The words ‘vanity press’ conjure up an image of a conceited individual who has written rubbish they can’t get published so they resort to paying for it to be printed. This might hold a grain of truth for some but the reality is publishing houses are flooded with manuscripts every year and they can’t publish them all. They only have so much money to go around and they have to invest in the work and hope it sells. The block buster sellers are the tip of the iceberg, most published books don’t sell anywhere near as many copies and too many simply never get a second print run because half the first run are sent back, or ‘remaindered’.
Self publishing today is a viable and in most minds, respectable alternative. It still doesn’t come ‘stigma free’ as some people still cling to old fashioned attitudes towards self publishing. Somewhere between the POD facilitators and self publishing authors on the one hand and the mainstream or traditional publishing houses on the other fall the vanity press operators. These companies prey on the naive and the less well informed, particularly writers with more money than inclination to do some research online and learn how the world of publishing turns. I have never fallen foul of the bad ones simply because I don’t have the kind of money they ask, and get, from people keen to see their writing in print.
While some lament the rise in self publishing opportunities as the death of decent writing, I strongly disagree. Many books published by intelligent and knowledgeable people such as literary agents, editors, publishers and marketers in traditional publishing houses turn out to be rubbish and even the well written ones might flounder due to several reasons. Lack of support or properly targeted marketing activities, changes in public taste and even world events beyond anyone’s control. As an example, in the 1970s and 80s a story about a bunch of Muslim terrorists flying planes into New York skyscrapers would not have found the audience one featuring KGB trained agents from the Soviet Bloc would have. Today there are no new novels out there set in the Cold War… that’s history now. Nevertheless, good and bad writing has always found a way into print so we can’t blame it all on vanity or vanity press.
The other week I was subjected to some promotional emails from a vanity press outfit called SBPRA.com, the Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Company, of Houston, Texas. Apparently they were ready to accept my manuscript and publish it and even guarantee me an advance on royalties of $2,500… on my NEXT book, providing this one sold 1,000 copies. Sounds like a great deal! $2,500 advance! All my dreams come true! Of course my current book has to sell 1,000 copies but that isn’t many when you think how many people buy books and so forth. Hold on there, Author, let’s examine this great deal a little more closely.
Congratulations! Your submission has been approved for publishing!
Our publisher, SBPRA, is now ready to publish your work to help you advance and succeed with your writing career. We work quickly, efficiently and professionally. We guarantee your satisfaction. We have published more than 5000 authors. We will do a great job for you our mutual success will exceed your wildest dreams. Even with a payment plan we can move directly to publishing.
We are so confident that our new 2013 publishing and marketing opportunity is the best available today that we guarantee it. (Please see our guarantee below)
NEW PROGRAM! $2500 advance on your next approved book when your book reaches 1000 books sold. See below.
The deal is not easy to find, by the way. First you have to wade through all the bumf and hype carefully designed to build up your desire to fever pitch, to have you salivating in anticipation of the big $2,500 advance on the next book and so on. To be sure, this is clever marketing and great use of applied psychology and it is not in any way that I can discern, illegal. Is it ethical? That’s for the client to decide I guess but I find in manipulative in the extreme. Having said that, in fairness to SBRPA and others of their ilk, if the client believes they are getting a fair deal then they are; nobody is forced to sign up or hand over their money.
OK, here is the deal in a nutshell:
You pay them $995 and they will publish your book and make it available on various platforms for purchase as both a print (treebook) and electronic (eBook) book. If people buy it, you get 50% of the ‘final monies’ (the price paid less any fees paid to the selling platforms). This is fair enough and I offer the same split to those I publish and help sell their books. What I object to is that they fail to tell the author that they aren’t doing anything the author can’t do for themselves and that if they did they would make 100% of the ‘final monies’ for almost the same amount of effort!
The sale of treebooks is another area of concern for me. They explain the royalty situation in their contract like this:
ROYALTY EXAMPLE: This is an example only, actual numbers will be determined once the Suggested Retail Price and Print Cost are set.
Assume a Suggested Retail Price = $16
Assume Print Cost = $4
Net Sales Revenue (Suggested Retail Price less Cost of Printing) = $12
Author Royalty is $6 (50% of net sales revenue)
AUTHOR PURCHASE PRICE EXAMPLE: This is an example only, actual numbers will be determined once the Suggested Retail Price and Print Cost are set.
Assume a Suggested Retail Price = $16
Assume Print Cost = $4
50% of list price + 50% of print costs ($8 + $2 = $10)
Author Purchase Price in this Example is $10 + shipping (Shipping is paid by the buyer of the book.)
