Friday, October 26, 2007

Rant on Subsidy Publishers, Part II

I’m still thinking about what is going on in the publishing world and trying to make sense of all it.

The Publishers Weekly ad/article mentioned how the subsidy presses were “drawing entrepreneurial investment and top editorial talent.” These people knew that they needed to change the perception of a subsidy publisher into something far more tempting. Thus, as vanity became subsidy, subsidy became self-publisher.

I had read an article by the subsidies geared towards the publishing world, now I needed to read their advertisements to authors. Looking through the current issue of Writer’s Digest, I noted how each publishing company offers something slightly different. (Or uses phrases that make them appear to.)

Outskirts Press allows the author to contribute to the making of the book, like using their own cover design. Lulu lets the author set their own price. Trafford guarantees its method is the best way to publish the author’s book.

The only company honest enough to use the word subsidy was The Vantage Press, established in 1949 and probably just getting over referring to themselves as a vanity press.

Concurrently, a number of the subsidy publishers are merging and each publisher will offer something slightly different to authors. Just like the different imprints at the big, traditional publishing houses do.

There were many ads for subsidy publishers in Writer’s Digest, but I did not see any ads for book printers, graphic designers or book cover designers.

For the uneducated aspiring author, there appear to be two choices: publish with a traditional house or “self-publish” with a subsidy publisher.

The other point I want to make is that I find it interesting that there are seasoned author/publishers agree who with the statement that subsidy published authors are self-published. The following comparison between the three types of publishing companies will illuminate why they are not. Please note that hybrids of the three exist, but these are the three main types of publishers.

Traditional Publisher

An author who is accepted by a traditional publisher will receive an advance on royalties. If their book fails to sell enough copies to cover their advance, they will have to return the portion of the advance. In this way, the publisher helps to mitigate financial loss.

The publisher owns the ISBN, but the copyright is in the author’s name. The publisher pays for and decides on the editing, cover, size, price and publication of the book.

VIP’s aside, the author is expected to do most of their own promotion and publicity (although this is often not explained to an author until it’s too late). If the author does exceptionally well, the publisher will kick in some money for further promotion.

This generalized business model of the traditional publisher has not proven to be all that effective, as publishers often lose money on unknown authors. I am guessing that in the past few years, large traditional publishers have reduced the amount of unfamiliar authors that they accept, making it even more difficult for authors to get traditionally published.

Subsidy Publishers

An author who is accepted (99%?) by a subsidy publisher pays to have them publish their book and receives royalties if the book sells.

The publisher owns the ISBN, but the copyright is in the author’s name. The publisher pays for and decides on the editing, cover, size, price and publication of the book. (With minor exceptions, see above.)

The author is expected to do all of their own promotion and publicity. If the book sells exceptionally well, some publishers, like Wheatmark, offer promotional services. (The book must sell 2000 copies, which 1% of their books do. This is brilliant! Not only is this an attractive come-on to potential customers, but if a subsidy book actually sells 2000 copies, it is in their best interest to promote it.)

As opposed to the risk-taking traditional publishers, subsidies get paid up front for their services. Since they make money up front, there is no incentive to make a stand-out cover, or be particularly careful about fixing typos. If an author wants to do some of the book production themselves, great—cheaper for the publisher. Finally, if the book actually sells, this will make the publisher even more money and everyone is a winner!

Self-Published Author

An author assumes all financial responsibility for the book. Profits from book sold are 100% the author’s.

The author owns the ISBN and the copyright is in the author’s name. The author pays for and decides on the editing, cover, size, price and publication of the book.

The author understands that they must do all of their own promotion and publicity. If the book sells exceptionally well, traditional publishers will offer to buy book from author and promote it.

I hope this comparison makes it clear that subsidies are simply another way of doing business in the publishing world. Authors who have used a subsidy press have simply paid a publishing company to publish their book.

Subsidy publishers have ruined the self-publishing name. Hence forth, I am referring to myself as an independent publisher.

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Anonymous said...

I missed "Part I" so I'll have to go back and find it, because I enjoyed this post and appreciate some of the candor and honest perspective here, particularly as it applies to traditional publishing companies. You're spot on and bring up two things few authors realize:

1) That advance royalties are often refunded by the author back to the traditional publisher if the book fails to sell enough copies to cover the advance. Sadly, in some cases, the author has already spent the money and faces the unfortunate circumstance of having to take a loan to pay back the advance. Authors think a royalty is free money with no strings attached. Nope.

2) That traditional publishers do not expect the author to market the book. Another misconception that you nailed. All publishers need the author's support in promoting the book.

Oddly, this is where the largest discrepancy arises with authors' expectations with other types of publishing options. I don't particularly agree much with your Subsidy Publishing section, because it fails to differentiate the difference between the POD subsidy model and the off-set subsidy model (futher exasperating the confusion that already exists). It also seems to imply that all subsidy publishers pay for the editing, cover, and publication of the book, when in fact, most on-demand publishing companies require the author to pay for that, too (the difference is, POD companies DON'T request authors to pay for an up-front print run whereas true subsidy publishers do). Some on-demand publishers also allow the author to use their own ISBN, which seems to be your only point of distinction between an author published via a subsidy publisher and one that publishes herself. What you don't divulge is that POD publication ranges anywhere from free to about $2,000 while independently self-publishing authors typically spend $5,000 or more.

PODdy Mouth
Daily Dirt on POD

Norma said...

Differentiating between off-set and POD subsidy publishing is irrelevant to the intent of the posting.

I do not imply that subsidy publishers pay for editing, cover and publication of an author's book; rather the author incurs all costs.

There is a world of distinction between subsidy and self-published books that is certainly not limited to the ownership of the ISBN. I will write about some of them in an upcoming post.