Thursday, 9 April 2009

Why Do Vanity Publishers Sell To Writers, Not Readers?

It’s widely accepted in the publishing industry that the difference between a vanity publisher and a mainstream, commercial publisher is that the former makes most of its money selling books back to its writers, while the latter makes its money selling books on to new readers: but why is this the case and why is that distinction so important?

Mainstream publishers focus on selling their books to readers. This is done through the efforts of salespeople, distributors, wholesalers and booksellers, with the assistance of publicity teams which manipulate a vast network of media contacts in order to bring books to their readers’ attention. It’s a two-pronged attack which simultaneously makes the book widely available and makes potential readers aware of the book, and publishers which only focus on one side of this equation rarely succeed.

Vanity publishers focus on selling to their own authors because they know that those writers are keen to see their books sell well, and they provide a guaranteed market for their own books. Vanities don’t attempt to sell to bookshops or to promote to new readers because that’s a complex system which can be very expensive; and because they know that bookshops aren’t likely to buy their books and reviewers aren’t likely to review them.

17 comments:

Nicola Morgan said...

Precisely. Why can't I be as succinct as that?

Rod H said...

To preempt a comment from another quarter - you have it in a nutshell.

Mr J said...

Excellent summary and top marks to The Bookseller.com Briefing for flagging it out.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree. At all. I work in vanity publishing and while its true the caliber of some of our books do not measure to those of main stream publishers we choose our best books and send to appropriate book reviewers, and media.
Local media is a great medium for self-published authors as they do not retain the same kind of "snobbery" to be found in some of the literary press and are more receptive to an author from their area.
In addition we approach booksellers on a monthly basis with our latest releases and recommended read.
Further to this (as we can not depend on booksellers for sales) we spend time researching appropriate outlets to market each of our authors and books, which may entail specialist web sites, societies or particular professional bodies - all depending on subject matter.
In fact promoting self-published authors takes more creativity and more persistence than paid authors as the traditional channels for publicity are so tightly closed.

TOM J VOWLER said...

But aren't local media more interested in the fact a local writer has published a book rather than whether it's actually any good? It's a news story rather than a review. And reading such articles you'd never know the author had self/vanity published - the story is 'Local writer becomes published author'. And how many articles of 'local writer publishes novel' are actually critical of the book? I've never read one, which implies all vanity published books are of a high quality. Or something else.

Nicola Morgan said...

Tom - words from my mouth, etc.

Anonymous - who pays for your service? Possibly the author? Hmm. Which is the point of Jane's piece - the author pays for every aspect of the process.

"Traditional channels for publicity are so tightly closed"? How? No, you can get any news story in a paper if it's newsworthy enough (kids can do it, literally). Publicity is simply imagination+effort.

Sally Zigmond said...

Has anyone else noticed that people who are so quick to disagree with the sense people like Jane write always post anonymously? Not only that, but they never give facts and figures to back up their outrage.

Then again, it's refreshing to see someone like Anon use the term 'vanity' and admit that what they publish is not up to scratch. I admire him/her for that.

richard meredith said...

There is mainstream publishing, vanity publishing, and self,small press or independent publishing. Please do not confuse the last of these with the first two. We are in the small press category.We do not have enough money to 'buy' shelf space in bookstores and do not ask authors for money to produce books for their mothers. We do try to publish books which we think will be of interest to the public and despite the crushing monopolies of our High Street sales and distribution systems, we attempt to make a living.
Richard Meredith, MercuryBooks

Fawn Neun said...

Richard - thanks for clarifying. There is a difference between a small press and a vanity press.

~PakKaramu~ said...

Pak Karamu reading your blogs

Jane Smith said...

I go out for just one day and I come back to several new faces here! And what's this about the Bookseller flagging my blog again? Insert smug smiley-face here.

Anonymous: I do ask for people to provide their names when posting here. I don't like it when writers aren't prepared to own their own words by making it clear who they are. Just so you know for next time.

