As we say goodbye to spooky season, many of us are saying hello to NaNoWriMo. It’s a true measure of commitment and endurance to write a novel in one month, but sadly that is only the first step. Once you have written your novel, you have to move on to editing, and then figure out what route of publishing (if any) you wish to pursue.
If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you’re currently weighing which option for publishing is best for you. There’s no right or wrong decision, only different options that work for different writers!
My guest author for this month is no stranger to the publishing world. Shelly Connor owns and operates Shellville Press, a small hybrid publisher advocating for authors without agents. This is an opinion piece, and views expressed are her own, based on over 10 years of book industry experience.
Make Me an Author! The Horrors of Vanity Publishing
By Shelly Connor
Everyone has a story. And nowadays, everyone can be an author. It’s true! Just sign up for a free blog site or send some emails, and voila! Published author. But sometimes our vanity gets in the way, and we want more. We want a legitimate business to publish our work and get it out there professionally. We want a printed book, physical proof that we have accomplished something—it’s an understandable dream for so many aspiring authors.
The danger of chasing the “vanity” press is that it is often extremely costly, marketing is limited, and quality is less than ideal. Let’s walk through the types of publishers to compare these pieces.
When pitching a book to a traditional publisher, a manuscript is usually read alongside many others (and possibly by several agents), competing for a spot among the publisher’s suite of books. It will probably be turned down by dozens. An agent has to believe in it, sell it, and really push for it to become a reality. The cost is then absorbed into the publisher’s costs of doing business, and an author will make some sort of advance and royalties. This process can take years.
- Cost: No up-front costs to an author
- Marketing: Top-notch, with a large budget and solid audience
- Quality: Great—large professional print runs with offset printers (the best quality)
With a hybrid publisher like Shellville Press, the owner (that’s me) has to believe in the book enough to take on the financial risk of publishing. With a much smaller team and marketing budget, the costs are fewer—but still absorbed, again, into the cost of publishing a book. I only outsource some of the editing and design work, while doing most of it myself. I dedicate hundreds of hours to each project, so I will certainly only take on what I 100% support. Then, the author will make royalties on the book once it starts to sell!
- Cost: No up-front cost to the author
- Marketing: Relies on the author’s audience, as well as a limited budget and growing audience
- Quality: Great—small professional print runs with digital printers with dreams of larger print runs in the future.
Self-publishing or indie publishing is a growing trend and can work well for people who have a background in the industry or are familiar with book editing/layout/marketing. Some authors will also decide to pay professionals like illustrators, graphic designers, editors, etc. to help produce a beautiful product. This option requires a lot more time and dedication from the author, demands experience in several fields, and contributes to the number of books that sell very limited numbers of copies.
- Cost: Applying for copyright, computer software, hiring professionals, submitting to a printer, print run cost, business overhead…
- Marketing: Solely author responsibility
- Quality: Varies, depending on relationships and familiarity with printers, and how much is spent on professional enhancements
You should not, under any circumstances other than true self-publishing, pay a publisher to create your book. That’s one of the most offensive horrors that happen at a vanity press. They will lightly assess your work, promise a generic marketing package (usually having nothing to do with your niche readers), and ask you for money upfront.
Even if the writing is terrible, has no direction, or needs compiling, this publisher will allow for a mediocre product rather than advise and finesse your manuscript. They may have relationships with industry professionals and printers, but you will absorb most of that cost and end up with too many books to ever recoup the cost on, let alone make a profit. It often ends in tears and financial stress.
- Cost: High for the author
- Marketing: Limited budget, might claim to have a larger audience than is actually engaged
- Quality: Low—templates and semi-professional products with costly print runs
How do I decide?
Hopefully, after reading through this, you feel more comfortable with the publishing options available for all types of authors. Please consider the costs, marketing, and quality when determining the route best for your own publishing journey.
While all have merits, the vanity press is the most dangerous and costly for authors. I’m hoping to save someone from being sucked into a pretty package without understanding the full commitment to becoming a “published” author. Is it worth it?
More about Shelly
Shelly Connor owns and operates Shellville Press, a small hybrid publisher advocating for authors without agents.
She has always harbored a love of reading, writing, and graphic design. Melding the three, she started a small business publishing her favorite author friend! Her focus so far is on fiction with strong female characters, and she’s always looking for more captivating stories.
When she isn’t publishing books or working on graphic design, she enjoys time with her family and friends outdoors, and lots of coffee and wine—though not mixed together! Let’s lift each other up in these times and help get others’ stories heard.
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