Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Will I Get Published Any Other Way?

A few weeks ago I corresponded with a frustrated writer who was considering vanity publication. When I advised her against it she replied with words to this effect:
“I can see why you don’t like it. But I can’t get my book published any other way. There are millions of writers out there, and only a few of them get a publishing deal. It’s luck more than talent these days.”
It saddened me that she considered publication some sort of lottery, rather than the meritocracy it really (mostly) is. It also saddened me to think that she valued her work so little that not only was she prepared to give it away, she was also prepared to pay someone to take it off her hands. This has to be wrong: we all work hard at our writing, and we should recognise its true worth. Even if our work is not appropriate for mainstream publication it still has value, which can be measured by the efforts we’ve put into it and the satisfaction we’ve derived from writing it: why hand it over to a company which is only interested in how much money you give it, and not how well your book reads, looks or sells?

There will always be books which are not appropriate for mainstream publication, because of their subject matter or their writer’s lack of experience or talent. I would never recommend that the authors of these books use a vanity press: such presses are almost always exploitative, costly and ineffectual when it comes down to producing a high-quality book and then selling those books to anyone but their authors. So what alternatives are out there for writers who are desperate for publication, but who are not likely to attract the attentions of the mainstream press?

This is where self-publication comes into its own. It is available to everyone and needn’t cost a penny if you choose a POD provider like Lulu, CreateSpace or Lightning Source (and yes, I’m well aware that there are other options out there and I hope you’ll suggest a few which aren't vanity publishers in disguise). POD providers allow you to download your text into a book template and add your own cover art or image (or they provide you with stock images which are copyright-cleared). The book will be available for sale through the POD provider’s website, and if you pay for an ISBN to add to the package you can also get it listed on Amazon and other online retailers. You’ll be able to correct or amend the book at any time, without paying any extra cost (although substantial alterations require a new ISBN, which you will have to pay for). But doing that will give you everything that a vanity publisher will give you, at a far lower cost.


Ebony McKenna. said...

I understand the writer's frustration. A writer crafts novel after novel, year in year out and feels like they are getting nowhere.

But vanity publishing won't help one jot.

Miriam Wakerly said...

I self-published my first novel Gypsies Stop tHere 2 years ago and just launched 2nd one No Gypsies Served. At a Waterstone's book signing on Saturday a photo-journalist commented that it is quite 'normal' today for people to published their own books. This reflects a sea-change - important for credibility. Shops are now very supportive and there seem to be fewer reasons to hold back. Make sure you get plenty of feedback on mss before printing; try and do as much yourself to keep costs down; and consider traditional rather than digital if you can commit to a print run.
More tips on my blog Miriam's Ramblings and find me on Twitter, MiriamWakerly

Jane Smith said...

My point exactly, Ebony. It takes a huge amount of effort to write an entire book: to then lose your nerve and hand it over to a vanity publisher is so very sad. And often, so very expensive for so little in return.

Catherine Hughes said...

I've often been tempted to go teh Lulu (or similar) route. Sometimes I think I might do it just to see what 'my' book would look like, or to offer copies of my work to friends and family.

When I finally feel sure that there is no other route to publication for any of my work, then that is what I shall do.

Not there yet!! Thanks, in part, to blogs like this one that have helped me to learn and to believe in myself (and the two are, I suspect, inextricable - but that's a whole other topic!)

Cat x

fairyhedgehog said...

I've used Lulu to get a hard copy of a story I've written and was pleased with the result. It wasn't something that would ever be published and I could let my family read it more easily as a book than as a bundle of loose papers.

Lulu and CreateSpace and presumably other POD publishers seem to be very upfront about what they offer and what they don't.

Noir the Texas Tabby said...