I don't agree. At all. I work in vanity publishing

--it's refreshing to hear someone admit that!--

and while its true the caliber of some of our books do not measure to those of main stream publishers we choose our best books and send to appropriate book reviewers, and media.

And how much do you charge for this service, which mainstream publishers do for free?

Local media is a great medium for self-published authors as they do not retain the same kind of "snobbery" to be found in some of the literary press and are more receptive to an author from their area.

As has already been pointed out, local press usually cover stories like this from a "local writer gets published" viewpoint, rather than actually reviewing the book: but if those books aren't readily available in the local bookshops at the time the article appears, then such articles won't result in many sales. And the bigger presses' reluctance to review such books has nothing to do with snobbery, and a lot to do with the fact that most such books are dreadful.

In addition we approach booksellers on a monthly basis with our latest releases and recommended read.

How does this work? And do you charge your writers for this service? And if so, how much?

Further to this (as we can not depend on booksellers for sales) we spend time researching appropriate outlets to market each of our authors and books, which may entail specialist web sites, societies or particular professional bodies - all depending on subject matter.

Again, something else that the vanity-published writer will have to subisdise--either directly, by paying some sort of PR fee, or indirectly, through an increased cost of their book's production.

In fact promoting self-published authors takes more creativity and more persistence than paid authors as the traditional channels for publicity are so tightly closed.

Years ago I worked in marketing and promotion. And there were no channels that were closed, so long as I had an interesting take on a pertinent story. All you need is imagination and persistence. And in this case, I suspect, an author willing to pay.

Anon, I'm not out to get you here despite the sharpness of my questions. I just don't want readers to think that this is a good way to go with their writing, and that they can expect to do well with a publisher like yours unless they pay through the nose.


Richard, thanks for clarifying the differences between vanity and self-publication, and the many brilliant independent presses that exist (I wish I could write "flourish"). It's a struggle for many of you, and I'm so grateful that you all keep going regardless of the difficulties you face.

behlerblog said...

Great post as always, Jane. And a big huzzah for Bookseller.com flag. Vanity requires the author to assume all production costs, and there is little to no criteria for publication. It boils down to the size of the author's checkbook. That is why vanity books have a much harder time swimming to the top.

Now, folks like Morgan James is a bit different because they cater to speakers and professionals. They charge a hideous amount of money for their services and they do have bigger acceptance guidelines. They have garnered distribution - Midpoint? I forget who - but few have $20,000 in their back pocket.

The rest of the vanity world is for those who can't find a home with a mainstream house.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, yes, local media are ideal for promoting vanity books; they haven't a clue.

Pimlicokid said...

Killer question, Jane

Emoemo said...

Firstly allow me to quell any doubt my signing as ‘anonymous’ seems to have raised as to the authenticity of my comments.
To assume that a comment (Jaynes) on the industry in which I work would spark outrage is to assume that I have no knowledge of my own industry and my national literary environment. Debate on vanity publishing is scant so Jayne when I read your comment I welcomed the opportunity to add my own.

The simple and unexciting truth is that I wrote out the response rapid fire in work and genuinely did not have time to register. Today was the first chance I got to return to this site. You will notice I have done so now as Eimear Galvin, Original Writing Ltd www.originalwriting.ie.

I will attempt structure here and so reply to the comments in sequence.

Yes it’s true to an extent that ‘local media are more interested in the fact a local writer has published a book rather than whether it's actually any good’. This is of course how we sell in our book, on the local angle. I believe if you research this most publishers will admit that to sell and promote a book the author story is equally important. In this case the ‘author story’ happens to be that they live in the locality. I would question that local press will report on a book that is not ‘any good’. Mainly because we would not approach any media with a book that we don’t believe has any merit. This reflects badly on us and we are trying to build our reputation.

