Monday, July 21, 2014

The Three Ways to be Published and the Downside of Subsidy Publishing

I want to follow up my post last week on subsidy publishing. As I’ve stated before, I’m fortunate to have contacts with some incredible experts in the publishing industry. Publishing consultant Pete Masterson, who owns Aeonix, sent me a slew of information.

“I've actually addressed this topic on several occasions. From my web site I discuss "Vanity" or "Subsidy" publishers. In it, I explain the basic differences between publisher types.”

That page, and all of Pete’s site, holds a ton of information, and I invite you to explore it in detail.

He also sent me some extra material. This is a portion of the talk Pete gave at the BAIPA publisher's workshop a few years ago:

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.

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.

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).

Thank you very much, Pete!

Any questions for Pete or about subsidy publishers?

36 comments:

WiseRosy said...

Thanks for a most interesting read, it's always good to learn something when publishing one's work.

Elsie Amata said...

This made me groan a little inside. Only three months to see if your book will take off - yikes!

I didn't know a lick about how much it was to self-publish. Thanks for the valuable information. I'm always learning over here!!

Mason Canyon said...

It's sad from a reader's point of view to think a writer does all the hard work of creating the book and when they use a 'self-publishing' company they don't own what they've paid for. There is so much work behind the scenes to getting a book in a reader's hands.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diane and Pete - all I can say it's so useful being a part of blogging group where we learn such useful information ..

We are lucky writers (actual or aspiring) ... great post - thank you .. cheers Hilary

Jemi Fraser said...

Excellent information. I remember being overwhelmed when I first started learning to write a novel - know it's easier to wade those muddy waters!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Doesn't sound like there are any upsides to the deal.

Karen Walker said...

This is making re re-think trying the traditional publishing route. Only 3 months? Really?

Jay Noel said...

I know a guy that used a subsidy publisher back in 2007 or 2008. Publish America, I think.

His 300 page paperback novel was over $20! Maybe your grandparents and best friends might buy it, but good luck selling that one.

Hart Johnson said...

So Subsidy Publishing is just the current name for Vanity Press, yes? Am I seeing that right? I've seen companies that help you format and package, but you keep your rights, and that makes some sense, but yeah--bad idea to not get to keep the rights if you aren't working with a big enough publisher that they have you in national-wide bookstores.

klahanie said...

Hi Diane,

This is most comprehensive. I really do echo what Alex has stated.

Gary

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Helpful info, Diane and Pete!

I've always gone directly to Bowker to get my ISBNs. Not expensive and gives me peace of mind.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm surprised subsidy publishers manage to stay in business with all the other options open to writers.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Elsie, that's how most publishers work. Smaller publishers will stick with a title longer though.

Karen, three months is all the bigger publishers will give a book.

Jay, not to mention he lost his rights to take the book elsewhere for 7 years.

Hart, they are one and the same.

Southpaw said...

I agree with Alex.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This is what my view of the differences when I self-published with Lulu back in 2008. And yet, no one agreed with me at the time. And their voices grew. Just recently someone told me that self-publishing was the only route. My last 2 books were published by small houses. In Canada, distributing your book is a headache. I was lucky to sign with SandHill, but I paid a huge commission. My 2nd novel was published here and the difference convinced me to stay with small presses. I don't have the funds to negotiate foreign exchange. So, while it probably is better to self-publish if you're American, it isn't if you want your book to be avail in the States. I think foreign writers need to understand the issues.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing the useful info. I agree with Alex that it doesn't sound like there's much positive to doing this.

Clarissa Draper said...

This is really useful information. This will really help first-time authors.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for posting this information! I've read it before but it is always good to have out there as a reminder to everyone. Self-pubbing is a tough gig, but subsidy publishing is just crazy and expensive.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

I've found it to be very complicated, especially because of misleading terms like "self publishing." But this clarifies things for me. Thank you both.

Carol Kilgore said...

Who said something about the road to something is filled with peril? You can see I'm horrible with quotes. I just remember the points.

Lynda R Young said...

More great info to be aware of. I definitely won't ever use a subsidy publisher.

Ella said...

Wow, this is difficult! Thanks for telling it like it is. Thanks Diane and Pete!! All roads do not lead to Rome~

DMS said...

What a helpful post! I learned a lot here today. I appreciate the wide range of information. :) Thanks!
~Jess

Medeia Sharif said...

I know a few people who spent a small fortune getting published, and the end product was still sloppy. I believe they chose that path because they were impatient and didn't research other options.

cleemckenzie said...

It's great to have this laid out so clearly for people trying to make a decision. I know I would have loved this much earlier when I was learning about different ways to publish a book.

J.L. Campbell said...

As always, the information is spot on and important to know. Thanks to you both.

Chrys Fey said...

I'm published by a small press, and to me it's like a bit of both worlds. I didn't have to pay anything, but I didn't get an advance either. I do receive royalty, though. I also take nearly all of the responsibility for my work's success.

I am planning on self-publishing in the future, so this information was helpful to help me figure out which route to take. Thank you!

Gina Gao said...

Thanks for the information in this post! I really appreciate it.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

M Pax said...

It seems better to meet authors with the info you need to publish well.

LD Masterson said...

This post reinforces what I already thought about subsidy publishing. Thanks you.

Michelle Wallace said...

Subsidy publishing? My first time hearing about it, and it doesn't sound promising... it actually scares me...
Thanks for the info, Diane!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, L. Diane,

Whoa... I knew some of this but, wow.... Amazon looks better and better....

I didn't know a big publisher only give three months! THAT'S UNBELIEVABLE!

As always ... THANKS for the information.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Very informative. The safest routes seem to be traditional and self publishing.

Nick Wilford said...

This is an enlightening post and pushes me down the road towards self-pubbing really. There was information here I didn't know about both traditional and subsidy publishing. Three months for a book to sell does sound quite hardline.

Sherry Ellis said...

It looks like if you use a subsidiary publisher, you'll have to be pretty confident that you can get the word out yourself.

Kim Lajevardi said...

Very informative! Either traditional of fully in charge of my own fate sound like a plan. :)