Thursday, February 05, 2009

Are you an author? Here's how not to impress me.

I love meeting other writers. It always fascinates me to see what kinds of subjects interest other writers, whether fiction or nonfiction. Well, except poetry, I suppose. Poetry is so subjective that what one person likes, another person hates.

Let's set aside poetry for another discussion.

Writers who finish their books will invariably seek publication. I am doing that right now. Hopefully soon I will post a happy blog announcement saying that I have found an agent for my book. Hopefully that day comes soon.


For many authors, though, that process takes too long. They want their books published now.

In some cases, they'll finish writing their novel in two months. ("I can dash off three hundred pages in two months," I heard one writer say once. That's nice, but how long did revision take?)

So they google "book publisher" and find a helpful list of vanity presses, and at the top is PublishAmerica, about the worst vanity press I have ever come across. This Washington Post article is three years old, but its information is still relevant. These writers, not doing any further research, will either doom their manuscripts to Publish America or pay several hundred to several thousand dollars to another vanity press like iUniverse, Trafford, xlibris, booksurge, and the list goes on and on.

This is not the way to get published. But many writers seem to feel that it is.

What doesn't impress me as an author is when I meet another author who tells me he or she has a book published through a vanity press. My first question is always, "Who published it?" because I want to know. Is it Random House? Dell? Bantam? Even Bleak House Books? If so, I find that very impressive. Here's an author who has done all the work necessary to achieve the status as "published author." (And here's an interesting aside, legitimately published authors rarely call themselves "published authors." That moniker usually belongs to the vanity press authors.)

In answer to my question, the author might respond with "Booksurge." Or God help me, "PublishAmerica."

And here's my typical response:


That doesn't impress me at all. This tells me right away that this author did not do his homework, did not do the proper research, and just paid someone to print his words.

I could pay Trafford a thousand bucks to print up all of my blog posts, but that doesn't make it saleable literature.

Now, there could also be other reasons why this author went vanity:

"I queried a hundred agents and/or publishers and they all turned me down."

"I'm too old to wait for around for a response from a publisher."

"The publishing industry is closed to new authors. They're mean that way, you know."

I won't refute all the above claims, except to say that if a hundred agents and/or publishers turned down your golden words, then there could be reasons why that happened: bad query letter, incorrect submission, publisher didn't want another book on that subject, book badly written despite your claim that your boyfriend loved it. The list goes on and on.

And the publishing industry being closed to new authors? Please. Stephen King won't live forever. Both Michael Crichton and John Updike recently passed on. New authors have to step in to take their place. Have to. Publishers want the next King, Rowling, or heck, even Stephanie Meyer. But many unpublished authors believe the crap that comes from the vanity presses.

Take this quote, for example. This is a direct quote from a representative from Trafford Publishing posted on the Absolute Write message board:

"New authors seeking publication face a great challenge because publishing companies flooded with unsolicited manuscripts simply do not have resources to take a chance on unproven talent."

This is an utter bullshit line used by vanity presses to try to convince their potential customers that publishers don't take new talent.

Aspiring authors, do some research. Get a copy of Writers Market 2009. Visit agentquery and read what agents are looking for. Visit their websites. Read their blogs. You'll see that many of them specifically say they are looking for new talent. Write a query letter until it shines and follow their guidelines explicitly and only submit what they want to see.

Then later, when I run into you someplace, you can say, "I'm published with Random House."

That's impressive.

Between acceptance and publication takes a long time, perhaps up to two years or more. I've seen some PublishAmerica authors' blogs that say something like:

Submitted manuscript: May 1.
Received reply: May 3.
Signed contract: May 5.
Book will be published: May 20.

And they're excited about this, proclaiming, "I'm a world famous published author!"

Dude, or dudette, No, no you're not. You're neither world famous nor actually published. You're an author because you wrote the words, but that's it.

It never seems to dawn on some of these people that there is something seriously wrong when a publisher accepted their work the day after they submit it. They don't see any red flags when said publisher says they "won't change a thing" to their manuscript because it's so perfect.

Then, a month or two later, their book comes out. And bookstores don't want the 75 page $25 novel that's listed as unreturnable with a bad discount. And authors don't know why.

Same thing with a typical vanity press. Bookstores don't want them. You can't get your booksurge novel in bookstores nationwide because there's no distribution with vanity presses and PublishAmerica. The vanity author must hand sell the books himself.

And sorry if I sound elitist, but that does not impress me.

On the flipside of all this is self-publishing, whether through (which is a PRINTER) or doing it yourself at the local print shop or Kinkos. Self publishing is not a good option for fiction. Strange as this may seem, many authors disagree with me on this point. They'll print up their novel at the local print shop, sell it at the local book store, and that's pretty much the only place you can find it. If you've got a great book, you're doing your readers a great disservice by publishing this way.

Nonfiction, OTOH, has its place with self publishing, if the topic is narrow enough that commercial publishers aren't interested. If you have a small, but solid audience, you can sell your self-published nonfiction book yourself with minimal effort through your website or word of mouth. If you want it in bookstores, you have to be your own distributor and get them there yourself. And people, that's a lot of work. Your new job, besides writer, is salesperson.

I met an author who self published a Civil War book whose subject is a specific battle. The books are well written, beautiful, and reasonably priced. He distributes them himself quite successfully. This is a more rare case, but there are enough readers interested in the Civil War to justify this sort of publishing. I asked him why he didn't submit to a commercial house. He explained that he did and got offers for publication. However, he would have received the typical 10% royalty and didn't feel the return justified the ten or so years he put into researching and writing the book. And I agreed with him, although for me, the additional sales work involved would have been too much for me to handle.

I applaud him as a success story in the world of self publishing.

And that does impress me. I say, good job.

But in other cases, especially with fiction, publish with a commercial publisher if you want respect in the writing community.

Otherwise, you'll just be another vanity author.


At Thursday, February 05, 2009 3:01:00 PM, Blogger Personal Finance Now said...

You make a very good point here. There's nothing respectable about rushing the process.


At Tuesday, March 10, 2009 4:30:00 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

It does disturb me that so many "writers" actually use these services. If I'm ever that desperate to publish my work, I'll find a printer and pay my own way--at least then I'd still call the shots.

In the meantime, I'll try my luck with small presses.

At Thursday, June 04, 2009 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous spamwarrior said...

Good advice, excellent post. It does feel strange if a guy will pay someplace to publish his work.

At Sunday, November 08, 2009 4:54:00 PM, Anonymous Ryan said...

Nice post. Just finished a memoir that took me 3 years. The last thing I want to do is rush this next step. Sending out feelers to small presses and considering the whole agent thing. Seems like some books/authors go small press then if the book is good enough a bigger press buys the rights.

My wife is 4 months along so will check your Dad site out.

Link to blog and memoir excerpts:


At Wednesday, March 03, 2010 5:03:00 PM, Blogger Cheyanne said...

Great post.. I wish everyone considering self-publishing would read it... well maybe not because that would mean that agents have less time to read MY queries =)

At Wednesday, April 14, 2010 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Allen said...

Too many would-be authors aren't willing to go through the extra work it takes to find a commercial publisher. Either that, or they just won't educate themselves on the process. As a result, they go to Authorhouse, or worse, Publishamerica, easily the worst of the worst. With Authorhouse right behind it.

Either that, or they jump onto the first "publisher" they come across, say a vanity ebook publisher which will take their careers nowhere.

That's okay, it gives me less competetion with the real publishers or agents.


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