Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Curse of the Vanity Press

Dear Author

Thanks for your submission of three hours ago. 
We think your book is the best thing since Insert Name of Bestseller in the same Genre and would love to publish it. We ask our authors for a contribution towards the publishing costs of Insert Amount At Least Ten Times The Cost of Publishing Your Book.

Yours with hands being gleefully rubbed together

The letter above obviously wouldn't exist in that form. But a vanity press will publish any book for money. That's how they make money. So my suggestion would be, if any publisher asks for money to help with "costs" of publication, run like the wind.

I have recently read a review book which looked good, had a great (author/PR company) press release and appealed to me from the blurb. The cover made me curious as it was very simple and I wondered if it was significant to the story. Well it was, but other covers would have been way more relevant and appealed more to the target market.

The story was good, the characters were likeable in the main, irritating where they were meant to be, the layout of the book and paper were all good, it was packaged like a traditionally published book without a doubt. However, when I started reading it, within a few pages I wanted to throw the (400 page) book against the wall. Missing words, grammar crimes, repetition, switching points of view, telling not showing... my inner editor had a total meltdown reading it. What made it more of a struggle was that this 400 page whopper should have been edited down to about 270-290 pages in my opinion.

The thing that made me totally livid though, was this book had potential. A lot of potential. I would go as far as to say with the right editor, a better cover, and an early summer release date, this could have been stocked by airport bookshops as it was a summer holiday read, which could have been a page-turning 5 star read with the right edit.  The vanity press who published it have packaged it up at all but I would be willing to bet there wasn't any form of editing or proofreading. Well, either that or the editor and/or proofreader need to be walked out of the building without any time to clear their desks.

As writers we lack confidence in our work, we have to, or we can't constantly strive to improve. So when someone offers to publish the book you have worked on for months or even years, it seems like the golden ticket. However, a word to all would-be authors: do your research. Google is your best friend - research your publishers, don't grab any deal that is pushed under your nose, and if anyone asks for money, tell them thanks but no thanks. PLEASE.

Please, just do us all a favour and get a professional edit...
If you do wish to have control over your book, consider self-publishing instead of a vanity press. Then you really will only pay the costs of publication, and you will keep all of the profits (after Amazon/Lulu/Smashwords/Lightning Source/whichever other company you publish through keep their cut). These companies do not charge up front, they keep a percentage of the profit. The only other costs will be for a cover, because we all want a professional looking cover, right? There are also a huge range of editorial and proof reading services out there, some of which will provide a full structural edit of your book, some a copy edit, and some proof readers who will read your book and check for glaring mistakes. The editor you work with should suit you and your budget, but please don't just get your best friend and your mum to read your book and then declare it ready and stick the word document on Kindle. After your professional edit, either buy a book which tells you how to format for Kindle or pay someone to do it for you.

With all these costs, you will have a book published for well under the costs of "vanity publishing", and it will be edited properly and have a relevant cover.

A vanity press may say they will do marketing for you. Well let me be blunt. Anyone can set up an email list. Anyone can approach book bloggers for reviews (I did this myself for all three of my books). Anyone can get an author-friendly PR company to take on their book and promote it (obviously a PR company would cost more money, but if you have the budget for it, there are great companies out there), approach local radio, create their own social media profile etc. Even with the biggest publishers in the world you have to do all of these things anyway, so don't let a vanity press gloss up their package to be something special by offering these sort of things. They are simply ripping you off.

The last couple of times I saw books published by vanity presses I became friends with their authors and helped them out. From this I have built my freelance business helping authors with whatever their needs are - from advice to formatting, proof reading and lately editing. Do feel free to get in contact if you would like any further information, and please, please, please try and avoid the vanity presses. They will take your money, print your book, and leave you feeling disappointed further down the line.

I think I have ranted on enough now. Thanks as always for reading.

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