Sunday, 10 August 2008

Writers’ Guides

You must not assume that an organisation is legitimate, professional or trustworthy just because it appears in The Writer’s Handbook, Writer’s Market, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, or any other similar guide.

All it means is that the company concerned has submitted a listing for inclusion in the guide. There is no screening process involved in compiling the entries: the guides are produced by issuing invitations to every company listed as a publisher or agent in the United Kingdom, and then collating the replies.

Page 16 of the 2008 edition of the The Writer’s Handbook contains listings for Austin & Macauley Publishers, and AuthorHouse UK, which are both widely agreed to be vanity publishers; while the 2008 edition of Writer’s Market UK carries a listing on pages 287-8 for Pegasus Elliot MacKenzie Publishers Ltd., another acknowledged vanity press. If I had to hand a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, I'm sure I could find a vanity publisher listed there, too.

This doesn’t mean that such guides are useless: far from it. I find them invaluable. But they must only be considered a starting-point for your research, and not as an ultimate authority.

(For those of you who don't already know, I post at Absolute Write under the user-name of Old Hack. I was threatened with legal action by Austin & Macauley a few months ago, but nothing ever came of it.)


Sally Zigmond said...

Thanks for this timely and useful advice.

For me, the best way to tell if you're about to be ripped off is by checking out their websites.

Vanity publishers' websites are aimed at writers (particularly new ones) only and contain lies such as 'big publishers don't accept manuscripts from new writers,' plus the fact that they'll usually accept a manuscript within three to six weeks of receiving it.

Check the covers and the blurbs of their books and see if they look like the kind of books for sale in Waterstone's.

Also notice that they publish hundreds of books, usually one per author and no back-list.

A proper publisher's website will be more slick and professional, even if it's only a small company and will contain trade and distribution information.

Do it as an exercise, read the small print and you'll soon be able to tell the difference.

As with all things, keep your eyes and ears open and think before you commit. If it sounds a bit iffy, it usually is.

Vanity publishers don't care about writers at all even though they pretend to.

Annie Wicking said...

Can you tell me how a first time author,Lorna Page, at the grand age of 93, managed to buy £310,000 house using the proceeds from her significant advance for her thriller 'A Dangerous Weakness'.

And the name of her publishers are no other than AuthorHouse publisher...

Sorry, but I thought they were those nasty Vanity Publishers who ask for your money......

Jane Smith said...

Simple, Annie: misreporting. AuthorHouse IS A VANITY PRESS, and no amount of press coverage will change that--only a major overhaul of AuthorHouse's business practices will do that. And they're just not set up to do it.

This has been discussed today over at Absolute Write (in the Bewares and Background Checks forum--do have a look). Here's a summary of what seems to have gone on:

The first report was about a 93-year-old woman who had had a book published.

The second added that she hoped to be able to help her friends in the care-home.

The next discussed that she'd moved from her care-home to live with her family, who had bought a house big enough for everyone, worth (I think) £310,000.

The next insisted that she had bought the house herself, and hoped to be able to pay for her friends to move in using her royalties.

The next discussed how she had bought the house out of her advance, despite there being no mention of any advance in any other articles.

A chain of misunderstandings and misinformation which will now encourage uninformed writers to think that AuthorHouse is going to pay them advances, and royalties enough to live on. Both beliefs are untrue.

AuthorHouse is, as you say, one of those nasty vanity presses. There's no way that it has paid this sweet old lady anything like £300,000 for her book. There was talk a few years ago of them having paid an advance of $5,000, but I've not seen that substantiated. They earn the majority of their income through their authors buying their own books and, as most self-published and vanity-published books sell fewer than 100 copies, those authors will almost all have lost a significant amount of money out of the deal. They pay out a few thousand, and earn a couple of hundred. And along the way their dreams are shattered, and their hearts are broken. It's a disgrace, and I hate it.

Jane Smith said...


Annie, the author concerned has commented on a blog post over at Writer Beware, which you can find here:

If you read through the comments you'll come to one written by Cate, in which she pretty much confirms that most of the articles are nonsense.

It's a shame that such a nice woman fell into the hands of AuthorHouse, when she could have got just as much out of Lulu for a fraction of the money.

Jane Smith said...

On the subject of AuthorHouse and the huge advance: I've got a blog post coming out tomorrow (Friday) which clears all this up. A summary of which is that no advance was paid, the writer paid for her publication, and AuthorHouse remains a vanity press.