Vanity Publishing — You Don’t Have To Do It!

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A little over three years ago…

It was a different time (obviously) in many ways. In the summer of 2012, I went back to work at my old stomping grounds of the smalltown newspaper in Albion, IL (The Navigator & Journal-Register). Their sports editor had left and they had a pressing need, so I stepped in for a couple months while I wasn’t teaching. I learned a lot during that span and I believe much of it helped form the writer I became. Within three months of leaving the newspaper for that stint, I had started my first novel. There is a lot that went into that that I’ve discussed in other blog posts and other areas, so I’ll leave the Hugh Howey inspiration out at this time (mostly — it seems as if the spectre of Howey looms over most indie publishing stories).

Anyway, going back to the summer of 2012, I hadn’t yet put pen to paper for my own fiction adventures, but I had long held a dream of doing so. I had started following Hugh Howey, but was still ignorant on most things when it came to writing and publishing a book. One day an assignment dropped in my lap. We’d gotten a press release that a former local resident had written and published a book. He had graduated from a local high school a few years previously, but had moved out east since his teenage years. I would mention his name, but you’ll understand in a little bit why I don’t. Let’s call him Reggie.

Now at the time I knew some about publishing (like I said, I was starting to really get into Howey’s blogs), and I was a fan of books, so I felt I knew some things. I even was aware of vanity publishing, but for some reason, that concept didn’t dawn on me with this fellow until later. The press release had an email address for him, so I zipped off a quick email to Reggie and we set up an interview. I called Reggie one night and we talked about his book — a sci-fi romp of sorts. It was an interesting interview, but something he said at the end of it tipped me off. I don’t even remember what exactly Reggie said, and it probably didn’t even matter. But something clicked in my head and I realized one important thing. This guy didn’t publish a book. Not how Isaac Asimov or John Grisham did, at least. Reggie used a vanity press.

I finished the interview and published the feature on him, leaving out that one fact.

What is a vanity press, exactly?

If you just type that question into the Google search box, it brings up the Wikipedia definition, which reads:

vanity pressvanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. Additionally, vanity publishers have no selection criteria as opposed to other “hybrid” publishing models.

Reggie paid someone to publish his book. Ultimately I don’t know what he paid, but whatever it was, it was too much. What did Reggie get for his work? Not much.

I went back and checked out the book today on Amazon. It is still available and it has a ranking for the hardcover version of the book. If you know anything about Amazon rankings, the lower number the better. His book ranked around 7 million — meaning: at least one person bought his book, but it has been a VERY long time since that happened. A VERY LONG TIME. On a whim, I checked out the Kindle version. No ranking. Which means no one has ever purchased the ebook version.

Not only that, but the book is just…not great. The cover is literally a box and the contents. For a story where the main character interacts with aliens and has a grand adventure. Not only that, but there is little to no editing. Believe me, I’ve seen worse, but I did the “Look Inside” and found an error in the first few paragraphs. It was rough.

That was three years ago. About six months after I conducted the interview, I began writing my own novel and I fully intended to SELF-PUBLISH. I had immersed myself in the world of Hugh Howey and his blog followers and I realized self-publishing was the way to go. I never had intended to use a vanity press. I’d learned my lessons about them from an episode of The Waltons.

That’s right. The Waltons. John Boy and his family living on Walton’s Mountain, Virginia in the heart of the Great Depression. One episode John Boy gets a letter from someone offering to publish his novel. As a writer, you dream of this day. That a publisher will think your novel is special. That it is worth publishing. That it can be the next great thing. John Boy falls for it as well and accepts the contract. Soon John Boy is losing money, getting frustrated with the “publisher” and is on the hook to sell the copies of his own novel. All the same things people are still falling for today.

Earlier today I saw an article linked on The Passive Voice originally from The Hartford Courant. (I’m not linking the original due to a paywall.). In the opening few lines of the article, it talks about a woman who became a “self-published” author. In fact, she became a vanity press author.  From the article:

She has self-published her book. “Travels with My Son: Journeys of the Heart” debuted on Amazon in June for $15, and in mid-August she sold more than 30 copies at a book-launch party in her hometown of Branford.

She hopes to sell upward of 500 copies, which would cover the costs of “on-demand” printing and the $5,000 she paid a firm that helps writers like her.

