This is Bound to Send Idiots Flocking to iUniverse

The Boston Globe reports that Brunonia Barry has sold her self-published novel THE LACE READER , and another to-be-written book, to Morrow for $2 million. This news will become the rallying cry for vanity presses everywhere…and the example gullible aspiring authors will use to justify throwing away their money.

What the hordes of desperate aspiring authors will ignore, and what the vanity presses certainly won’t tell them, is that Barry and her husband are experienced, successful businesspeople and former professional screenwriters who didn’t go to a POD vanity press…they spent more than $50,000 to self-publish their book entirely on their own. The Globe writes:

Most writers resort to self-publishing because they can’t find a
publisher. They often turn to print-on-demand presses such as iUniverse
or Xlibris. The author puts up the money – usually less than $1,000 –
and the publisher edits the text, designs jacket art, and makes the
book available through online outlets. But there’s no inventory – books
are printed when ordered – and the books rarely are reviewed. Few
bookstores place orders.
"We occasionally hear from self-published authors who say, ‘How can
I get my book into bookstores?’ " said Steve Fischer, executive
director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, "but
the system is so difficult to plug into. You’re responsible for
everything – you have to be author, agent, accountant, postal clerk,
sales rep, publicity agent, go around to your local bookstore and find
out if there is any interest."

Barry and [her husband] were willing to do all that, and spend freely in the
process – more than $50,000 before they were finished

[…]With years of experience in screenwriting, Barry thought the story
might interest Hollywood. So she and [her husband] sent a book to agent Brian
Lipson, a book-to-movie specialist at Endeavor Talent Agency in Los
Angeles. Lipson liked it but doubted it would sell to the movies
without a commercial publisher. So he sent it to Rebecca Oliver in
Endeavor’s New York literary branch.
"I read it overnight and loved it," Oliver said. "I called Sandy and
said, ‘I have to work with you. This book is amazing.’ It has strong
characters and an amazing twist at the end. I sent it to a few
publishers. The phone started ringing."
Laurie Chittenden, executive editor of publisher William Morrow, was
one of those who called. "It reminded me of why I love books – a good
story, wonderful atmosphere, good characters, a real sophistication,"
she said.

Barry is among the very, very tiny number of self-published authors who get picked up by a major publishing house for big money….but it took major-league, movie industry connections that they already had and an investment of tens of thousands of dollars from their own pockets to score that jackpot.

It’s not going to happen for the vast majority of people…most of whom don’t have Hollywood connections or $50,000 to spend. Even Barry realizes it. She told the Boston Globe that had they known at outset how much time and money was involved in true self-publishing, they might not have tried it.

16 thoughts on “This is Bound to Send Idiots Flocking to iUniverse”

  1. Hehe, this the same with Juno’s Diablo Cody. Everyone hails her as “stripper turned author” and “first-time screenwriter”, but they also forget to mention that she’s been a writer for a long, long time.
    There’s an essay I wrote last night on my blog that ties into this topic. Might be of interest.

    Writers are confused and it’s not their fault. In searching for the best way to break into print, they come across self-described “self-publishing companies”. I get emails asking if I can self-publish for writers. That is impossible!
    The problem is that many vanity publishers are calling themselves “self-publishing companies” to make their companies appear legitimate.
    We have been building name recognition for self-publishing for more than 35 years; there are more than 85,000 of us in the U.S. Self-publishers, write, publish and promote their own books.
    According to Wikipedia, Self-Publishing is the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers.The only “self-publishing company” is you—by definition. If you contract with a publisher, your book is not SELF-published.
    Now that people know what self-publishing is, we find we have to re-educate the public to the fact that we are the real self-publishers and the other DotCom digital publishers are really just vanity publishers masquerading as us. They are trading on the good reputation we have built.
    On the other hand, there are digital printing companies. Most provide excellent prices, service and quality. They should refer to themselves as “book printers.”
    For information on the choices for breaking into print, get the f-r-e-e Information Kit #2 on Publishing at
    Let’s respect historical and common definitions. These publishers are “vanity” or “subsidy” presses.
    Let’s demand they stop confusing people new to the book trade.
    –Dan Poynter

  3. Thanks for giving “the rest of the story.” So many of my students want to try this type of thing, and then are upset at the true cost and low sales. I admire anyone who can do this successfully though! It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.

