in, you can’t get an agent to shop round publishers or the bigger publishers have already seen the manuscript and politely, but firmly, refused to touch it. Who do you turn to? Realistically, you’ve got three options, completely self-publish, the print-on-demand companies or last (and definitely least) ‘vanity publishers.’ We’ll start by looking at the realities of do-it-yourself publishing.

As a rule, if you’re really doing it yourself you also take responsibility for marketing, promotion, stock-taking and everything else. The purist does everything themselves, contracting parts out only if absolutely necessary. There’s a potential bonus, they keep all the profits. They also keep full creative control, set the price and so on. Unfortunately, sales of self-published books rarely make the effort commercially worthwhile. Many self-published authors would probably make more money (with less hassle) if they flipped burgers forty hours a week. For most, it’s a lot of bother for pennies. That and saying  to their friends over coffee that they’ve been published.

There are exceptions (some of the biggest bestsellers of the last few years were self-published before mainstream publishers took them on). They’re the exception, not the rule. For more educated egomaniacs there’s also the chance to drop literary titans into their coffee house conversation. William Faulkner and Charles Dickens self-published many of their best works. It’s also the only time that most self-published authors will be mentioned in the same conversation. Still, it’s cheaper than vanity publishing to realise your literary fantasies, albeit on the tiniest of scales.

Print-on-demand is your second option. POD bridges the gap between complete self-publishing and ‘vanity’ publishing. POD deals vary in what they provide. For instance, you may still have to do your own promotion and marketing. It would still be you begging bookshops to buy a few copies, arranging your own publicity and suchlike. But, unlike outright vanity publishers, they’re less likely to demand outrageous upfront fees (upfront fees may well be smaller, but still compulsory) or buying a minimum number of copies yourself before they’ll do business.

Plenty of companies offer POD packages and, to be fair, by no means all are con-artists inflating your ego while deflating your wallet. A decent example might be http://www.booklocker.com. Unlike many in the business, they have a bluntly straightforward, no-frills approach and, equally unusual, they don’t publish if the author’s obviously a semi-literate baboon. If they think you’ll only humiliate yourself (and, by extension, them) they’d sooner lose a customer and keep a certain quality threshold. They won’t publish absolutely anything for a price and up-front prices of their POD packages are crystal clear. Also, unlike many POD companies, they avoid ‘upselling.’ They don’t offer a tiny upfront fee as bait to get you signing a contract, then charge extra for any and every ‘optional’ extra without which an unknown author remains exactly that.

If I were to self-publish Booklocker would be an option, especially as they not only had the integrity to take Amazon to court a few years back, they also won. Check them out here:

http://booklocker.com

Finally there’s vanity publishing. At least there is if you’re so desperate to see your name in print that you’ll pay vast fees in the hope, NOT the expectation that you’ll get SOME of what you so rashly paid for. With outright vanity publishers you’ll get, at best, exorbitant fees for books that are badly-proof read, scruffily-presented, with poor cover art and generally looking like they were produced on a tablet, printed off in somebody’s garage and badly-photocopied at the local library. They look awful, they usually ARE awful, you may well have to buy a (large) minimum number of tatty-looking, overpriced copies at your own expense. That’s if they don’t simply bank your money, provide nothing whatsoever in return and disappear overnight when enough complaints are made. Then they’ll probably turn up somewhere else. running the same scam with the same people and a different website. They’ll make a deal with absolutely anybody who’ll sign a contract, massage their already inflated egos and milk them for as much cash as possible. Vanity publishers don’t exist to publish, they exist because there’s a sucker born every minute. A prime example can be found here, where a prospective author found himself lured straight from one scam into another, both scams being run by the same people:

http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2012/11/pink-cloud-moves-into-vanity-e.html#more

Bottom line: If you’re work isn’t likely to generate a decent return on a publisher’s investment, they’ll probably politely turn you down. Getting a conventional book deal is at least as much about the publisher’s balance sheet as the author’s literary worth. You could write the greatest manuscript since the Bible and if it didn’t have commercial potential it would end up on the ‘slush pile’ unless a publisher changed their mind. Or, it could just be the obvious problem. You think you’ve produced a truly sterling work of literary greatness when you’re the only one who doesn’t think it’s crap. If it’s good and will probably turn a decent profit then you’ll probably find a publisher somewhere. If it’s crap or interesting to three readers and possibly their pet dogs then you’ll end up looking at self-publishing or POD. Vanity publishers are for the vain, no professionals. But at least you might end up with an infinite supply of doorstops and/or paperweights, depending on the size of the unsold books filing your cupboards.

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