Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vanity of Vanities!

Good weekend, Fellow castaways.

First of all, I want to thank everyone for your patience while I work through some life things. Turns out having not one but two teenagers in two different high school sports tends to pull a person in many different directions, and those whom I've angered by not being where you wanted me to be, or have been waiting for a progress report on the latest WIP (That's Work In Progress, for you non-writers), I can only apologize. Keeping family commitments is what we have to put at the top of our priority list, at the cost of everything else. I could write a whole blog post on that, but it's another story.

Anyway, a question was raised on a previous post (See "To Pay or Not to Pay") about publishers who make more money from writers than selling books. So let me tell you about a couple of chapters from my journey to publishing, and maybe it will clear up some of the mud.

The term in question is "Vanity House" or "Vanity Publisher." These are houses that require a down payment from the author for services sometimes rendered, and sometimes not. What I mean is this: I submitted my manuscript to a certain publishing house whose leadership professed to being Christians, and used that as an indicator of their honesty.

Well, lo and behold, they sent me an acceptance letter a few weeks after I submitted to them, and I was happy as a pig in mud, I'll tell you. BUT there was this qualification: I mad "made it through the first round of acceptances." And all I had to do to make it through to final consideration was pay them three thousand dollars up front. Being a new, unpublished author, I was taken aback to say the least. I had no idea how I was going to come up with that amount.

BUT (I have a few of those, can you tell?) I was saved by a quick visit to a professional author's website (Okay, it was ), and learned that reputable publishing houses don't charge their writers a single penny up front. And that three thousand? That wasn't even to offset costs. It was "earnest money" to prove I was serious about being published! So how's that for the literary equivalent of a bear trap?

Another more famous story revolves around a book called "Atlanta Nights." You may have heard of it, maybe not. Anyway, nine professional fiction authors (top rated in their fields) decided they were going to call out one of the more well-known vanity houses (PublishAmerica). They came up with a premise, and decided to gang up on the worst book they could write. It was twenty-seven chapters long. Each author wrote three chapters, only having agreed on which part they would write. So the guy writing the end of the book had no idea what the guy who wrote the beginning even put down, and each one deliberately made it so horrible it would make any experienced reader's eyes bleed. I have a copy, and I still can't get through Chapter Four. It's that bad.

Anyway, without any further review, they submitted it to PA under the pen name Travis Tea (Play on words intended.) And guess what. It was accepted. Of course, PA ran it though their usual "meticulous" editing process (interpreted "not at all," but claiming they did), set it up in their market site, and priced it at their usual exorbitant rate, while not doing a lick of promotion for the author.

Of course, as soon as it hit the market, all the authors involved gleefully raised the BS flag and screamed "FOUL!" But to this day I see authors who are struggling to get out of their contract with PA (seven years, totally restrictive terms) only to be told they can "buy out" their contract for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. I personally know one such writer, whose horribly-edited book, priced at twenty-five dollars (for a paperback! ) has sold all of three copies from Amazon.

THESE are the stories that to me define a disreputable Vanity House: Hidden fees, services advertised but not rendered, exorbitant pricing of final product, charging fees for editing and cover art without being "up-front" with their expectations. This is what I mean by publishers who make more from authors than they do from book sales.

Now, I used to think there were self-publishing houses which were basically central points for indie authors to find cover artists and editing services at reasonable prices to put a book into print, or formatted for ePublishing. But now I'm not so sure.

There is a resouce for writers looking for publishing resources:

Maybe there is some house out there which does provide a central contact point. But with Amazon's services being free (of course, they don't provide editing or cover art. Those will set you back for a professional product), it means authors still have a lot to think about.

But be careful out there. It's a twisted world.