Vanity thy name is Subsidy

Frustrated writerLet’s drag something out into the light today, something that a few don’t like to talk about. Something that drains money from writers like a leech, through their desire to succeed; vanity publishing.

Except its got itself a nice new name of late.

Vanity publishing has found itself a new face, and is rebranding itself in a game of smoke and mirrors designed to confuse new and desperate writers. Welcome to subsidy publishing, the pretty new painted face over a riddled, ugly one.

At the heart of the new game of ‘subsidy’ publishers is their claim to match their partner writer’s money with their own contributions. As Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware points out ‘ a claim of subsidy or partnership publishing is much more likely to be a marketing ploy designed to make you feel better about handing over cash’.

Yet a name change doesn’t alter what this grasping side of publishing is; a way to suck money from the dreams and hopes of writers. So let’s get angry about it, and let’s not pretend it is something it is not.

For one thing, it is not a new trick. Vanity publishing has been around as long as publishing has, and it is a well known joke in the circles of publishers that it is the best way of making money in their business. Don’t bother trying to produce a good product, it’s too difficult and too risky. Just give people what they want; their name on a book, showing their parents, children, and loved ones their accomplishment of being a published writer.

Because getting published is an achievement, right?

Not at all. In this day and age, anyone can be published. Seriously, any breathing being who can operate a computer can be published, and yet the allure of the title ‘author’ somehow still has cache.

And that is where vanity publishing gets you, and honestly they are good at it.

My co-author Tee Morris, in the earliest days of his writing career, was approached by one of these vanity outfits, and he sent them his manuscript for evaluation. A reader report, nicely bound and professional looking, came back. it looked like they’d done work, but what a surprise, his manuscript was perfect! It didn’t a thing done to it, according to this ‘evaluation’.

Here’s another sweet deal for the vanity publisher, because when they say it’s a masterpiece it works two-fold; it strokes the writer’s ego so much that they are blinded by their own awesomeness (which they already knew in their heart of hearts), and it means that they don’t have to do any pesky editing, which actually costs time and money.

Vanity publishing is practically pure profit.

The sad thing is that in recent times, reputable publishers have come to notice that, and wanting to get in on that easy money, have snapped vanity publishers.

They also try and muddy the waters by claiming to be a self-publishing company, which is a way of horning in on the swell of authors who are publishing themselves.

The differences between vanity and self-publishing can seem practically nil, but as they say, it is the little things that matter.

Self-publishing means what the writer produces he or she takes ownership of. They not only write the book, they do everything else too. They can hire professionals to create them a cover or edit their book, but they own the whole process from start to finish. It can be an exhausting, yet rewarding path.

Vanity publishers will take a manuscript, and for a large fee turn it into a book. They are easy to spot because they will

  1. Say how wonderful the writer is…perhaps offering comments that the writer is like some [insert some well known and best selling author]
  2. They will try and up-sell the writer on their editing package, their Hollywood package, their book trailer package
  3. They will pursue the writer mercilessly on email and on the phone even if after getting a no.
  4. They will hopes in front of the writer like ‘this would make a great movie’
  5. They will offer to market your book, which should be read as ‘we will stick it on our website and Facebook page where it will rot away with all the other books we’ve got money to produce.’

SFWA’s list of the continum of self-publishing and vanity publishing, gives a very good break-down of the differences

But watch out for those that have already been taken in. No one wants to be wrong, and they will argue the hardest that vanity publishing is the best thing ever…even if there is a class action lawsuit pending on one of the worst offenders, professional organizations warning writers to stay away, and a huge list of complaints (this one is just for two vanity publishers).

If after all this, you as a writer still feel the lure of the vanity publisher, at least please, please do you homework. When they offer to make you a cover, go look at what others they have done, and see if they are as professional as you want yours to be. If they offer to make you ‘a best-seller’ go look at the Amazon ranking of other books they have done. If they offer to make you a book trailer, go look at the ones on their Youtube channel, watch them (as painful as that maybe) and look at the numbers of people who have viewed them. Finally, if they say there is nothing that needs to be changed in your manuscript, know that everyone needs an editor. Seriously everyone.

Above all, be realistic. Being a writer is no easy thing, and those who offer you instant success for large sums of money, are really the modern day snake-oil salesmen. Before you pay for what they are offering, consider if you are handing over your hard earned money to in fact drink publishing poison—and saying thank you for the privilege.

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