Writer Beware

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have a terrific website called Writer Beware... and on it they have a detailed article on Vanity Publishers, as well as the pros and cons of doing business with them. The article includes these useful definitions:

Commercial publishers, subsidy publishers, vanity presses,
self-publishing–what’s the difference?

  • A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish, and pays the
    author a royalty on sales (most also pay an advance on royalties). Commercial
    publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of
    manuscripts submitted to them, and handle every aspect of editing, publication,
    distribution, and marketing. There are no costs to the author.
  • A vanity publisher (a.k.a. a book producer or book manufacturer)
    prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the
    publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal
    more expensive than self-publishing. The completed books are the property of the
    author, and the author retains all proceeds from sales. Vanity publishers do not
    screen for quality–they publish anyone who can pay–and provide no editing,
    marketing, warehousing, or promotional services. 
  • A subsidy publisher also takes payment from the author to print and
    bind a book, but claims to contribute a portion of the cost, as well as adjunct
    services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and some degree of
    marketing. Theoretically, subsidy publishers are selective. The completed books
    are the property of the publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession
    until sold. Income to the writer comes in the form of a royalty.
  • Self-publishing, like vanity publishing, requires the author to
    undertake the entire cost of publication him/herself, and to handle all
    marketing, distribution, storage, etc. However, because the author can put every
    aspect of the process out to bid, rather than accepting a pre-set package of
    services, self-publishing can be more cost-effective than vanity or subsidy
    publishing, and can result in a much higher-quality product. And unlike subsidy
    publishing, the completed books are the writer’s property, and the writer keeps
    100% of sales proceeds.

36 thoughts on “Writer Beware”

  1. Those are pretty solid categories. Vanity publishers used to be the inexpensive way to go, but no longer, and most take nonexclusive rights. Royalties on the net, not the cover price seems to be a give-a-way for a vanity. Print-on-demand should be factored into the definition as well. Almost all vanity presses use it exclusively, where as hardly any self-publishers do.
    There seems to be a trend of ex-publishamerica writers starting their own POD publishing companies that produce only online POD books sans some of the contract, returns and royality difficulties they found with PA, and like PA calling themselves “traditional.” One tip-off is they only publish ex-PA authors like themselves.
    Winterwolf is one and recently Behler. They won’t like hearing this anymore than they did when when told they’d been scammed by PA. It’s a tough business.

  2. It should be noted Mark York has a personal grudge against Winterwolf and Behler after being banned from a messageboard.

  3. How does that affect the business publishing model they employ? It is what it is, not just what I say it is. These are the very same writers who were, and still are afraid to fight Publishamerica who got fleeced royally by them. They continue to promote and publish their friends only because no one else will.
    In short, it’s the same circle-jerk they had at PA. In my view it’s a shame. Some are unwilling to learn. This straw man fallacy is invalid as the facts are correct.

  4. I can only speak to the issue as regards Behler Publications, because that is the only one of the publishers mentioned in this thread that I have direct experience with.
    The business model employed by Behler Publications IS NOT IN ANY WAY VANITY/POD publishing, because:
    1. They pay advances to their authors.
    2. They employ real editors (not just “copy editors”) to work with their authors to put on the final polish before going to press.
    3. They print their books by the print run (NOT individual copies by print on demand).
    4. They actually do market the books they publish.
    5. They have an industry-standard returns policy (which means bricks and mortar bookstores WILL stock their books).
    Behler is a small press with a growing reputation for excellence. Several of their books have already been reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly (and as everybody knows, PW doesn’t bother with POD publishers). They simply do not deserve to be tarred with the “vanity/POD” brush, because it is not true.
    Richard Taylor

  5. The book Behler is publishing with my name on it was not published by
    Publishamerica and is not being offered only ONLINE. The advance was
    three figures followed by a decimal. I’m not defending Behler just
    asking that you get your facts straight and don’t try to pass apples off
    as lemons.
    I expected better of you.

  6. A friend of mine started a psychic hotline. “Like the ones on TV?” I asked. “No,” she said,”I’m using real psychics.” True story.

