Many authors are choosing to publish their masterpieces on their own terms using vanity or subsidy publishers, otherwise known as "paid-for publishing", "self-publishers" and "self-publishing companies". While these establishments do have their uses, for example for specialty, limited-release books, or private books including poetry and memoirs, there are quite a few drawbacks to their use. Here's the bare-boned truth:
Truth #1: Sacrificial Quality
Most of these "self-publishing companies" do not require editing or professional design for your book. Often they will tell you to use a template because it's cheap, but beware: your book will look like it belongs in a series written by someone else. These companies have a reputation of "ripping off" authors (though most of the time the author just hasn't done their proper research) and several are undergoing lawsuits for a myriad of reasons. If you have a company name on your book that doesn't belong to you, you are at the mercy of that company's reputation. So research very carefully before giving your money to any vanity/subsidy publisher.
Truth #2: Royalties and Up Front Payments
Like it or not, subsidy or vanity publishers are not in business to publish your best seller. They are here to make a profit, pure and simple. Luckily for them, their simple business model has worked quite well. Unlike the average author, which makes a profit by selling books, these "self-publishing" houses make a profit by convincing authors to use their services, pay fees and often give up a hefty percentage of the profits for the services provided. However, they are kind enough to give the author "royalties", thus graying the terminology between a vanity/subsidy publisher and a traditional house.
These publishers will convince authors to use their services by claiming to be easier to use, offering more autonomy than traditional publishers and a ease-of-use that seems to be second to none under first inspection. However, if someone were to look a little bit closer, the great deal offered often looks a little less great the more it is studied. For example, in most cases:
* The author is responsible for format: typesetting, graphics and book cover design, either by themselves or by hiring someone to do it. If the vanity/subsidy publisher is asked to help with the task, there is an upfront fee, sometimes in the thousands of dollars for a fully custom format.
* The author is responsible for all edits, or for having someone edit their manuscript. Again, if the vanity/subsidy publishing house is brought on board, there is an upfront fee, in addition to the cost already cited for publication and distribution.
* Even if the author chooses to complete the formatting, editing and marketing all on their own, they are still required to give somewhere between 60% to 90% of their profits to the vanity/subsidy publisher, and resort to making a meager "royalty".
Like it or not, these vanity/subsidy publishing houses will make money off of your hard work To be fair though, there are some subsidy publishers who have much better and fairer terms of contract. Unfortunately they can be very hard to find.
Truth #3: Who Really Owns the Rights?
Believe it or not, one of the biggest and most damaging mistakes that authors make when dealing with vanity/subsidy publishers is not knowing what they're getting into, and not carefully reading the terms of contract. Most authors believe at the end of the process, they will own the copyright, distribution rights and everything related to the printing of their book. Sadly, though, most subsidy publishing agreements will provide the copyright to the author, but give exclusive distribution rights to the publisher. That means that without careful consideration and negotiation on the part of the author, they are limited in how, when and where the book is distributed. Depending on the various agreements of the vanity/subsidy publisher with their distributors, the exposure of your book could be very limited. This also closes the door to a vanity/subsidy book being picked up by a major traditional publisher. According to a few editors I met at the Blue Ridge Writer's Conference in June, traditional publishers hate fighting vanity/subsidy companies for distribution rights to a book, so more often than not they will simply not accept that book for mainstream publication, even if they want it.
Truth #4: Bookstore Sales Won't Happen
Unless a vanity/subsidy publisher sets a book up properly, you can say goodbye to brick and mortar sales. Many of these publishers won't even promise these sales to you anymore, because they know their name is "red flagged" by major bookstore chains. In order for a book to be accepted by a brick and mortar store for stocking and to have the author in for a book signing, three criteria must be met:
* Wholesale discount-A discount of a minimum of 45% must be given to the distributor. Most vanity/subsidy publishers offer 25% - 35%.
* Price point-The book must fit within consumer guidelines for pricing. Vanity/subsidy publishers make money off the back end, especially "free" publishers. They mark the price of the book up (first they tell you that you set the price, then they say "within our guidelines") to make a profit on the print cost, then in order to meet the wholesale discount it must be marked up again so they don't lose money on the back-end. Example: I priced out my 120-page book, Financial Survival with a popular "free" vanity publisher and my minimum recommended price point was $16.95, a price no one except maybe my mother would pay.
* Returnability-Here's where most vanity/subsidy publishers really fall short. In order to meet bookstore guidelines, the book must be labeled as returnable. One popular vanity publisher actually charges $800/year for this privilege and then destroys the books as they are returned instead of sending them on to you, the author, to resell.
There are a couple vanity/subsidy publishers that meet the above criteria without additional fees. But once again, they are hard to find.
Where's the Hope?
So what is an author to do? There are a few options open to those who wish to publish their books, and one of them is to go straight through traditional publishing channels. There is a reason why this has been the standard for so many years. With patience, a killer proposal and a large author platform, it is entirely possible to be traditionally published. However, if you feel that self-publishing is your best route to becoming an author, or you don't want to wait 3-5 years to see that book in print, it is possible to truly self-publish. Many printing houses will provide the use of their printing services for a fee, and most are extremely reasonable. You can even open a publishing company of your own. Then, it is a matter of getting an ISBN for the book for $125.00 (or $250 for 10 of them), contracting a quality editor and designer and using the services of a print house to print and bind the books.
By publishing on your own (independently), you broaden your potential for distribution and keep many marketing doors open that would otherwise slam shut. Many indie-published authors will use a combination of online sales, marketing to brick and mortar booksellers, "back of the room" sales and distribution through friends and family to move the majority of their books. Plus, if a publishing house takes an interest in your book, the current book or next edition just might be published through their company, giving you the power to negotiate a bigger advance and better contract.
Please don't misunderstand-true self-publishing ("indie") is not for everyone. However, if you know that your book is worth publishing, it is definitely worth a look into publishing it completely under your own terms!