Publishing “Blossom” with Author House

Jacket design for Blossom

It is still early in this process, so these are early, preliminary observations about my experience with Author House publishing my current novel, Blossom.

Let’s begin with what I liked about it. The process of turning the manuscript into a printed book was simple and direct. Although I must admit that maybe this was because I have prepared a whole lot of novel mss for publishers over the years. I am happy with the cover design; although again, I offered a description of the cover design and all they had to do was find an appropriate picture and do some layout. It was easy to make changes to the cover when necessary, and I made a few — moving the author photo from the back jacket to the back inside flap, moving the author bio also to the inside back flap, and filling the back cover space with critical commentary about previous novels.

It also did not take much time; about two months from the start to the finished book. I am more used to a year. Every person I had contact with at the publisher was friendly and helpful, although some were more knowledgeable than others. As an author, I was treated both respectfully and seriously at every stage.

The print versions — it is available as both a trade paperback and hardback — were professional and at least as nice as any of my traditionally published books. The digital, or eReader, versions were vastly superior to the ones I did myself a few months ago.

There is one thing I do not like about the print books: the size of the font. It is too big. I think it is 12 point and should be no larger than 10. This is partially my fault, because I proofed and approved the mss before it went to print. This font problem came about because I did not proof paper galleys, which I have always done before, but an electronic or digital version of galleys. I could not judge how the font would look on the page by looking at electronic pages on a computer screen. I can live with this.

They take care of a lot of the BS that goes with publishing a book: ISBN, cataloging data, and copyright.

It was not cheap, and I am simply not used to publishing like this. I am used to the publisher paying me, not me paying the publisher. It took a serious adjustment in thinking and attitude for me to accept and deal with the significant differences between how traditional mainstream publishers operate and how the vanity presses operate. An offensive term, but there really isn’t another. Yet, I will say that I believe I got everything I paid for and do not feel cheated. AH did far more than simply set up a book for POD printing from an electronic mss I sent to them. They have a distribution agreement with Baker & Taylor, which dramatically eases the process of getting the books into bookstores (the last two or three left), and AH offers a 90-day return guarantee to bookstores as in inducement to stocking its titles. AH sets up both the Amazon and Barnes and Noble distribution (digital and print), and provides an elaborate and extensive pile of marketing tools to help authors arrange readings and appearances — which in my case was wasted since I do not live in the States or a place where people read books in English. But I have the package anyway. I could paper my office with some of it.

What I did not like. To be fair, much of the negative feelings I had during this process resulted from my history with traditional publishing, and the expectations it provides. I kept having to remind myself that AH is not a charity or a service to the world of literature; it is a business (and apparently a very successful one), and like any business, its fundamental raison d’être is to make as much money as possible. I believe they will print anything at all, perform exactly the same service for the price to any person sending them anything written. They are not editors, critics, or gatekeepers. This is a very big pond, and one lily pad is pretty much the same as all the other lily pads. I had to build a kind of wall around my ego in order to get through this.

Specifically, I did not like the none-too-subtle hustle to buy more packages at much higher and ever increasing prices. There was a lot of used car salesman feeling. Some of the marketing packages offered beyond the basic package for producing the book cost well more than $10,000. Recommended combinations of these “extras” would easily push the cost to double that. So what looked like a pretty reasonable deal in the hundreds of dollars could go well into the thousands. It was this hustle I most disliked, and I went for none of the extras.

Okay, again in fairness. I write non-genre literary fiction, notoriously the most difficult form of the novel to market, and almost always with the lowest sales figures of all the various categories. There are types of books that respond well and easily to some kinds of marketing campaigns: books about how to cook something, or how to fix something, or how to fuck something … bodice-busters, thrillers, romances, mysteries, any kind of writing that can be put on a shelf with a recognizable label on it. It is not too difficult to determine and reach the individual markets for these kinds of books, although a lot of work is involved. This is what AH is offering and charging big bucks for — to do the hard part for you, to reach the specific market for what you have written, to flood that market with information about your book, to do the nitty gritty BS work of setting up readings and appearances, flooding the Internet in appropriate places with publicity about you.