  7. Perhaps you should offer proof of print runs using offset presses and store placement? I’m only going with what’s occured to date. I’m in bookstores all the time scouring the shelves for anything I’m remotely familiar with in the POD wars. I’ve never seen such a book anywhere on a shelf. Are they a POD? That would mean not using that printing method.
    I expect evidence of credentials and a descerning objectivity that I find in my experiences with NY publishers and agents. One day a PA author and the next a publisher. That’s fast work indeed. Shilling is shilling.
    I expected better of you Perry. I no longer do.
    PS. the above to authors are PA authors who moved on.

  8. Correction. I don’t know if Mr. Taylor had a novel at PA or not. His listing here says it’s his first. My mistake on that technicality.
    Virtual Control
    My question would be this: what did the agents and publishers say about it?
    As for the rest of the list I can count at least 75% ex-Pa authors including the owner.

  9. Oh, good heavens, please, do not try to excuse the crap pulled by PA by comparing them to reputable start-ups like Behler and Winterwolf. PA is NOT an innocent start-up company doing short print runs. PA is NOT working to put books in bookstores — they aren’t even trying. PA doesn’t edit and they don’t even READ the books they accept.
    When you compare new companies to a place like PA, you only confuse writers who might KNOW that Behler and Winterwolf are reputable start-ups and think – oh, look, this guy says PA is just like them, and — wow — PA has so many more authors they must do a much better job.
    It’s time to stop luring people to PA, Mark, under the guise of “supporting the cause” …the writers deserve better. Muddying the waters to sink more authors in the PA mud isn’t going to help your failed PA novel. Give it up.

  10. Do they get reviews?
    Gran, aka Jan Fields is a longtime friend of all of the ex-PA folks at mindsight. She fought me all the way for being anti-author when all I wanted was them to fight back like I did. Instead they attack me personally. That comes from having a weak argument that allows PA to exist. I’m not comparing them to PA per se as equivalent or no better. That’s a misread.
    I’m saying no big or midsize publisher will touch them due to the concepts and the quality of the work period. Look at the titles and report back. I mean objectively.
    The idea that I’m driving people to PA is laughable. I’ve done more to deter writers from PA than anyone else in the fight. The ones that are actually in it that is, which would exclude Ms. Fields. She busies herself attacking the fighters. It fallacious.

  11. My failed PA novel? Not to be a stickler for facts but I’ve never written a novel. I still have the nonfiction book with iUniverse at a decent price. It’s still a vanity press book just like Behler and Winterwolf.
    I certainly have no failed PA novel.

  12. Excuse me while I roll my eyes at the idea that equating all small start-up publishers with operations like PA is somehow driving people away from PA.
    Muddy the waters and you help people get sucked it. Really, it’s that easy. You can carry a grudge against those small publishers to your heart’s content but when you use some weird grudge you have to help more people get trapped by PA, you do no one a favor.
    But I do apologize, I forgot the book that the book you published with BOTH PA and IUniverse was nonfiction.

  13. >> I don’t know if Mr. Taylor had a novel at PA or not. << No, Virtual Control, published by Behler Publications, is my first novel, therefore I have never had anything "published" by PA (I don't really consider them a publishing company, hence the quotes). Just so you understand, I was already a published author before I contacted Behler. My previous publishing experience comes from three computer programming books (if you've ever heard of the Clarion programming language then you might be familiar with them). These were quite successfully published by a small startup press trying to do things right, which is part of the reason I chose to go with such a publisher for my first work of fiction. Oh, and I was also the Technical Editor of "Clarion for Dummies" published by IDG (not exactl a "small press"), so I also have "big publishing company" experience on my resume, too. What I would like to know, Mr. York, is what axe you have to grind that drives you to constantly denigrate two small startup publishers who are really trying to do things right? Is it really just because of their past (regrettable) association with PA, and if so, what makes that sin so egregious as to warrant your wrath? Is it possible that either or both have rejected your work and you're looking for payback? Or have you rationalized yourself into some altruistic "for the good of mankind" reason? Please elucidate.

  14. Taking the chance that this question “Do they get reviews?” was in response to my post “Some legitimate publishers do use POD exclusively. (Point Blank Press is one example that comes to mind.)”…
    The answer is yes. Publications will review small press books, even if they’re published via POD. It’s the self-published/vanity stuff that they won’t touch.

