Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vanity publishers, how to recognise them

Writers want to be published. That applies to about 99% of us. Which is fair enough, but the way to publishing can be a bit of a mine field as there are plenty of companies out there that try -- and often succeed -- to take advantage of the desire. Scams, or vanity publishers will e-mail desperate, on a fine string of hope clinging, writers, telling them how much they liked their manuscript and that they want to publish it.
The immediate flattery will often cause a fuzzy warm feeling and let the writers' hearts swell and often enough, it will lead to acceptance and a signature on the dotted lines. Not long after that, they'll wake up, realising the mistake they made. They often give away their rights, they pay for the printing and non-existing marketing, sometimes they pay nothing, but won't earn anything either, since the book won't sell. They don't get their books edited, often only formatted and the royalties are ridiculously low. They are encouraged to do the marketing, beginning with friends and family; their 'publisher' won't move a finger.

And there are quite a few on the hunt for new and inexperienced 'victims'. The concept seems to work, since those vanity publishers pop up everywhere.

A twitter friend has signed with one of those, his e-book cost �3.50 on the publisher's website, �3.45 on amazon. If you want to read a sample, you need to log into the publisher's website and 'add it to cart', even if it's for free. You can download the sample without any problems through amazon's kindle store but there's not hint on the site. The publisher makes it difficult for a potential buyer. I know from the author that they didn't edit the book. They also offer a proofreading service for money. Big fat warning sign.
Companies like that are usually listed at Preditors & Editors, a site I would urge everyone to check out before signing anything. The offer might sound wonderful, but the traps are hidden in the small print. Also check the company who's contacting you by googling them.

Here are a few signs that should have you running for the hills:

- they ask for money upfront
Money always flows to the author
-the publisher mentions many books and famous authors, but their website doesn't list any 
It's always worth to check the website first, then do your reseach. Do you know the authors? Heard of the books? Many claim to be a long-standing successful company, but their only success is to lure unsuspecting writers with a dream who pay a far too high price in the end.
- the publisher contacts you and praises your book based on a small excerpt seen on a writers' website or on your blog
Unless it's a start-up company, publishers usually are flooded with manuscripts in their slushpile and don't need to actively search for new talents. But even a start-up company would always ask for a full manuscript and  your book will go through all the editing and proofing stages like it would with a one of the big six
- the publisher offers you a contract a few days after you send either, a partial or full ms
A publisher won't offer you anything unless they've read the full ms (fiction only) and they normally ask for changes and rewrites, even if mininal, assign you an editor, meet you/talk over the phone, etc. before they offer you anything. There are a few exceptions when an author has been offered a contract immediately, but it's not common. Publishing is business and they don't throw their money/time at someone unkown.
- the publisher presses for the signature
No publisher will put pressure on you. They will give you the time to read the contract carefully, have it checked by someone (there are specialists for this industry), will be open to negotiations
- the publisher doesn't answer your questions
Usually means they have something to hide. Wishy-washy answers or turning into a 'what we can do for you and your money' is not the practise of a reputable house.
- the publisher says your ms is perfect and doesn't need any edits
Every publisher will edit to a certain extent. Sometimes, your ms might be rather clean, but they will still try to adapt  it to their house-line. And there's no manuscript that doesn't need editing. Even famous authors have their ms edited.
- the publisher offers several services like editing, proofing, formatting, etc. for money
A reputable publisher won't have time to spare to do such jobs.

If you receive an offer, even if it's one of the big six, always have your contract checked by a professional. Never sign anything without it. If you have a solid offer, it shouldn't be difficult to find an agent (worth if you have more novels in the line) or find a solicitor who specialises in that field.

That's all for today.  If you have something to add, please do so; the more people are aware of the techniques of vanity publishers, the better.

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