Writer Wednesday—Fee for Service

A friend blogged on Indies Unlimited recently and a commenter mentioned “hybrid” publishing. She stated that’s what her company does, and while there are variations of what constitutes “hybrid” publishing, the most common definition is that an author uses a combination of methods to publishing his books. In other words, he might self-publish E-versions, and use a traditional press for paperback, or the other way around. The commenter seemed to think that by offering both trad publishing and author services, her company qualified as such.

The problem here—and, disclaimer, her company website says nothing about trad publishing, only “author services”—is that definitions are evolving and publishing houses, indies, are coming up with all kinds of combinations.

Checking out a publishing house is becoming more and more difficult, but it’s something you absolutely must do.

Two things that trad publishing comes right down to: you want someone who’s a competent professional, and you want someone who will not charge you to publish your book, for any reason.

Self-publishing has also taken some leaps and bounds in the last couple years. Authors used to write their books and then struggle with formatting, cover design, editing, and so forth, and finally produce a “self” published book. Now, every day, there are more and more author services companies popping up. An author can pay an editor, pay a cover designer, pay for copyright registration, pay for ISBN registration, and hire a publicist.

Sometimes, that’s an all-in-one company. Now, I ask you, if you pay a company to do all these things, is that really “self” publishing? Sure, you PAID them; but, in my opinion, it’s much better to vet your own people—editors and cover designers in particular. That, to me, is the definition of self-publishing.

And then there are the vanity presses and certain derivatives. The commenter mentioned above has had her company for somewhere between 6-8 years; it’s hard to say, even after some research. A few years back, I saw some posts on Absolute Write about the company’s unconventional methods of finding submissions and, at that time, authors of rejected manuscripts were offered paid services to improve that submission.

That’s a bit of a conflict of interest. Theoretically, you could tell everyone their books were bad, then make money by selling them “services.”

Now, technically, this isn’t a vanity press—a vanity press will charge you to publish your book, and may tack on extra charges for those same “services”—but it’s unethical, just the same. Truly, a publishing house can EITHER offer services, in which case it’s not a publishing house, OR publish books.

Fee for service is not always a bad thing, but if a company offers that along with trad publishing, you might want to be leery. It’s a red flag, just like a poorly spelled website or outrageous claims or even a brand-new publisher. Or, an even better example, a company several years old with only two titles . . .

Back when we had the bookstore, before starting RHP, we offered author services—just like a freelance editor, or a cover designer, etc. We didn’t ALSO publish books. It was quite an underwhelming success.

When I started RHP in October 2012, I was determined to run a professional, traditional publishing house. And I have. I do. No, we don’t offer advances, but we do pay royalties and we do NOT charge for anything at all.

Right about the time we started accepting submissions, someone on the forums at Absolute Write asked if anyone had heard of us. Of course not, we were just getting started—and that was a red flag. I knew it, wasn’t worried, because again, we’d just opened to submissions. Would I, myself, have submitted to a house that just opened? Probably not. But thankfully, many authors did. They took a chance.

It comes down to your choices. There are many helpful companies out there, and there are many scammers. And some don’t even seem like a scam, and maybe aren’t, but they can be expensive, both monetarily and professionally. When you refer to a vanity press or something similar as “my publisher,” people in the industry will assume that your book is, charitably, not very good. Right or wrong, you won’t be taken seriously as an author.


3 comments on “Writer Wednesday—Fee for Service

  1. Good post, Robin. In defense of writers/authors, not all can be deemed “not very good” just because they used a vanity press. Some of us, myself included, just didn’t research enough to realize what the vanity presses were all about. I signed the contract, paid the fee, etc. Would I do it again? Nope. Do I think my book is “not good?” Hell, no! I love my book – it’s my baby.


    • Of course it’s your baby and of course you love it – and no, I don’t think it’s bad. But the ASSUMPTION, like I said, is there, and that’s because a vanity press will publish anyone, as long as they pay. It doesn’t mean ALL vanity press books are bad books.


  2. Great advice. IMHO, integrity is what counts, and yes, from this author’s point of view, a business in this field really should be either ethical offering well-priced services OR ethical publishing.

    Variations of ‘additional services offered to self-publishers’ are certainly tempting ‘ the slippery slope” toward a typically unethical vanity press –at the cost of integrity and reputation.

    Interestingly, the honest and ethical evaluation of manuscripts with recommendations–to ” ethical publishers” – is potentially a whole, third business model, but with ethical management– should neither include ‘editing services’ at $1500/per ‘or’ publishing ‘or’ sleazy recommendations to go to “vanity presses”.

    That equates the ugly can of worms called ” sleazy agent services” …and so forth–the possibilities and permutations are endless.

    Back to square one –‘integrity’ is what counts.



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