Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Vanity Presses

Yesterday, a member of one of the Facebook writer groups I belong to asked for some clarification on the matter of vanity presses. I wound up having a bit of back-and-forth with a different member over what exactly constituted a vanity press, so I thought I’d write up a quick post on that very topic for the benefit of authors out there who are ready to release their book, but haven’t figured out what the best approach might be.

You’ve got three basic options:

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

This refers to any business — be it one of the “Big Five” publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) or a small press — that contracts with a writer to produce novels or books, which said business then prepares (edits, formats, prints, etc.) at its own expense for distribution and sale. The publisher takes a cut of the sales revenue and passes along the rest (royalties) to the author. Publishers typically claim certain rights to the work.

One of the things that distinguishes a publisher from a vanity press is whether they require the author to pay money into the process. A legitimate publisher covers all costs of production and does not require the author to pay for anything! The publisher assumes all financial risk, and it recovers its investment through sales, which it shares with the creator of the content. Money flows toward the writer, in the words of author James D. MacDonald.

The individual mentioned above argued that even big publishers require authors to chip in for promotions. That is at best a half truth.

It’s accurate to say publishers do not always invest money in actively promoting authors unless they feel the return on their investment is sound, either because it’s an established creator or that rare hot new author with a potential blockbuster bestseller, but they don’t require authors to pick up the slack.

However, authors are expected to do a lot of legwork themselves via a website and social media, and the publisher isn’t necessarily going to cover any associated costs (they almost certainly won’t), but again, there is no financial obligation on the author’s part toward the publisher.

In summary: with traditional publishing through a reputable publisher, the author pays nothing up front, is not responsible for an aspect of book preparation, and receives royalties through sales, but doesn’t get all the money and must typically relinquish certain rights to their own work.

SELF-PUBLISHING

With self-publishing, everything is ultimately on you — all the responsibilities and all the costs. Sure, you might farm out things like editing and cover art (and you bloody well should be paying professionals to handle those duties) but you’re still the one responsible for paying them, and you are the final arbiter of the quality of their work. You also get to keep every penny from the sales.

Now, there are operations out there that will, for a fee, provide you with everything you need to turn your finished manuscript into a ready-to-sell book — an editor, a cover artist, printing, distribution, etc. These you would call self-publishing platforms or self-publishing services. Yes, they charge you for their work, but they claim no rights to your book, make no money off of your sales (unless you use them for distribution), and are completely up-front about the fact they are not publishers.

Which brings us to…

VANITY PRESSES

A lot of people argue about what constitutes a vanity press — many of those arguments come from people who run such operations, by the way — but this is my definition: a vanity press is an operation that behaves like a self-publishing service but presents itself as a publisher.

Let me break that down a bit. A vanity press offers all the services of a self-publishing platform as described above and charges the author a fee for them, and collects a percentage of any sales like a publisher — or, to be fair, a self-publishing platform that offers authors a distribution service.

One of the things that distinguishes a vanity press from a self-publishing platform is that a vanity press will claim rights to the author’s work, like a publisher would. In other words, you’re paying a company to lay legal claim to your creation — a legal claim that could be used to deny you royalties (e.g., foreign sales rights) or control over your own creation.

Imagine wanting to write a sequel to your novel, only to be told you can’t because the characters belong to the alleged publisher, or getting an offer to take the book to a major publisher, only to be denied because you’re locked in an exclusive contract with no escape clause. Imagine the vanity press going out of business and taking the rights with them. These things have happened.

Vanity presses often also require authors to buy a certain number of their own books for direct sales or publicity purposes. They key word here is require. I self-publish through Amazon (the service formerly known as CreateSpace), and if I want books to sell at shows or give away, I have to buy them, but I am not contractually obligated to buy a certain quantity of books as a condition of working with the company.

As mentioned previously, a self-publishing platform will clearly identify itself as such. Vanity presses will refer to themselves as publishers, or give the distinct impression of such: “Would you like to become a published author? We can make your dream happen!”

If you’re ever in doubt about the legitimacy of a publisher or self-publishing platform, your best places to go are Writer Beware and the Absolute Write Water Cooler message boards.

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Weekly Update – May 21, 2019

Who wants a sneak-peek at the back cover for Well-Behaved Women – Endtimes?

Behold Renee Sutherland as Anne Bonny! And don’t worry about the blurry parts. That’s the back cover blurb, which is full of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the first two books.

Endtimes is in its penultimate revision process now and is on-track for a late summer/early fall release!

WRITING PROJECTS

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Sworded Affairs: First draft in progress.

