How to Recognize a Vanity Publisher

Vanity
Courtesy of wikipedia

 

Recently I’ve gotten several emails from authors who’ve indicated interest in publishing books with us. Each time, however, they have asked me how much it would cost to get their book published. I’ve been surprised by the question, so I want to make it clear that Immanion Press is NOT a vanity publisher. We do not charge people to publish their books nor will we ever. The way we make our money is on the actual book sales. That’s an important distinction to note, but it’s only part of what separates us from vanity publishers. I though I’d write about what a vanity publisher is and how to recognize them.

A vanity publisher will charge you to print your book. They actually don’t publish it so much as they make print copies for you. There is no distribution offered and usually no services such as layout or editing or offered, or if they are you have to pay an additional fee. I’m honestly surprised vanity publishers even still exist, because it’s actually cheaper for you to use a Print on Demand model than to go with a vanity publisher. Regardless you aren’t getting much from a vanity publisher and I’d recommend avoiding them.

An actual publisher doesn’t charge you to publish your book. They don’t charge you for the editing or the layout either. The publisher also provides distribution. If you want to publish a book with a publisher, make sure they don’t charge you for those services. If they are charging they are vanity publishers and they aren’t worth the price.

The Reality of Amazon in Publishing

Amazon

Every so often, one of my authors will email me or instant message me and ask about something that has occurred on Amazon. Maybe they can’t find their book or maybe their book is being offered at a discounted rate, or maybe its something else. What they want is for me to solve the problem. However what they don’t realize is just what a complicated relationship there is between Amazon and publishers. Actually that’s true of distributors and retailers in general. The following may shed some light on the realities of dealing with any retailer, as well as some specific aspects of dealing with Amazon.

1. Publishers make prices, but retailers can change prices. A publisher can decide that a book is worth $20.99 and that’s what the book will cost on the publisher’s website. It’s also what the book will cost if you buy it direct from the author. But if you buy the book from Amazon or some other retailer, you may note that the price is sometimes discounted. Sometimes the discount is small and sometimes its large. This discount can effect royalties authors receive. The publisher has little control over the discount, because the book is being sold by a third party.

2. Kindlelicious. Another service Amazon provides is Kindle. Publishers can sign up for different types of kindle accounts. For example, you can sign up for a kindle account where you only offer e-books through kindle or you can sign up for one where you offer e-books through other sites. Obviously Amazon prefers you sign up for a kindle only account. There are some features you will get with Kindle only, but its always a toss up because not everyone wants to use Kindle.

3. Subscription based reading is becoming a reality. Amazon has set up a subscription service where you can read over 70,000 titles if you pay a monthly fee. The books aren’t free (the subscriber is paying a fee) but you won’t get as much royalties as you’d like because its essentially a library. This will become more of a reality for the publishing industry and you can’t do much about it because the retailer is still paying you for the content.

4. Publishers print the books and ship them out, but retailers sell the books and hold the balance of power. Publishing has always been an industry where the retailer holds the power. The retailer is the middle person in the equation and as such is for the most part dealing with the customers. Publishers accept this because of the exposure books get, but also accept that as a result retailers set a lot of the rules for the relationship.

Even if you self-publish, you still end up dealing with retailers of some type. For example, if you write a book and want to sell it, where do you go? Amazon, because you know amazon provides you an opportunity to get in front of your audience. But when you do that you also understand that Amazon is dictating the terms because you need them more than they need you.

My point in writing this post is just to explain that while publishers can and will do their part to represent their authors interests, they nonetheless have to deal with the retailers and that relationship isn’t an equal one by any measure. Knowing that can help you the author understand why some things occur on amazon and other retailer sites.

Behind the Curtain: Editing a Wraeththu Mythos Anthology

I was recently invited to begin posting to the Immanion Press blog, and while there are many topics I would love to launch into, at the moment, top of mind for me is work on the upcoming Wraeththu Mythos anthology, Para Kindred: Enigmas of Wraeththu.

Presently Storm Constantine and I, co-editors, are at the end of the process of creating the book, but what I’d like to do now is part the curtain, so to speak, on the process up to this point, especially the editing. For this I am referring both to the latest anthology and to the two previous, Paragenesis: Stories from the Dawn of Wraeththu and Para Imminence: Stories of the Future of Wraeththu. Hopefully I don’t stray to far into spoiling the mystery, or ruin the taste of the sausage by revealing how it’s made.