  15. To Mark A. York…
    I’d prefer if you don’t bring your squabbles from other discussion groups and wage them alll over again in the comments section of my blog. You have your own blog for that.
    Starting today, I will begin deleting comments from you… and anyone else… that I feel don’t directly relate to one of my posts (or legitimate issues arising from the subsequent discussion).

  16. Again I’m being blamed for adding two publishers to the pile as requested. I’ve never submitted to them at all, ever. If you want the waters muddied further compare Bancroft to the two I listed. How are they different?
    What happens with Publishamerica authors is they swarm critics. As you can see they will follow one around if a whif of reality is written about their new publishers. I’d love to see Tod or Lee or David discuss what constitutes a published book and review the listings I posted. David’s quick to call books crap. It seems like a flip-flop to me. Which is it?
    My opinion is they, including Wildside, are not just small presses. There is no store placement anymore than vanity presses have. Prove that wrong.
    As far as I’m concerned I’m being stalked. Count em.

  17. *A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish, and pays the author a royalty on sales (most also pay an advance on royalties). Commercial publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of manuscripts submitted to them, and handle every aspect of editing, publication, distribution, and marketing. There are no costs to the author.
    Hello, Lee,
    It was brought to my attention that Mark York came over here to spread false information about our company. This has been going on for over a year. To date, I remain unclear as to his motives since I don’t know the man.
    I don’t want to waste time engaging in matters that take away from your original post. But I would like to state that we are a commercial publisher.
    As stated above, we pay advances, do print runs, edit, and warehouse our books. Our marketing efforts consist of scheduling book signings for our authors, sending out over 30 copies to reviewers, forming relationships with stores at the corporate level, and attending book conventions.
    We have been very fortunate to have had three reviews by Publisher’s Weekly, a true honor for such a small company. In our meeting with PW last year, they stated that they never review POD books. I think the statement speaks for itself.
    As for our printing, we utilize both digital and off-set in our print runs, depending upon our requirements. Our smallest print runs are in the mid-hundreds. Our larger runs go into the thousands.
    We have a full editing department that is quite rabid about copy and developmental editing for our books. We invest heavily in our authors, so it only makes good business sense to produce the very best. We’re in the business to sell books, and to that end, money flows to the author, not away from them.
    Lynn Price

  18. “that Mark York came over here to spread false information about our company.”
    I was here discussing publishing in general, not on a special smear mission against any one company, except Publishamerica that is. That’s an ongoing smear.
    To be honest one would have to say all the vanity presses say these things. Copies are warehoused. advances can be a dollar or more as we saw in the mainstream press stories, or nothing as is the case with some academic publishers.
    Can they be found on shelves anywhere in general coast to coast as with traditional books?
    I’ve not seen them anywhere I shop. I’ve seen Lee’s by comparison. That’s good enough for me.

