Don't be fooled: publishers ain't publishers

I feel the need for a note on the publishing industry. In particular I feel the need to set things straight about what it should mean to get your book published. Unfortunately it is not as straightforward as it seems, as more than one of my ghostwriting clients has discovered.

What every author needs to understand is that there are essentially two types of publisher out there: mainstream 'trade' publishers and 'vanity' publishers. Put simply: one is good, and one isn't. Here's how they compare:

Trade publishers

Nearly every author dreams of having their book 'published'. We all love the idea of a Random House or Penguin or Wiley signing us up, taking our book to the world and making us famous.

Get taken on by one of these mainstream (or 'trade') publishers and, to some extent, you have it made. Most notably, you no longer need to worry about meeting the costs of producing your book. A genuine trade publisher takes on the cost, and the associated risk, of producing, distributing and marketing a book. In return, they take a decent cut of the revenue from book sales.

Your job will be to write the book and then get involved in publicity activities when it comes time to promote it. You will get a royalty payment – typically 10% of sales revenue – some of which may be paid upfront as an 'advance'.

"No problem!" I hear you say. "I'm up for that."

The unfortunate reality is that for the vast majority of authors none of this is going to happen. Book publishing is an increasingly tough game and unless your book has significant commercial potential – regardless of how 'good' or 'necessary' a book it is – they won't be prepared to take it on.

Vanity publishers

This is where the so-called 'vanity' publishers come in. Most vanity publishers present themselves as trade publishers. They invite submissions using language suggesting that getting accepted by them would be a privilege – as it would with a trade publisher. They often say they will cover the cost of editing and designing your book, and they say they will distribute it to bookstores locally and internationally. They nearly always promise to represent your book at international book fairs as well.

But there's a catch.

You can tell a vanity publisher because they require, in one way or another, that you fund most or all of the cost of producing your book. In other words, all the risk remains with you.

This is done in different ways, though one of the most common is the requirement that you buy a minimum quantity of books from the print run. The price you pay for those books will be significantly more than the real cost of printing (though they won't tell you that, of course), which is where they offset the risk of taking you on. Essentially you will end up paying for the entire print run but only get around a quarter of the books. The 'publisher' will then, in addition, take a cut of any sales of your book they happen to make.

I could go on, but that's enough for now. We'll cover other aspects of this 'game' in future posts.

The bottom line is this: if a publisher offers to take your book on, including incurring all the costs of producing the book, then you have a real trade publishing deal. If, on the other hand, the publisher pretends to be a trade publisher but requires that you pay for your book's production, in one way or another, then you have a vanity publishing deal. In most cases, I would recommend that you avoid the latter. You'd usually be better off self-publishing.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Posted by