First Read

Once Storm and I have decided which stories are mine to edit, I receive each manuscript as a Word or RTF file. I then print it out and for my first read, read it on paper, often making marks on it indicating punctuation and other mechanical issues, plus scribbling in questions, suggestions, etc. I do so much digitally but for first read, unless I’m away from a printer, I like to have a new story in my hands physically. While going through the story the first time, I also put a lot of check marks down next to lines and paragraphs I especially like, so later on I can give the author feedback on my favorite parts. (See note further down.)

First Edits

Next up, I take the original file and save it as a “B” version. I turn on Word’s “Reviewing” tools, so I can track changes. After addressing the basic issues I identified on the paper copy, I start going through the story from start to finish, beginning with a general spell-check, then reading it carefully, often out loud. Reading out loud really helps to make sure the punctuation, especially things like commas and em-dashes, are correct. I also add in comments and questions, attaching to specific words or sentences. Often these are questions asking for clarifications or wondering if I’ve understood something correctly or perhaps saying there’s some inconsistency. Something else I do while editing is keep a text editor or notepad open so I can write down extended comments, questions, compliments, observations, etc. And I also go back to my paper copy to make sure I’ve addressed everything I marked the first time I read it.

Sharing with the Author

Once I have the finished “B” document and my text file of comments, I email it off to the author, along with a note, which varies in length from short to quite lengthy.

I’ll start out with my overall impressions, then share some of the things I most enjoyed about the story.  I believe it’s very important that you start off with the positive, especially when working with an author you’ve never worked with or someone you’ve never met, who might be more likely to take words in an email the wrong way.

Next in my email I will list out some of the specific areas that could use some improvement, whether it’s something more technical like the tense or something like a whole element of the story that has to be brought out more — or something just doesn’t make sense to me. I also include comments on pacing, whether or not the story feels “done,” or whether it instead feels like there’s something missing. It’s this type of nuanced comment that is often most helpful to the writer, as often they might have a sense that something is off, but they can’t be sure because it’s their own work. If someone else expresses a similar concern, they are then free to make edits based on their instincts.

Back and Forth

After days, or weeks, I get back an email with a “C” version of the story from the author. Usually all my technical corrections have been accepted and often authors will go along with most of the comments or suggestions. If they don’t, they leave counter-comments explaining why not. They also explain in the email. It’s probably due to luck that I’ve never wound up in a test of wills with an author. Normally, once they make their case, and especially if they make some changes to resolve a problem, I am fine with the story and let them have their say as they are, yes, the author.

At this point I go through the “C” version of story again, using the “Reviewing” tools to accept all the changes remaining and get rid of all the comments (after I’ve read them). I also make additional corrections, which unless they’re major, I accept. Sometimes I end up reading parts of the story out loud again, to be sure of pacing, commas, and that I’ve not missed anything. And at the end of all this, voila, there’s a clean copy which I can save as version “D.” Usually this is what I send to Storm for typesetting. (Later she creates a PDF version, which both she and I proof, and authors receive PDFs of their own stories, which they proof to be sure everything appears as they wish it.)

Editors and Authors

This is the third Wraeththu Mythos anthology I’ve worked on, and so I’ve worked with eight or nine authors so far, and I’ve used this method for all of them, with really no problems. This is mostly a testament to the professionalism of these mostly “amateur” authors who understand how to deal with editing and don’t freak out if they get back a file with a lot of corrections. As I’d tell any thin-skinned author, offering criticism and edits doesn’t mean I “hate” your story, but that I’m trying to help you make the story the best it can be. These writers understand that.

As with the prior two anthologies, for Para Kindred I have edited Storm’s submissions (just as she has edited mine). However, because they’re coming from Storm, there’s really no need for the whole process outlined above. Her work is already polished when it arrives. With her stories, I generally just do one edit and send it over, along with comments. For first story I received from her this go-round, “Painted Skin,” she did do a rewrite to one part of it, because I had a more major concern (although small in size), so she sent me the file back and I read through it again. But that was all. The second story, “Without Weakness” was, in my opinion, without weakness, aside from a few very minor issues, which Storm quickly tweaked. And I don’t mention this just to make Storm look good, but to demonstrate that often, the more experienced the writer, the more times they have been edited, the more polished their first drafts are. (Another anthology contributor, E.S. Wynn, has also submitted stories to me for editing which were almost perfect from the start, and again, he is a professional author with many stories and books to his name.)

Editing Work

Besides editing stories for this anthology, I edited the revised Wraeththu Chronicles and also was a pre-editor on the Wraeththu Histories. I also was the editor on Fiona McGavin’s A Dream and a Lie, originally published as a trilogy. Hopefully I will get to edit another novel again soon, as working with an author on a larger work like that is quite a fulfilling project.