Vanity/Hybrid Publishing…Why do people use them?

As you probably deduced from the subject of this post, I am not a fan of these two “publishing” methods. I can at least understand the appeal of a hybrid publisher, but as I learned more about vanity publishers, I become confused as to why anyone would give them the time of day. Yet, so many still do.

For the record, I have never attempted to go with either types of publishing, but I do know many people who have. So a lot of my information has been fed directly from those people. (and most of it is not good) and then of course I will have some thoughts of my own on the matter, as an outsider looking in.

If you’re an indie author, chances are you know what these two publishing choices are. Just in case, however, I’ve summarized them below:

Vanity Publisher: 

A non-traditional publishing house that requires the clients (ie the authors) to absorb all of the financial risk of publishing by having the author pay a sizable fee in order to have their books published. The publisher then retains the rights of the book, controls pricing, marketing plans, etc. In theory, they operate like a normal publishing house with two very significant exceptions. The publisher doesn’t pay the author money up front, it’s the other way around. And then (and equally as bad, IMO) once the book has been published, there’s almost no incentive to the publisher to push the book, as they’ve already gotten their slice of the pie.

 

Hybrid Publisher:

This is a slightly more reasonable/fair approach in which the publisher does not require any money from the author, but also does not offer advances or anything of the sort to the author, either. A good hybrid publisher (like the now defunct Booktrope) will have a team of editors, formatters, cover designers/artists, and marketing/project managers. All in all it sounds reasonable, but the two biggest problems here are: you will earn practically pennies on the dollar in royalties. And most of these hybrid publishers are just random folks working out of their basement with no real long-term game plan in mind. Many of them are too small to have all of their bases covered. For example, one publisher I saw would only format book covers, leaving the author responsible to either design/execute on their own cover, or hire someone else to do it. Doesn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence that that publisher is serious about my book climbing to the top. Most hybrid publishers also lack the professional/business connections to have books in their catalog reach audiences outside the standard indie market. Meaning, you’re not likely going to see your books in Barnes and Noble anytime soon.

 

Now it’s time for my rant: why would anyone do this? I’ll again address each method with a few comments based on things I’ve heard from those who have been through the process, as well as my own views.

So, why do people go with vanity publishing? There are only two reasons that I can think of: Vanity or ignorance.

Vanity seems like a cop out explanation, but it’s true. I know people who just like to say “I’ve signed with…” on their social media. I suppose it makes them feel successful, and I do get the excitement in sharing news like that. It would be an amazing day to tell all your friends and family that you’re now a real-deal published author (unlike those amateur indie folk). But the fact is, you are no more “published” than an indie author who just clicked publish on Amazon for the first time. Actually, since you’re starting probably anywhere from $8,000-$15,000 in the hole, that indie author will start accumulating royalties on day one, whereas you’ll be replenishing your savings account or paying off a credit card with yours. So who’s the real winner in this equation?

Ignorance isn’t intended to be used in a derogatory manner here. I mean it literally. Many people are just uninformed that vanity publishing is a scheme, through and through. Besides the aforementioned group, the success of a vanity publisher rides on people who have written a story, but have little to no knowledge on how to go about publishing it. I imagine many of these people get enticed by the sleek websites, promises of their their book being in stores, and being told that only the best of the best are accepted—making it all the more flattering when they get that congratulatory letter from the brilliant editing team at said publisher. “Now, if you would just send us fifteen grand, we’ll edit your manuscript, throw our logo on the spine, and get it out the door.”

While vanity publishers tend to have more connections in the book world than the hybrid publishers do, I suspect that there isn’t a whole lot that they do that a motivated indie author couldn’t accomplish.

So is vanity publishing something you should do? NO!

At the end of the day: if your publisher wants you to pay them money, then flee. If any money is forked over before release, it’s going to be on the publisher’s end, not the author’s. Vanity publishing is never a good idea, and I would never, under any circumstances, recommend doing it unless you really just have so much money that you’re just looking for an excuse to waste it. In which case, I have a plot of land for sale on the moon.

 

What about hybrid?

