The Mail I Get

I received a lengthy email today from a woman in her 50s. It read, in part:

Who are the publishers that PAY “unknowns”
for their work?  How do I contact them? I’m an unknown author, writing a book about tragedy, near death experiences, and years of living with pain and how I learned to cope with
it all; and how God miraculously healed me of a debilitating, incurable disease.
My book is ready to be published. I worked with a literary agent (author coach)
for about three years. He got me a contract with Axiom Press, a subsidiary of
Evergreen Press.  But their cost to publish and market my book was between
$3,800 & $6,500 (depending on what services I chose).  I’m not
rich, do not have a big savings account and can not afford this!

[…]isn’t the biggest part of the money paid to the
publisher for marketing purposes?   That’s the way it seems to
me.[…]if I use a
POD and have to pay for all the marketing, etc.  Isn’t that going to
cost me in the long run, much more time and money that going through someone
like Tate? And who will set up my book signings?

Here’s what I told her: Every publisher buys books from unknown authors every day. You contact them through an agent. If they like your book, they offer you an advance against royalties. Your agent gets 10-15% of that advance, you get the rest. And if you earn your advance back in sales, you will get a royalty from every book that’s sold. You don’t advance the agent, or the publisher, a dime. That’s how publishing works.

An agent, or "author coach," who sets you up with someone who wants to charge you to publish your book is either a fool or a fraud. Either way, it’s a mistake to be in business with him, he doesn’t know what he is doing. 

The money you pay a vanity press isn’t going into marketing. It’s going into their car lease, their house payment, and their kid’s braces. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Tate or Jones Harvest or anybody else. They are all taking advantage of your desperation, gullibility and ignorance. 

But if you are hell-bent on paying to be published, save your money and go with iUniverse or Lulu. You’ll get the same "services" for a lot less.

The fact is that no vanity press is going to do any useful marketing for you — they will just empty your savings account (and that includes iUniverse). No newspapers or magazines are interested in reviewing any books from vanity press publishers. Nobody at a vanity press is going to set up any meaningful booksignings for you, either, because bookstores don’t want to host events for vanity press authors. Why? Because the vast majority of vanity press books are ugly, horrendous crap.

It’s cheaper, and more productive, to approach the bookstores on your own…something even professional authors do (and no one does it better than my friend author Joe Konrath).  Most of the successful authors I know have worked hard to establish strong, PERSONAL relationships with booksellers.

So, fire your useless fraud of an agent/coach and if you are going to self-publish,  go with iUniverse or Lulu and avoid any of their marketing packages.

UPDATE 12/29/07:  I heard back from the woman.

No, I do not want to PAY for publishing my
book.  I’ve always been under the impression that a reputable place
pays YOU for your work…but I was given a bunch of mis-information that
they don’t do that these days.  (That’s just the way it is,
and if you get it published you’ll have to pay a publisher because you
are an “unknown”. ) I’m so glad I came upon your web
site before I sent it to someone like Tate! Thanks again – for saving me from a
horrible mistake!

6 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”

  1. While I agree with you about vanity publishers, I can’t see a real one paying her for that book. It sounds to me like a load of horseshit.
    But then, I’m a hard sell on anything of that kind.

  2. I was a bookbuyer for a Los Angeles Tower Records book section. I often dealt with writers trying to sell their self published books. At times we would put their books on consignment. They would leave five copies for us to sell. If any sold we would pay them minus our cost. But rarely would any sell. My personal feelings were I dealt with over a dozen book distributors who handled books from countless publishers, if you can’t find one of them willing to sell your book it is unlikely I will find anyone interested in buying your book.
    Vanity publishing gets your book into print, but it doesn’t get your work read.

  3. Lee,
    Unfortunately, I know of a similar case but without as pleasant an outcome. My sister met a woman at a writers conference last year who had “invested” more than $20,000 in self-publishing her book and then trying to get it placed in stores and promoted. Beyond the financial impact, the experience left her bitter, devastated and humiliated (once she realized how gullible she had been). At least you helped stop one.

  4. Well, if someone is bound and determined and just won’t listen and wants to get printed (rather than published), I would not advise them to use iUniverse at all, and that’s because they charge money upfront. I’d say Lulu.com so that they don’t get sucked into paying upfront fees.

  5. The woman ought to be commended for recognising good advice when she heard it and acknowledging it graciously. ‘Horseshit’ is no way to talk about somebody whose manners were that good.

  6. I don’t understand the need for self-publishing, what with blogs and all. If she wants a low-cost solution, just get it copyrighted and put it in a blook format — a blog book. Why not go the serial publication route: post a chapter a week. Market it to your niche audience and monitor the traffic. Good writing will not go unnoticed. I’m no expert, but I do wonder what holds folks back from going down this path.

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