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?