I'm a cat and I know stuff. A human I know (not mine) looked into CreateSpace and loved it. Another human (not mine)used www.48hrbooks.com which is in Ohio to do small run of about 25 books, and said she would use them again. And then there's my human who says she's a writer but I never see her write anything... :)


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Epublishing is coming into its own as well and I hope it puts all the vanity scams er presses out of business. Smashwords is free, plus they don't take a huge chunk. Well, there isn't a huge chunk to take. If you want to sell there apparently the price has to be about $1.99 or less. Regardless of the path chosen, none of us better suppose that wealth is around the corner lol!

Marisa Birns said...

Yes, self-publishing is becoming a quite common option for writers.

The one thing I have read over and over again is that when publishing on LuLu or Smashwords or Kindle, etc., it is important to make sure that you have the best cover possible.

Even if that means you have to pay a graphic artist.

Michelle Scott said...

Thanks for highlighting the crucial difference between vanity publishing and POD. I don't think a lot of people can differentiate between the two.

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Marisa, YES YES YES - cover art is so important. And one thing I've noticed is that an image that looks great on the screen doesn't in real lif and vice versa, so it may be that you need to consider two different resolutions/formats for the image.

Someone I know was very impressed by Blurb for self-publishing.

e-self-publishing would almost be worth a separate post - it is a fantastic way of reaching a great audience without having to worry about the physical logistocs of having stores stock your book.

On the subject of ISBNs, Jane, people should be clear that many POD self-publishing companies like Lulu will offer you an ISBN for free for your book, but that if you take it you are no longer the publisher - they are. The way to ensure that you remain the publisher is to buy your own ISBNs (from Bowker in the US/ Nielsen in the UK) and attach them to the book, so that Lulu/whoever really is your PRINTER not your publisher. This will make things much much easier if you decide to move printers

Glynis Peters said...

I used lulu.com for my poetry books, but want to go down the traditional route with my novel. I would never pay to be published.

jjdebenedictis said...

Oh, good heavens, yes--never, ever, ever give a DIME to those parasites. If you can't go traditional, at least don't help a vanity publisher stay in business.

Anonymous said...

Um. What is vanity publishing?

Jane Smith said...

A vanity publisher is one which is set up to make its money from the writers it publishes, rather than from selling its books on to new readers.

If you click on the "vanity publishing" label on the right hand side of this blog you'll find a more detailed definition.

The general rule is that you shouldn't pay to be published: money flows towards the writer, not away from the writer.

Is that a help?

Old Kitty said...


I'm so glad Xuxana brought it up!

I get mightily confused with POD and Vanity publishing because I tend to think that they do the same thing almost but not quite.

Although you have some kind of quality control over the look of your book if you go the POD way you still can't ensure quality control over your work - something an experienced editor and/or agent would or should offer?

I do know only one writer about to be published with a big publishing firm whose finalised MS was only accepted after his agent suggested re-writes and even then the editor of the publishing company suggested even more tweaking of the final completely final and about to be sent to press MS.

If you do the POD/vanity way (sorry I still can't see the difference!) without such help then the heart of your art no matter how strong or how good or how unique may not be as polished or be given the best possible light to shine as you think.

Take care

DT said...

Hi everyone. I think the actual publication is only half the battle - it's distribution that will make or break a novel, however it's published.

Vanity publishers have no primary interest in promoting and distributing a book, since they make their money from the author. If bookstores were more amenable to having self-published books in a prominent position on display, it would make self-publication a much more attractive proposition generally.


M. M. Justus said...

I agree with Derek. If I could get decent distribution, I'd be self-publishing in a heartbeat.

But that's the main value traditional publishers are offering.

I'm not Billy Mays, and I have no ambitions in that direction.

I just want to be read.

Marion Gropen said...

First, a clarification: LSI (Lightning Source) is a PRINTER, not a publisher.

The so-called self-publishing companies use LSI to print the books that they're making "available for sale in major bookstores." You can skip the middle man, although LSI doesn't have templates, and assistance. Still, if you read one of the standard sources like Fern Reiss' or Dan Poynter's books you can do it yourself.

