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.





Writer Wednesday—Getting a Book Event

Authors often ask how to set up a book event. As a former bookstore owner and an author, I can give you some pointers:

DO your homework: location, hours, type of store, and so forth. Check the store’s website and social media pages.

DO stop by in person. Bookstore folks want to meet you.

DO browse around for a bit and get a feel for the place. Talk to whoever is working, when he has a moment, and find out who you need to talk to schedule an event.

DO buy a book. Show interest in the bookstore, outside of it being a potential venue for you to sell your own books. It’s a partnership, after all.

DO expect to bring your own books, particularly if you’re self-published; even if you have a name for your “publishing company.” Sometimes indie stores will order books from their suppliers, if they’re offered at a standard discount, are returnable, and the store believes they can sell them. Sometimes, they’re just doing you a favor and will adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Bookstores will often sell on consignment during your event, with 30-40% of the retail price going to the store. Deal with it. Sometimes they’ll even buy a couple afterwards.

DO ask about what advertising they’re going to do and what you should do. Ask about posters, fliers, bookmarks, etc. Bring what the store asks for, when they ask for it. No more, no less.

DO promote your event, online especially, but in person too.

DO call to confirm a couple days ahead of time.

DO show up 10-15 minutes before your scheduled time. You need to set up and get ready, but many indie stores are quite small and don’t need extra people in the way—they’re planning on a certain time and so should you.

You can and should do all these things at other venues too: cafés, retail shops, restaurants, bars, bowling alleys—be creative!

However, we also have the don’ts:

DON’T approach stores that don’t carry your genre or type of book. We often had authors come in with urban fiction—our customers weren’t interested. Some stores specialize in romance, some in sci-fi.

DON’T barge in and think you can call the shots. Unless you’re Stephen King. The real one, I mean. And SK, if you’re reading this, please return my Facebook message—please? Okay, maybe you don’t want to sell on consignment; that’s cool. But maybe the store won’t order your books. Either change your mind quick, or thank them and move on. Don’t argue. It won’t help.

DON’T ask if you can leave fliers or bookmarks or rack cards or anything else. Unless it’s a book. You can leave a book. ONE book. Maybe someone who works there will read it; maybe they’ll stick it on the shelf and see if it sells. But the other stuff? There’s probably no space for it. It’ll sit on the counter for a while and then go into the trash.

DON’T bring stuff either before or the day of the event unless the store has asked for it. Again, it’s a space issue. And for God’s sake, don’t decorate your table with glitter. That stuff sticks in the carpet FOREVER. Chocolate is nice. For the bookseller. And you. But maybe not for kids. Kids and sticky fingers don’t play well in a bookstore.

DON’T forget to show up! It sounds like a no-brainer, but it happens. And don’t be late. Or too early.

Unless you plan to shop.