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.

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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.

How I write a Book

 

Different authors have different approaches to writing books. I thought I’d share my approach, which may not work for every writer, but nonetheless may have elements that do work. Since I write primarily non-fiction books, it should be kept in mind that I’m writing from that perspective. Nonetheless, I do think Fiction writers can get some ideas as well from how various writers write.

Before I even start writing a book, I put together a rough outline of the book and what topics will be covered. If you’re writing a fiction book you might outline what events will occur in the book. The outline is put together to provide some organization to your thoughts and create a structure through which you can begin to write the book. However the outline shouldn’t be treated as set in stone. It is a suggestion of what can be done with the book.

Next I start doing research on the book. Research can take anywhere from 6 months to a year, because I’m usually reading what other people have to say about the topic as well as related topics. In the case of Fiction writers, you might end up doing research on a setting or the history of an area or time period to help inspire you. As I read books, I create a bibliography. I also extract the specific quotes and cites I’ll be using in the book and put them into a notes file.

When I’m ready to write the book, I take the notes file and start placing specific quotes and cites into separate files that represent the chapters of the book. This makes it easier to write the book and integrate the relevant quotes into it. If you are writing fiction, you might place notes you’ve taken about places or eras you’ve researched into chapters that you think will feature information along those lines.

Then it’s time to write the book. I focus on writing a chapter at a time. I don’t think about the other chapters until I’ve written the one I’m working on and I keep chapter files distinct and separate until the entire book is written so I’m not distracted by previous content or an urge to rewrite what I’ve written. This keeps the revisions down to a minimum while I’m writing the first draft.

After the first draft is written I combine all the chapters into one file. I then revise that the entire book, going through and making appropriate changes where needed. After that’s done the book is shipped to an editor and revised upon getting the edits back.

This is my process of writing a book. What’s yours?

One of the Realities of Publishing

 

One of the realities that authors may not know about the publishing industry is that when a book is published, the publisher pays a fee to publish the book. And this fee is paid each year by the publisher. The reason I mention this is because if you wonder why a book goes out of print, that fee is one of the reasons. Because Immanion Press is a small press and we run on tight budget, we keep books in print for as long as we can, but when the book sales don’t support the fee getting paid, we pull the book from our lineup. This is one reason its important for an author to market their books. Books don’t automatically sell. What sells a book, more than anything is the author, because what people are really buying when they buy a book is access to the author.

When a book gets published, an author might be tempted to believe that the heavy work is done. After all the book is written and surely that was all that needed to be done. The reality is that the heavy work is just beginning for the author. There are no hordes of readers eagerly awaiting your book unless you have already established your presence enough that people want more of your work. In order for your book to sell you’ve got to do the work of promoting it, as well as promoting yourself. The reality of being an author is that you essentially start your own business when you write and publish a book. Unless you treat it like a business, chances are your book won’t sell.

Some authors are turned off by the idea of marketing their book. They feel that marketing takes away from the artistic aesthetic of the book, but if anything I’d argue that any successful author will tell you that marketing is part of artistic aesthetic of the book and just as importantly part of what calls a person to write. You likely aren’t writing a book just to write, but to actually share what you are writing with someone else. So if you are writing for that purpose, then marketing your book and yourself shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you. What it involves is telling people about the subject material of the book and related topics. It’s not complicated and if you love talking about those subjects then it provides you the perfect opportunity to do so.

Of course marketing isn’t just on the author. The publisher should do their part to market the book as well. At Immanion, we’re in the process of trying a couple of marketing ideas out and we’ve recently found a designer who can help us with the advertising. We want our authors to succeed and we want to help them sell books so that their audience can read and appreciate the work the author put into the book. More than anything we want to keep the books in print so that people have access to them. So the marketing is on us as well. And if the author and publisher can work as a team the marketing that occurs can make the book stand out and help the author get the recognition they deserve.

 

Why we think its important to publish controversial topics

 

In both our non-fiction and fiction lines up we publish books that address controversial social issues. The reason we publish these book is because we feel its important to address these issues head-on. We don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and we think our readers also don’t want to bury their heads in the sand. I’ve been told, on occasion, that someone is surprised we’d publish a book a given topic and my response to that is: “Why wouldn’t we publish that book?” Reading a book, any book, should challenge a person to think, and to act. It should make you uncomfortable or do something that prompts you to want to make a change in the world.

We love controversial topics because such topics get people talking. And speaking only for myself, I want people to talk. I want them to do more than talk, but talking is a good first step and that won’t happen if we aren’t willing to bring up the social issues that are uncomfortable, but are that uncomfortable precisely because we don’t face and acknowledge them for what they are.

Controversial topics are topics that some people want to ignore or pretend don’t exist. Not us! And not our readers! We know those topics exist and we want to bring them out into the light where they can be seen for what they are. We aren’t scared of those topics and in fact we think that by publishing them, our readers will be inspired to examine those issues as they show up in their own lives, while also giving the authors the chance to speak up and be heard. We want our authors to be heard. We want them to speak up, not just in the book, but on their blogs, in workshops and wherever they go because what they are saying NEEDS to be heard. And as publishers we support their need to be heard and want to encourage them in whatever way we can.