Now, I hate to put a damper on her published book dreams, but selling 500 copies of a book is TOUGH. Even from your so-called friends, very few actually read books and even fewer will want to read Your book. But that $5,000? At this point, we’ll call that a publishing fee that she will probably never recoup. It’s sad to say, but it’s the lesson John Boy learned decades ago on TV and its a lesson people are still learning today. Vanity presses still exist and the costs are high — in monetary and emotional terms.

So…what can be done? Research for one. Get to know the self-published greats. Obviously I learned to publish thanks to Hugh Howey, but there are tons of great resources and tidbits of advice for the prospective author. Here are just a few. If you want to be a traditionally published author, go for it. Submit to traditional publishers all you want — more power to you. But, if you are like me and are thrilled to just get your work out there, self-publishing is a wonderful avenue for that. (And I’ve never spent anywhere close to $5,000 even with two novels and about a dozen short stories and novellas under my belt.)

So this lady…or Reggie…you can still self-publish and for a lot cheaper than doing it through vanity publishing. To all those out there who need advice, the following is for you —

LINKS (I will add more as they are suggested):

Hugh Howey’s Advice to Aspiring Authors

JA Konrath’s Resolutions for Writers

Susan Kaye Quinn: Author of The Indie Author Survival Guide

 

 

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A Year in this Crazy Adventure We Call Publishing

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One year ago, I hit publish on a short story, thereby earning myself the title, “Published Author.”

Perfect Game cover (1548x2400)That short story, Perfect Game, has had very impressive staying power, especially considering I don’t promote it at all. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to share the ups and downs of the past year and the experiences I’ve had. This may get a bit lengthy — I’m forewarning you.

May 24, 2013 — Perfect Game is published. It was originally intended to be an experiment before I published Dead Sleep just weeks later. It was one of those stories that gets written when you are stalling other projects and was written and edited in just three days’ time. I worked up my own cover, using a picture I took, and tinkering with it in Picasa. In just a week, it sold remarkably well, but I had a bevy of family and friends who wanted to show a little support on Facebook, so that’s what I chalk those initial numbers to.

July 1, 2013 — Dead Sleep is published. As much as Perfect Game was just an experiment, this was a life-long ambition to finally write and publish my own novel. It was really a perfect storm of conditions that set this up: I finally had just one 40-hour-a-week job, I was reading and following Hugh Howey’s journey, and an idea came to me at just the right time. This first edition of Dead Sleep was riddled with problems, some of which I didn’t find out about for months. It really taught me a lot — to really be meticulous when it comes to your novel. Double, triple, quadruple check everything before you publish. I was thrilled to just have it for sale, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn from the experience.

Veil_Part1July 20, 2013 — The Veil is published. A Silo Saga story, I believe it was one of the first few Silo stories in Kindle Worlds that hadn’t already been published in the Kindle store. After drawing inspiration from Hugh Howey, I really wanted to pay homage to the author who showed me I could become a published author on my own terms. To this day, The Veil is my best-selling title on Kindle.

From there, it was a little while until I published anything else. I worked on a few things and then school started back up in early August, pushing any new titles back until I got the new semester under my belt. One of the stories I worked on was The Sheriff’s Son, which was recently published in WOOL Gathering. The charity anthology was over a half-year in the waiting from when I wrote my story to its publication, but well-worth it. More on this later…

AntApoc_EbookCover (640x1024)September 15, 2013 — Ant Apocalypse is released. Over the summer, I saw a humorous tweet from fellow author Lyn Perry where he wondered about the effectiveness of ant spray that killed them for “up to 7 days,” or something like that. On a whim, I replied “ANT APOCALYPSE,” and he told me to write it. I know he was joking, but I took it as a personal challenge. Horror isn’t really my thing, so I tried to take it on in B-movie fashion and think it paid off. Recently, AA became my first audiobook when narrator Sean Lenhart recorded the book. I’ll tell you — the book really takes the creepiness to another level when you hear it voiced.