  4. Just as with Chris Paolini, there was a connection to entertainment biz and a true self-publishing business model. It costs bucks and even then the goal is, drum roll: commerical publication!
    I was involved in the firstchapters contest at I lost but the two winners only got $5000 and limited reelase. And only in the sponsor store, Borders, and damn few of those. The winners of thee original contest are 1. The Way Life Should Be by Terry Shaw and 2. Fire Bell in the Night. Sales are low and a second book doubtful. Both are from Touchtone.
    Contests are the new vanity wing of mainstream publication. They pay, but there is a second tier status.

  5. Setting up your own publishing company is the wave of the future, and this is just one of many, many success stories to come. The technology and logistics are in place for anyone to succeed, if they have a good product.
    News of a good product spreads easier and easier as venues like the internet become more sophistocated, more ezine book review organization pop up, digital books get better received and are swapped, etc.
    The future is now. Lots of “traditional” authors with NY publishing houses will find that the “self published” authors they so readily poo-pooed before are not only cutting into their sales, but are getting better reviews and more acclaim from the reading public.
    The fundamental driving force is that readers simply want good books and really don’t care where they come from.
    If you’re one of those people out there who really can write a good book, don’t be afraid. There is a place for you in the literary world.

  6. Of course this is completely untrue Jim. The goal of self-publishing is a real publishing contract. 1/10 of one percent get it and it takes connections to move up as this story shows, not tells.

  7. What the story didn’t say is whether or not Barry made back the over $50,000 she’d spent (before her $2 million deal, of course!). My educated guess is that she didn’t.
    True self-publishing, not the POD vanity scam, is hardly “the wave of the future,” Jim. What Barry did was as possible ten years ago as it is now…and then, like now, the issue is money and luck. She had both as well as some powerful Hollywood connections. She is the exception. The vast majority of aspiring novelists who go the true self-publishing route fail and lose a lot of money along the way.

  8. “Of course this is completely untrue Jim.”
    I will agree that it will be untrue when applied to some people. Some people just don’t get it and never will. They are afraid to venture out. They don’t believe in themselves. Maybe for good reasons. Maybe it’s easier to turn on the TV and watch Cheers reruns that it is to roll up your sleeves, figure out what to do and then do it.
    It takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to be a traditional publisher. Likewise, it takes the same type of strength, belief and hard work to be a “self” publisher.
    But for those who have those qualities, and can write a good book, success is waiting.

  9. Jim,
    Barry spent over $50,000 to self-publish. In the past, you’ve said you’ve spent over $10,000. Even you have to concede that true self-publishing is high-stakes gamble…and could cost an aspiring author tens of thousands of dollars…and lead to nothing but an empty bank account and a garage full of unsold books. I hardly see this as the “wave of the future.” For the vast majority who try this route, success isn’t waiting, bankruptcy is.
    I think most authors would prefer to be published for free and have the publishers pay them.

  10. “Even you have to concede that true self-publishing is high-stakes gamble…and could cost an aspiring author tens of thousands of dollars…and lead to nothing but an empty bank account and a garage full of unsold books. I hardly see this as the “wave of the future.” For the vast majority who try this route, success isn’t waiting, bankruptcy is.”
    First of all, ALL publishing is a gamble, be it traditional or self. In fact, most traditional publishers lose money on most books. Self-publishers, like their bigger counterparts, can lose money. The spectre of unsold books is a possibility, whoever publishes them. In other words, you have to have some guts to play the game.
    But unsold books are not a very probable outcome IF THE BOOK IS GOOD. It costs about $6000 to print 3000 copies of a trade paperback. Profit on each one sold is about $6.50, since the wholesalers of both traditional and self publishers buy the books for 55% off. The break even point to recoup costs is to sell about 950 books. In my case, the print run of one of my books (Shadow)is sold out and two others (Night, Fatal) are approcahing that mark. My fourth book (Deadly) wasn’t released until October 15, 2007, so sales are still in progress. You can do the math.
    I will repeat, though, that no one will succeed either traditionally or self if the underlying book is not good. That is the key. If it’s not good, it won’t rise to a profit level, whoever publishes it. If it is, it will. That’s the bottom line.