Royalties are not payable on Author Purchases.
In the event that an on-line distributor makes available and sells the electronic version of your printed files, Author shall receive 50% of all final monies received for from such sales. (I.E. PDF file of the cover and/or text files).
The thing is, if you POD through say CreateSpace.com your book is automatically listed for sale on the world’s biggest bookstore, Amazon.com. If it is a $16 buy with $4 in print costs, you make $12 less the small percentage Amazon will ask. You easily come away with $10, probably a bit more. If you order your own book then the print cost of $4 means you only pay $4 plus shipping. So if you sell the book for $16 plus the shipping (say you drop ship and sell via your own web site) then you make $12… not $6.
It gets better with eBooks. Amazon pay 35% or 70% of the RRP. So if you sell the eBook for $5 and have it set for 70% you make $3.50. If you are with SBRPA, they will take 50% of that! For doing what precisely? Sending the eBook to the same distributors and facilitators you can reach for free simply by publishing, for free, via kdp.com or, for all the other stores like Apple iBooks or BN, Sony, with smashwords.com! Why end up with half?
If your book does sell 1,000 copies, the $2,500 advance they will pay you is actually money you made selling those 1,000 copies which you would have had anyway had you not signed up with SBRPA! Remember an advance is just that, an advance on future sales. So they pay you $2,500 which they gleaned from the first 1,000 copies of your first book and they advance it to you against the next however many sales of the second book. If you don’t sell enough of the second book will they expect a refund? Probably not but keep in mind they are taking half of every dollar earned on the second book PLUS the other half until they hit the $5,000 worth of sales mark. That is when you will have earned that advance and then, from there on, they will keep half of every dollar!
Here’s a simple example using just eBooks of how such a system works as far as I can discern using the SBPRA example given above:
Book 1 sells for $10 on Amazon.com and they pay 70% of that to your vanity press who pay you 50% or $3.50
You sell 1,000 copies of Book 1 and make $3,500. Your vanity press also make $3,500 plus the $995 you paid to get the book ‘published’. So now the score is:
Author $2495 ($3,500 less the $995) Vanity Press $4,495
They then pay you $2,500 advance on your second book, once you pay them $995 to have it ‘published’, of course…
Author $4,000 Vanity Press $2,990
Because your first book sold 1,000 copies, let us presume the second one does as well and for the same amount, $10 RRP and 70% shared 50/50
Author $4,000 plus $3,500 less the $2,500 Advance = $5,000 Vanity Press $8,990
If you sell none to very few copies of the first book they still make $995 for doing very little and nothing you can’t do yourself. Fair enough, you might not wish to find out how to do it yourself and I have no problem at all getting professional help to reach publication, I make some of my own income doing just that. I am simply not comfortable with how they go about it, although I acknowledge they are an American firm and these kind of business practices are probably considered quite ethical in the land of the big capitalist. The good thing is the internet has freed authors from the shackles and given us more options today than we ever had before.
In fairness to SBPRA they do offer an author website, typesetting, layout and cover art. I would guess they have templates for the covers and the author website is a sub-domain affair. I offer the same deals and I know there are many writers who prefer to focus on writing rather than the business end of the process. I am sure the people working there are genuine and professional, my only point in raising this issue is that writers need to think for themselves and evaluate how much they are really getting for their money. $995 is not unreasonable for getting the book out there, adding a cover and giving the author a web site to call their own. I don’t think the $2,500 advance is anything other than a hook but there are much worse vanity press outfits out there charging thousands for much less.
What lessons have I learned from this? First of all I give it away. All my hard earned experience and knowledge I give away for nothing and frankly, that is the value people place on it because it is what I charge for it. I need to charge for my expertise. At present I only charge if I have to spend a few hours editing the work. I don’t charge to publish and I only take 50% of any ‘final monies’. As I said, I can’t see anything SBPRA do as being illegal and I guess it isn’t immoral either, at least to the 5,000 authors they claim to have published. They just value their expertise more than I do.
The moral of the story on the one hand is to read through the hype and ad-speak and drill down to what the real deal is. As the Romans used to say, Caveat Emptor! Buyer beware, because he who has the gold, will be the patsy for he who hasn’t! On the other hand I need to value my expertise and what I can do for the client. I will not rip anyone off if for no other reason than it is just as easy to do the right thing and you sleep better and you get more repeat business, let alone it is simply the right thing to do. So in that case, thankyou SBPRA!