Paid Publishing PackagesThis is the most common form of vanity publishing, and usually takes the approach along the lines that trade publishers turn down a lot of good books (true) and publishing yourself is difficult (partly true), so why not take away the stress by working with a Christian cooperative publisher (which ignores the inconvenient truth that not all of these publishers are owned by Christian organisations).
I have three main issues with these packages:
- They are overpriced. For example, it costs $35 to electronically register copyright with the US Copyright Office. One vanity publisher I looked at charges $199 for this service (Xulon Press), while another charges $249 (XLibris). Other "services" include $499 for "Book Search Optimization", something you can do free for yourself on all major online bookstores (Tim Grahl explains how in his free online course, Hacking Amazon).
- Packages do not include editing or proofreading. Poor quality editing is one of the most frequent issues cited in Amazon reviews (reviewers frequently mix up editing and proofreading, but the point is clear: many books haven't been adequately edited). This means the publishers are actively and knowingly publishing books which aren’t ready to be published. I discussed this in my post last week, I Wanted to Cry.
- The advertising is misleading regarding distribution. Would-be authors read the website and believe their books will be available for purchase in all the major stores, which isn’t true. They will be available for order in all major stores and online, but that means nothing unless the publisher is making some effort to sell the book to retailers. Without this marketing effort, the distribution is the same as what any self-published author can achieve using CreateSpace.
Vanity publishers targeting the Christian market include WestBow Press, XLibris, and Xulon Press. WestBow is, in my view, particularly obnoxious. They advertise themselves as a subsidiary of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan (which they are, and Thomas Nelson is a subsidiary of HarperCollins, who also own the Heartsong Presents, Love Inspired and Zondervan imprints). HarperCollins is a subsidiary of NewsCorp, a multinational corporation built by Australian Rupert Murdoch--
WestBow publishing services are provided by the notorious Author Solutions, but WestBow don’t actively publicise the link. I don’t know whether that’s because they promote WestBow as being a Christian publisher (where Author Solutions isn’t), or whether it’s to try and distance themselves from the negative publicity surrounding Author Solutions and their business practices. (If you want to know more about why not to use Author Solutions, see David Gaughran’s blog.)
Marketing PackageTate Publishing specifically target the Christian market with the promise of free publishing, but the small print states that authors are required to have professional marketing support … which they provide for around $4,000. You won't find this figure on their website any more (well, if you can, please leave a link in the comments), but sites such as Dog Ear Publishing (another vanity press), Absolute Write and Writer Beware make reference to it.
However, there is no information available on what form this marketing or publicity support will take, or what return there will be on the investment. This, to me, is a red flag. No one should be spending that amount of money without a clear indication of what it will buy. But the biggest problem is that publicists do what they think is best … which might not be what is best for your book:
We can hire people to do a lot of the targeted marketing for us, or we can save the money and do it ourselves. By hiring people, I am not talking about hiring a publicist. Publicists charge an arm and a leg and most of them do … one-size-fits-all marketing.
I haven’t seen any of the marketing this publisher offers, which suggests they focus on the things many trade publishers focus on: activities are designed to attract book buyers from major book chains.
Tate describe author websites as an "option", which I suspect means "additional fee". I have seen a couple of their author websites, and they are basic at best. These are linked to the main Tate site, so authors don't actually control their site, which means they run the risk of their website becoming an empty shell.
My other issues with this publisher include:
- They claim that they only accept 4% of manuscripts submitted for publication, but I’ve never seen anyone report being rejected by them, or knowing anyone who was rejected.
- I’ve never seen their titles in stores, and while their titles are on Amazon.com, the book pages are often incomplete (e.g. there is no Look Inside activated, or no Kindle version).
- Based on the (few) titles I’ve read, while the interior formatting is excellent and the proofreading good, the cover designs are uninspired and the copyediting sporadic. I suspect the books haven’t been copyedited at all, and any good editing is purely because the author is an above-average writer and self-editor, or has paid for professional editing.
- I don’t see them undertaking the kinds of marketing activities self-published or trade published authors undertake, such as proactively seeking reviews through a reviewer programme, or participating in blog tours. Where I have seen these activities, they have been instigated by the author, not the publisher.
Purchase RequirementSome publishers offer to publish free, but require authors to purchase a specified number of books This is an attractive offer until you look at the fine print. Deep River Books targets the Christian market, and require authors to purchase a minimum of 1,000 copies for 30% off retail price. Most paperbacks retail for $12.99 or more, so purchasing 1,000 copies will cost a minimum of $9,000 (plus shipping, which will be expensive if you are based outside the USA, and author sales are not counted when calculating royalties).
The scary thing? It will only cost Deep River around $4,000 to have these books printed (The Fine Art of Self-Publishing says most "self-publishers" use LightningSource, which means their printing costs are all broadly the same). Deep River have made their money on the printing alone, which gives them no incentive to promote or market your book.
Creation House use the same idea. They require authors to purchase a "significant quantity of books at a deep discount from the first press run", but I couldn't find information on how many copies or at what discount ... which suggests a lot of copies at a negligible discount.
If you are interested in getting 1,000 physical copies of your book, you will be better off by letting your fingers do the walking (to paraphrase an old Yellow Pages advertisement), and find a local printer to print your copies. This will almost certainly cost less to print, and will eliminate shipping costs. Alternatively, you can get books printed more cheaply in Asia, although you will then have to pay shipping and customs fees.
One Final WarningThere is one more vanity press that authors should be aware of: America Star Books, better known by the previous name, Publish America. They are blacklisted on sites such as Absolute Write, Predators and Editors, and Writer Beware, and have previously targeted Christian authors. Read here for an in-depth explanation of their business practices from a Christian author who is now pleased to be out of their clutches.
What should an author do?If you want to self-publish, use freelance contractors (like me) to provide services you need help with (e.g. editing, formatting, cover design). Then publish directly with one of the main distributors:
For paperbacks: CreateSpace or IngramSpark (part of LightningSource). remember how I said vanity presses promised your book would be available for order in bookstores? That's because they are using LightningSource too.
For ebooks: Amazon Kindle and Smashwords (who distribute directly to all ebook stores for a small distribution fee). Alternatively, you could distribute through the major ebook stores yourself (e.g. Barnes & Noble/Nook, Kobo and iBookstore).
The beauty of these options is they require no money up front, and they do the distribution for you. I've run out of space for this post, but if you have any questions about self-publishing, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer, either now or in a future post.
About Iola GoultonI am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tsu.
I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.