Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Respect Your Work

“Should I pay to be published?”
Not a week goes by when I don’t bump into some variation of this question. I’m newly baffled by it because, for some reason, it was one I never asked. I think I respected my work even when others didn't seem to.
Paying never occurred to me. I was ready to go to my grave unpublished. As it is, I am ready to go there (though not for sometime, I hope) un-lauded or never to be published again. I’m ready to never have this-that-and-the-other rather than pay someone to please, pretty please, let-me-work-for-you-and-I’ll-even-pay-you.
That’s what vanity/subsidy/co-op publishing is in fact doing. Whatever the Mot Du Jour these operations use, whatever slick terms they couch it in, this is what a writer does when engaging with them. Writers then pay someone for the opportunity to work for them.
I had plenty such opportunities. I unwittingly submitted to publishers who appeared traditional, and was offered such contracts. They use language like “we invest in your book as much as you will,” and “we like our authors to take part in every aspect of the process.”
Well, I have invested in my work. I've invested time, sweat and tears. I have taken part of the process at every turn when my (traditional) publishers asked me. But money?
Money flows from publisher to author, not the other way. Period.
The other day a writer, who was about to sign with a large press, asked if paying four-hundred dollars for editorial fees was on par with the market. A few months ago another writer told me her small publisher asks only for one-hundred dollars to have her picture book set for a print edition. Doesn't that sound reasonable?
Not to me.
 I should add here that there is a difference between self-publishing and paying a vanity publisher. Not all "paying" is created equal.
True self-publishing is a courageous decision to go it alone and be your own publisher.
I’m not courageous enough, so this also isn't for me.
There are good reasons to undertake this. Writers sometime want control of every aspect of their work including the design, title, editorial decisions, cover, and more. These fall into the publisher’s court in a traditional arrangement. True- many self-published, (who now use the term “Indie” for Independent, which used to mean small but traditional publishers) have grown weary and despondent of ever seeing their work in print through the traditional routes. But some have been well-published traditionally and are looking for more control.
The most admirable to my thinking are the self-published who have always dreamed of starting a small press and of being publishers, and so they start with their own books. Many publishing houses had their origins in such an endeavor. Assembling a team that includes an editor, a designer, a marketing person and so on, and you've got the start of a small publishing house. Good luck to you, because you will need it.
So back to paying a publisher for “services”-
Respect your work. You are the creative genesis of the business. You are the alpha and the omega. You may get paid a lot or- more likely- not a lot. But you get paid. The business can and will do without many of its traditional operators, but never without writers. We are the real deal. I wouldn't take any other.


  1. Oh, Mirka, we DO think alike. My husband came home one day, having been told about self publishing from a friend and was eager to offer me this option for my work, as though I had never heard of it. But for me, this has never been an option. Like you, I'm holding out for a traditional publishing experience. And if it never happens, so be it.

  2. This topic always draws my attention. I don't agree with using vanity presses that require authors to pay high dollars for subjective services while signing over rights and losing creative control, etc. However, just because I don't believe in it doesn't mean someone else doesn't find the service valuable.

    Some people have ideas but no technical skill to carry them through. Or maybe they don't have the time or the inclination to wait out the long traditional publishing process of submitting and waiting and (hopefully, eventually) signing and then waiting and then editing and then waiting. So they'll choose to pour money into it to see their book published. Same as if they hire a high priced handyman to install flooring or go to a high priced specialty appliance store instead of Home Depot. There are choices to fit each need or skill set (or lack there of) in all aspects of our lives.

    As long as you research your choices and are happy with the one you finally make I say "Do what you need to."

    1. I understand what you are saying, Kai. I made a distinction ^ between paying to be published by hiring out different aspects of book production and distribution, thus becoming a small publisher and managing the production team. The latter actually requires more guts than waiting for someone to give you a contract.
      But your handyman analogy only applies to self-publishing, which as I pointed out, is the genesis of many publishers. Vanity publishing is more like you paying someone to work fixing their own house, or may I say- toilet…
      And, yes, the lines are not perfectly delineated. (Simon & Schuster officially joined Vanity with one of their imprints, asking between ten and twenty thousand dollars for each book a writer will contract with them to publish.)

  3. "They use language like “we invest in your book as much as you will,” and “we like our authors to take part in every aspect of the process.” "

    I have to caution my students all the time when they share amazing publisher stories like the above with me. The money flows to you, I remind them.

    I have toyed with the idea of self-publishing, but given my introverted personality, I don't think I could wear all the hats it takes to make a book successful, even the niche ones. Nope, I'm praying the right agent and editor will help me get to the next level.


  4. A short time ago, I'd have said I'd never self-publish unless it was a speciality, non-fiction book.

    I still wouldn't self-publish a novel. However, I would now self-publish novelettes or short stories from the same world as one of my novels. It's becoming a more common form of promotion.

    I am fearful that the self-publishing boom has made it easier for vanity presses to trick people into going with them.

  5. RE above comment:

    "I am fearful that the self-publishing boom has made it easier for vanity presses to trick people into going with them."

    That is just what is happening! As a result, the lines are blurred between all the publishing options and companies out there now. But if writers get online and research thoroughly (not just look at the publisher that come up when you Google "publisher" because you'll get Tate and PublishAmerica, two of the absolute worst offenders).

    I heard someone say once to check out the publisher's website and if they're trying to sell themselves to writers then watch out. They should be focusing on the books published, not on all they can do for you if you sign on the dotted line.

    I had to smile at your description of the small press you like-- pretty much a description of WiDo haha! We practiced on Farm Girl, and then expanded from there, until now I'm addicted to producing books, and not just my own. In fact I hardly have time anymore to write my own stuff. I guess why I'm doing the recipe book-- not as time intensive as a novel.

    Sorry for the long comment, Mirka, nearly as long as your post but not as well-written :)

    1. WiDo Publishing is just the sort of house that in inhabited by book lovers, respects their writers, and does not make a cent by charging authors. It's a small traditional publisher. You can be proud of it, Karen.

  6. I can understand self-publishers paying editors to edit their books before they publish. That's smart. But paying someone to publish your book doesn't sound like a good option to me.

  7. It's interesting to hear everybody's views. I think it's cool that with all the new technology there are so many more options these days for writers. There used to be just the vanity publishers and traditional publishers, but now people can self-publish both ebooks and paperback books fairly inexpensively. A member of my local children's writers group has been doing some with ebooks, and the rest of us are following his experiences with interest. In another mixed genre group I attend, at least five writers have self-published paperbacks and some of them have published several of them.

    And then I think it's especially great when I receive a hardcover 'picture book' of my grandson's first 6 months of life! I love it that that technology is available. :) But I know that's off-track what you're trying to say here, Mirka.

    1. Self-publishing is honorable and challenging, I feel. Vanity presses are another matter.