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April 7, 2009

Bonfire of the Vanities
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:41 PM * 17 comments

After having bought iUniverse (once associated with Barnes & Noble) and Xlibris (once owned by the same guys who own Random House), Author Solutions Inc (parent of POD/vanity press AuthorHouse) continues its march to the sea, buying Canadian POD/vanity publisher Trafford.

AuthorSolutions boasts that they published one out of every twenty titles in America. I’d be willing to bet my royalty check against yours, though, that they aren’t getting one out of every twenty book sales.

Yog’s Law. Learn it, live it, love it.

Comments on Bonfire of the Vanities:
#2 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:16 PM:

Bah -- didn't iUniverse use to be one of the more honest POD outfits?

#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Yeah, at one point iUniverse was one of the better POD vanities.

#4 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:15 AM:

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with print on demand. It's a shame that some nasty vanity presses are smearing that good name in most people's minds.

#5 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 08:47 AM:

While I get your point, I'd like to see more separation between "type of press" (vanity) and "method of printing" (P.O.D.). Vanity is never good; there are plenty of reasons why someone might go POD.

Tools and methods are different!

#6 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 09:06 AM:

Cat Meadors:
Vanity is never good; there are plenty of reasons why someone might go POD.

I think even this is the not quite the right distinction. There are reasons why someone might publish a small number of copies of book with the expectation of losing money on it, which is more-or-less the traditional function of the vanity press. The problem is dishonest lying scum who claim that they are publishing for the actual book market when they are actually behaving as a vanity press.

That's why Yog's Law is such a good summary: it's very hard to mislead people about which side of the check they are signing.


#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:44 PM:

And that's why PublishAmerica is so slimy: By the time the author realizes that the only way anything is ever going to happen with his book is if he starts spending a lot of money, he's already signed a seven-year contract and is stuck.

#8 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:34 PM:

So iUniverse has become less reputable?

A couple of years ago I bought a few books they published (through Amazon rather than direct, so the sales would show up in statistics). If the same author went back to them several times, they couldn't have been too scammy. The only thing that strikes me as dubious about the books themselves is the claim to have an office in Shanghai.

I'm asking because a family member is considering using them for a small project, more or less what Thomas @ 6 mentions.

#9 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:36 PM:

And I see an ad from Xlibris on this page.

I'd like to suggest an elaboration to Yog's law:

In publishing, money flows towards the author.

In printing for hire, as a manufacturing activity without any publishing, books flow towards the author.

If nothing flows towards the author, it's a scam.

#10 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 11:37 PM:

If the same author went back to them several times, they couldn't have been too scammy.

Doesn't entirely follow. There are quite a few PublishAmerica victims who have willingly given their second and third novel-length creations to that abyss of scumminess. That the victims do not, after several books, consider themselves victims does not change the demonstrated fact that PA lies and cheats and scams.

(Of course, PublishAmerica includes right of first refusal on next book in their contract, if I remember correctly, so many PA authors return unwillingly...)

#11 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 09:11 AM:

I spotted this pay-me-to-write site earlier*. A 3700-word prologue is included, more than enough to judge if you want to pay to see more of the novel-in-progress.

Have there been cases of something like this leading to an actual publishing contract? (I don't mean blogs that were later published as books, like Riverbend or Salam Pax.) The closest thing I can think of is Save Karyn , but the book was an offshoot of the site, not its main intent.

In any case, it seems like a good way of finding out if people are actually willing to part with money for your writing if you're not willing to do the agent/publishing house rounds or have (so far) been rejected by all of them, and if you haven't fallen for vanity press scumminess. The hardest part would be getting readers to the website; site stats would show the success rate (number of unique visits vs. number of donations). Then again, with so much good writing - for free - out there online, it sounds like a struggle more uphill than most, even if you're a damn good writer - which isn't always the case.


-------
*A quick Google search reveals that a fanfic writer made a similar attempt some years back, except she asked for all the money upfront instead of offering a pay-me-to-write serial, and got a lot of flak for it.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 01:25 PM:

If all you're after is a half-dozen copies, it's far cheaper and easier to go through Lulu.com, and not confuse the rights issue. (Not to mention faster.)

#13 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 03:28 PM:

Pendrift: I'm not aware of things working out like that when done in this particular order, but I've seen it a couple other ways around, so it could work.

For instance, I know there have been a bunch of cases of writers with some kind of established following, but unable to sell their latest book, "ransoming" it on the web for $X donations per chapter. I've seen something close to this for software development too - offer to write such-and-such plugin or miniprogram and release it free on receiving $X00 in committed donations. (For example, modules for pfSense, an open source firewall; I'm thinking of writing one to add a DNS cache.)

Of course, there have been a bunch of cases of writers simply posting a completed novel or novel in progress on their blog/website, and eventually getting a book deal out of it. Cherie Priest's excellent 'Four and Twenty Blackbirds' comes to mind, and IIRC John Scalzi's 'Old Man's War' too. (I do believe our hosts might have had a hand in that.)

I think the key might be to have at least some kind of a following before you start asking for money, so that people think "$5 for more of exactly what I like? Sweet!" rather than "Who the hell does he think he is?".

#14 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 03:30 PM:

Pendrift: I'm not aware of things working out like that when done in this particular order, but I've seen it a couple other ways around, so it could work.

For instance, I know there have been a bunch of cases of writers with some kind of established following, but unable to sell their latest book, "ransoming" it on the web for $X donations per chapter. I've seen something close to this for software development too - offer to write such-and-such plugin or miniprogram and release it free on receiving $X00 in committed donations. (For example, modules for pfSense, an open source firewall; I'm thinking of writing one to add a DNS cache.)

Of course, there have been a bunch of cases of writers simply posting a completed novel or novel in progress on their blog/website, and eventually getting a book deal out of it. Cherie Priest's excellent 'Four and Twenty Blackbirds' comes to mind, and IIRC John Scalzi's 'Old Man's War' too. (I do believe our hosts might have had a hand in that.)

I think the key might be to have at least some kind of a following before you start asking for money, so that people think "$5 for more of exactly what I like? Sweet!" rather than "Who the hell does he think he is?".

#15 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 03:31 PM:

Now I know that didn't post when I looked the first time.... sorry for the double, folks.

#16 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 04:22 PM:

Is there an echo in here, James?

#17 ::: Ms Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Hello all: Thanks Pendrift. Clifford, I am the person putting my novel online. I'm an established ghostwriter- this is my first novel and while I am not a known author I do have a blog following and also access to some seriously good PR. I'm not doing it to get rich (hardly) but I am getting a mailing list out of it. I do have an agent at WMA but this year they are struggling with publishers so much, she thinks this might be interesting. We're not putting it online..only emailing those who contribute. It's an experiment but it means I'll get my skates on and finish what is a time sensitive novel about the credit crunch.

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