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Entries in writing business (2)


How to Avoid Scams With Vanity Presses

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By Tara McClendon, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

If you're planning to self publish a novel, you will find that you need to use some type of publisher or create e-books. Both ways will give you a tangible (or real) product that you can sell; however, scammers run rampant in this industry.

The History of Vanity Presses

Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library and FlickrOnce upon a time, vanity presses had a horrible reputation. Truth be told, they still do. Unfortunately, any non-traditional publisher often gets lumped into this category. So, what's so bad about a vanity publisher? Well, back in the day, vanity presses would send writers acceptance letters claiming they wanted to publish the individual's novel. They would offer a contract for the writer, and the end result was that the writer wound up paying 100 percent of the publishing costs.

In return for their investment, writers wound up with buckets full of empty promises. Instead of fulfilled marketing campaigns, authors who used vanity presses had a book to put on their shelf. According to statistics from Aeonix Publishing Group, most vanity presses sold less than 100 books per author. Ouch!

The New Face of Vanity Publishers

Vanity presses, sometimes called subsidiary presses, have made money off innocent writers for years. With the web, it's has become easier to find the unethical companies from those full-service publishers that are offering legitimate services. This change had led the scammers to keep pace, and many have shifted their focus (i.e. their marketing) to keep pace with the changes in technology.

The new face of many vanity publishers now involves POD printing, or print-on-demand printing. Keep in mind that some POD publishers are legitimate. They offer services and do exactly as they say they will do. But, scammers are still scammers. Some claim that POD printing is a free way to publish your book. Read between the lines: scam!

So, what is the indie publisher to do? Here are some tips to help you find a reputable publisher to help you with your writing business.      

Tip 1: Remember the golden rule. If it sounds too good to be true, something isn't right.

Even though the Internet has reduced the cost of producing a book, nobody gets anything for free. You also won't get the moon if you're only paying a few hundred dollars. Put your common sense to use, and question everything that seems off kilter.

Tip 2: Do your research. Google can help you find results about a company's success rate within minutes. It may surprise you to find out how often Google will auto fill "scam" at the back of a word if it has several negative reports on file. Even if Google doesn't autofill, you can usually find the dirt by scanning a few of the results. For a faster search, type in "cons of" or "complaints" along with the publisher's name. This can help you find information that tends to be buried in the search results.

Tip 3: Examine all contractual agreements. Shady characters will try to get as much from you as possible without raising any type of flag. More than one author has signed away rights to work in a contract that looked legitimate. When in doubt, talk with a lawyer about certain conditions. If you can't afford legal fees, consider joining an organization with legal help, such as the SCBWI.

Tip 4: Compare your costs. Some people who use POD printers actually wind up paying more than they would have paid if they had used a full-service publisher.

Tip 5: Make sure your cover art and any other graphics are original. Some publishers will offer you cover art; however, they are using stock photos that you can find for a minimal cost on your own. If you're going to pay money for a cover, make sure you get your value's worth. Nothing is worse than putting together an awesome cover and having a competitor use it on a similar book.

Tip 6: Don't be naïve. Unethical people often find loopholes that will allow them to escape legal ramifications. The only way to protect your rights is to be savvy. Publication is a great goal, but it isn't worth your book's future to make a poor decision at the beginning stages of your writing career.

Have you experienced an unethical publisher? If so, be sure to leave a comment. You may be the person who helps this community avoid a costly error.   


Day Three: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U:

Happy day, folks. Today's post is a continuation of our business plan series by the talented Suzan Harden. If you missed the first and second posts, what's wrong with you? Just kidding. Review Why Go Indie? and Treat Writing Like a Business and then join us for today's topic.

You've Got to Have Product

By Suzan Harden

Time ClockYesterday, we started talking about business expenses. But, to run any business, an owner needs to account for time spent, as well, especially her own!

Get out your pens and paper!

Under your business plan, write all the job/roles needed to produce a book, any book. When you finish, your list should look something like this:

  • Author

  • Copyeditor

  • Proofreader

  • Cover Artist

  • Blurb Writer

  • Formatting and Interior Design

  • Salesperson

  • Bookkeeper

  • Distribution

Now, go back through your list and write down who will perform each job. If you're the typical indie publisher, your name will be in every slot. If it is, your new business is already in trouble.

Going Out of BusinessIn fact, one of the reasons the SBA says 4 out 5 businesses shut their doors within three years of start-up is that the new small business owner "fails to adequately consider all capitalization costs and business expenditures."

If You, the Publisher does not give You, the Writer time to actually write, your new indie publishing venture is going to FAIL!

A business must have product to sell. Period. End of story.

Indie publishing guru J.A. "Joe" Konrath recently started his blog with the following:

Right now, you're reading one of the most relevant, controversial, popular, and opinionated blogs about the world of publishing, and it is an epic fail on your part. . . Because this blog is a time suck. There are hundreds of entries to read, and tens of thousands of comments. It's easy to get pulled in and waste hours, days, weeks. Here's the bottom line: every minute you spend here is a minute you aren't spending on your writing.

Yes, you need to do your research, but limit your time.

Remember, no product = no sales.

Grab that pen and paper again!

Write down the amount of time you can spend each day on the writing business as a whole. Be realistic! If you've got a spouse and kids (and you actually want to keep them in your life), you'll need to account for date nights and soccer games. Schedule the time spent on the day job if you have one, the commute, chores at home, religious activities, etc.

Now, take a hard look at the time sucks in your life.

  • Can you ditch the WoW or Halo nights with your college buds?

  • Do you really need to watch Real Housewives of Fresno?

  • Must you post puppy or grandchildren pictures every five seconds on your Facebook wall?

Once you have the amount of time you can spend on writing each day, it's time for some calculations. Let's use two hours per day as an example. How are you going to divide that time? If you're a slow writer like me, you're going to need an hour and a half just to produce 1,000 words. In reality, a 3 to 1 ratio between writing and publishing activities is more than adequate when you first start indie publishing. Anything more and you start entering the Land of Diminishing Returns.

Speaking of time management, remember back on Day 1 when I said my husband started researching indie publishing before I did? He noted something regarding Amanda Hockings, Jon F. Merzes, and Selena Kitts. Two points actually. They all had multiple books for sale, and the tripping point for self-sustaining regular sales averaged at 10 books.

Before everyone goes crazy on me, you should realize three things:

  1. Mr. Practical is a computer whiz who's been working with accounting software for 20 years,

  2. This was not a scientific survey by any stretch of imagination, and

  3. Ten is the average! Some writers did it with more; some with less.

NO ONE has been an indie publishing success with just one book!

One more time, folks: You've got to write; you've got to have product.

Product = Sales

Tomorrow, we'll start looking at some areas where indie writers can find a balance between time and monetary costs.

If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them. If you're too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U:

Suzan will be covering more on the costs of running a self-publishing business, but here's my helpful tip for the day: You can often outsource portions of production to one individual or company. For example, an editor may be willing to copy edit, proofread and pump up your cover copy. You may be able to get a discount for the bundled services.