“How Much Did You Pay To Get Published?”

Author Susan McBride posted her "Slightly Sarcastic Rules for Writers," a must-read for all aspiring novelists, on Lipstick Chronicles today. Among the questions she tackles are: "How Much Did You Pay To Get Published?" "What Font Should I Use?" "How Many Pages Should My Manuscript Be?" and "How Much Did You Pay Your Agent to Take You On?"

Every time I speak to groups of aspiring writers (I spoke last night to the Ventura County Writers Club), the first piece of advice I give them is not to pay to have their book published, that it’s a complete waste of money and is not a necessary step in becoming a professional writer. This always goes over badly — because half the room has either already self-published or just sent in their checks. They want to believe there’s a short-cut that gets them past all the scary hurdles of publishing…and they don’t want to discover that there isn’t.

23 thoughts on ““How Much Did You Pay To Get Published?””

  1. Years later and lookong back: Don’t do it. Even for free it’s a bad move. I’m afraid the obliviousness of agents and editors will force many more to go this route. It still won’t work. Just work harder and sell it for real.

  2. And what is one to do, Lee, when one has written a plain old novel that has no specific marketing niche, and resultantly, no agent? Bury it like Van Gogh’s paintings (similarity ends there)? The above sentiment, “a professional writer is an amateur writer who didn’t give up” is so true. Bookstores are just chocked full of hustling amateurs. Salesmanship does not equate to being a good writer.

  3. “Specific Marketing Niche?”
    That phrase sets my alarm clanging. What a novel should do is this: An agent or an editor, upon reading it, thinks other people would like to read it, too.
    That’s it.
    If no agent or editor wants to take on your work, don’t tell yourself some story about marketing niches. Toss that manuscript into a bottom drawer and write something better.
    If you think that a lot of books put out by major publishers suck, entertain the thought that they’re still better than your own work in some important way. To suceed, you’ll have to figure out why their books were selected and yours wasn’t. *
    Good luck
    * Quick note: The reason isn’t “They don’t understand my genius,” or any variation of “they” loving crap but not your good work.

  4. Dear Harry,
    I expected just such a comment. The fact is that I was told by several agents that my book, because it was a “newspaper novel,” had no appreciable audience, and that it should be “repurposed” as a mystery. So you see, I did not “tell myself a story” about marketing niches; an agent told me this story. Now, this particular agent, who is arguably the leading fiction representative on the west coast, read my book cover to cover, commenting, “I almost never do this with any submission.” She wrote knowingly of the characters and plot, so I had no reason to doubt this compliment. I would agree with you that it should have ended with that—readability should be the determining factor in publication. But I was told there was no marketing of a novel of that particular theme, and that “to sell a novel, it has to fit a very, very specific niche market.” That’s a quote. You are free to get up on your hind legs and patronizingly suggest that you know better, that I should “toss that manuscript in a bottom drawer,” etc. That does not change the reality that most of what you find in bookstores exists only because it has a very specific market and credible demand for product within that market—not because of the quality of the work. You, again, are free to kid yourself otherwise. There are myriad articles about how the publishing industry has changed in exactly the fashion I have described; it is not news. My book is not a great work of art, but I assure you that the quality of writing and storytelling is exponentially superior to many books selling very well in Borders, etc. Of course, so are Daffy Duck Comics. You suggest that these published, successful books are better than mine in “some important way.” You’re exactly correct, Harry. The answer is money money money money. And that, to employ the common vernacular that you favor, “sucks.” As for your snide remark about how I am implying that “they don’t understand my genius,” this is yet another reaction I fully expected.

  5. And what is one to do, Lee, when one has written a plain old novel that has no specific marketing niche, and resultantly, no agent? Bury it like Van Gogh’s paintings (similarity ends there)?
    Keep sending it out anyway and, in the mean time, start writing another book that is marketable.
    I know of very few writers who don’t have an unsold manuscript in their desk drawer. I took me three years to sell THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE…but I finally did, and it got a starred review in Kirkus and a rave in PW. Persistence is the key, as someone else here said.
    But I didn’t give up when BADGE didn’t sell right away, I moved on and started writing something else.
    As I have said many times here, I believe that self publishing a novel is a complete waste of money. You’re paying a lot to reformat your typed manuscript as a book that a) few, if any, outside your immediate circle of family and friends will read b) won’t be stocked in brick-and-mortar stores c) won’t be reviewed and d) won’t sell. You will end up being the biggest customer for your own book. I mean no offense by this, but there is a reason self-publishers are known as vanity presses.
    On a different subject — it’s great to hear from you again Rip! For those of you not familiar with the Rip Rense byline, he’s a seasoned LA journalist whose work has appeared in the LA Times, Washington Post, LA Weekly and Emmy Magazine, just to name a few of his many publications.