  19. Publishing with a tiny start-up might be a bad business decision but it isn’t vanity publishing. The key to vanity publishing lies in “Vanity publishers do not screen for quality–they publish anyone who can pay.” In vanity publishing the AUTHOR is the only real determiner of whether something is published. The vanity publisher doesn’t care about content — only that the author will come up with enough money to make the project profitable for the vanity press. For most vanity press operations, this cost is right on the table — gimmee money and I’ll make you a nice book, buddy. For some (okay, PA) the cost arises on the back-end: look’ee at this nice book we made ya, now buy a whole bunch of them and sell them, buddy. But in both instances, the thing that makes it a VANITY is that the EGO of the author is the ONLY determiner of whether the manuscript is fit to be a book. The publisher itself doesn’t worry about that — it is simply producing a product and making a profit from the author.
    Tiny start-up publishers have always been a gamble for an author. The owners may or may not know enough about publishing to survive. They generally don’t know quite as much as they thought — that’s one of the things that makes a start-up a gamble. You’re buying into the owner’s learning curve and hoping they pick up the ball quickly enough to get your book into the hands of readers.
    However, if the start-up is a commercial publisher, it will be picky about the books it chooses to publish (within the publisher’s ability to judge quality, of course, but the determining factor won’t be “who was on top of the slush pile”). It will use content editors and the book will go through the typical editorial process of give-and-take that changes a manuscript into a real book (again, the quality of this process can be uneven according to the skill of the publisher — in vanity publishing, the quality is determined by the publisher cutting all costs possible — not the same even if it has similar results.) In a start-up, the book will be priced as competitively as possible since money comes from selling to readers, not to the author. The company will have some kind of marketing plan (whether it’s effective or not depends upon that learning curve issue.)
    In other words, a small start-up is VERY different from a vanity press. It may STILL not be a good deal for an author — many small start-ups fold early. Many don’t get very good sales because the owners don’t really know what they are doing (though they OFTEN do better than a vanity since very few start-ups are foolish enough to think authors make efficient salesmen) and since distribution will not be as good as you’ll find in established companies (bookstores will take more risks on companies they have long dealt with — but many will try out a start-up after consideration of the books produced.)
    However, in a vanity press, small sales are no problem — they get their money from the author anyway and they know most authors can only cough up so much — so they sign hundreds if not thousands of authors. In a small start-up, only a few authors are signed (to help the company stay alive in the learning curve days) but really low sales will eventually kill the company (especially if the owners are overly optimistic) because the company’s plan is for money to come from the readers — if it does not, the company folds. Thus, a start-up is a risky choice, but it is NOT a vanity press.
    But if you call every book producer who has low sales a Vanity, you muddy the definition of Vanity. Vanity isn’t defined by number of sales (though the things that DO DEFINE a vanity press normally produce low sales). Vanity is defined by who is the controller of manuscript quality and the choice to publish and where the bulk of the revenue comes from. In vanity, the answer to these things is “the author” in other situations, it is not.
    It’s interesting that the only person I have ever seen who thinks all low-sale books are vanity books has a vanity book — thus, it’s likely that this is simply an effort to raise his own efforts to equal those of authors whose books have actually been judged publishable by someone other than himself. By putting attention off the “ego as quality judge” aspect of vanity press, it makes the books seem more real.

  20. This is my last response to the people from the other forum who are blinded by friendship to the authors of the new start-up in question. They call that bias-unobjective.
    One day the owner was a “happy” PA author. Of course like all of them the book hadn’t come out yet. She collected other PA books in a lending library as as I recall. She attended a PA convention. And low and behold she starts a POD company with another PA author, then another and another and another….until they all were “published.”
    As with PA they all review each others books in circular fashion. Go to Amazon look at the names and cross-check.
    Are you telling me all of these books would make the cut at a real publisher? What did the agents say? Oh yeah, what filter? I don’t buy the premise and neither does the anyone else save the authors themselves. Small start-up? Try instant.
    This may come to a surprise but in a thread about vanity publishing people involved can state an opinion without being attacked by those tied to the operation like a cult. That’s PA still talking through you mouths.
    The market will determine how successful any book is if its “out there” but without distribution and placement on shelves nationwide very few will sell.
    So now gran (Jan Fields), owner of a webzine and no books, defends low sales because like their other books, that’s a given. Which leaves us to the ad hominem psychoanalytic shot at my books for which at the time were free and don’t take rights away from author. I did nothing to market them. I bought none.
    It goes like this: since I have vanity press books I can’t know anything about publishing, thus, I’m an angry author that atttacks PA authors to build myself up somehow. The Great Explainer they always use and have for two years. Unsuccessfully.
    My apologies to Lee. He writes I comment, they swarm. That’s the groupthink behavior that mirrors PA even if the arrangements are different. Handling criticism is not the strong suit of such writers. They expect Five-stars only no matter what they do. Let’s see strangers give them on merit.
    Feel free to attack me at my blog, but don’t embarrass yourselves like this again. This is still America where one can have an opinion about a public venture. I call them as I see it, and don’t call folks liars in public because we happen to differ on the facts. Funny how some always want to shut down speech and ban opposing views.

  21. As a person who reads and respects this blog and its author, I let others know that Behler and Winterwolf were being smeared here. I apologize to Lee for being put in the middle.
    I have never been published or rejected by PA, Winterwolf or Behler. The only “stake” I had was the truth.
    I continue to believe Mark York has a grudge and I didn’t want Lee’s readers to be mislead. Its not a question of free speech, its a question of facts.
    Read Mark’s comments. Read Lynn’s comments. Then decide for your own self.

  22. Go to the store and find the books. Pick them randomly. I’ve never submitted to either of these publishers and a good deal more on that list. Investigate every author. Decide for your selves.

