FROM RICK:

We’ve talked about the topic of vanity presses several times in the past, at length. So have other bloggers. With all the readily available advice and information out there, one would think that writers would not fall into this trap, that they would be savvy enough to do their research.

Sadly, that seems not to be the case. As with investment and credit card scams, humans seem all too willing to let others take their hard-earned money and give them little or nothing in return. Vanity publishers stay just enough above board to keep themselves out of court. Or, as happened recently, Author Solutions—a well-known vanity publisher—WAS taken to court. Rather than give you the links, I suggest that you grab a cup of coffee, sit and your computer, and do a Google search on “author solutions court case” to see what’s going on, why people get upset, and how this company gets by with ripping writers off.

But here’s one link to get you started:

AUTHOR SOLUTIONS CASE ENDS WITH SETTLEMENT

Strictly speaking vanity presses are not scams. A scam, in its strictest definition, is a scheme to swindle people out of their money and give nothing in return. Vanity presses generally DO give you what you pay for, which is publishing your book. The author taken in by them thinks this means that his book will achieve the same status as that of other authors—famous authors—and that he’ll make money on the deal. After all, he’s now a “published author.”

The unsuspecting author has no idea that this is not the case, that while his book is “published” by the true definition of publishing (to make a book available for public consumption), it’s not in the same category. For example, bookstores know the difference and won’t touch a book published by any of these publishers because there is little or no quality control. Many vanity presses will publish ANYTHING, good or bad: you pay, they publish. They don’t care because they have your money. And the unwary author doesn’t realize the difference.

The reality is that a number of major publishing houses (the legitimate ones) have partnered with Author Solutions. The partnership is loose enough to avoid legal entanglements. Publishers are aware of how hungry authors are to have their books published. So, why not cash in on that desire? After an author has been turned down enough times and is frustrated with rejection, he’s ready to fall prey to a vanity press: SOMEONE WANTS TO PUBLISH MY BOOK! And the author is hooked. The legitimate publishers who have partnered with Author Solutions make extra money on the side, while the clueless author is happy as the proverbial pig in mud—until he later realizes that the thousands of dollars he doled out to the vanity press has produced at most a handful of sales, and his dream is crushed. By then, of course, it’s too late. And in some cases, the vanity press holds the rights on the book, so the author may have a difficult time getting those rights back.

Let’s sum up:

(1) Vanity Presses rarely care if your book is any good. A few might be discriminating enough to refuse the really bad ones, but as long as you’re paying, they probably don’t care. They’ve made their money whether your book sells or not. If it does, they simply make MORE money.

(2) Legitimate, traditional publishers PAY you a share of their profits for publishing your book. They do NOT charge you.

Now, there are a few publishers out there, smaller ones, who may ask you to have your book edited yourself or to have your cover designed by an outside source. If they’re legit, they will simply put you in touch with these service providers, not collect the money themselves for having this done. These are not vanity presses, but what might be called co-op publishers.

There are also some companies that will assist you in self-publishing. They will hook you up with service providers for the various publishing services you need. It’s kind of like hiring a contractor to build your house for you versus building the house yourself and sub-contracting those services you can’t perform. But do your research to be sure you’re not being overcharged for these services!

Here’s an example of what NOT to do when it comes to self-publishing. Be sure to link to the original article as well.

THE REAL COST OF SELF-PUBLISHING

This illustrates how you can overpay horribly if you don’t do your research.

Let’s differentiate all of these:

SELF-PUBLISHING: A good example is my friend and author Graeme Reynolds (author of the High Moor werewolf books). Graeme started his own publishing endeavor. He buys his own ISBN numbers, he formats the books for printing and e-books himself, but he pays an outside editor and cover designer for those services. Some self-publishers can do it all themselves; some find one company who can provide all the services they need. You hold all the rights on your book and control all aspects of it, including the price (which you can freely change).

CO-OP/ASSISTED PUBLISHING: The author works with the publisher, who does the bulk of the work and usually gives the author an extremely good royalty cut. The author may have to pay for editing or cover design if he can’t do it himself. A true co-op publisher will not insist on particular people to perform these services, but may recommend ones. However, since the publisher has a stake in the final product, the work must be up to its standards.

Just remember, paying a fair price for individual services is not the same as paying to publish.

VANITY PRESSES: On one hand, these are tantamount to self-publishing where you pay for everything, but on the other, they mimic traditional publishers because you sign over your rights to them. You may or may not have a say in the cover design, but you have no say in the price. They may give you minimal marketing (or charge you more for it). Beyond that, it’s all up to you. And they still keep part of the profits.

Let’s consider an imperfect analogy. You want a house built to your design. You can’t build it yourself, so you pay a company to build it. However, part of the agreement is that they own the house, not you. They also choose the color of the paint inside and out. You have to pay for any and all repairs, you pay the mortgage and taxes, but THEY claim the tax deduction. And since you don’t own the house, they could rent out part of it to someone else without compensating you.

Who would be stupid enough to enter into such an outrageous deal? Well, the reason vanity presses exist and the reason their business is thriving is because they DO find enough people willing to accept such outlandish deals.

Scott is going to take it from here with a real-world example, except that he isn’t going to name names (it’s not Author Solutions, by the way). I won’t name the publisher in question, either, but I will point out a couple of books on Amazon that came from a pay-to-publish publisher.

Forevermore by Travis Rainey
Noxious by Laine Zabukovic
When Darkness Reigns by Roderic Schmidt

Look at pricing of the books (rather high for e-books–would you be willing to spend this much on an e-book from an unknown author?). I suspect that this publisher does that so its books look like they came from a regular publisher (many of whom do price their book this high, as opposed to self-publishers who price lower and often end up with higher sales as a result). Look at the cover quality, writing quality, the reviews, and the Amazon sales ranks (no rank means the book hasn’t sold in that format, and the higher the rank, the fewer sales it’s had and the slower it’s selling).

Remember when looking at e-book prices that Amazon pay 70% of the selling price in the range of $2.99-$9.99 and 35% outside that range. What if this publisher charged you $3000 to publish your book? How many books you’d have to sell to recoup your $3000? And how long will it take you to do it? How do Amazon sales ranks reflect sales per week? Here’s one article that give you a guideline.

AMAZON SALES RANKS VS. SALES VOLUME

And here’s an online calculator one that gives you a better estimate.

CALCULATOR FOR AMAZON SALES RANK VS. SALES

One last piece of advice: If you’re considering using a publishing service or a vanity press (which I hope you aren’t), then DO THE RESEARCH to check out the publisher’s work and search out comments about them online. If you don’t like what you see or read, then maybe you shouldn’t be using that publisher.

It ain’t hard to do this research, folks. So why aren’t more people checking out these publishers first? It’s the same reason people buy into any get-rich-quick scheme. They let themselves be blinded and they don’t think before they act.

Until next time, when Scott takes the stage…

—Rick