cross promotion / marketing for authors

Writers have Vanity Issues

Old books

Perhaps one day your title will be on a shelf like this.

“Probably other bathroom fixture issues, too.” (the First Reader)

There is a difference, my friends, between independently or self publishing, and vanity publishing. For that matter, micro presses and small presses aren’t always that safe, either. This post isn’t about the sharks swimming in the legacy publisher’s pool, so we will leave them unchummed for the nonce. No, this post is about something else that has been on my mind for a while. Every so often I hear stories, or dig up information on an author, that makes me wince in sympathy for what they have gone through, in order to see their book in print.

First of all, a publisher (and you as a self-publisher do this by wearing two hats) sends money to the author by selling books to the reading public. A vanity press, book promotion  service, these things make money from the author. See the difference?

There are things that must be done to a raw manuscript to make it presentable to the public. Editing, at least copy-editing, and possibly also the sort that takes an expert with a light hand to make the story hang together and lose the raw akwardness of a baby moose walking for the first time. That second sort of editor is very very rare, and very expensive. The first sort is common, and you should check prices before selecting one, as well as seeing samples and taking references.

Which is something you ought to do for anyone who is helping you with your ms. Note that uncategorized “author services” for $1400 is a huge red flag: run. Paying for anything without researching first is a bad idea, and will almost certainly lead to you having the kind of cover for your book that people will openly mock, and the sort of editing that will have potential readers hold their noses as they click the close button on the preview window. Yes, you will need to spend money (most likely) on getting your book ready for print and ebook publication. No, it need not be an exorbitant amount, and you should spend time on research. If you are publishing anything, and hope to make money, you are now a business. *poof* (the little fairy with the gucci shoes and powersuit appears and gestures with her sheaf of papers)

If you feel like you can’t set this all up on your own, and you must, simply must, have a publisher, look long and hard before you settle. First rule: money flows to the author. If you are paying “author services” fees, then it is not a publisher, it is a vanity press, and I’d venture to say 90% (if not more) of those are scams. You are going to want to learn where to look before you trust. Preditors and Editors, and Writer Beware, two well-respected websites, are excellent resources to start with.

But say you find a group that seems to be all enthusiastic and helpful, still keep a wary eye out. If they are asking you to promote yourself, or charging you high fees for ‘book promotion’ then beware. If the whole mass of authors and publisher feels like a cult, requiring you to like everything, review one another’s books enthusiastically, and engage in frequent blog tours where the hits on your blog are mostly from others in the group, this too is a warning sign. For one thing, using this method to get favorable reviews for your book is, well, hinky to me. Especially if you sample books from that publisher and notice a trend toward bad editing and poor writing, this may simply be a way to prey on the gullible and desperate.

It’s not an easy path. But it is very possible to do this and see your book in print. Time, learning on your part, and more time in order to do the job justice. Just be aware, check references, take the time to dig into a company or person before you ‘hire’ them to publish you. And ask questions.


8 thoughts on “Writers have Vanity Issues

  1. If the whole mass of authors and publisher feels like a cult, requiring you to like everything, review one another’s books enthusiastically, and engage in frequent blog tours where the hits on your blog are mostly from others in the group, this too is a warning sign.

    This. Definitely this.


  2. Also, for payment you want either a flat fee per word, or you want a percent off the _gross_. Even if it’s a fraction of a percent for a poem you wrote included in a whatever book, even if it’s an “among contributers” split of a royalty percentage, make sure it is off the _gross_. Never, never, never contract that percent off the _net_.

    Keeping overhead down is tough. It is all too easy for you to do work, have copies see print, sold to others, and get paid nothing because oh, there was no “net.”—-but you can buy all the copies you want at the “authors’ price” and resell them yourself to your family and friends!

    I guess if you’re good at marketing and you _want_ to spend time personally selling books, it might be for you. If you _don’t_—-then make sure any contract you sign takes the percentage off the _gross_, and make sure discounted sales to your fellow contributors as “author copies” get included in that gross.

    Gross, not net. And if there isn’t a guaranteed minimum of, oh, say five bucks, to ensure you _do_ get a check, do not submit so much as a limerick.

    If you’re pre-professional and just want to see your work in print in a shared journal of some sort, or you have some other compelling reason to donate your work to a specific effort, that’s certainly okay. But a friend ran into a scheme that ran along those lines—submitted work, work was accepted, work was printed, copies were sold (ultimately) to end readers at the cover price, got no check whatsoever.

    Caveat writer.


    • May I use this as an attributed quote? I’m being asked to do an expanded version of this post, and will likely do so over at Mad genius Club in a week or so. I think your addition here is good.


  3. It’s okay, and part of the business, to write work that gets rejected. Peachy. But if it is accepted, it sees print as product, and _anybody_ gets paid, as a working writer it’s part of your job to see that _you_ are included in the “gets paid” roster—for writing, not for selling.

    Obviously, you don’t get paid for every word you write–like comments on the internet. 🙂

    But your rule of thumb should be: some of your work is accepted, it sees print, copies are sold to readers = check for you. Otherwise, your work isn’t a submission, it’s a donation.

    “Nothing but net” is only a good thing in basketball.


  4. Yes. I’m not saying there’s never a good reason to donate work, but one should by all means avoid _accidentally_ donating work. 🙂


  5. Great piece, Cedar. I’d add: beware of places that only offer packages – editing, cover, and formatting, – take it or leave it. When I was doing my first research, I stumbled onto a couple of those and after poking around, ran. No, I didn’t save the addresses or names. I just remember looking at the prices, seeing that you had to take everything even if you did not want/need it, and getting a bad feeling in my wallet. They may have been 100% legit and done great work, but I prefer to pick and choose what services I buy. (FWIW, my WIBBOW level is cover, formatting, and copy edit for novels or novel-length works.)


    • I would agree, and would second the recommendation to avoid a package deal. For one thing, unless the company has a large staff, it is rare to find any one person who can do all of that competently, much less well. Which is another thing: if they are representing themselves as a company, check and make sure they really are, not one person working out of a garage. I make it clear with my design services that I am a soloist, and furthermore, there are projects I’m not capable of creating the best quality product for (certain styles of original art, for instance). Which comes back around to checking references, I guess.


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