Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writers: Beware! (and Readers: Be Aware!)

If you haven't heard about Simon & Schuster joining forces with Author Solutions, well, it has.

And Author Solutions was recently bought by Pearson—the same corporate entity that owns Penguin.

That latter detail is…worrisome in itself, but when you pair it with Simon & Schuster jumping in…

First, for any readers who don't know, Author Solutions is the parent of many, many vanity presses, the type that are known in the writing world for charging would-be authors thousands of dollars to get their book in print—and screwing them over in further hidden fees, in the quality of editing, the layout, the printing, the…

I think you get the idea.

All you would-be authors out there: You can get your 80,000-word book edited, proofread, and formatted to self-publish in print and e-book form for $1,000. Or less. It's even possible to get another proofread and the cover design tossed in, at that price, depending on what kind of editing your book needs.

Thanks to POD (Print on Demand) technology, writers no longer have to buy thousands of copies of your book to self-publish it, which makes self-publishing a viable career option for more situations than it used to be. (That thousands-of-copies method is viable—and still ideal—in some situations, mainly business-type ones. But for most of us, POD is the better option.)

Readers: Thanks to the outlier success stories, self-publishing is currently a popular get-rich-quick scheme. I suspect it'll get worse before it gets better, but self-publishing is like Mary Kay makeup: Folks who dabble won't last long. Folks who make a business out of it can do well. Folks who jump in with unrealistic expectations will crash and burn, getting loudmouthed and bitter about it being a "scam" (though it isn't).

I dabbled in selling Tupperware, a decade back. I know how it goes. *wink*

The companies from Author Solutions are often termed "vanity presses", because most authors spend thousands of dollars and get nothing to show for it but a garage full of books and the ability to say "I had a book published."

That's why anybody who takes great pains to stress "We are not a vanity press!" is probably lying. A "vanity press" targets folks who are unlikely to benefit from its publication model and plays sales hardball to get them to dish out their hard-earned cash.

Sales hardball gets my hackles up. Softball, fine. Hardball, ulgh.

But I'm also an experienced copywriter. I recognize sales tactics pretty quickly. Not everyone does.

What does that have to do with the Author Solutions thing?

Author Solutions targets folks who don't know that they don't have to spend thousands of dollars—and give up half their income from vendors—to get their book(s) published. (To be fair, Harlequin has also been in this pond, but I'm not sure if they still are—though that company has some, ah, issues of its own that may not be unique to them—but it's hard to say, since these things often seem to get hushed up.)

Penguin and Simon & Schuster are now partnered with or connected to Author Solutiosn. Writers therefore need to beware of both vanity presses themselves—and to be aware of their connections. Do you want to seek or sign a contract with a publisher that has ties to such a vanity press?

Even as a reader, I personally am considering boycotting publishers tied to vanity presses like that, even though at least two authors' series on my auto-buy list are from those publishers, and a quick Google search says more such series are from subsidiaries of those publishers.

As an author, if I had a contract with one of those publishers, I would be very interested in my contracts' termination clauses, and I would be unlikely to sign with

Thus why I say "Be Aware!" to readers: Not infrequently, series are orphaned, end up unfinished, even when the author's willing to continue signing with a publisher. I suspect the number of unfinished or delayed series will increase, a few years from now.

Why "a few years"? Because that's when contracts signed today often end up being effective, in the publishing world.

Not that I think many authors are going to drop their publishers. Writers as a group put up with a lot of junk. Laura Resnick's essay collection Romance, Rejection, and Royalties comes to mind, and I could name more examples, but that would gett off-topic.

So writers: Beware of sales gimmicks—and be aware that you might be losing some readers for no fault of your own.

And readers: Be aware that some of your favorite authors might be having dry spells, soon.

What are your thoughts on vanity presses? Have any predictions about how things'll shake out?


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