  6. Thanks, Lee. I don’t have the marketing and salesmanship drive to “keep sending it out.” It took ten years to figure out how to write the goddamn thing in the first place, he admitted sheepishly. So I didn’t mind the vanity publishing; it was a relief. But I have taken your advice, albeit before it was offered, and am working on another. It promises to be even less marketable! (After all, what sort of niche market is there for a Roman a clef about growing up in a small town in the ’60s? Especially considering I am not a half-Asian female dwarf with one leg who was gang-raped by Nibelungen but later went on to fame as a conceptual artist.)Meanwhile, all readers may rush directly to Riprense.com and purchase “The Last Byline.” Ten years in the making! Thousands and thousands of English words! Sentences! Chapter titles! And you’ll thrill at the punctuation! Keep up the good work, Lee. Best, Rip

  7. Rip,
    This angle is scary. When a seasoned journalist buys into that train of thought something’s over the line. I just had my history maunscript rejected after holding it for seven months when I pinged her with a controversy with another author of the same story in hopes of spurring her into representation. It got me a form rejection the next day. It’s along the lines of Lew’s case with a different twist.
    I have no intention of giving up but I’m also the biggest critic of vanity presses from experience. Don’t all into that pit.

  8. I have read with interest the various discussions on a number of blogs regarding the alleged follies of so-called “self-publication.” The underlying assumptions in denouncing “self publication” as a foolish endeavor appear to be the following: (1) only literary agents and “real” (NY) publishers are equipped to determine if a book has the requisite literary merit to compete in the marketplace and to interest readers; (2) the author tried to get an literary agent and/or a “real” publisher but was uniformly rejected; (3) the foregoing rejection thus means that the book does not have the requisite literary merit to compete and/or be of interest to readers; (4) self-publishing a book that everyone has already decided does not make the cut is downright stupid because it is a bad book, it will not get reviewed, booksellers will not buy it, readers will never get to read it, etc.; and (5) the proper thing to do is to keep writing in isolation for years if not decades until you have produced a work that is good enough for a “real” publisher to “pay you” for it. Also, there appears to be a strong sentiment among some writers and critics that “self-published” authors are really second-class citizens, “author wannabes,” imposters who have no business or right to hold themselves out as authors, or apply for membership in those organizes that require a “real’ publisher as a condition to membership.
    While the foregoing business model is probably more accurate than not most of the time, like every general rule there are exceptions and, in my opinion, we are entering a new era where these exceptions will increasing grow in scope and application. One, not every author wants a literary agent or a big publishing house. That business model comes with cons as well as pros. Not everyone thinks the pros outweigh the cons. Two, not all “self-published” books come with a history of rejection or are born of desperation. Three, “self-published” does not ipso facto mean “bad book,” “crummy read,” or any variation thereof. Four, self-published books can and do get reviewed. There are many wonderful and highly reputable review organizations that have not bought into the concept that “self-published” automatically means “not worthy of review.” In fact, in my particular case to give you an example, 19 book reviewers have requested Night Laws for review so far. 13 have completed their reviews to date, which are printed on my website, http://www.jimhansenbooks.com. And most of these are pre-publication reviewers. Most of the post-publications reviewers (there are many dozens) have not even been approached yet. Five, bookstores buy books from every size publisher, provided that the book is good (that is the key). They find out, sooner or later, which books are good and which aren’t. Booksellers care much more about the quality of the book and the name of the author than the name of the publisher. Authors cannot build their name and reputation among booksellers or readers without a printed book.
    Some people appear to feel that a writer becomes an “author” by slaving in his/her basement for years or decades, weathering a continuing avalanche of rejections and then finally getting a “real” publisher to raise his hand and say, “Tell you what, I’ll give you five thousand dollars for it.” In my opinion, that is not the bright line test of when a writer becomes an author. In the end, a book is a connection between an author and a reader. It is the reader’s enjoyment of the book that makes the author an author, not whether there eventually turns out to be some third party who sees the book as a possible business opportunity and offers a pittance of money.
    “Self-publishing” is not for everyone. Publishing, big or small, is a series of very demanding and professional tasks that include editing, cover design, distribution and promotion. Only the self-starting and dedicated persons will succeed.
    The point I want to go back to is this: A “self-published” book does not ipso facto mean “bad book,” or written by an “author wannabe” rather than a “real” author, or that the author is on some stupid adventure of vanity and economic foolishness. And with that, I issue a challenge to everyone reading this comment. E-mail me at Jim@JimHansenBooks.com and I will send you a free copy of Night Laws. You can decide for yourself whether this is such a thing as a good “self-published” book. If you read it and think it stinks, you’ll at least be in the position to tell the world how right you were all along.
    Sincerely, Jim Michael Hansen.

