Friday, March 24, 2006

Is It Vanity Press or Publishing? Part II

I talked yesterday about vanity presses such as Xlibris and PublishAmerica. That post had been prompted by a comment on a writers' loop where another writer praised Xlibris as a viable alternative for writers.

Let me be clear: If all you want is to hold a book printed with your name as the author and you're willing to pay dearly for that privilege, PublishAmerica and Xlibris are waiting to take your money. You could, of course, achieve the same experience a lot more cheaply by going through a print-on-demand operation, but, hey, it's your money.

Both PublishAmerica and Xlibris have slick pages on their websites promising to help you with marketing and promotion--for a fee, of course.

The real problem is that, because these vanity presses do not discriminate in the type of material they print, they have NO credibility in the legitimate publishing world. In fact, saying to an agent or editor that you're a published author with PublishAmerica, will mark you as a very green newbie without a clue. Not exactly the professional image you want to project.

If you don't believe what I'm saying about vanity presses accepting anything, go to Wikipedia and read the entry for "Atlanta Nights." It's both entertaining and very sad at the same time.

Another writer made the comment that--no matter which publisher---the marketing of a book will "almost entirely fall upon the author." That's true, especially for new authors. However, a legitimate publisher will never ask you to pay THEM for promoting, marketing or distributing your book. That's their expense, part of the risk they took on as your publisher.

New writers are always faced with the challenge of gaining name recognition. Joe Konrath says, now that he's published multiple books, his job is 80% marketing and 20% writing. Until you build your name recognition, that's true. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is via a website and blog. Some writers hire a publicist to work in conjunction with their publisher's Publicity Department. Other writers handle the onerous job of calling on bookstores to arrange signings themselves. Almost all writers attend endless conferences and conventions in order to build name recognition.

NOTE: Be sure you understand the differences between marketing, publicity and advertising as they relate to publishing. The Marketing Department of a publisher usually gets in on the act before the book is even contracted--by helping to decide whether there's a market for the book and how the book will fit into the publisher's budget (the size of print run, money for publicity, etc.) The Advertising Department usually handles advertising the publisher itself, meaning developing the catalog that their Sales Department will use to sell to bookstores, etc. The Publicity Department is the one that works with the author (within the budget set up by Marketing. Keep in mind, the budget for newbie authors is very, very slim).

I belong to and have been an officer for multiple writers' groups and chapters. It's almost a painful rite of passage when a new member presents himself, saying, "I'm a published writer." He hands around a copy of his new book, and each member surreptitiously opens the cover to check the title page or the copyright page for the imprint's logo. You can see the winces and the eyerolling when they discover a vanity press. Before the new member even opens his mouth, he has lost credibility.

Every genre has its own organizations and support groups. The advent of the Internet makes it possible for budding writers to find enormous amounts of information on publishing at their fingertips. Take advantage of those resources. One of the MOST valuable is Preditors and Editors ( originally developed by the sci-fi folks. Pay attention to that title. It is Preditors as in predators--people who will prey upon the unwary and the unsuspecting. Every writer worth her salt runs to that website whenever she comes across the name of a potential publisher or agent.

I was sorry to hurt the feelings of another writer yesterday with my comments. I did not make those comments for that purpose. I was very concerned that others would jump on the endorsements being made and make the same ugly mistakes.

I learned long ago in a succession of cheap apartments that, when you turn the light on, the bugs and other nasty creepy-crawlers scurry into hiding. As long as the writing community continues to turn the light on the creepy-crawlers, inexperienced writers will not fall victim to them.

Added Note: I apologized to the writer whose feelings I had inadvertently bruised. She was very gracious and shared her story with the group, telling how she'd been enticed by another writer to sign with PublishAmerica.

We all start out green and inexperienced. Fortunately, today there are lots of resources to help new writers guard against the multitude of scams out there.

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