Veil_Part2October 29, 2013 — Behind The Veil is published in the Kindle Worlds store. A sequel to The Veil, it is told from the perspective of the villain from The Veil. I also set another small challenge for myself in the process. I knew the story I wanted to tell wasn’t really long, so I made it a goal to tell the story of BTV in less than 10,000 words (thereby making it 99 cents in the Kindle Worlds store). As of this blog posting, I still have plans to write the third and last part of the series, Beyond The Veil. It will be on my summer writing list, I promise.

November through February — Nothing published, but that doesn’t mean nothing gained. I knew heading into November that it was also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I planned and made it my goal to write Dead Sight during the month. I did complete over 50,000 words of the novel in November, but didn’t quite finish. December brought first semester exams, so I put off finishing until later and the final 20 percent of the novel was completed in January. Then came revising and editing, until…

Dead Sight ebookFebruary 23, 2014 — Dead Sight is published. Book 2 in my planned trilogy, it picks up a couple weeks after Dead Sleep leaves off. If Dead Sleep was a personal story for me, Dead Sight was a family story. Not sure what that means for the third book in the series, but these books will always have a lot of meaning for me. I know I’m doing something right because the sales for Dead Sight in the first month and a half equaled the sales for its predecessor in about four months’ time. The sales for the first book in the series have continued to sell better since I published the sequel as well and it has really given me incentive to complete the series. (Another summer project!)

Woolgathering_Cover-3 (1)March 13, 2014 — Finally, WOOL Gathering is published. I actually got involved with the anthology a couple months after its inception, but it took a while before we got all our ducks in a row. I wrote The Sheriff’s Son set in Hugh Howey’s Silo Universe back in August 2013, but it didn’t see the light of day for about seven months. But I am super-proud of this project, being next to stories from my fellow WOOL authors W.J. Davies, Ann Christy, Carol Davis, Lyn Perry, Fred Shernoff, Thomas Robins, Logan Thomas Snyder, and Dave Adams. A lot of great stuff in there and all the proceeds are going to the NaNoWriMo Young Author program. I guess I lied earlier — this is my best-selling work, but since so many other authors are involved, I don’t chalk it all up to me.

So what’s next? 

Concept 3Within a few days, my next project, Baking With Swords should be complete and for sale in the Kindle store. I’ll have a lot more to write about this in other blog posts, but this is a collaboration between me, my brother Paul, and my sister Betsy. After everything I’ve done over the past year, they each unearthed their long-dormant writing abilities and we decided to pool our talents for this collection. The cover is terrific and I’m really looking forward to people reading all the stories, not just mine (A Whimper, which I previewed earlier this year.)

I’ve also written my next short story, tentatively titled True Confessions of a Professional Sidekick, which may go in another anthology with my WOOL friends, and may not. We’ll just have to see. I had a lot of fun writing the story, but once again, it’ll be a few months before most people get a chance to read it.

Then — Dead Search, the final installment in the adventures of Jack and Kristina. I’ve written the first chapter, approximately 3% of the book. Just 97% to go.

This past year has been a trip. Writing and putting myself out there was scary. Hitting publish and waiting for people to read it is like hitting the top of a hill on a roller coaster. The seat is gone for a moment and you aren’t sure how bad or good it’s going to be.

My sales haven’t been life-changing. I’m still going to keep my job as a high school social studies teacher, but this is pretty cool:

  • I’ve sold over 1,200 copies of my books on Kindle in the last year.
  • I’ve sold about 100 copies of my two novels in paperback form as well.
  • Just over 50 people have checked out my books through the Kindle Lending Library Program.
  • I’ve also given away just over 6,500 copies of my books during the same time period.
  • Over 1,000 copies of WOOL Gathering have been sold since its launch.

That means that by now, over 9,000 copies of books that include words I actually wrote are out there on someone’s Kindle, Kindle app, or bookshelf. For that, I’m honored. Even more incredibly, my books have a 4.5 combined average with 113 total reviews on Amazon.com.

I’ve met some great authors and readers throughout the past year and have been encouraged throughout the way. It hasn’t all been an upwards trajectory (you can’t help but think you are doing something wrong when your sales go from 250 one month to about 100 the next and you’ve released a new story.) Staying focused on the next book has helped, as well as the supportive authors I’ve encountered along the way (you know who you are!)

Along the way I also started this blog back in August and have loved entertaining you and providing reviews of my favorite books as well. Thanks for everything and stay tuned — the best is yet to come!