What’s the difference?
This article from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is one of the MOST comprehensive, defining, and detailed descriptions of subsidy and vanity presses. It also provides numerous fantastic links to other articles. Once you’ve read my post, go back and read this entire article!
Four experts in the publishing industry offered the following advice when considering a subsidy or vanity press. This is longer than my usual posts, but the information below is critical - and fascinating!
“A publisher puts money at risk to produce and distribute a book. If the author is the only one putting money at risk, the author is the publisher. If the press is not putting money at risk, the press is not the publisher, no matter what they call themselves.”
“You are a self-publishing author if you publish the book under your imprint, with an ISBN that you own. Period.”
Dick Margulis Creative Services
words / myth / ampers & virgule blog
“According to information furnished by a subsidy publisher a typical subsidy book title sells 47 copies. This includes copies purchased by the author. Pete Masterson has the data on the average sales. I am quoting him from memory.
“My own study of the success of subsidy house imprints on Amazon showed that Booklocker.com had the best Amazon rankings by a two to one numeric advantage. Of the well-known subsidies Infinity came in second. iUniverse, AuthorHouse etc. were well down and of course PublishAmerica came in dead last. My study was done some years back but I suspect if I repeated it today the results would be similar.
“Mark Levine's "The Fine Print of Self Publishing" lists iUniverse as one of the subsidies to avoid. His recommendations parallel my study of some years back.
“It is noteworthy that the best subsidy according to my study (Booklocker) states up front that book store sales are not feasible when using a subsidy.
“A visit to preditors and editors (sic) will show some more info on the well-known subsidy houses.
“The first edition of Penny Sansevieri's "No More Rejections, Get Published Today!" was published through a subsidy. But in that first edition she advised against using the marketing packages offered by subsidies, saying that they were not effective.
"I use Booklocker to market my e-book, but it is to be noted that I paid no upfront fee for the listing. The Booklocker listing is much more successful than the same e-book listed on Scribd.
"I have not and most likely will never use Booklocker or any other subsidy house for hard copy versions of Wexford Press books. They run a quality shop, but the profit numbers just aren't there."
"Create Book Covers with Scribus"
Printable E-book 38 pages $5.95
Available on Scribed and Booklocker
From Vanity Press, a "Self Publishing Company" or a Subsidy Press? at Aeonix
There are three basic ways to become a published author:
1. Have your manuscript accepted by a traditional trade book publishing company. You risk no money (beyond properly preparing your manuscript) and there is no cost to you. You will receive a modest advance (as a first time author) and, if the book sells, a royalty once the advance is paid off (most books never pay off the advance). Many trade publishers only give about 3 months for a book to show acceptable sales before withdrawing it from the market. Authors are expected to provide a significant amount of (unpaid) effort in marketing the book. Some small traditional publishers offer very small advances and will let a book remain on the market longer, giving some titles the time they need to establish themselves in the market. WIth larger publishers, you’ll usually need the services of an agent. Smaller publishers may be willing to work directly with an author.
2. Use a “self publishing” company to publish your book for you. You pay all the costs of publication, but you do not own any of the work you’ve paid for. You will sell very few books. This is discussed at length below.
3. Become a true independent self-publisher. You do the production work or hire the work out. You pay all the expenses of publishing and take on the risk of success for your book. There is a level of effort to this, but it is the most likely route to success for an author who is not published by a traditional trade book publisher.
So called "self-publishing companies" (actually subsidy publishers) are not, per se, a bad thing. However the substantial majority, especially among the most popular, operate with various levels of unethical behavior.
Essentially, the unethical subsidy publishers prey on the hopes and dreams of authors to become "successful." Many, embarrassed at their naivety, neither complain to government authorities nor admit to friends and family -- or to other potential victims -- that they were "taken."
Subsidy publishers are easy, fast, and sometimes cheap — but they are also often a mistake. You pay up front, use the publisher’s ISBN, and most use a “POD” business model so you only print books as you need them.
POD is Print On Demand. It is a technology. It produces commercially acceptable work. It is used, thorough Lightning Source, Inc (LSI) for a true one-order=one-book system with distribution through Ingram. The “global distribution” offered through the subsidy publishers almost always use LSI. Any publisher can use this service. Some 4 million books were produced this way in 2007.
If an author simply wants to hold a book of their work in their hands (a valid desire) then a subsidy publisher may be a reasonable choice, the cheaper the better. If an author realizes that a book they've written does not have a market beyond 100 or so copies, then a subsidy publisher is a valid choice. However, if the author has other aspirations, then the choice of a subsidy publisher quickly becomes problematical.
The best candidates for subsidy publishing are books that have little or no market interest. Typical candidates are church cook books, poetry (that generally has little market potential), family histories, or memoirs by someone who has done nothing memorable.
