Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Publishers" to Avoid!

This post is for those who think paying to publish is how you "break in" to professional writing.

A.C. Crispin said it best in her article, "Excuse Me, How Much Did It Cost You?"

Go ahead, bookmark the link. Pass it on to other writers. From the comments I see on writing sites there's far too many people out there who don't know the basics about the business.

Ignore all the vanity, subsidy, and self-publishing services that perpetuate the lie that paying to play is perfectly normal and how it's done.

No. Don't pay. Professional writers get paid. Period. That's how it really works.  

It is called "Yog's Law," which was coined by writer James D. Macdonald, a true pro who's forgotten more about writing and the publishing industry than I'll ever learn. Bookmark that link, too, and pass it to other writers who may have doubts.

Pros get paid for their words. Got it?  Good.

Now that that's sorted out, let's look at the "publishers" who take advantage of the lie. It is, after all, in their best interest!

Where are they? Just do a Google-search of "book publishers" and you'll find many of the links on the results pages go straight to vanity operations. Do that same search for "children's book publishers" or "Christian book publishers" and you get minor variations of the same tune.

They have professional-looking websites and a convincing sales pitch.

Um, yes, that's right:  *sales pitch*. That's your first clue you're on a vanity site. They're about selling themselves to writers, not about selling books to the public.

The next clue is a lack of titles showing on the opening page. If you go to this commercial publisher's page, or this one or this one or this one...it's pretty clear these companies have BOOKS to SELL. That's where their focus is.

Vanities usually make money selling books to their own writers.  Some have hybridized to be more attractive and have a "bookstore" on the site, or they use words like "subsidy" and "partnership" but it's still all about getting money out of writers.

Red flags:  

1) The company advertises for writers.

They have ads all over the net, ads at the top of search results pages, ads in magazines, newspapers, and Craiglist. Ignore those. Ads cost money and it's the writers, not book sales, that pay for 'em.

Real commercial publishers do not have to advertise themselves. Why waste money buying an ad for new writers when they get thousands of submissions a week? They're flooded with work from writers and agents who know how to properly submit work.

2) The company offers "packages."

Oh, dear, run away. The packages offer great-sounding options like cover art, editing, "availability" in bookstores, a spot on the website, promotion/marketing plans, e-book and audio book options...

They offer--at prices varying from 299.00-10,000.00 and more--the SAME stuff a commercial publisher does as a matter of course. The same stuff a commercial publisher does on their own dime AND pays the writer a nice advance to boot.

3) Their books are NOT in stores.

One thing that NONE of them can do is get your book into brick and mortar stores. They avoid mentioning that detail on the websites or potential customers would run away in droves. Instead, the lack is dressed up in the kind of weasel-wording that someone with no experience in publishing is likely to overlook. Inexperienced writers may assume that the company wants to sell books in stores and the logical thing to do is to have books in stores. It's what commercial publishers DO, after all!

But that doesn't happen with vanity sites. They do NOT do mass printings and they do not have something called *distribution*. Without it, books don't sell. Distribution involves printing 1000s of copies and physically shipping them to retail outlets. Vanities can't do that.

On one site they have a handy comparison chart of the various publishing packages. Each offers "Online Distribution" which means they list your book on their website and on store websites---and that's it.  It's not enough, but they hope writers won't know that.

Just below that is "Bookstore Availability" which claims "With a unique ISBN, your book is available at XX-thousand retail outlets." 

Newsflash, you can have that with a commercial house AND at less costly self-pub Print On Demand services. 

All books have an ISBN with a barcode. Host sites like Amazon demand it. You can buy one yourself at Bowker.com for 125.00 or ten  for 250.00. Vanities buy them by the thousand for a buck each.

"Available to."  Note that last little word. That's what keeps them out of court.

I'm available to go on a wild weekend with Sean Connery and have been for the last (cough-cough) years, but so far he's never called for a date.

"Available to" a bookstore doesn't mean the same as "stocked and shelved" in a bookstore.

But what about being on a bookstore website? That has to be a good thing, right?  Yes--providing the book is in stock, which doesn't always happen to books with no distribution. 

There is one notorious vanity author mill that has thousands of titles listed on Amazon, B&N, Books-a-million, etc. but more often than not, the titles show as "temporarily out of print." Most buyers will shrug and move on to another book that IS available for instant ordering.  If they're determined to get the title they may go to the "publisher's" website to place an order. Then they pay full price, no discount.  I believe the "publisher" does that on purpose so they don't have to share a percentage of the sales with the other website.

4) There's usually a "testimonials" page.
These sites want you to know what their happy customers are saying about them.  The author mill has plenty of feedback up, gakked from customers still in the "honeymoon" phase which usually lasts until the first royalty statement showing zero sales arrives. I know of several customers, who woke up, smelled the coffee, and departed, but their words remain on the site. 

Just keep in mind that testimonials are a sales ploy for vanity houses and most any business with a product or service to sell. Commercial houses don't need them. They're selling books, not their services.

Those are the four basics, but the main point to remember is Yog's Law and the follow up: "The only place a writer signs a check is on the back--to endorse it!"

There's better sites with this same info, start with this one. Go there. Learn. Get yourself immunized from the pay-to-play predators!

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