Saturday, June 24, 2006

O vanity! O authors!

A few days ago I received an email inquiry from someone who was looking for a publisher for her book. Well, that’s what she thought she was looking for, anyway. But from the questions she posed, it was clear she had been gulled by the currently trolling the Web (this is not a new phenomenon; vanity presses predate the Web by decades).

I am not the first person to try to explain the concept of vanity publishing, and I won’t be the last, I’m sure; but here’s what I wrote in an attempt to steer my correspondent away from the precipice:
Please do not be deceived by vanity presses that talk about self-publishing. They are intentionally misrepresenting themselves and trying to confuse you.

You are a self-publishing author if you publish the book under your imprint, with an that you own. Period. You can choose to self-publish your book using offset technology or print-on-demand technology (POD). In either case, you can get quotations from printers who provide those services.

The vanity presses talk about publishing, but they are lying. The vast bulk of the books they print (generally fewer than 100 copies per title) are sold directly to the authors for free distribution to friends and relatives. Only a minuscule number of the titles they handle ever reach a bookstore. They promise all sorts of help—editing, design, marketing—that they either fail to deliver or outsource to the lowest bidder. This is a well reported scam; I’m not making any of this up. In addition to confusing customers with talk of self-publishing, they also try to make vanity publishing synonymous with POD, which is merely a printing technology they take advantage of.

So, back to your case. If you are ready to be a true self-publishing author, then you need to find a printer (offset for long run, POD for short run). There are lots of good vendors of both types, and selecting the right one depends on a number of specific factors. Your best bet is to look for book printers on the Web and get quotes. When you find prices you can live with, ask for printed samples to verify that their work meets your standards.

If you are not ready to be a self-publishing author and you want to pursue vanity publishing, I cannot recommend any because I don’t think any of them are truthful with their customers.
I hasten to add that there are many fine POD vendors that provide good, honest service. There are even a few vanity presses that are straightforward in the dealings and provide a valuable service for noncommercial publishing ventures (family memoirs, company commemoratives, abstruse academic monographs). However, the companies that say signing up with them will result in getting your books sold in major bookstores are stretching the truth to the breaking point.

1 comment:

Jeannette Cézanne said...

Dick makes some excellent points about the false advertising that is used way too often by subsidy (vanity) publishers. Buyer beware here, as always; and the first step is to understand that you are, in fact, a buyer: you're purchasing a service and you may or may not ever come out even in the deal, at least financially. Some people with fabulous marketing skills, often selling books at events or out of the trunks of their cars, can recoup what they spent to have their books published via a subsidy publisher, and even actually make some money. I know some people who have. But it is distinct from traditional publishing, or self-publishing.

On the other hand, it can be viable for folks who do want to treat it seriously: get the book edited by a professional (such as Dick Margulis!) before having it printed, choose a reputable subsidy publisher, etc. I have some information about subsidy publishers, and in fact the pros and cons of different kinds of publishing, here: -- it might be worth a look.

In the meantime, follow Dick's advice: know what you are getting into. To the best of my knowledge (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), M.J. Rose is the only current bestselling author who started out with a subsidy publisher. The odds are not in your favor.