I would say that if you find the right hybrid publisher, it isn’t necessarily a terrible idea. But even the more successful ones have started to go belly up. And several authors I have talked to who have been with some of these better ones still voiced frustration over the difficulty they had getting things done to their quality standard, or getting the company to pay an appropriate amount of attention to their books. One author in particular, who also had good things to say about the experience, told me he felt like he had been granted a second chance when he found out the company was closing down. He told me while he learned a lot of valuable things from the experience, he would not fall into that trap again, and would stay indie from now on.

More often than not, I think authors go this route because they are lazy. *Dodges half-full beer bottle and several tomatoes* The reason I say that is that hybrid publishers almost never have connections or inside tracks that indie authors don’t also have access to. They go through the same channels that you would if you published the title yourself. They use the same POD (Print on Demand) services that you would use, and they use most of the same marketing tactics that you would. And yet, you are getting royalty scraps from each purchase. Many of these publishers also feel that “wide” is the only way to go, preventing you from capitalizing off of Kindle Unlimited subscribers reading your book. You’re also locked into a contract for likely three, up to five, years. So if you aren’t happy with the results, TS.

I understand in some cases authors really just want to have a professional looking package (editing, quality cover art, etc) and can’t afford to front that kind of money. I get that. But I think it’s safe to say that you could get your book edited with a very decent looking cover for under $1,000. Many of us are willing to invest that kind of money in other hobbies/business ventures, but suddenly become Scrooges when it comes to our passion of writing. Yet, if you go down this road, when you release your book, every penny of royalty goes straight to you (well, you and Uncle Sam on April 15th, but that’s a whole different problem). It’s not fun to dish out money up front, but it will be much better in the long run.

At the end of the day: if all you want to do is write and not deal with anything else, then hybrid publishing might be an okay options for you. Just know that you’re going to get a fraction of the royalties you earned, will have little control over the process, and may end up causing your work to be less visible or appealing than if you had done it yourself. Because, who is going to be more excited to spread the word about a novel than the person who wrote it?

 

Some people would say that writing a book is the hard part. I vehemently disagree. At best, it’s a 50/50 split. Finishing your manuscript is a monumental milestone that you should celebrate, but the battle is far from over at that point. And if you want to have a chance at success without losing a lot of money (either up front with a vanity publisher or through lost royalties) then you better plan on working your butt off after typing ‘The End’

/End Rant

AJ

 

Guest Blog and More

Hey everyone,

 

My friend and fellow author, Belinda Frisch, asked me to do a post for her blog. You can view it HERE – The topic is on what to do after publishing your indie book. It’s geared towards authors obviously, but I think a lot of folks might enjoy it (and some of the techniques will apply to endeavors outside of writing).

In other news, I recently was browsing on Amazon UK’s site and I visited As the Ash Fell‘s page. I was shocked when I saw not only was it in the top 10,000 of all Kindle Books, but it was in the top 100 Kindle books in the Post-Apocalyptic genre. I am not sure if that makes the book a best seller or not, but I think that’s pretty cool. Thanks to all the readers out there who have made that possible!

Also, thanks to everyone for making the book’s launch a huge success! I couldn’t have done it with y’all!

I’ve also been busy cranking away on a new book. I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it in the not-so-distant future, but until then I will leave you with some promotional pieces I created for As the Ash Fell. 

ataf_pro3

ataf_pro4

 

Until next time

AJ

Reviews: Just as important as sales?

When I released my first novella on Amazon back in 2011 I thought the only thing I would need to worry about in terms of success was sales. If I got sales, and people liked it, they would tell their friends, and eventually I would have a snowball effect. Then people started talking about Amazon ranking. The better your ranking, the better your sales—or so went the theory, anyway. This made me push hard for some sales, as ranking was directly associated with sales. But eventually, the sales push plateaued and as fewer people bought my book, my standing in the ranks sunk deeper and deeper into the abyss. But there was something the book was missing that I didn’t pay enough attention to.

Reviews.