The immediate downside to subsidy publishing is that:
- You will have no credibility as a published author. Only those few people who don’t recognize the subsidy publisher’s name won’t immediately know you used a subsidy publisher.
- You will not get reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal or any of the other important pre-publication reviewers.
- Few, if any, reputable review publications will review the book.
- You will not get your book into mainstream distribution. Booksellers are very unlikely to order the book, although you might get a local store to accept a few copies as “local author” if they feel sorry enough for you. (Recently, an acquaintance was told they had to pay $400 to a bookstore to hold an author signing event for their book published by Author House.)
- Most of the time, the books will be priced above the market for similar sized books in a particular genre. Since subsidy published books include an extra profit for the subsidy house, the common trade discounts are not possible, so either the book will be sold with “short” discounts (making retailers unwilling to stock it) or at in inflated price to cover the necessary discounts in the supply channel (overpriced books don’t sell).
- Many subsidy publishers needlessly tie up your book with license terms that cut them in if you resell the book to another publisher (one wants 10% of any advance you get) or otherwise make it difficult to withdraw the book and republish it for yourself. There are a few who offer reasonable, time limited, non-exclusive contracts. It is vital that you read and understand any publishing contract offered to you.
- Production work done by subsidy publishers is usually mediocre, at best, and incompetent at worst. And there may be extra expenses not covered in the basic advertised price. Extra charges for cover design, charges from copyright registration, charges for using the publisher’s ISBN are often “required” options. Even after you pay for a cover design, etc, if you republish, you may not “own” the design and will have to pay additional extra charges for your typeset interior and cover files — or be forced to hire someone to do it over from scratch. Be sure to check the contract for these “extras” and to see if any rights of use are transferred to you for artwork you pay for.
- You won’t sell many books. Paraphrasing from the New York Times (March 1, 2004) article, “Got a Book in You?…”, they report: Many titles sell just 150 to 175 copies. [Figures I’ve derived from subsidy publisher press releases suggest just 40 to 100 copies.] Many authors are happy to pay for 50 or 100 copies to give or sell to family and friends. Forty percent of iUniverse’s sales are made directly to the authors. Susan Driscoll, president and CEO of iUniverse, is quoted in the article as saying: only 84 titles out of 17,000 published by iUniverse have sold more than 500 copies — and only a half-dozen have made it to Barnes & Noble store shelves. (While this article is now several years old, there's no indication that the situation for authors has improved. -- about 1/2 of 1% of iUniverse books achieve sales above 500 copies. Based on press releases from other subsidy publishers, that result is typical.)
Lulu.com was most explicit about its business model. In a 2006 article in the Times (Great Britain), its founder stated the company goal: “... to have a million authors selling 100 copies each, rather than 100 authors selling a million copies each.” Very few Lulu titles have sold even 500 copies.
The less-than-ethical subsidy publishers may call themselves “self publishing companies” — a term that’s clearly an oxymoron. If you don’t own the ISBN, you’re not self publishing. Others may call themselves “POD publishers” — POD — printing on demand — is simply a production method. It’s nothing special that a publisher can claim as a unique idea. Anyone can use POD methods to their own advantage (and actually make money, which can’t be easily done with a subsidy publisher). (See Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon for one approach on how to do this.)
There are a handful of subsidy published book success stories: A few books have been resold to major publishers. One, Legally Blond, was made into a movie after achieving best seller status. You’ll hear about this and other triumphs — but not about the other 400,000 titles per year where the authors don’t even recoup their set up costs.
Some subsidy publishers claim to not charge, but actually have a variety of costs and fees. One, Morgan James Publishing, claims it doesn’t charge to publish your book — and also claims to pay generous “royalties.” However, they require all authors to take a $5000 “marketing course” before they’ll publish your book. You also get 10 copies of your book for “free.” (If the marketing course is actually valuable, this may not be a bad deal. I have no way of knowing without spending the $5000 to take the course.)
One of the most notorious subsidy publishers is PublishAmerica. They claim to be a selective, traditional publisher — they pay an advance of $1. That’s right, one dollar.
While they claim to be selective, in reality, they publish anything. Some writers have tested their selectivity claim: one submission consisted of the same 30 pages repeated 10 times (to make a 300 page manuscript). PublishAmerica never noticed any problem with the manuscript. Another ‘sting’ manuscript was written as the worst manuscript possible. See Critters
to read the story of Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea (say that fast — travesty). What PublishAmerica does is they persuade authors to buy lots of copies of their books. PublishAmerica once even claimed to have a “partnership with the New York Times” (they actually just bought some ad space) and if authors would just buy 500 copies of their book, then they’d be featured in the NYT (ad). Of course, this resulted in zero book sales to any of the authors. See Absolute Write for more about PublishAmerica and its practices.