Well-Behaved Women – Endtimes: Fifth draft in progress.

Action Figures – Issue Nine: Hell Hath No Fury: First draft in progress.

Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins (audiobook): Review completed, final editing in progress.

APPEARANCES & EVENTS

  • The Connecticut Renaissance Faire – Saturday, October 5, Lebanon County Fairgrounds, Lebanon, CT: I’ll be back again to sell and sign books as part of CTRF’s Local Authors Series!

The New England Speculative Writers group has a new preview book for newsletter subscribers. Pick it up and read the opening chapters to Well-Behaved Women – Awakening and other stories.

If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss any news from me, remember that I have a weekly newsletter that features some of the stuff you see posted here plus new, newsletter-exclusive material. Click this link to sign up.

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – A Series Overview

What’s it About?

Derek Strongarm and Felix Lightfoot are a pair of hard-luck adventurers for hire with an unfortunate knack for landing jobs that pay too little and threaten their lives too much. Erika Racewind is a hardened elven warrior who doesn’t like people, except maybe when she’s killing them. Winifred Graceword is a kindhearted elven priestess skilled in the healing arts. David is a young sorcerer on a path to discover who he really is – and whether that person has a last name, because going by just David is getting old fast.

Together these companions travel across the land of Asaches looking for adventure and the glory and riches that come with it. Mostly the riches, though, because you can’t buy food and beer with glory.

Who is this Series For?

Sword-and-sorcery fantasy fans looking for something a little lighter than most of the fare currently on the shelves. If you want heavy, dark, serious stories with lots of death, destruction, torture, rape, and political intrigue, go read something else because you won’t find it here.

What you will find is a fast-paced adventure filled with colorful characters, rip-roaring action, humor, and gentle jabs at the classic elements of fantasy fiction.

Which is not to say this series is a comedy or parody. There is still drama aplenty, but as a rule I don’t take things too seriously. You can read these books and not feel like you need a hug and a room full of puppies afterward.

Is it Suitable for Young Readers?

Not really. The series is a hard PG-13/light R for violence, language, and sexual content. It is suitable for older teens, but not for the YA crowd.

What are the Books in the Series?

Scratching a Lich: Derek and Felix find themselves entangled in an urgent quest to slay a legendary lich before he can trigger a world-ending apocalypse – as insane undead sorcerers are wont to do. Together with Erika Racewind, bodyguard for a mysterious young wizard named David, and Winifred Graceword, they head out to discover lost cities, recover long lost magical artifacts, and slay great evils in order to fulfill curiously specific prophecies – as mismatched, ragtag groups of adventurers are wont to do.

Assassins Brawl: The companions are hired to safeguard a spoiled brat of a princess targeted for death by the assassin Ruined Isys, but as is often the case, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Now all they have to do is determine who is behind the plot before they get caught in the crossfire.

Blades of Glory: Derek, Felix, and company are up for a job that seems a little too simple for a payday that seems a little too generous – but unfortunately, so are the famed adventurers of fortune known as the Noble Blades. Which of them will be the first to find a stolen ceremonial mask that is absolutely positively completely normal and not at all some lost artifact possessed of dark power?

Untitled fourth book: The heroes take a job to dispose of a potentially dangerous magical artifact only to become snowbound in an isolated city besieged by flesh-hungry beasts — and under assault from within by a secret cadre of assassins.

How Long Will the Series Run?

Unknown, but tentatively ten books.

Where Can I Learn More?

Read can read sample chapters from Scratching a Lich, buy signed copies, connect with me through social media, and get regular updates at my website: innsmouthlook.com

Weekly Update – May 14, 2019

So, I have a troll.

Yes, it’s true, I have officially picked up a dedicated hater. Last year, some guy set up an Amazon reviewer page for the express purpose of leaving a bad review on Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins. It was my first truly bad review since I released the book in 2013, but it was impossible to get upset about it because they guy trotted out several staple barbs employed by Amazon trolls, including that old classic, “All these good reviews must have been left by the author’s friends.”

My troll then fell silent until recently, when he resurfaced to leave negative reviews on the first two Well-Behaved Women, and it was more of the same cut-and-paste cheap digs. Again, I couldn’t get upset — not just because of the laughable “reviews” themselves. This guy bought one of my books, hated it so much he felt it necessary to spend the time to put his hatred down in writing, and then a year later bought two more in order to do the exact same thing.

If I’m curious about anything, it’s what I did to so upset this individual that I’m now living in his head rent-free (so to speak; technically, he’s paying me to be there). I mean, something about my writing had to be so egregious that he has committed money, time, and emotional energy to trying to get under my skin.

