Monday, January 11, 2010

Publisher's Weekly Should Get Publishing Terms Straight

Is it too difficult to ask that a magazine about publishing get the terms of its business straight? The article on Kevin Weiss, “Change Makers” in the December 21, 2009 issue of Publishers Weekly is teeming with semantic misnomers. These errors surround the usage of the word “self-publishing.”

Self-publishing, by definition, means that the author publishes their own work. It means that the author forms a publishing company and owns the ISBN. The author/publisher chooses what services they want—editors, cover designers, copyeditors, etc. Finally, they chose a printer—either POD or offset.

Throughout this article, Lynn Andriani incorrectly uses the word “self-publish.” For example, Andriani writes: “It’s been an eventful few weeks for Weiss, thanks to the controversy that erupted last month from writers over Harlequin’s partnering with Author Solutions to launch a line of self-published books.” Let me make this clear: Author Solutions is a PUBLISHING company. They are, specifically, a subsidy or vanity press and hijacked the word “self-publishing” because vanity and subsidy have bad connotations. Subsidy presses own the ISBN and are the publisher; therefore, the author is not self-published.

According to Andriani: “This year, nearly 250,000 people inquired with [Author Solutions] about self-publishing their books…” The article then says “Author House, iUniverse…have published more than 120,000 books.” If the books are “self-published”, why does the article state that the publishing companies published the books?

These so-called “self-publishing publishers” prey on the naïve wannabe author. Writer’s Digest magazine is filled with advertisements from the subsidy presses; they promise the aspiring author to “self-publish” their book for them. Readers of that magazine would never know that real self-publishing exists!

Subsidy publishers are making money, while traditional publishers are hurting. This is why all the traditional publishing houses—like Harlequin—are clamoring to join the bandwagon. It’s a beautiful thing for the subsidies—instead of having to pay royalties and advances to the author, the subsidies collect money from the author! Every subsidy works differently, but they collect fees for all kinds of things, including jacket design, editing, and promotion. So, before a book is sold, the publisher has made money! If the books actually do sell (and the vast majority sell less than 100 copies) then the publisher makes even more money!

This is a win-win for the subsidy publisher.


8 comments:

Kevin A. Gray said...

Norma,
Self-publishing companies fill the same role for authors as a home contractor might for a homeowner. Certainly, if a homeowner has the resources, expertise and time to add a bathroom to their home, then they might not need the help of a professional. For many however, a home contractor will do a quality job more quickly and professionally.
Such is the case with self-publishing. We help tens of thousands of authors publish and bring their books to market every year. Our efficiencies and resources allow us to make it easier for many authors to produce a professional-quality book.
Always happy to discuss the issues of this fast-growing segment of the industry!

Best regards,
Kevin A. Gray
Author Solutions, Inc.
kgray at authorsolutions dot com

Norma said...

Kevin,

Thanks for your comments.

The books I have seen from subsidy presses or "self-publishing companies" are not professional quality books. Most of them are poorly edited--if at all with terrible covers.

If an author wishes to publish a book to sell less than 100 copies, this is a fine method to use.

However, if the author's goal is to get reviews, sell 1000's of copies and to produce a professional quality book, they need to publish either through a traditional publisher or do it themselves and hire help.

Xlibris issued a press release a couple years ago announcing that they'd sold one million books -- the press release went on to say that they had 10,000 authors. Well 1000000/10000 = 100. That is an average of 100 copies were sold for each of the 10,000 authors who had published with them. Since some number of authors had published two or more titles -- and there were a few authors who sold 500 or more copies, using some reasonable calculations leaves us with a range of 40 to 100 copies per title with the most likely number closer to 40 that 100.

For more information, read my article on the three types of publishing: http://tinyurl.com/csu5rf.

Best Regards,

Norma Lehmeier Hartie

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Thank you Norma, for pointng out this article at PW-- what a joke! I liked back to it on my blog, too. Thanks for calling them out.

Kevin A. Gray said...

Norma,
Please send me your shipping address and I will be glad to send you several self-published books that are of equal quality to those produced by the big houses. I'll include titles that have only sold 1,000 or more copies and a couple that have sold more than 10,000 copies.
Self-published authors do have the choice to not have their books edited. That's their choice. It's their work and they're making the investment to publish. Still, many do choose to hire editors and professional artists to create their covers. And yes, they generally are the titles that are most successful.
As for the average number of copies sold. We publish everything. That includes hundreds of family memoirs, cookbooks, family histories etc. Many of the authors of these books choose not to distribute these books because they are for a small audience. That brings the average down obviously.
Here's a fact, in 2008 according to Nielsen BookScan only 8 percent of ALL U.S. book titles sold more than 1,000 copies. Traditionally publishing isn't assurance that you will be a huge retail success; just as self-publishing doesn't guarantee that you won't be.
Email me your address and I'll get some titles in the mail to you.

Best,
Kevin A. Gray
Author Solutions, Inc.
kgray at authorsolutions dot com

Norma said...

Kevin,

First, Author Solutions is the publisher, so authors cannot be self-published--that is an oxymoron.

Of the 1000's of books Author Solutions publishes a year, a few are bound to be good. No doubt the author hired outside services to create the cover and edit.

Only 8 percent of books sold more than a 1000 copies because out of the almost half million books published in 2008, the vast majority were published via subsidies like Author House. Go back to, say, 1985 and see what the percentage was then.

According to the New York Times (March 1, 2004) article, “Got a Book in You?…”, "1/2 of 1% of iUniverse books achieve sales above 500 copies."

Author Solutions and other vanity/subsidy presses are good only for authors who want books for friends and family. Anyone serious about the book business will form their own publishing company, obtain their own ISBN's and hire professionals to make their book shine.

Thanks for your offer to send me examples of subsidy books that sold, but I'll pass.

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publishingtrenches said...

Norma,

Ever feel like you're banging your head into a brick wall? On this topic, I know I feel that way all the time.

Those "publishing mills" have co-opted the term "self-publishing." Although "self-publishing company" is an oxymoron, about all the rest of the industry can do is keep hammering away on the fact that there are far more efficient ways to truly self-publish, ways that yield more profits to the author and offer a better chance for far more success.

The "publishing mills" (like Author Solutions) make their money by selling books and services to authors, not by selling books in the marketplace (no matter how much hype they push to the contrary).

If a would-be self-publisher wants to hire a contractor to help them through the process, there are plenty of knowledgeable people who can provide as much, or little, help as the author really needs. Usually for less money and with a better track record for success.

Walt Shiel
Publisher

Norma said...

Walt,

I totally agree with you.

Unfortunately, I predict we will see a rise in the number of authors going the subsidy route.

In the Publisher's weekly article, Kevin Weiss, CEO of Solutions said: "Author Solutions is helping publishers figure out how they might transition their businesses. I think publishing companies are realizing [self-publishing] is the part of the equation they have to solve.” "Weiss commends people like Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes for recognizing that. '[She] knows if she doesn't continue to innovate, she isn't going to survive.' This is in reference to Harlequin partnering with Author Solutions to offer subsidy publishing.

Traditional publishing is hurting and publishers are taking less risks with unknown writers. They will be increasingly offering writers publishing services--subsidy publishing. This is where the money is in publishing today.

The only upside? Subsidy published books are POD and only books that are ordered will get printed, thus saving trees from being turned into paper.


Publishers Weekly article: http://www.publishersweekly.com/index.asp?layout=talkBackCommentsFull&articleid=CA6712254&talk_back_header_id=6637648