  23. Actually, I only made another post because Lee Goldberg specifically asked that comments relate only to the topic of this blog entry — the difference between vanity and commercial publishing. So, I went back to his stated entry and explained why you cannot call something vanity simply because it makes you happy to do so — there are SPECIFIC things that define vanity presses and the one absolutely essential ingredient for the vanity press is the one of who controls the decision of whether a book is “good enough” to print. In vanity — the author decides because the publisher will publish anything since they intend to make a profit from the author. In commercial — the publisher decides because the publisher hopes to make a profit selling to readers.
    Then, I agreed with Mark that start-ups are risky for authors because sales are not going to be comparable to what you would have with an established publisher, and I mentioned why. However, the determining factor in what makes a vanity is NOT risk to the author. I could see it argued that publisher risks are part of what makes a vanity but that again would mean small commerical start-ups are NOT vanity presses because the publisher is taking a risk (which is why so many start-up companies don’t make it).
    However, I disagreed with Mark’s conclusion that start-up publisher = vanity press because it’s a false and nonsensical conclusion based on redefining concepts to suit his own notions. Visitors seeking real information about anything to do with writing would be well served to question anyone who wants to redefine established publishing definitions to suit themselves. If more people had been careful to see warning flags when someone wants to redefine terms to suit some agenda, PA would have far fewer victi…um…authors.

  24. They may hope to make a profit from getting readers, unlike PA, but there certainly is no “objective” consideration filter if you will, as to what the product is and who the author and their qualifications are, to take a chance on.
    Try that on a commercial publisher and see what you get. Gary Kessler used Winterwolf to write a book about publishing. The books are POD only but I’m sure there will be exceptions of shelf placement and reviews. There was with PA too, so the blurring is not my invention as claimed by Ms. Fields. I don’t care what they do. These new model instant small presses are yet another permutation of the “we publish anyone” press as well-intentioned and tweeked for the good, as they may well be. There is no filter as we know that to be in general. No filter=vanity press.
    The clientel are the evidence. Vanity is lack of a filter. The desire to reject based on the market, offering, and reputation or lack thereof of the writer.

  25. Okay, I give up. You seem locked into not understanding how publishing works. Editorial considerations ARE subjective — robots don’t do the acquiring. It’s not supposed to be objective — sure editors look for books according to specific criteria but personal taste will ALWAYS play a part (that’s why you hear all the crap about passion from agents and editors). Acquisition editors are employed because publishers believe their taste IS a valuable component in choosing books that will sell and will entice readers. Do you mean small publishers aren’t good at these judgments? That might be argued but would require intensive study to see if they really are worse at choosing good books or if other factors might play a larger part in their sales figures. But I won’t clutter up this nice man’s blog anymore trying to explain how publishing works. I doubt most other readers are anywhere nearly as confused as you are.

  26. See this article below. Note subjective doesn’t mean all of our authors are our friends, hence everyone we know gets published. Sparing them this ordeal:
    Making Light
    There’s no confusion on my part. There is bias and self-interest on the part of the other posters including their great defender.

  27. Oh, I don’t know David. I’m totally captivated by it. The intrigue. The name calling. The topic no one else cares about. I’m hoping at some point someone calls someone else a dickhead again. (Well, I mean, I don’t hope they call you a dickhead again, David, but you get what I mean.)

  28. Mark,
    The swarm is on PR duty because they are responding to you. If you stop, eventually they will go away, just as insane fanficcers went away once Lee stopped comparing them to compulsive masturbators.
    Now there is a downside to all this. In order to get them to go away, you’re going to have to let some of them get the last word. But if I promise not to believe them, will you please let it go for now?

  29. Need a pseudonym here, as what I have to say isn’t flattering. I’m in the biz, not as an author. Lynn Price and Behler are losers. A three figure advance is hardly “investing a lot of money” in an author. The books she’s picking smell of a shortsighted goody-two-shoes agenda — sorry, interested defenders — and they’re tanking. Word of mouth sells, not PW. My experience with ms. Price says she’s an egotistically driven little drama queen who’ll burn all her bridges and need a job. If this sounds like a grudge, she’s earned it. So let’s just cut through the BS.


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