Or — a more likely personal theory — he sees someone succeeding as an indie author and it’s pissing him off that it’s not him. That kind of thing happens to authors, indie or otherwise, quite a bit. Do the job long enough and eventually you’ll pick up reviewers who have nothing constructive to say, they just need to lash out and tear someone else down. They can’t achieve anything themselves, so they set out to prevent others from achieving — almost always behind a veil of anonymity, of course.

Well, have at, Amazon review troll. You keep trying to make me feel bad and I’ll laugh all the way to the bank with your money.

WRITING PROJECTS

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Sworded Affairs: First draft in progress.

Well-Behaved Women – Endtimes: Fifth draft in progress.

Action Figures – Issue Nine: Hell Hath No Fury: First draft in progress.

Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins (audiobook): Review completed, final editing in progress.

APPEARANCES & EVENTS

  • The Connecticut Renaissance Faire – Saturday, October 5, Lebanon County Fairgrounds, Lebanon, CT: I’ll be back again to sell and sign books as part of CTRF’s Local Authors Series!

The New England Speculative Writers group has a new preview book for newsletter subscribers. Pick it up and read the opening chapters to Well-Behaved Women – Awakening and other stories.

If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss any news from me, remember that I have a weekly newsletter that features some of the stuff you see posted here plus new, newsletter-exclusive material. Click this link to sign up.

Action Figures – A Series Overview

What’s it About?

The series focuses on Carrie Hauser, a 15-year-old girl who one summer experiences two life-changing events: her parents announce they’re getting divorced, and she gains superhuman abilities after encountering a dying extraterrestrial after he falls to Earth.

Her adventure begins after Carrie and her mother Christina move back to Christina’s childhood home town of Kingsport, Massachusetts, and Carrie meets four teens with powers of their own: superhero fanboy Matt Steiger, who owns a pair of magic gloves that can produce any object he can envision out of thin air, like a living cartoon character; Sara Danvers, a telepath and telekinetic who is afraid of her own abilities; the easygoing Stuart Lumley, who possesses superhuman strength; and Missy Hamill, an adorable motormouth with enhanced strength and reflexes.

The teens form a superhero team almost on a whim, but soon find themselves fighting for their lives against very real super-villains – much to the dismay of Kingsport’s hometown hero Concorde, leader of the super-team The Protectorate.

Who is this Series For?

Fans of superhero comics, TV shows, and movies in general, but particularly of titles featuring teen heroes such as Young Justice, Teen Titans, Young Avengers, and Champions.

The tone is generally lighter than a lot of YA books out there now. While there is drama and conflict, and some later stories deal with darker issues, I try to keep the series fun, upbeat, and optimistic.

Is it Suitable for Young Readers?

Action Figures is a PG-13 series that contains mild to moderate profanity, non-graphic violence, some mature themes, and later on in the series mild sexual content.

An added word about the violent content: while the violence is not graphic, the consequences are not downplayed. This isn’t sanitized Hollywood violence. People get hurt just as they would in real life and do not easily shrug off injuries, and in some cases the characters have to deal with the emotional trauma of their experiences.

What are the Books in the Series?

Action Figures – Issue One: Secret OriginsCarrie and her new friends in the Hero Squad (yes, they know their team name is awful) find themselves caught in the crossfire as the deadly mercenary Manticore comes to Kingsport, on the hunt for the rogue artificial intelligence known as Archimedes.

Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women – The sorceress Black Betty threatens to raise hell – maybe literally – as she pursues her vendetta against the Protectorate’s resident paranormal expert Dr. Enigma.

 

Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect – Missy’s life is turned upside-down when she learns the truth about the source of her powers, and her connection to the bloodthirsty killer Buzzkill Joy.

 

Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel SummerSara finds herself in the crosshairs of the mysterious hero killer the King of Pain, but to save herself, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear.

 

Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-UpsThe Hero Squad, still reeling from their devastating encounter with the King of Pain, get a little help picking up the pieces from their friends in the Protectorate and the Quantum Quintet.

 

Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play – The Squad finds itself outnumbered and under-powered after one of their members goes missing – and at the worst possible time as foes from their past reappear, more dangerous than ever and ready to exact revenge.

Action Figures – Issue Seven: The Black End War – On Earth, Carrie Hauser is a hero, but on the far side of the galaxy, she’s just another soldier on the front lines of an interplanetary war against the terrorists in the Black End.

