I hate raining on someone’s parade.
I mean it. My first thought when I heard of Empress Theresa and the reaction it was getting was to feel sorry for the author. It took me direct experience of his behaviour online – detailed elsewhere – for me to decide he really wasn’t helping his case. I understand how he felt, having his work ripped apart; I’ve had that myself and it isn’t pleasant.
But sometimes there are things that need to be said.
A few days ago, one of those feel-good publishing stories popped up on my Facebook feed. A teenage girl had not only published a book, she’d actually managed to get it into her school library and Amazon. I assumed that she’d had a lucky break with a traditional publisher – there are quite a few stories like that out there – and checked the link. At that point, I realised she’d made a fatal mistake. She’d used a vanity press. (The article actually states she researched publishing companies and spent money on having her book published.)
So what, you might ask, is wrong with that?
There are, as a general rule, three ways to get published these days. Traditional publishing, the oldest way, involves sending your work to a publisher, who decides to buy it and sell it. The publisher does everything, from the editing to cover design, and then puts it on bookshelves and libraries all over the country. Traditional publishing has many problems these days, but it still carries a certain prestige. An editor read the book, liked it and paid an advance! That’s why so many authors would still sell their souls to have a book picked up by a traditional publisher.
[I see a horror story here <grin>]
Traditional publishing does have some other advantages. They can afford to print lots of books and store them, so they can lower the price for individual units. They also tend to know good editors (although I have seen some books with very poor editing) and ways to market your book. The downside is that you will lose a lot of control, unless your name happens to be VERY famous.
Self-publishing is a little different. You put your book on an eBook distributor, like Amazon Kindle, or a Print On Demand service, like CreateSpace. You pay for everything like the cover, editing, etc, but you don’t really have to pay to get the book hosted. The service takes a cut of every book you sell. It’s a good way to build a brand if traditional publishers don’t want you. However, it does have the disadvantage that you either have to do everything yourself or pay someone to do it for you.
Vanity publishing is the worst. Basically, you pay someone to publish your book.
In theory, this works like a traditional publisher, only they don’t take a gamble on your work. In practice, going this way can be costly – there are no shortage of scammers out there – and you will have to do a LOT of work to sell your book. Writer’s Beware will happily tell you all sorts of horror stories about people who have been sold a bunch of goods, then discovered that the services were jokes, books were poorly edited, etc. (Publish America is perhaps the most notorious service.)
There are times, I suspect, when vanity publishing works. A person who only wants a handful of copies, or intends to only sell them at one place, might be able to get it to work. (But surely CreateSpace could do it cheaper.) However, if you want to build a career, avoid vanity publishing like the plague. Your books will NOT be on a bookstore’s shelf. Indeed, most booksellers will avoid vanity publishing, reviewers will not touch them, etc, etc.
Why? Most vanity books have a reputation for being awful, un-publishable crap. Is that fair? Probably not, but having to pay to get one’s book published does not fill reviewers with confidence, let alone any interest in reading the book. It’s the inverse of traditional publishing; someone didn’t pay to read, someone had to be paid to read. A vanity press will take ANYTHING! And I mean ANYTHING!
I understand the urge to want to get a book published. I’ve got it. But scammers love taking those hopes, biking you for all they can get and then laughing all the way to the bank. To the best of my knowledge, most attempts to recover such monies are doomed to failure. You can be conned. If you go into it with your eyes filled with visions of being the next JK Rowling, Tom Clancy, etc, you WILL be conned.
If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.
My honest advice, if you are just starting out, is to go the self-publishing route. Do not purchase any boxed services. Pay only for things you cannot do yourself; cover design, comprehensive edit, formatting service, etc, etc. And then put it on kindle and start your next book. DO NOT give money to scammers. They’ll enjoy spending it and you won’t get any return. Save it for something more useful.