More generally, unethical subsidy publishers simply offer more than they deliver — but their contract actually doesn’t commit them to deliver much of anything. Extravagant advertising claims are backed up with fine print contract language that specifically negates any advertising claims that may have been made. (Such a deal!)
Many companies offer “marketing packages.” They write rather ordinary media releases and widely send them out — usually to be simply tossed out by the receivers. You may as well put your money in a shredder. They send review copies (printed at your expense) to reviewers, who dispose of them out-of-hand when they see the subsidy imprint. (The reputable reviewers know who they are.)
I must emphasize that while there are many subsidy publishing scam artists, there are a handful of these publishers who are ethical. So, be sure to read contracts and check references. Be sure to read relevant web sites such as the Preditors & Editors™ web site warnings page: Rules for Spotting a Scam Publisher. It has tips to help you recognize the scam publishers (and literary agencies). Also check out the Writer’s Beware web site by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. Writers Beware and Writers Beware POD
Finally, visit the National Writer's Union
web site and read their information about publishing abuses.
copyright by Pete Masterson, used by permission.
Pete Masterson, Author of
Book Design and Production: A Guide for Authors and Publishers
Aeonix1@Mac.com Publishing Consultant
Aeonix Publishing Group http://www.aeonix.com/
“The lure of subsidy publishing is that an author can buy a publisher and thereby avoid rejection letters. Subsidy publishers survive because inexperienced authors believe that their book need only exist to succeed. To sweeten the temptation, subsidy publishers and their proponents often tout the belief that authors can make more money using subsidy publishers. Both lures are false as many, many authors can attest. Too many authors fail to realize that subsidy publishers make their money from the author, not from book sales. This alone should teach authors to avoid the lure of subsidy publishing, but it is rarely enough.
“A book succeeds in the national market because publishers pay for the following:
• Editing (content, copy, technical, legal, line, and proof)
• Layout and Typesetting
• Illustration and Cover Design
• Securing Endorsements
• Printing (galleys, ARCs, and production)
• Promotion (reviews, interviews, advertising, salesmanship, etc.)
• Distribution (warehousing, wholesaling, and retailing)
“Successful traditional publisher pay for all of this and do all of this. Successful self-published authors pay for all of this and do all of this. Co-publishing is an agreement between an author and a traditional publisher to offset some of the publisher's costs, but the traditional publisher is still doing all of these things. Subsidy publishers pay for none of this and do none of this. Subsidy publishers are not publishers --- they're printers with limited distribution and a fanciful name.
“The average subsidy-published book sells fewer than 50 copies in its lifetime. Why? Poor editing, bad design, cheap digital manufacturing, no promotion, and insufficient distribution. The publisher is responsible for all those things and subsidy publishers go out of their way to avoid them. It is often true that the subsidy publisher will offer a larger royalty to the author. This makes sense when you realize that they're saving $10,000 - $50,000 in publishing costs.
“Here's an example of the costs involved with publishing.
16% Distributor and Shipping
10% Marketing and Promotion
10% Printing & Shipping
12% Design and Development
8% Author Royalty
4% Publisher Profits
“I've heard tale of subsidy publishers offering royalties as high as 25%. How can they do this? They're not paying for anything. In fact, most subsidy publishers are their own distributors. So...
1% Distribution shipping
25% Author royalty
34% Publisher profits
“And if they sell the book directly and don't offer the author any benefit for a direct sale they make 74%.
“At first blush an unsuspecting author might say, "So? I'm still getting more than I would through a traditional publisher." In actuality, the author has no choice but failure. If the author chooses to avoid the costs of editing, design, marketing, promotion, and distribution, then the author can expect to sell an average of 50 copies. Assuming a common $20 per book, the author will receive $250 for 50 copies sold. A common price per-title to print books through a subsidy publisher is $4.95 per book. The author earned $2.50. In reality, that's a royalty of 0.25% (that's right, one-quarter of one percent).
“The alternative is to pay for editing, design, marketing, and promotion. But even this will result in failure (with VERY rare exceptions) because the author is left with the task of primary distribution and will quickly discover that no national chain bookstores and few independent bookstores outside his or her local area will risk buying the book without the credibility of a traditional publisher. Remember, publishers pay $10,000 - $50,000 to bring a book to market. Somebody will pay that bill or the book will fail.
“Authors eventually learn a simple rule: books do not sell simply because they exist. Subsidy publishers offer one thing: they bring the book into existence --- and they don't even pay for that. Authors are better off either improving their book to meet the standards demanded by traditional publishers or learning the business of publishing and becoming a self-publisher.”
JB Howick is president of WindRiver Publishing, Inc. and the author of Blow Us Away! Publishers' Secrets for Successful Manuscripts.
Pete recommended it as well - be sure to go read this article from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America