"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
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
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vanity presses have been replaced by a new breed of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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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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