Writer Wednesday—Who’s Your Daddy?

Okay, who’s your publisher? Are they legit? Do you know the difference?

There are so, so many kinds of publishing these days, and unfortunately, some of those publishers are only out to make a quick buck and take advantage of writers.

The first type is traditional publishing, or trade publishing. This is the kind where you may receive an advance—not free money, by the way, it’s an “advance” on your future earnings, like when you work on commission with a “draw,” as in selling cars—and you are paid royalties. Additionally, YOU DO NOT PAY the publisher.

To clarify even more, if you DO send money to the publisher, you better be getting a box of your books in return and be paying not a penny over the retail price. Most publishers even give you a discount.

The second type is self-publishing. You write a book; you design or pay someone to design a cover; you edit or pay someone to edit; you purchase an ISBN or allow a website/company to provide one at no or a reduced charge. You may pay for marketing or for a publicist or for other promotions.

Third, there are vanity presses. These “publishers” will accept anything. They will charge you big bucks to edit, to design a cover, to have an ISBN, to list the book on major retail sites, for phone calls, for emails, and probably more. They may or may not actually edit your book, and you might get a decent cover. They’ll tell you that you MUST buy a certain number of books, and the discount offered, if any, is laughable.

A big clue that you’re dealing with a vanity press is a submission form that includes “send us your idea” or an advertisement for submissions. Legit publishers ask for a query letter or five or ten pages or even an entire manuscript. And they don’t advertise on Craigslist.

Another common theme is that they may tell you that your book “isn’t quite ready” and you should check out their other services. Or they direct you to another website that is, in fact, part of their own company. Now, some of these, very few, actually do run separate businesses, but it can be difficult to tell the difference.

A trade publisher covers all costs associated with publishing your book—they don’t tell you it will cost YOU $1000 for editing, and at the same time, they won’t send you to another company (or division of theirs) to pay someone for editing. A trade publisher will offer you a contract and publish your books, paying you royalties.

A vanity press will charge you for editing or illustrations or design, or insist you purchase a marketing package; a legit publisher will simply market your book. A vanity press will force you to buy X number of copies; an actual press will offer you copies at a discount off the retail price.

And finally, fourth, there are hybrid presses. Initially, the term hybrid was used for authors who had traditional book contracts, but who also ventured into self-publishing. More and more, “hybrid” is now used by new and small publishers who combine different types of publishing.

You need to be aware, and you need to do your homework, before signing on the dotted line.

One type of hybrid press is a cooperative: several authors, under a business name and with or without anyone being called the “publisher,” band together to publish their books. One may be skilled in cover design, one in editing, and one in marketing. All work together on each book produced. This could be beneficial and cost-effective, as long as you can play nicely with each other. In truth, it’s a type of self-publishing by exchanging skills instead of dollars.

Another type is a publisher who only produces E-versions of books; you, the author, are free to self-publish print copies. Or vice versa.

The third type is, in effect, a vanity press in disguise. They’ll accept nearly every book submitted, only they don’t actually have a submission process. They have a form in which you tell them your “idea.” Often, they’ll ask you to raise money before they “accept” your book, but almost always there’s a catch. For instance, one company charges to store print copies, and charges the author before that to produce those print copies.

One more time: if you pay the “publisher,” you’re with a vanity press. And again, not to be confused with buying a product, e.g., copies of books, that you may re-sell or give away as you wish.






As most writers know, there are several types of writing styles: APA, MLA, and CMS, the Chicago Manual of Style. I’m going to focus on the CMS, as this is typically the style in which fiction is written.

A reader asked about the use of quotation marks versus italics when mentioning, in a novel, certain books, songs, and TV shows. Let’s start with the style, then I’ll move on to the legalities.

Short titles, e.g., short stories, poems, plays, chapters, articles, and episodes, should be enclosed in quotation marks. Longer and major titles, e.g., book titles, television shows, movies, etc., should be written (er, typed?) in italics—you may, of course, underline these instead, but in fiction writing, italics are almost always used.

To specifically answer the reader’s question, you would do this:

He was watching Letterman, waiting to hear the “Top Ten List.” After that, he planned to finish reading Stephen King’s The Stand while listening to Kiss’ Destroyer; his favorite song was “Beth.”

For more specifics on quotation marks and other miscellaneous formatting issues, check out The Owl or The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

On the other hand:

Sometimes, you cannot mention specific products by trademarked name; sometimes, you cannot use celebrity names; sometimes, you cannot name actual companies or buildings.

Aside from copyright infringement, which most writers are overly concerned about, there is also trademark infringement. Additionally, there can be issues of libel or defamation.

This blog post from 2010, written by an attorney, can address all of these issue far better than I can.

So there you have it—a specific answer to a specific question, which often is hard to find on the Internet. Feel free to contact me, via email, by clicking on my profile pic to the right.

I can also take a look at your query letter—click to the right on QUERY THAT!