  11. Jim,
    Publishing isn’t a financial gamble for me. On the contrary, I’m PAID to write. I don’t write unless I have a contract. I stand to lose nothing. And if my book is good, I can count on more money coming my way in the future.
    If the publisher loses money on my books, they will either decrease my advances or stop giving me contracts (thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet). But again, I am not out-of-pocket…the publisher is.
    The bottom line is, if my books are good, and the readers keep buying them, I will make money…without spending any. And the only part of the publishing I have to concern myself with is promotion…which I can do relatively cost-free.
    Every author thinks they write good books, Jim, especially the ones who are rejected by agents and publishers and go the self-pub route. By truly self-publishing (ie, not going the money-down-the-toilet POD route), you have to invest tens of thousands of dollars and the odds are that in most cases you won’t break even, much less make a profit.
    I don’t see how that is “the wave of the future” or a wise course for an aspiring author.

  12. “Publishing isn’t a financial gamble for me. On the contrary, I’m PAID to write.”
    Lee, I’m happy for you. You get paid. You take no risks other than writing. That is the business model you have selected. It has worked out well for you and works out well for others.
    That, however, does not mean that other business models are wrong or less lucrative.
    Ultimately, all monies received in the publishing world come from buyers, primarily meaning indiviudal readers, libraries and non-returnable sales (e.g remainders). In your case, the money from buyers goes to the publisher who keeps a portion and PAYS YOU some of it. That is the process by which you are PAID.
    In my case, the money from buyers goes to the publisher/author who keeps all the money. That is the process by which I am PAID.
    So, you end up with money paid by buyers and so do I. You’re happy with the way it works out for you and I’m happy with the way it works out for me.

  13. “In my case, the money from buyers goes to the publisher/author who keeps all the money. That is the process by which I am PAID.”
    That’s not entirely accurate. The process by which you are paid is first you have to invest tens of thousands of dollars, and then you have to sell your books to buyers, and then once you have made back your initial money, you get to keep the profit…if there is one.
    Your way involves enormous financial risk for the author. My way does not. And a lot of writers have become multi-millionaires from this risk free approach…and comparably few self-publishers have.
    And you’ll notice that those millionaire writers are still doing it that way, even now that they are virtually assured of huge sales for every book they write…why do you think they aren’t self-publishing??

  14. Jim your way is less lucrative. It is because it is by earnings and overhead. Open and shut. Writer’s are paid to write. The question you should ask is why won’t your fiction sell to a major commercial publisher? The answer is it probably doesn’t measure up. You achieved predictable mediocrity or less. There are no short cuts to a career in fiction.

  15. I have a friend who is a successful self-publisher. But this consumes so much of his time that he has little time to write. He is, after all, a one-man book production company involved in editing, copyediting, proofreading, designing body text and covers, doing publicity, and dealing with distributors (which have a dozen ways to be especially nasty to small operations, and are likely to wait 120 days or more to pay).
    He has to deal with returns, do the accounting, keep tax records, do all the promotion, go to every relevant trade show, handle correspondence, deal with suppliers such as printers who fail to meet deadlines, handle warehousing and shipping, and so on.
    In short, he is only marginally a writer now; he’s a book publisher. He has had to master publishing skills. That wasn’t his dream, and there is no easy escape. He would love just to write, and he is very good at it, but the monster runs him now. He’s in his mid-70s and worn down by his business. I imagine he earns three or four dollars an hour, all told.


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