To make it more compli-cated, some companies call themselves indies when they are actually vanity presses. Even Simon and Schuster and some other well known publishing houses have en-tered the scuffle, providing “expert guidance,” “premium services” and “specialty packages,” all for a substantial price, of course. They may charge you thirteen thousand dollars just for a publicist’s services but, hey, quality costs.
In the old days (after the invention of the printing press in the 1450's and before the advent of the personal computer), books were traditionally published or self-published.
With traditional (also known as legacy) publishers, a commercial company bought the rights to a book, edited it, printed it, marketed it and sold the finished product to the general public through a bricks-and-mortar store.
They took on all the monetary risks, often paying the authors five or six figure advances without any guarantee the book would sell through its advance. If it was a success, the author got about twelve percent in royalties and the publisher got the rest. If it failed, the author kept the advance and the publisher lost its investment.
Writers who didn’t get picked by traditional publishers because the book wasn’t “good enough” could choose a vanity press, in which the author paid for all the costs. The term “vanity” implied the writers were narcissistic and unskilled. However, some very impressive individuals published their own work.
Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, annually produced Poor Richard’s Almanack, which included essays, proverbs, weather forecasts and other bits of wisdom. English poet and painter, William Blake, wrote such famous works as Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, illustrated them and etched them onto copper plates. Then he printed, colored the pages and sold them.
After years of rewriting her first novel and rejection, Jane Austen paid a London-based press to publish Sense and Sensibility. Walt Whitman designed and self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. He went on to become a famous American poet.
A French publisher told Marcel Proust, “Perhaps I am as thick as two short planks, but I cannot understand how a man can take thirty pages to describe how he turns round in his bed before he finally falls asleep.” Proust went the vanity route with the first volume of his seven-volume masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past.
Other memorable self-publishers are Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound, Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Sandburg and Beatrix Potter. So, if you’re in the ranks of self-publishers, you’re in good company—not always, but sometimes.
When personal computers appeared on the scene in the 1980’s, the Internet became a boomtown and changed our entire culture. Soon, everyone was either writing a novel or wanted to write one, but they still had only two basic publishing options, traditional or vanity. Authors sending their manuscripts to traditional houses got rejected more than ninety-seven percent of the time.
Then along came Amazon, which launched the Kindle in 2007, and soon all writers had the opportunity to publish their books electronically and practically free. Again, the industry changed big time.
Meanwhile, publishing companies were merging and merging until only a handful of major traditional houses remained, all based in New York City. They’re called the Big Five and include the Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster.
Small presses are approximately one half of the book industry’s market share. They may give small advances or none at all because their profits are usually small and they may focus on niche markets. Like the Big Five conglomerates, small presses sell books to consumers for profit, and some of that profit goes to the author.
Now, there is a new category called the “micro-press,” which releases small books on a small scale, maybe only fifty to sixty copies a year. Because micro-presses usually don’t make much money, they are often run as a part-time job or simply for the love of books.
The “Indie” author controls the entire process of publishing. She might hire an artist to create her book cover but she pays the bill directly. The only middleman is the distributor, such as Amazon or Smashwords.
Many indies create their own “imprints”—publishing houses on an individual scale. For example, two friends and I published a comic mystery, Murder at Cape Foulweather, naming our imprint “Fat Lady Press,” although none of us is actually fat. Like most indie authors, we used Amazon for the e-book and CreateSpace for our paperback. The only middleman is the distributor, who takes a much smaller cut of the profit than one of the Big Five.
The term “indie” implies the author is a serious businessman who produces quality books, not just a “self-publisher.” Anyone can self-publish and that’s the problem. The Internet is saturated with manuscripts chock full of misspellings, clumsy prose and disjointed stories. But within this hodgepodge are some well-crafted books that sell thousands of copies.
Some publishers today are “hybrids.” The terms differ, but they usually provide their authors some editorial expertise and distribution support but may require them to do their own marketing. How much they take in profit from book sales varies.
Then there are the “publishing services.” They often have cute names like Peanut Butter Publishing, Bent Whisker Press or Lucky Bat Books. You have to pay for everything, but some require formal submissions and claim to be discriminating about the books they accept. According to their website, Lucky Bat charges the following fees for their editorial services:
- Line editing=$65/hour
- Critique by phone or in a report, as opposed to comments through Track Changes with the editing process=$65/hour
Abbottpress offers packages ranging from $999.00 for the essentials to $2,999.00 for the elite. Xlibris also makes packages available. Be prepared to pay $499.00 for the eADVANTAGE or $15,299.00 for the PLATINUM.
If you decide to choose one of these publishers, be very careful. Check first on the “Writer Beware” website or “Preditors & Editors” to make sure the company doesn’t have hidden fees or doesn’t follow through with what it offers.
If you would like to see where the money comes and goes, check out the website, authorearnings.com. It has a wealth of information on the industry.
Authors have more choices than ever before, and if you want your book published, you’ll always be able to find a place for it. Enjoy your new freedom.