  9. Spoken like the typical author with a dog in the fight. You’ll lose.
    ” One, not every author wants a literary agent or a big publishing house.”
    And this would have to be attributed to either naivte or outright foolishness.
    Point two is true of my books. They weren’t rejected because I didn’t submit them. They would have been based on the “memoirs of nobody” factor. Are they bad? No. Saleable? who knows but they aren’t as vanity press pod’s either. Case closed.
    It depends on what kind of self-publishing you’re talking about. Vanities like Authorhouse and Xlibris? Or doing it yourself? The connection between a writer and reader fails on lack of placement and distribution. Are you planning on spamming it around? It won’t work. I suggest a logic check of your thesis. It’s a house of cards without any aces in your hand.

  10. You want to know why Jim Hansen had to self-publish his book and isn’t interested in finding an agent or a big publishing house? Because they would never be interested in him. He’s a terrible writer. But don’t take my word for it. Read this excerpt from his book:
    Heads now turned as he walked, mostly men checking out Shalifa Netherwood’s 27-year-old African-American physique, complete with the thighs of a sprinter and an ass of steel. Conventry had never personally explored that particular geography but definitely envied the men who had.
    I rest my case. Maybe he and Tono Rondone should go into business together.

  11. Jim Hansen wrote:

    The point I want to go back to is this: A “self-published” book does not ipso facto mean “bad book,” or written by an “author wannabe” rather than a “real” author, or that the author is on some stupid adventure of vanity and economic foolishness.

    Nine times out of ten, it does.

    One, not every author wants a literary agent or a big publishing house.

    You’re joking, right? I guarantee you that 99.9% of authors on iUniverse would be thrilled beyond belief if a reputable literary agent or a big publishing house wanted to take on their work. The writers would abandon self-publishing in a nanosecond. Who wouldn’t want to be PAID to be published and have their books distributed nationwide…as opposed to PAYING to be published and having their books distributed no where?
    Be honest, the #1 reason that people self-publish their novels is because no one else will (and most of the time, there’s a good reason why). On top of that, self-published books are often poorly edited (if edited at all) and look like crap. There’s no upside to it.

  12. And with that, I issue a challenge to everyone reading this comment. E-mail me at Jim@JimHansenBooks.com and I will send you a free copy of Night Laws.
    The above is proof that the author is the number one customer of his own book…the business model of vanity press publishing in action. The vanity publisher is in business to make money off the author, pure and simple. Vanity publisher wins every time, clueless author always loses.

  13. Hi, Rip. Your answer was pretty much what I expected, too. I sincerely wish you good luck.
    Mr. Hansen, no one is going to be wowed by the sight of you knocking over straw men. The biggest problem with self-published novels is that very few people read them. You end up spending a lot of time and money for a very small readership.
    You should lose your contempt for the people who choose which novels to publish
    I recommend you read those two threads completely. They are long, but worth it, and they cover a lot of ground.
    Good luck.

  14. Hello,
    I am new to your site. I was thinking of self publishing but after reading some of these articles, I have decided not to. I do thank you for your advice.
    Depressing: There are so many entertainers writing children’s books, it is depressing. They have all the money and connections. The average person has little or no chance.

  15. Yeah, this whole thing was predictable but I agree with Lee regardless of how many rejections I get. Unfortunately the market rejection angle, resume, lack of a Ph.D for history and the like focus of the book is too narrow and so on make the biz anti-writer. I had one today tell me she couldn’t sell the novel. I wrote back to say I hadn’t written one. It’s nonfiction about the American Revolution. Some of these agents are clueless and just reject on sight.
    Self-publication is different but still a waste of money and time. The majority of these books are slush. As to the rejections, they are personal no matter what Teresa says and she’s right on. They’ll tell you the book won’t sell when the market is chock full of similar titles. That’s the idea.

  16. Due to an overwhelming demand for copies of Night Laws, the 9/15/05 offer must be cancelled from this point forward. No further requests can be honored if they are received following the posting of this comment. (9/20/05, 2:30 Denver time). If you make a request after this posting, you will automatically be entered in the Giveaway Contest as described on my website, http://www.jimhansenbooks.com. Prior requests will be honored, of course. If you made a prior request and do not receive the book by 10/30/05, please let me know. Thank you all and happy reading. Jim Michael Hansen.

  17. Is the bill for the operation “astronomical?”
    Since you’re curious, here’s the math. Approximately $7,000 for all associated costs including printing from start to finish for 3,300 books ($2.12 each). Selling price is $13.95 each. The wholealer, Baker & Taylor, buys at a 55% discount (standard terms), i.e., pays 6.30 per book. B&T sells to booksellers at a 40% discount, pocketing 15%.
    I sell 1,111 books at wholesale price to break even ($7,000 divided by $6.30). Or sell 500 books at full price direct to the public to break even. Anything after either of these is profit. Bottom line, not much risk here.


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