As I finished the draft for As the Ash Fell, I started researching the publishing process again. After all, it’s been 4 years since I released Loose Ends, which is not even published anymore. I know Amazon KDP has matured even more since then, not to mention I would be experiencing my first Create Space process, and so I looked at the whole thing as if I had never published a book in my life. The research I’ve done, and the advice I’ve received, all pointed to the significance of your book’s reviews.

Having a general positive rating on your book will encourage people to click on the link when it shows up during their browsing. If you have a 2 or 3 star average, this may not help, but if you are hitting in the 4-5 star range, this will certainly entice people to read your book’s blurb, and either buy, or at least download the sample (at which point its up to your writing to get them to purchase). But more than just having a 4 or 5 star rating, you need to have numerous reviews. If a book has under a dozen reviews, and they are all pretty positive in nature, then there’s a good chance you’re looking at the author’s friends and family. Now this doesn’t mean the book is bad, but it also doesn’t mean the book is good, either. Friends and family are biased, and as such they will give a book a good rating in an effort to help their loved one out. To be honest, this is a double edged sword. On one hand, it’s great for people to rally behind and support their friends and family. On the other hand, it doesn’t really help them improve as an author to get insincere praises. It might taste sweet in the short term, but will become pretty bitter in the long run.

Regardless, most authors will get a surge of this kind of support after a book launch. It’s only natural. The amount of reviews will vary, but I’ll just peg it at around a dozen or so reviews from your supporters to help get things going. This can be great, as not everyone will be quite so cynical with reviews as I am, but you can’t let it stop there and just let nature take its course. Writing a review isn’t hard, it doesn’t have to be some professionally written, spoiler-free overview of the book along with your thoughts. It can just be a couple of sentences describing the experience you had with the book, along with the star rating. Yet, when Amazon sends that email saying “Hey, what’d you think of this book? Leave a review!” most people still ignore it. I’ll admit I am guilty of that, too. And this is why you, as an author, need to be proactive to encourage your readers to leave reviews. Chances are a good deal of your readers (at first) will be folks you interact with on social media (or perhaps friends of friends). So, as you see some sales of your book coming in, make sure you are vocal about reminding people to leave a review, as it will help attract potential readers for your writing.

Good reviews are always nice. If you are getting 4 and 5 stars—especially from people who have no reason to do so except that they liked your book—can be a jolt of energy and excitement. But what about the 3, 2, and dreaded 1 star reviews? Well, keep in mind your book is not going to appeal to everyone. And regardless of why someone bought a book in a genre they don’t normally read (for example), they are still entitled to their views on what they thought of your book. If they are decent about it, and offer true constructive criticism, then take their advice seriously. Consider how you might improve in the areas they mention, but be sure to filter out the comments that are subjective or personal taste. If someone doesn’t like your writing style, that’s just life sometimes. If comments are rude, ugly, and lack the maturity of a 3rd grader, just ignore it. People will hate just for the sake of hating. For all you know it could be a wannabe writer who has never put forth enough  of the effort and dedication it takes to finish writing a book of their own—they are just bitter. Don’t let reviews like this get you down. They genuinely do not offer any sort of help, except perhaps comic relief. Another positive about lower rated reviews is having a few on your book isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It tells people that you don’t just pay to have fake reviews posted so that your novel looks more impressive than it is. I have a sneaking suspicion that not only indie authors do this, but larger publishers do, and that is about the lowest thing an author (or publisher) can do. Let your work be reflected in the reviews, good or bad. And if it’s bad, improve on it and do a better job next time.

At the end of the day, if you write a solid book that people enjoy, the reviews will largely be positive. The hard part is getting people to actually review it. So make it known, as best as you can, to your readers the significance of leaving a review (especially if they enjoyed it). Authors understand the importance of reviews, but not all readers may. A reader may like your work and say “I’ll show my appreciation by purchasing future books.” We do appreciate that, but a good review can generate several more sales for the author, which in turn can generate more reviews, and ultimately lead to dedicated readers of your work.

So please, readers (especially readers who are authors, as you know better), leave reviews for the books you read. It helps much more than many of you realize.