Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Why is it that we indie published authors have to fight for legitimacy when indie film makers are often revered and indie music artists are considered pioneers and sought after?

Aren't we all outside of the traditional methods of getting our product to the masses?

For us authors, is it possibly the fact that the old concept of vanity presses, where you paid an obscene amount of money upfront, and later received boxes of books that you had to sell, but could then call yourself published, still haunt us today?

Maybe. I truly think that's a part of it, in addition to how we authors view our own product. Yes, you heard me right, we are in business and producing a product. (That's for another blog.) 

I proudly consider myself a indie author.  I've been writing for a long time, won contests, paid my dues. I wanted to go this route for a variety of reasons, mostly because I own my book entirely. I have all the rights.
But today, I'm here with my guests talking about the old specter of vanity publishing and how it still thrives, maybe giving us all a tougher time in the marketplace.
Please welcome R.L. Copple and Anthea Lawson.
R.L. Copple:

Self-publishing has had a dubious history.
In the "good ol' days," if you couldn't or didn't want to be published via a traditional publisher, your only route was to cough up a load of money to pay a printer for a print run. The only problem was, even at the minimum number of books for one print run, the cost ran into the thousands. And the author then had hundreds of books to distribute without the distribution channels of a traditional publisher. Consequently, unless you were on a speaking circuit, such business ventures didn't make a lot of economic sense.

On top of that, by-passing the traditional publisher also meant by-passing the editors, cover designers, layout designers, proofers, and other services a traditional publisher provided. Often, saving money for the giant print run, the author wasn't left with much money to outsource these jobs, which ended up creating, in many cases, an unprofessional product.

Then to add insult to injury, vanity publishers came into the picture. They offered the author a good deal, so it seemed, because for much less, like around $1000.00, an author could get a smaller quantity of books printed. Being more affordable, more authors could jump on that bandwagon.

The problem arose in how these "vanity publishers" operated. For purposes of a book's rights, they operated like a publisher. But in terms of cost, they operated like a small printer. Then they added services, often inferior, that the author could buy, like cover design, layout, and marketing, which a real publisher would do without additional costs.

Due to this dual nature, self-publishing for many years was seen as expensive, and often resulting in poorly edited books and unprofessionally designed covers and interiors. Self-publishing became synonymous with scams and inferior books.

From this came the often repeated phrase that with a real publisher, the money flows from the publisher to the author. If the money flows from the author to the publisher, it is a scam.

Along came digital publishing and the POD (print on demand) for print copies. The relative ease of putting a book up for sale on any number of platforms has given rise to more poorly edited and designed books than ever.

Yet, the opposite is also happening. Many authors, wanting to put out quality books, outsource editing and design if need be, or learn to do the tasks themselves.

The real difference is for indie publishers is to think in terms of running a business. That means learning how the book business works. Learning the basics of cover design, interior design, copy writing, etc. Even if you don't plan to do it all yourself, you need to know enough to make the right business decisions so that when you do outsource any task, you know whether the person has the skills and knowledge to be professional.

I tend to use the terms "self publisher" and "indie publisher" interchangeably. Dean Wesley Smith divides them based upon whether the author has his own publishing company or not. If he has one, then he or she is an indie publisher. That works for me.

But I understand the desire to get away from the stigma of "self-publishing" by running from the term and what it has been associated with in the past.

Yet, the route to get away from that stigma isn't so much in terminology, but in producing good product that people want to buy. The more big names and best-selling self-published titles we see, the less self-publishing will be seen as the lazy person's way out to get your book published.

If an author isn't keen on going the indie publishing route, they might want to look into a small press, which is often not much more than an indie publisher with a line of books.

The contracts are simpler, less onerous, pay royalties like a real publisher, but often provide minimal or no advances, but like a real publisher, the author gives them a manuscript, they edit it, design the covers, interior, get it printed and distributed, and put up the e-books.

In essence, you get the help with getting the book into print, but with the distribution and marketing of an indie published author. Small presses are especially good for niche markets where a traditional publisher wouldn't touch it. But here, especially, make sure they are a real publisher by whether they are taking on the financial risk in exchange for the rights to publish the book. If not, run for the hills.

To recap, if an entity wants to be the publisher by taking a cut of the royalties and rights, then it should cost the author no money.

If author wants to be the publisher, then they should retain all rights since they are taking all the financial risks. To divide those two, rights and risk, is to end up scammed by a vanity publisher.

Anthea Lawson:

Thanks for bringing this subject up, LA!

It's true the waters are murky when it comes to paying upfront costs to be published. The key is to be educated, and understand what you're paying for. One Vanity scam I've seen charges $1,000 for a cover design where they use stock photos and slap something together - whereas legit cover designers using stock will charge less than $200 for a full cover design, including spine and back cover.

 One publishing option I think people don't talk enough about is taking the route of signing with *legitimate* e-publishers. Again, the author has to do their research. But if you don't want to wade into the DIY of self-publishing and would rather let some other entity handle cover design, editing, formatting, etc. I strongly encourage those authors to look into presses like Entangled, Samhain, Ellora's Cave, etc. Of course, established e-publishers have been around in the romance genres for years now. Other genres, not quite so much.

Authors, if you're too lazy or desperate to do the research, you're a perfect candidate for a scam. Don't let this happen to you - decide what you want, take the reins, and educate yourself.

I'm proudly self-publishing after being traditionally published and, frankly, I know I'm putting out excellent books. I don't need to justify myself to the doubters - my goal is to reach readers. In the end, that's really all that matters.

R.L. Copple is a science fiction and fantasy writer. He's written six novels and numerous short stories. While some say he lives in his own fantasy world, in reality he resides in the Texas Hill Country with his wife of 30 years and remaining son of three kids.

Web site: http://www.rlcopple.com
Blog: http://blog.rlcopple.com
Books: http://www.rlcopple.com/published.php Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rlcoppleauthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rlcopple

 Anthea Lawson is formerly traditionally published by a NY publisher.  Anthea loves the control and freedom that comes with independently publishing her work. In addition to RITA-nominated historical romance, she writes award-winning urban fantasy as Anthea Sharp.

Her award-winning YA Urban Fantasy http://anthealawson.com/?p=473
Her newest romance release http://www.amazon.com/Kisses-Rogues-Regency-Stories-ebook/dp/B009JAZTQW/
And her website - www.anthealawson,com


You may agree or disagree with us, but really what we're saying is the most important thing for you, the indie or self-published author, is to be smart. Do your research, write the best book possible and don't jump in until you've done so. You may be hurting yourself and your career.

And frankly if we're all smart, nobody can stop us, so watch out world.


1 comment:

  1. LA, thank you for hosting your incredible guests. The frontier of successful indie publishing is vast and we're only at the very tip of the adventure.

    R.L, you've brought up so many good points I don't know where to begin. Publishing is a business whether you choose to do it yourself or place your work in the hands of others. It takes time, effort and nurturing to be successful no matter the endeavor. You've laid out the options well and have given good reason for an author to choose either route.

    Anthea, you've brought up a great point regarding the scams that are alive and well and waiting for a lazy, deperate author. You've offered the best advice -- "decide what you want, take the reins, and educate yourself." Indie publishing is not an easy path to follow, it's an alternative path with the same pitfalls and potholes as traditional.

    Thank you all for the fine education in Indie publishing!