Addendum to publishing with Author House

what it's about

This is the most important lesson learned from my venture (and adventure) into self-publishing: do-it-yourself really means doing it, all of it, entirely by yourself. Anything done for you will be costly. So if there are mistakes, if things don’t turn out as wonderfully as they appeared when you imagined them, then, as the old blues song tells us: it ain’t nobody’s fault but my own.

The “publisher,” or the printer, has no interest in or investment in your work, your book. You can have written the same sentence — I am just a damn fine writer — over and over and over for a few hundred pages, and they will happily print it for you.

If there are flaws in the cover that you did not notice, they certainly will not notice or correct them for you. If there are typos you did not notice, they certainly will not notice or correct them for you. If a page is printed upside down and you did not notice, they certainly will not notice or correct it.

I repeat: the vanity publisher or printer for self-publishers has no interest in or investment in your book or in your as a writer. You pay them to do various services for you. The end result, the quality of that product, will be determined entirely and solely by you. Period.

That is the critical difference between mainstream traditional publishing companies and vanity presses. The first invests in you as a writer and has a vested interest in both your success and the quality of your work. The second does not. You are on your own, brothers and sisters.


8 replies »

  1. Maybe things are different now that there is an increased demand for self-publishing services and so plenty of willing customers. My first job out of undergrad was as the in-house copy editor for a now-defunct vanity press (they called it subsidy publishing), Carlton Press. It was an awful job, and the books were 99% absolute crap, but they were all professionally copyediting and proofread, and the blues were checked as well. They were professionally laid out and designed. We did mechanicals, proofs, and blues for the covers as well. This was all done by very young people, but we did our best and learned well enough that we all went on to do the same work at the major trade houses. I went from that job to production editorial in Putnam Berkley, for example. (Which then got eaten up by Penguin, etc etc. I was actually acquired by Pearson twice in a five year period. They were following me.)

    So at least back then, way way back in the nearly pre-internet days of 1995, self-published authors could expect a reasonably professional level of quality control, even if the content wasn’t worth a damn.

    • Thank you for this added information, Cari. I have no idea how it used to be, but it is heartening that at least once upon a time the end product at least displayed a bit of pride by the publisher.

      My addendum is based on two factors: my own Author House experience, and seeing a few self-published books from other companies (quite a few from Create Space, one from Xlibris, and one from a name I’ve forgotten). I don’t know what those processes were first-hand, only that the result was not all that pretty.

      AH will perform original designing, do copy-editing, and all the mechanicals … but, each bit of this is an extra cost. Everything is an add-on. So yes, they will do it (and maybe a good job of it, I don’t know), but you are going to pay extra for each bit. At some point the cost of getting your work in print would mean you’d have to have a best seller to earn back what it cost you to produce it.

      As an aside, I blame this lack of quality partially on moving away from copy-editing on paper to copy-editing on a screen. Plus, it is really cheap and really easy to send a manuscript to be printed from the computer file, rather than to be set from a paper mss. Anybody can type something in a word processor and by clicking a few buttons make it look book ready. There must be a big temptation (considering the bottom line) to just sending that file to the printer as is.

      Thanks, Cari.

  2. Don, I am in the process of getting my memoir ready to be published. Yes, by me. I am thinking of going with CreateSpace. But you are right: it is a huge amount of work, and work that I’m not all that qualified to do, and if there are gaffes in the finished product and lots of typos, I will just want to burn the whole thing. They offer services in proof reading and interior design, but for quite a high price. I’m insecure that I can sell enough copies to make back such an investment. Quandary.

    • That is precisely the quandary, indeed, Cherie. And the critical difference between the “old way” and the”new way.” In traditional publishing, companies had a significant staff taking care of all the non-writing bullshit that goes with getting out a book, and the publisher had its own reputation at stake. They paid you and then they made a really nice book for you, as well as handling publicity, marketing, and sales. Of course, in return, they kept around 80% of the profit.

      The new guys give you 80% of the profit, but don’t do one thing for you … unless you pay extra, lots and lots of extra. They will do what traditional publishers do for their authors, but they will nickel and dime and dollar you for every step of it.

      So yes, if you cannot or will not do all this non-writing work yourself, you are either going to have to pay other people a lot of money to do it for you, or you can just try to live with the sloppy mess that comes out (with your name on it).

      I did it myself (and a less than average job of it) because I was 98% certain that a work of pure literary fiction by a barely known writer would never earn back those expenditures.

      That’s your quandary and it’s your choice.

      I wish you the best of luck however it works out.

      • Boo. I agree. Those mistakes on the cover, etc, should not have happened. Still, it’s a fine book, you’re a kickin writer, and I can’t wait to read Blossom. I think the volume looks beautiful, despite certain….tiny issues…that we won’t name here. Kate

        • Interesting, Kate, that the only one of these “little mistakes” I saw was the font size. It took someone with a background in publishing to see all of them in one glance. Here’s the lesson: most writers (and definitely this writer) do well (we hope) only one part of the process of making books — writing them. The rest of it ought to be handled by people who do those parts well. That’s why god invented agents, editors, designers, and publishers. The only thing I want to be responsible for is putting the words on the page. I have no skills as a salesman, copy editor, designer, or printer. Let them do their jobs and I’ll take responsibility for mine… which dooms me in the world of do it yourself.

  3. You are making a mistake if you think conventional publishers have any kind of interest in their authors. Conventional publishers are interested in the exact same thing print on demand publishers are, which is to make money. The first thing a conventional publisher will do is conduct a marketing analysis, which may or may not indicate a particular book will be a “success” (a “success” means it makes the company money. Agents, editors, designers, publishers, etc. are there to make money, period. Furthermore, the financial return for conventionally published books is very small, as low as a nickel per book.

    • Well, yes, publishing is not a charity. But there is a critical difference. Traditional publishers have an imprint and reputation investment in the book, and more than that, a financial investment. They have paid money up front to the author to print the book, and they take on all the expenses for producing and marketing the book, so it is in their obvious best interest that the book be as fine a product as they can produce, and sell as many copies as they can. The POD and subsidy publishers have their profit from the start — the author pays them their expenses and profit. If they don’t sell one more book than the ones the author paid for, they already have their expenses and profit in the bank. They have no vested interest in the product or the author once the money has been paid. You want a nicer cover — pay for it. You want to make sure your copy is clean — pay for it. You want marketing and publicity — pay for it. The subsidy publisher takes no chances at all, and thus, having already made their money, no vested interest in what happens after the product is produced.

      Believe me, I know the impact on the publishing business by relying on the Nielson rating service BookScan. If you search my blog, you will find a number of rants about this. The critical effect has been to destroy the midlist, which was traditionally the “farm club” from which the majors came up. It’s gone, and with it, the future of traditional book publishing.

      Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment.