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"Ask Ron"
The Self-Publishing Column
by Ron Pramschufer of BooksJustBooks.com

2 free books from eHarlequin.com!


"Why shouldn't I first try a vanity/subsidy press until my book starts to sell? They say I own all the rights and am free to change at any time."

It is said if you tell a lie large enough, the public will accept it as the truth. Once accepted, that "lie" becomes the basis on which everything else is judged, making even more lies seem like the truth. "You retain full ownership"... the vanity/subsidy press "Big Lie."

It has never ceased to amaze me how so many, otherwise intelligent people, fall into the present day vanity press trap. In the old days, prior to the Internet, it was difficult for someone to properly research a company other than possibly the local Better Business Bureau. A full page ad in the phone book followed by a well written printed catalog, led to more than one unsuspecting author to a mortgage re-finance and later on to the shattered dream of becoming a successfully published author. Thirty years ago, vanity presses like
Vantage Press and Dorrance Publishing were pitching the same "Edgar Allen Poe started this way" as they do today. I don't remember what they used to call themselves. They came up with the Orwellian "subsidy press" label fairly recently. I actually made a sales call on Vantage Press as a young printing salesperson when I first came to New York. I was told that "we don't do much printing" or "we generally only print flat sheets and only bind as needed". I'm not sure whether they are running that scam nowadays or not.

Today, if you are buying from
Dorrance or Vantage (or even considering it) you are not reading this newsletter or are most likely to have more money than sense. If you are happy with your decision, so be it.

In the present day of the Internet, the traditional vanity presses have been replaced by a new breed of vanity/subsidy press, many of whom are very well financed. Like their traditional counterparts, this new breed has slick presentations and plenty of money for expensive advertising. They have advertising "money to burn" because they don't need many sales (because of their ridiculous margins), to make the advertising pay off. (Or in the case of the vanity/subsidy presses who are financially backed with lots of venture capital money, don't need to have the advertising dollars pay off at all.)

Want to see a good example of this? Go to Yahoo and search the term "Self Publishing". See who appears. The top of the list is
Dorrance. Want to have some fun, (click here); it will take you to the Dorrance site. Pretty good, huh? They must think they have something good to say because they just paid "Overture", a pay per click search engine, $6.25 to have you visit. Go ahead, have some fun, click it again. Even stay long enough to read what they have to say.

Want to have some more fun? My favorite,
1st Books, is currently paying for the #3 position. I will talk about them in a couple seconds. Just go ahead and click on their site. They are paying almost $5/click just to have you visit their site.

Now that we have had some fun, let's get back to the subject of the "Big Lie". There are actually two "big lies," both of equal importance. The first is how virtually all vanity/subsidy Publishers lead authors to believe that they are "self-publishing". As I have written on numerous occasions, to self-publish infers that" you" are the "Publisher". With the vanity/subsidy Publisher, you are not the publisher, therefore you are not self-publishing. To supplement this lie, virtually all of these vanity presses present lists of famous authors who got their start "self-publishing".

While that statement is true, (Edgar Alan Poe did self-publish his first works), YOU ARE NOT SELF PUBLISHING if you are using a vanity/subsidy press so you are not, in any way, like Poe. Edgar Allan Poe paid a printer for 250 copies of his first work. He did not pay another publisher to "publish" his work.
Dorrance claims to be the first vanity/subsidy press in the country and they are only 80 years old. As an old Baltimorean, Poe is my favorite so he is the first one I researched. I'll check out the others, claimed by the vanity/subsidy presses, in writing my new book, Book Scam - How to Navigate the Self-Publishing Minefield.

The second lie is the one where the vanity press tells you that you retain all the rights. (I've been watching too many old episodes of Friends). The next line, with most of these vanity/subsidy presses, talks about the author owning the copyright as well as the movie rights and foreign rights. Most also say that their contract is "non-exclusive" so the author has the right to enter into another agreement at any time. Not bad, four "right" in only two sentences. Only problem is that only the slimiest of the vanity/subsidy presses would ever even think of trying to take those rights. They know there is going to be no movie or need for foreign sales. They know that the only sales are going to be to you and your friends and family. There are, however two huge "rights" that 99% of the vanity authors believe that they have but do not. It is these two rights that, in the end, are the most important to the author. These are the two rights that the author does not have.

The first of these is the right to move the title under the vanity/subsidy assigned ISBN. virtually all authors believe that the ISBN is theirs. It is not. The ISBN belongs to the vanity/subsidy Press. For the author to take his title somewhere else, including self-publishing it, he needs to start from scratch. It doesn't matter how successful the author has been at getting their book placed in retail outlets, their work was actually done on behalf of the vanity/subsidy press. Remember: No one can give, assign, or sell you an ISBN except for RR Bowker, the ISBN agency.

The other right that the author does not have 99% of the time is the right to the digital file used to produce their book. This is by far the most controversial aspect of vanity publishing and their unsuspecting authors. 1st Books is as good an example as any. It appears that the $499 setup covers the "text formatting and cover design". There is not a single thing on the main section of their website to make one think any differently. It is not until you look closely at section 3.7 of their contract where one discovers that "Author agrees that 1st Books indefinitely will retain possession of the materials submitted by Author to 1st Books and used to format the Work. 1st Books also retains all rights to the versions of the work formatted by 1st Books and the Author will have no right to receive such formatted versions upon termination of this agreement or otherwise. In other words, you "Don't own squat".

And for those of you who feel that this can't be true and that 1st Books would never do such a thing, keep this in mind. The 1st Books contract is 9 pages long. Three to four of these pages have something to do with the publishing process. The rest have to do with "Legal Remedies", "Disclaimers of Liability", "Breach or Default" and many other "Rights you do not have".

A long time ago Francis Bacon said that "Knowledge is Power". Not quite as long ago PT Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute." At least with Barnum, you got to see a circus.

Take the time to educate yourself. Yes, Edgar Allen Poe did become quite successful by first self-publishing. You can too. Remember: There is no such thing as a free lunch and if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Reading the articles in this newsletter is a great start. If you haven't done so already you should order a copy of "Publishing basics- A Guide for the Small Press and Independent Self-Publisher. (Click here to order) Attend as many seminars as possible. If you're in the Atlanta area try to attend Mark Victor Hansen's Mega Book Marketing University on March 26-28 (click here for more information). Another great seminar is PMA University in Chicago right before BEA (Click here for more information). Tell them I sent you and maybe they'll give me a free ad. I will be moderating and speaking in the Book Manufacturing seminar. It will be fun and I'd love to meet you. If you can't get to Atlanta or Chicago, try to catch one of Fern Reiss's Publishing Game Seminars (click here for more information). Dan Poynter is a self-publishing legend and spends about 300 days per year giving seminars. He's bound to be in a town near you sometime soon.

Once you think you're ready to self-publish, give me a call. Better yet, visit me at
www.BooksJustBooks.com . We have printed over 100 million books and like I tell everyone I deal with, "You can't sell books faster than I can print them." Good luck.

If you have a question pertaining to the publishing production process, please feel free to contact me at

Copyright 2004 Ron Pramschufer. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Ron Pramschufer is one of the founders of RJ Communications. The website,
BooksJustBooks.com, specializes in the small press and independent self-publisher. Before you chose your vanity/subsidy publisher, take the time to visit Ron's site!


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