 

Action Figures – Issue Eight: Crawling from the Wreckage – Carrie returns to Earth to reclaim her life, but life has moved on without her. Does she have a place with her team, her friends, or her family anymore?

How Long Will the Series Run?

The series is plotted out to ten books but might run one or two books longer. In any event, it will come to a firm end at some point and not run on indefinitely.

Where Can I Learn More?

Read can read sample chapters from Secret Origins, short stories set in the Action Figures world, buy signed copies, connect with me through social media, and get regular updates at my website: innsmouthlook.com

Weekly Update – May 7, 2019

Slow week this week. I have a possible late-year event to add to my calendar, but it’s going to depend on the finances of it. I’d love for it to work out, and hopefully I’ll have something solid to report soon.

WRITING PROJECTS

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Sworded Affairs: Book four is getting temporarily pushed aside again. Sorry, but it’s for a good reason…

Well-Behaved Women – Endtimes: I got some notes back from my editor, Julie, and I’m working up a new draft.

Action Figures – Issue Nine: Hell Hath No Fury: First draft in progress.

Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins (audiobook): Review completed, final editing in progress.

APPEARANCES & EVENTS

  • The Connecticut Renaissance Faire – Saturday, October 5, Lebanon County Fairgrounds, Lebanon, CT: I’ll be back again to sell and sign books as part of CTRF’s Local Authors Series!

The New England Speculative Writers group has a new preview book for newsletter subscribers. Pick it up and read the opening chapters to Well-Behaved Women – Awakening and other stories.

If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss any news from me, remember that I have a weekly newsletter that features some of the stuff you see posted here plus new, newsletter-exclusive material. Click this link to sign up.

Station Identification Time

Who Am I?

I’m a writer originally from Falmouth, MA who now lives in Worcester (pronounced like the name of Hugh Laurie’s dim-witted socialite) with my awesomely talented wife Veronica, who runs a business called Storied Threads.

After 15 years with the Falmouth Enterprise, where I worked as a general and political reporter, blogger, and editor, I left the news industry to focus on my creative writing.

In addition to my novels (more on that in a minute) I’m a freelance writer, and I’ve produced scripts for Pastimes Entertainment of Revere, MA and the Connecticut Renaissance Faire.

What Do I Write?

Action Figures is a YA superhero adventure series featuring a team of young superhumans who set out to make a name for themselves in the superhero world and quickly find themselves in over their heads. Fun, full of humor and action, populated with likable characters (including some of the villains), and suitable for teen readers and adults who still love superheroes. Oh, and no love triangles. Ever. The first book, Secret Origins, reached the #1 spot on two Amazon best-seller lists.

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot is my response to all the overly serious fantasy novels out there that have forgotten how to have fun. The series follows two hard-luck adventurers for hire with a knack for biting off more than they can chew and their friends as they explore ancient ruins, fight deadly monsters, go on epic prophecy-driven quests for artifacts of great power hidden in highly inconvenient locations, and cross a lot of rickety rope bridges along the way. The first book, Scratching a Lich, received a gold medal for fantasy fiction from BellaOnline, a resource for women in writing, which also recognizes feminist writers and their work.

Cheap Thrills Digest is a short story collection featuring introductions to my two series, plus an original novelette-length horror story, Lost Souls, which is exclusive to CTD. If you’re curious about my writing, you can grab this for just $6 in print or 99 cents in e-book format.

Copyright 2018 Tessa Beatrice/Underdog Comics

Freedom Winds is a mini-comic I wrote for Underdog Comics, and you can read it for free at any time here, here, or here.

 

 

Well-Behaved Women is an urban fantasy trilogy for feminist audiences. After returning to work following a near-fatal shooting, Sergeant Rose Booker encounters a woman claiming to be the reincarnation of Julie d’Aubigny, the infamous 17th Century French swordswoman. Things only get stranger from there as Rose and Julie cross paths with a crime boss with a knack for exacting bloody revenge on his enemies. This is more serious and mature than my other projects — not recommended for young readers. Book one, Awakening, is now available. Book two, Transition, was released in April 2019, and book three, Endgame, is set for a late 2019 release.

The Final Summons is the first anthology from the New England Speculative Writers. The collection features 14 fantasy, horror, and science fiction stories by NESW members, including my story The Going Rate for Penance, which is set in the world of Strongarm & Lightfoot.

What Will I See Here?

I post weekly updates that include progress reports on various projects, cover art reveals, new release announcements, a schedule of appearances and book-signings, the occasion essay on writing, and whatever random bits and pieces capture my attention.

Where Can You Find Me Online?

Official website

Weekly newsletter

Amazon author page

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