Thursday, 19 February 2009

Reverse-End Vanity Publishing

There are vanity publishers out there which insist that they are not vanity publishers because they don't charge their writers anything for publication. PublishAmerica, a notorious reverse vanity publisher, even pays its authors a token advance of one dollar in an attempt to signify its good intent.

As is so often the case, all is not necessarily what it appears.

A vanity publisher is one which makes the majority of its money from its authors, rather than from selling its books on to new readers. Ordinary vanity publishers do this by charging their writers fees upfront for publication, and often making further charges of extras that they consider optional, like editing, design, press release writing and distribution and so on—all of which are done as standard and for free by reputable mainstream publishers.

So how can a publisher which charges no upfront fees be considered a vanity press? Especially when, like PublishAmerica, it pays its authors an advance? Simple.

Instead of charging of those upfront fees, our reverse-end vanity publisher gets its authors to pay after the event, usually by persuading them to buy copies of their own books for resale, often at inflated prices. PublishAmerica does very well out of this business model: at the last count it claimed it had signed up over 35,000 happy writers. No wonder PublishAmerica’s CEO Willem Meiners can afford to fly a helicopter.


Helen P said...

Am I missing something here? Why is this a bad thing? If someone wants something and can afford to pay for it then in a modern economy someone will provide that facility - at a price. I think it's a good thing that the traditional role of publisher is challenged, don't you?

Nicola Morgan said...

Jane, this is a brilliantly clear explanation.

Helen, I believe it's a "bad thing" for many reasons, the main one perhaps being that with vanity publishing the publisher has absolutely no interest in either making your book as good as possible or in selling / marketing it. Therefore it is the worst way to produce a good deal for readers or writers. Writers are rarely able to do excellent editing, marketing and selling themselves and if they are they should SELF-publish and pay for whichever skills they lack. Vanity publishing is empty of content and integrity. Traditional publishing should certainly be challenged and has room for improvement but vanity publishing simply pretends to be something it isn't: good for writers or readers.

Anonymous said...

Helen, the "traditional" publisher isn't challenged in the least by these publishers. These types can't afford risk, and that is why their primary source of income is selling books to their authors. Even if an author has a great promotional platform, they're still paying above average prices to purchase their own books. The author is on their own in terms of promotion since there is no backup from the "publisher." It's exhausting work selling your own books, and most only sell about 50 copies.

Those books will never be on store shelves or reviewed in the large trade magazines. There will be no distribution. In fact, these aren't even viewed as publishing credits.

Since all of the risk is placed with the author, there is no incentive for the "publisher" to do a quality job of editing, cover design, or interior design. I've seen books fall apart in my hands. These folks make their money on quantity - they have a huge acceptance rate in order to offset those authors who don't purchase their own books.

With all that's going against this publishing modality, these folks aren't a blip on a trade publisher's radar screen.

Jane Smith said...

Helen, vanity publishing DOESN'T challenge mainstream publishing at all. Not one bit. It just exploits the writers that it publishes, which is an entirely different thing. It does this by costing them money and deluding them about the potential that their books have to sell well. The two business models work on entirely different principles, and simply don't overlap.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, can (and does sometimes) challenge mainstream publishing: but it still barely registers on mainstream publishing's radar. This is true to such an extent that the very few books which are considered a self-publishing success have achieved that success, almost without exception, by being picked up by a mainstream publisher and selling a bundle of copies. Which doesn't imply to me that self-publishing is a good way to go--just that you need a mainstream publisher to make a book a real success.

Jane Smith said...

Ooops, I cross-posted with Lynn there: but there you have it. Three women with experience of Real Mainstream Publishing all saying pretty much the same thing about vanity publishing. We're in complete harmony, and should start a band, girls.

Nik Perring said...

- it's a band I'd like to see!

The whole vanity thing doesn't half make me feel uncomfortable. Ick.


none said...

If anyone wants to know more about PA (although why would you?) Absolute Write have a never-ending thread on it over at the Water Cooler. But it really is never-ending--be warned!

Sally Zigmond said...

I'm glad you posted your comment, HelenP, because it shows how easy it is for new writers (I've checked Helen's blog) to believe the half-truths, misinformation (and sometimes, downright lies) spread by vanity publishers.

Yes, they will print your book for you but without any editorial input (unless paid for), often with indifferent covers and design and any means of promotion or distribution. If you only want a few copies to give to friends and family then do it if you must (better to do it wholly yourself) but if anyone is serious about a writing career and/or being taken seriously as a writer, then vanity publishing will be useless at best and at worst, detrimental to your general health, wealth and happiness. I've seen it.

None of the professionals who've posted here have any axe to grind; like me, they just wish writers would do their homework and learn the true facts about publishing and book-selling before rushing headlong into disaster.

K M Kelly said...

Goodness - it's a minefield out there! Fascinating post. Thanks.

Jane Smith said...

Are you referring to vanity publishing there, Kate, or to our new band?

Sally Zigmond said...

It's a good name, though.

I can just see it--

Presenting--for one night only--the delectable, the wonderful! The unmissable! It's a Minefield Out There!

K M Kelly said...

LOL :-)

none said...

But the thing is, Helen, most of the people whose books are put out by PublishAmerica don't realise they're buying a service; they're led to believe PA is publishing their book. They even get an advance on royalties to "prove" that PA are invested in the book.

That's very different from making a conscious choice to self-publish.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Jane,

Your post inspired me to write a story using a supposedly romantic relationship as an analogy for reverse vanity publishing.

Maybe it'll show why such vanities are met with so much disapproval.