By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors Become Publishers since 1995
There’s a line from one of my favorite movies, “The Usual Suspects,” that goes, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
Well, the greatest trick that vanity press publishers try to pull off every day is claiming that vanity press publishing is self publishing.
Now that Author Solutions has found a… buyer in Penguin—or rather Pearson, the company that owns Penguin Books—you’d probably think that the so-called vanity press self-publishing model has been given the blessing by “traditional publishing.” Guess again! It simply means that somebody wised up to the fact that authors who choose the vanity publishing model are easy pickings. Someone’s got to take their money and squash their dreams. It might as well be one of the big six traditional publishing groups, right? Guess so.
But the simple fact remains, no matter how nice that flashy new penguin suit is reported to be, that bird—even if it is an emperor penguin—is still stark-naked.
The word on the street is that nothing is going to change at the new Penguin-owned Author Solutions. The deceptive practices of these modern day vanity presses will remain in place. I am on the prospect list for all of these companies so I see all the advertising and hear all the sales pitches. The “too good to be true” advertising continues and a seemingly endless parade of authors continue to hand over their credit cards in hopes of hitting the self-publishing lottery… which is exactly what it is when you use a vanity press to publish your book. Actually it’s a little more like video poker because there is a little bit of interaction before you lose, but you lose nonetheless.
So why do so many people buy into the whole vanity press model? There is only one way to make any real money as a self-publisher and that is to be the publisher and produce a book through a place like www.selfpublishing.com and a few others. Yet overwhelming numbers of authors choose the seemingly easier vanity press model where the author pays all the bills and the publisher makes all the money. But why? Do people enjoy spending money with little or no chance of any return on their investment? Maybe a look at today’s politics will shed a little light on the whole self-publish/vanity publish dynamic.
I’m pretty political and don’t hide that fact from anyone. I find the current fiscal situation this country finds itself quite appalling and see the country headed over a cliff and if we don’t change direction. My view is shared by just under half of the country. On the other hand, just under half think that everything is all peachy and all we have to do is seize a large chunk of the personal wealth in the country and the country will be just fine. The remaining 10% or so aren’t quite sure and are open to convincing, one way or the other. For argument sake, let’s say the self-publishing market is broken down along the same lines with the exception that the swing 10% is probably closer to 30%. This means that no matter what I say, 35% of the potential self-publishers are going to buy into the vanity press model, 35% into the self-publishing model and 30% in the “just don’t know” category.
My view is that “Writing is a love and publishing is a business.” If you decide to self-publish you are deciding to be in the publishing business. The primary goal of a business is to make money… period. Everything that you ever hear from me or my company when it comes to your publishing business is pointed towards helping you making the money in your publishing business. I will work for you as a supplier but it will be your business. Keep in mind that there was a Mr. Simon and a Mr. Schuster, and a Mr. McGraw and a Mr. Hill. If you think like those men and picture the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow being a successful publishing company you will never consider a vanity press. You clearly fall into the self-publishing 35%.
If on the other hand… you just want to write… as I’ve often heard, and picture yourself as an author receiving a huge advance for your next thriller, you are the perfect target for the vanity press sales machine. The vanity press industry has the press on their side. You will rarely read anything negative about any of the vanity presses because they are huge advertisers of these same media outlets. If you have the money, want to see your name in print, aren’t particularly entrepreneurial and don’t want to do a lot of work to promote your book, you probably fall into that solid 35% of the vanity press model.
If you are still reading this, you probably fall into that 30% of the potential self-publishers who “just don’t know”. At this point in time, most of this 30% is being gobbled up by the vanity press model. Is it because it is a better deal? NO. Is it because these people aren’t ambitious enough to do what it takes to sell their book? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, true self-publishing finds itself quite “outgunned” by the vanity machine. While the saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” holds true when listening to the vanity press sales pitch, it’s soooooo tempting.
Keep in mind that according to Author Solutions’ May 7th. 2012 Publishers Weekly advertorial they spend $550 on each and every new author just to get them to fork over their credit card to get started, and the first time they hit your credit card you are going to spend $1375 no matter what you think you are going to spend, and over the “lifetime” of account the author will spend $5000. On the revenue side the total amount of royalties paid is $1.7 million out of 100 million in sales. Simply put… for those $5000 worth of services that you are going to buy you will earn less than $100. Pretty pitiful by any business standards. Oh and as a bonus… you will own nothing meaningful after you’ve spent that $5000. The vanity press owns the printing files as well as the ISBN that is used to identify the book and its publisher… BTW… you are not the publisher… the vanity press is.
And oh…. how about all those promises that vanity press made to you as you were giving them that $5000? Their promises are about as empty as most political promises. Just like the politician says almost anything to get you to vote for them, the vanity press will say just about anything to get you to give them your credit card, and their promises are just as empty. It is strictly “Buyer Beware”. I’m not going to promise you a thing, other than I’ll work hard to earn your business and to keep it once you’ve given it to me. Anyone who promises you anything beyond that should be ignored.
The choice is yours. You and only you get to choose which path you want to guide your book.