To earn back the money I could have spent on the AH marketing packages, I would have to sell more copies of Blossom than double the total number of sales combined for my last two novels. That would have been pretty stupid.

The only other thing I did not like about the process is the feeling that once the book was done, and once I had rejected going for any of the extras, AH’s interest in me dropped away rather quickly. It is a business, and I, as a customer, had spent all the money in their business that I was going to spend. Next customer!

Would I do it again? No. Rather, probably not. (Never say never.) Am I satisfied with having done it once, this time? Yes. Blossom is a story I have wanted to tell for two decades, or maybe much longer, since the events occurred on which the story is based. It made the rounds of traditional publishers and nobody wanted it. It was worth it to me to have this book in print and available to any audience that wants to read it. Otherwise, it would just be a stack of notebooks in a drawer and an electronic file taking up byte space on my computer.

PS: When I write that none of the traditional publishers wanted it, I have to clarify that Random House and the three million other publishers that company owns, will not look at anything I write, so a massive chunk of the market for the book was not available.








7 replies »

  1. Good info here, Don. Thank you for sharing your experience in the world of vanity publishing. Literature, it seems, is going to the dogs. The reality of publishers discovering brilliant writers, keeping them as valued working partners, and editors helping the brilliants polish their work is becoming a lost dream, a faded memory, an old polaroid snapshot fading from color to sepia.

    • Thanks for commenting, Stephen. There are other ways to DIY, like Create Space, but I am not only lazy, I also have at least a shred of a professionalism left, and I want any book with my name on it to look professional. I have seen other DIY author projects and they, while not really amateurish, were not the level of professional look I want. So I paid for that.

      And yes, as I have written here often, that world of traditional publishing is pretty much gone. We will, as literary people, suffer its demise until finally there is no one left to remember it (Fahrenheit 451).

      It is hard to watch book publishing commit suicide in public.

  2. Donigan, I have published a novel through 1st Books Library and am in the process of publishing two non-fiction books, one a revision of a book that was published by a conventional publisher. The advantage of using a print on demand publisher (no, it’s not really a “vanity” press, that is a term conventional publishers came up with years ago to describe books that are of no interest to anyone but the author) is that the process is simple and quick. Granted, the finished product will be only as good as the input, but that’s true of any product. I’ve had hundreds of magazine articles and two books published previously, one print on demand, and the whole process – not to mention the time involved – is really simple comparing to finding an interested publisher or an agent to represent you to present the book to publishers. The financial return is considerably better, although the author has to do his/her own marketing unless they are willing to pay for the service. Still, the potential is much greater. The number of “successful” authors is minscule compared to the number of wannabees. Also, bear in mind that the finished product with a conventional publisher is their product, not the authors. I have a friend who authored a successful book recently but his editor cut out parts that were integral to the overall story because they were opposed to those parts politically. When using print on demand, the finished product is solely the author’s, for good or bad. Bear in mind that “university presses” are also subsidized by the authors whose books they publish.

    • Well, Sam, first congratulations on your books. It’s not an easy thing to do any way you do it.

      Much of the point I would make here in response can be found in my reply to your comment on another post on this subject.

      What you write here does not disagree with most of what I’ve written. I did say that the end result, the book you end up with, will exhibit only as much quality as you, alone, put into its making. These subsidy publishers are not going to do any of that unless you pay them extra — and there are a lot extras (like add-ons at a car dealer). Before you get any financial return, you have to deduct what it cost you to get the book into print. So even though you are making more royalties by percentage, you also have significant deductions before you see profit. In most cases, you are going to have to sell one helluva lot of books before you clear the first dime.

      With conventional publishers, the royalty percentages are much smaller, but you incurred zero out of pocket expenses getting the book into print; you are in profit from the very first book. And, importantly, at least from my lazy point of view (I am a writer, not a publicist, a printer, a designer, a copy editor … ), the publisher does everything, and, as I wrote before, has an obvious personal vested interest in the quality of the product.

      It’s news to me that authors who publish with university presses subsidize the process at any level. I have some author friends who have books with university presses. I’ll ask them.

      Thanks for your visit and I hope you come again.