Going directly to LSI allows you to do many, many important things that using a POD publisher/self-publishing company/vanity press will not.

The other thing that no one seems to "get" is that it is almost always EASIER to get traditionally published than to do a half-way decent job of self-publishing.

And, no, I'm not one of those elitist folks who can't see the new wave coming. I volunteer to run one of the very largest group of self-publishers on the web.

Last, there's a real stinger in the tail of self-publishing to "get your book out there": you end up with really lousy Bookscan numbers. Everyone who thinks about signing your next book will look at them, and very, very few of them will make allowances for the difficulty of self-publishing. (Worse, even if they do, when the bookstores are ordering your traditionally published works, THEY won't.)

So, either GIVE YOUR WORK AWAY on the net, to build a fan base, OR do the work to get published well (traditionally or not).

I'll get off my (borrowed) soapbox now. Sorry.

Nicola Morgan said...

The emailer is largely correct until she says this, "It’s luck more than talent these days." No, it's talent, hard work, a thoroughly appropriate approach and one important other factor: a book that enough people can believe they will enjoy enough to spend money and time on, when there are hundreds of thousands of books and only so many hours in the day.

The only luck comes in whether you have the talent in the first place. From then on it's the application of that talent. So, published or self-published, if you don't have the talent to write a truly readable book, your spitting in the wind.

Mick Rooney said...

[...]Today, Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works reflected on the opportunities and empowerment self-publishing can provide if executed correctly and for the right reasons. Vanity publishing is certainly the trapdoor many authors fall down because they choose to make their decisions to self-publish based on frustration, impatience and lack of research. Smith might very well have called her post today; How Self-Publishing Really Works.[...]

KJ said...

Self-publishing is a proper avenue for those of us with a book that does not fit easily into a specific genre. I am in Europe, and tried Lulu, and found the quality from their Spanish printer to be the worst I have ever seen. Several authors had difficulty with them, and nothing was done about the quality, so most of us moved on, because Lulu chose to ignore the problem. In my experience, they were not responsive for European authors. (This problem was also experienced by their Aussie authors, when they arranged for an Aussie printer. I do not know if the Aussie issues were ever resolved. Check out the Lulu forums for details.)

I create my own covers, organize my own printing and do my own marketing. Lulu does not market anyone's book, nor is it the function of the site. They also do not drive demographically-specific traffic to your books. They are not set up to do that. It is just a repository, and their printing is not inexpensive. A run of 100 books in the UK, from a reputable printer, cost half what Lulu wanted for the same book, printed in Spain - and that is just the printing. Shipping with Lulu is also expensive, and one should read their forums for details on their high international shipping costs.

If you want to self-publish, I suggest you work with a printer directly, and take delivery of your books. You will have to market them yourself anyway, so why pay the high cost of printing with Lulu?

Terri Tiffany said...

I've got a good friend who wrote some books and self-published. Not my choice but for her it is working cause she's got connections in marketing, her own bookstore and she wrote a good book.
I prefer the traditional way where someone with some publication knowledge will decide based on how good a book I wrote. And that's what it takes.

Michael N. Marcus said...

Old Kitty said, "If you do the POD/vanity way (sorry I still can't see the difference!)"

There is a significant difference. POD is a tool. Vanity publishers are users of the tool, but not the only users.

POD is a combination of technology and business strategy that is used by vanity publishers, traditional publishers of all sizes, university presses, and real self-publishers (i.e., NOT customers of vanity publishers).

Michael N. Marcus
-- Independent Self-Publishers Alliance, http://www.independentselfpublishers.org
-- "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press" http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
-- "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)" http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750
-- http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
-- http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com

Tori said...

I used to feel like that writer. Yesterday I was worried that my next project was not marketable enough, that I should just ignore it and move on to something else. But it hit me. I've got to try, I've got to fight for the stories I love, even if not very many people like them.

Jane Smith said...

Gah. Comment-spam. I hates it. Sorry about that, everyone.