“Oh, yes, local media are ideal for promoting vanity books; they haven't a clue.”-
On the contrary to underestimate the power and reach of local media in Ireland is to completely misunderstand how our national social agenda is set. Local media are perhaps one of the most powerful and influential media outlets in Ireland. To dismiss this section of our media as ‘not having a clue’ is to dismiss the entire readership of each newspaper as being ‘clueless’. Ireland is a very localised country reflected in the influence of local politics and local issues in the Dáil(national parliament). Do you really believe the only sense to be found is in our national papers? I am pretty stunned by that. However I digress but suffice to say I am an advocate of local media having seen and studied the results (MA Public Relations, DIT 2006).

Richard is correct in his clarification of the publishing terms. Unfortunately for Richard and I’m sure much to his frustration there is not strict adherence to the terms. However we do share similarities - we too do not have enough money to 'buy' shelf space in bookstores. We also try to publish books which we think will be of interest to the public and despite the crushing monopolies of our High Street sales and distribution systems, we attempt to make a living.

In attempting to make a living of course we are publishing books that many people will have no interest in. For example personal books of poetry, memoirs either of these genres often pertain to buyers who know the author and unless we see genuine merit in these books there is simply no point taking the books beyond this. Aside from (and I think I’m answering a direct question from Jayne here also) the bimonthly PDF sent to booksellers and library authorities detailing our latest releases, which is included in our package.
I’m not sure what the line ‘do not ask authors for money to produce books for their mothers’ means? We don’t either.

Tom, the author pays for the service. It is an added €175 for a targeted marketing and PR campaign (as below).

PR/ Marketing Package €175 incl VAT
-News release, short author biography and book backgrounder
-Personal letter or emails to 25 targeted media or professional organisations
-Contact local media and where appropriate various national outlets
-Submission of work to selected book review sites

I can not be certain Tom if you are familiar with the PR industry and trying to ‘sell-in’ a story to a busy national print or broadcast journalist/producer in the 21st century. I am going to take somewhat of a liberty and assume that you are not if you believe that ‘newsworthiness’ alone will gain you publicity.. Forgive me my assumption should I be proven incorrect.

If you consult any PR agency €175 may get you a second draft news release, but that’s it. Its best use then is to perhaps frame it.
By traditional channels of publicity I am referring to national book reviews, author profiles and these are tightly closed, especially to vanity press. In any case Literary and Arts news rarely if ever garners mass publicity. Added to this the pool of Arts media in Ireland is quite limited, so in fairness sometimes all the imagination and effort in the world will not win you time or space.

Jayne, mainstream publishers do assign a publicist but they are also making a profit from their author’s book sales, upon which they are completely dependent. The up front cost of each service we provide denotes our profits and the author receives 75% of net profits.

Referring to ‘snobbery’ within literary circles. I’m afraid I would have to say that there does exist an amount of intellectual snobbery.
My point is that vanity press produce is dismissed on the assumption of rubbish rather than an informed decision on book content and therein, I believe, lies the snobbery.

These are simply my comments based on an informed view, insofar as nothing I have outlined above is based on supposition, as I'm sure Jayne yours are. I firmly believe in Original Writing Ltd,the niche and most importantly transparent service we provide.

Thank you for the opportunity to debate and discuss - they seem rare concerning vanity press.

Eimear

Mr J said...

Re vanity in the wider world, the critics certainly seem have it in spades (nothing personal you understand).


Author Iain Banks chooses that name for his mainstream fiction, adds the 'M' in Iain M. Banks for his science fiction.

This on the basis that, early on I think he reckoned the critics would sniff and pass on reviews, if they confused the two!

mgwallace said...

I once went the vanity press route with one of my books. I thought I would do all the marketing leg work myself and my sales would be based on how much effort I put into the process. As I contacted the brick and mortar book stores, I found they didn't want to have anything to do with POD books and some stores just hung up on me once I mentioned the name of the vanity press who published my book (iUniverse). I will never go that route again.