Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Self Publishing and Subsidy Presses

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
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."

John Culleton
Wexford Press
"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. 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)
• Indexing
• Layout and Typesetting
• Illustration and Cover Design
• Securing Endorsements
• Printing (galleys, ARCs, and production)
• Marketing
• 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.

40% Bookstore/retailer
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...

40% Bookstore/retailer
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



It seems quite alot a story has to go through before finding it's self on the shelf. I published my own poetry book 2 years ago, very interesting to do but would rather had done it by a publisher,
I do have enough poetry to issue another book but I have put that thought on the back burner for now.
Thanks for the tips.


Creepy Query Girl said...

LOTS of great info here which helps make an informed decision. I'm hoping to obtain an agent and go through a regular publisher. It seems the best way to go for YA fiction.

Jan Morrison said...

Very clean and clear information. I have a friend who is nearly ninety - when he was nearly eighty-seven, I bullied him into writing a book. I then bullied him into publishing through a self-publishing company that has pretty good local cred. It is small and the editor did everything she could to help out. The reason I did this is because I wanted him to have it published before he was dead. Now he's working on his second book which he will not self-publish. He is one determined critter. I adore him! I wouldn't self-publish but I know even if you sign with a big company - there is still lots of work to do. But hey, no one made us become writers, did they?

Anonymous said...

Very concise and informative post. I went the iUniverse route for my first book. Unfortunately I do not have any publishers knocking on my front door at the moment. I'll begin the querying again in June in search of something better.

Will you be blogging about querying, finding an agent, and things aspiring authors can do to be noticed by mainstream publishers? Thanks.

Stephen Tremp

Anonymous said...

Have you considered a retweet button for your blog? I Tweeted this blog.

Stephen Tremp

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great information here, Diane.

I remember when "Atlanta Nights" came out. Just amazing!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I’ve been happy with my small traditional publisher and this post reinforced that the decision was a good one for me. They realize it takes time for an unknown author to develop an audience and are willing to give them that time.

Jai Joshi said...

Thanks for this wealth of info, Diane.


Christina Nabity said...

I can't help but wonder why it's so difficult for creative types to simply get their work out there. Especially if they come from low income backgrounds.

I would expect that doing things the right way would be less complicated than doing things the wrong way, but it just doesn't seem that way most of the time. But just because I have logic doesn't mean the world has any plans to make sense.

Definitely some good food for thought, so thanks for sharing this Diane.

Artistical Exploration

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, that's a lot of information! Some of it scary.

Arlee Bird said...

.... memoirs by someone who has done nothing memorable.
I read one of those once but now I forget what it was about.

Diane, that was a great post--brutally honest and to the point. It's good to keep being reminded of this information to have that reality check that some of us dreamers need.

Tossing It Out

Helen Ginger said...

Thank you Diane. Great post with very valuable info and links. All writers need to be aware of these pitfalls and not be in a hurry to get their book out there and make millions. Even with the Internet, which is a great tool, it's still hard to know what to do.

Straight From Hel

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Yvonne, don't forget about it.

Creepy Girl - either that or acquiring a publisher yourself.

Jan, no they didn't! And in your friend's case, he didn't have time to wait. Funny that he's now working on another one.

Stephen, I was thinking about that for Thursday - only from a much better angle: querying publishers directly.
And if I knew how, I'd add the retweet button!

Yeah, Jane!

Karen, having your own ISBN is critical! That's funny that you used Mark's company, too.

Aurey, sending out query letters to publishers is probably the cheapest way to go!

Lee - too funny!!!

Helen, you picked a good word - hurry.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I'm so fortunate to have found a great small publisher - 4RV Publishing.
This is a super-informative post. Thanks.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

They call it Vanity Press for a reason. Your post was very informative. Bottom line : Since the bookstores won't carry your book because it a bad all round for them, why bother throwing away a book you sweated blood to write?

Unknown said...

Very informative. I'm thinking of self-publishing, but only via e-publishing. To me, it doesn't make sense to spend all that money to self-publish with no hope of recouping the cost.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Roland, you got that right!

Mary, exactly. And it is SO easy for an author to self-pub their own eBook. Cost is SO small.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - there's sure a lot of thinking to do around this issue. Thanks for all the information Diane :)

Susan Fields said...

You'ver really give us a lot of great information here - thanks for a very educational post!

N A Sharpe said...

Very informative post full of great links. I'm bookmarking this as a great resource.

Heading over to check out the article from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Thanks so much!

Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

Anonymous said...

Many writers think as creative people rather than as business people. Traditionally, they could dump the business side of getting a book sold onto publishers. Now, regardless of the production channel, every author has to think about marketing -- even the big houses are cutting back and putting more on authors and demanding that authors have platforms. The real problem with subsidy publishers is that unknowing writers think the company will do all this wonderful marketing for them, but it really is up to them to hustle the book. Self publishers at least are aware that the whole job is on their shoulders, but still many don't go into producing their books with well-conceived marketing plans in place.

India Drummond said...

Looks like I need to do even more research! I'm considering self-publishing, but there's a lot of information out there, and not all of it is accurate or in the best interests of authors. Thanks for helping clear the fog on some of it!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Forrest, you are correct! It is a business, and promotion is up to the author in most cases.

You're welcome, India. Be informed!

Christina Rodriguez said...

This is a very informative post, Diane. I'm going to bookmark it and direct folks to it when they ask me what the differences are (and I get that question a lot!).

Unknown said...

Wow, what a great article. If anyone ever asks me the question, Im sending them here.


Talli Roland said...

Wow, what a great round-up! So much information to go through - thanks Diane!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thank you Christina and Clarissa! Yes, these four gentlement pretty much covered it all, didn't they?

Jackee said...

This is a PERFECT comparison between the two. Thanks for sharing--these are the best descriptions I've seen!

Happy Wednesday!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Longer post or no, Diane, this info is a must for those looking to go nontraditional route to publishing.

I've done a lot of research on this too. I've often said you have two authors, book equal writers, one goes traditional, one goes non--POD. Traditional has an in because of distribution, some funds for promotion or at least a publisist to help. Non traditional has to do everything for themselves. They're climbing the mountain because the start at the bottom, while the traditional author gets on the ski lift and starts midway up the mountain.

Regardless of the route you take, there is still a lot of work the author has to be willing to do. Even pubbed Traditional is no guarantee of success.

You referenced some good resources, Diane. Thank you.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks, Jackee!

You got that right, Sia!

Other Lisa said...

Diane, this is a great post -- so much information so clearly laid out. A really great reference and something I am going to bookmark.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I love your well-researched posts, this one was one of the best! I followed it from twitter so I'll go back and RT it. With all the hype now over self-publishing, it's so good for those considering it to stay informed! Subsidy presses are evil imho. Better to hire yourself an editing service and set up your own indie press to publish your own stuff than go subsidy. And I believe one of the best routes is the small regional press, of course I could be prejudiced lol. None of this 3 months and you're out with the small press, as a rule.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com could post it.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I checked - links all seem to be working.