Controversy makes a book stand out. You might love it or hate it, but you have a response to it, and that’s a good thing because it means the book moved you. A book doesn’t really become a book until the reader responds to it…then the book has performed its function. Controversial topics move people and that’s what we want. We want our books to mean to something. We want our authors to feel like they have said something which has struck a chord with their readers and gotten something to happen.

We publish controversial topics because other publishers won’t do it. I have yet to see other publishers publish books on some of the topics we’ve published. Perhaps they will eventually, but we’d rather be at the forefront, helping much needed conversations come about now, rather than catching up later. By doing so we’re helping authors speak out and get heard and helping readers learn more about the issues that need to be addressed now.

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.

The BHAGs of Immanion Press

 

Recently I wrote about the core ideology and values of Immanion Press. Now I want to share our Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). These are the goals that we shoot for in our publishing efforts, but more than that, they are what motivates us each day in our service to our communities. These BHAGs inform a lot of what we do and how we do what we do, and right now they are part of the evolution of our company as we look toward the future we’d like to help shape with the writing we publish.

Our first BHAG is to provide our authors with the best possible service we can, not only with editing, layout, and distribution, but also selection of the cover, marketing help in terms of how they can market themselves and even how we treat our authors as it applies to our contracts. We’ve always take a for us, by us approach to working with authors. Both Storm and myself are authors, and most of the people who do work for us are either authors or artists (sometimes both). We understand what it’s like to be an author or an artist.

One of the reasons Storm founded Immanion Press was because she was tired of her books having the shelf life of a magazine. One of the reasons I published Pop Culture Magick with Immanion Press was because I wanted to write a book in my voice and have that voice respected, instead of having it mauled by people who probably didn’t even practice magic and so wouldn’t have an understanding of the content that is necessary to have to effectively edit it. Those reasons still inform our work today and also inform the BHAG mentioned above, as it applies to working with authors. We want our authors to know their voice is respected and that their vision of how the book should look will also be respected an worked with.

Likewise its important to us to help our authors succeed with their books. Something I’ve implemented in the last year is offering teleclasses and one-on-one coaching sessions with authors on how to market themselves and their books. I offer this service free of charge because they are my authors, but also because I want to equip them with the possible resources they have for marketing: themselves. What many authors don’t realize is that when you write a book you are just beginning a process of marketing yourself and your book. I tell my authors as well that what they are selling isn’t the book, but the expertise or creativity that is contained in the book. That’s an important distinction to make and its one that can help them realize that what they are really marketing is themselves as experts and thought leaders.

The contracts that we offer our authors are contracts based on a simple principle: We want you to choose to send your book to us. We recognize that we have a relationship with our authors and as such we don’t rope our authors into contracts where they are expected to write so many books for us or where they are expected to give us the right of first refusal. The reason we don’t include those clauses in our contract is because we don’t want to force the relationship. If an author isn’t happy with us, why would we force them to continue a relationship with us? I’d rather each and every one of my authors make an informed choice. Another aspect of our contracts that is in favor of the author is that we make sure the author retains the intellectual rights of their work. While its true we are helping them publish the book, we recognize that they wrote the book, that they put a lot of their own effort into the book and we want to honor that.

Our second BHAG is to publish high quality books, fiction or non-fiction and to be the number one independent press that comes to mind when people think about books they’d like to buy that bigger publishers won’t touch. We are very selective about the books we publish. We don’t want 101 books or just any book. We want books that will make people think, that will make people do some work and will  even change their lives. We want our readers to look forward to what we publish and we want our authors to feel excited that they are publishing their book(s) with us. To do that we are committed to finding the right books that speak to what we feel is important to the communities we are apart of.

Our third BHAG is to prove that there is a market for unconventional intermediate to advanced books and to show that audience that we respect them and their taste. Our readers want books that speak to their needs and we understand that. Our authors want to write books that represent their voice and we understand that. We want to publish engaging material for discerning readers who know what they want and our looking for those books, but feeling frustrated because they can’t find them. With us, they will find those books that respect their knowledge and experience, while also helping them go to the next level of their spiritual practice. People who read our books are people who want more than the glut of 101 books out there. They want quality and they want to know that we’ll insure that the books have proper academic citations, as well as comprehensive knowledge and exercises to take them where they want to go, while also being able to backtrack to relevant sources.

Our fourth BHAG is to prove that going with an independent publisher can be a step in the right direction for your own success. Our authors are people who feel a calling to share their writing with their audience. We want to help them reach that audience and we want to support them every step of the way, up to and including supporting their decision to publish elsewhere. If we, in any way, can help our authors succeed then we will help them, because what matters to us is that they feel supported and believed in. We know we are successful when our authors can tell us that we are helping them succeed with what is important to them.