Guest Blogger – Melissa Bowersock on Vanity Publishing

Vanity Publishing

For those who don’t know, vanity publishing is the catch-all term used to describe the pay-to-publish industry.

In traditional publishing, a publisher reads an author’s book, likes it and if they think it will sell, then offers the author an advance on expected sales. They then publish and market the book. Over the last decade or so, advances have gotten smaller and smaller (unless you’re Stephen King or J. K. Rowling), but the fact remains that with traditional publishing, an author never pays up front for this service. Obviously, the publisher does not do that work for free; with their cut of royalties, they hope to meet the cost of the process and then, with luck, make some profit. You can tell by this arrangement that selling the book is in their (and the author’s) best interests.

Not so vanity publishing. With this sort of arrangement, the author pays the publisher up front for all the costs associated with publishing. This can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some of these processes are bare-bones: taking the book and formatting it, slapping a cookie-cutter cover on it and loading it onto Amazon. Other agreements can include all sorts of “expert” services that the novice writer might feel compelled to spring for: editing, custom cover design, extra promotional or marketing packages. Too often these extras are more a reflection of the newbie author’s lack of confidence than of the state of the book, and they can run into many more hundreds or thousands of dollars.

But the kicker with vanity publishing is not even that it can cost so much; it’s that once the author pays up front, the publisher has absolutely no incentive to sell the book whatsoever.

None.

money

Why should they? They’ve gotten their money. Oh, sure, their contract will have a royalty clause in it and they will definitely get their share of any books sold, but guess what? The book’s sales will likely be very low. The promotional and marketing plans may start and end with an online store on the company’s website, but who shops on Books-R-Us? Or they may spam the hell out of their Twitter followers and the author’s friends if the company has been glib enough to wheedle a list of friends from the writer. But taking the pains to promote a book to possible readers of that same genre? Not gonna happen.

But if vanity publishing is the same as pay-to-publish, we have to recognize one twist to this. PublishAmerica. This company proudly says it doesn’t want your money—and it doesn’t. Yet. They will take a book and publish it for no upfront cost whatsoever (unless you want to spring for some of their “expert” services). The kicker here is two-fold. They price the book three times higher than it should be, and they market almost exclusively to … the author. Yes, you read that right. Beyond their online store and an Amazon presence, their marketing plan is very simple: offer the author a “discount” on their own books (now only twice as much as they should be), and offer it repeatedly and often. Any author who signs with them can plan on getting bi-weekly and tri-weekly e-mails touting these “sales” because who will pay $24.95 for a 200-page book?

not going to happen

So, what’s an author to do?

There are three ways you can go.

  • Traditional publishing. This means researching publishers for a good fit and sending off query letters or getting an agent who will do that for you. This includes both big publishing houses and small presses.
  • Vanity publishing. This means paying, often through the nose, for an uninspired version of your dream only to have it disrespected because of the publisher’s reputation.
  • Self-publish. This means doing all the work yourself (or hiring it out), but creating the exact book that you imagine. You can do this for as little as about $10 if you’re savvy on the computer.

Whichever way you go, do your homework. Research. Check the online forums on LinkedIn and Goodreads. Mine the nuggets of information in the archives of IndiesUnlimited. Check Predators and Editors. There are a zillion options out there, some very good but some very bad. Arm yourself with as much information as you can and find the best fit for you and your book.

After all, it’s your dream. Don’t waste it on scammers.

hifive selfie

Melissa Bowersock

Author of Queen’s Gold

Featured Author – Melissa Bowersock

e-me2-24-13-leanToday Melissa Bowersock is my guest. She will tell us some about her, writing, and her books.

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for stopping by to answer a few questions of mine. I’m curious about the person behind the author, so I’d like to start with some personal questions if that’s okay with you?

Absolutely. At least then you’ll know I’m not a robot.

Okay! 🙂 Let’s not waste any time then and tell us, given the choice, would you rather live in the desert, or on a mountain?

Tough question. I have lived at both kinds of locations (Flagstaff, AZ at 6,000 feet; Tucson, AZ in the Sonoran desert) and both have their good and bad qualities. I have always tended to run cold, so when I’m in a cold location, I’m REALLY cold. Plus, I love being outside and I find that the cold, rain and snow in a mountain location curtail that more than the heat of the summer. All things considered, I guess I have to say desert. The desert has a rare beauty that not everyone enjoys, which is fine by me, since I love solitude.

I know you have a dog, but do you take long walks with it or is it more of a general companion, or even a guard dog? What I’m really asking is do you like the great outdoors, or are you more a comfy indoor type of woman?

As I said above, I love being outdoors; I have to have that connection in my life. My favorite places on the planet are the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, just because of the overwhelming open space and beauty. I have always considered those wild, desolate places to be my cathedrals. Comfort indoors has its advantages, but nothing beats standing on high ground watching a thunderstorm approach or facing into a strong, wild wind. That’s pure bliss to me.

As for dogs, they are heartfelt companions, teachers, and friends. As far as I am concerned, dogs are the embodiment of all the qualities we humans would do well to emulate: loving, trusting, loyal, long-suffering, playful and intelligent. Having a close connection with a dog is unlike any other relationship we humans can have, and anyone who has never experienced that has no idea what riches they are missing.

dog-watching-tv-o

There has been a mention of an award; which award and why, when did you win? And how did that make you feel?

med-Marciacover-frontMy first non-fiction book, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan, was awarded a medal for biography by the Military Writers Society of America last year. This is the story of my aunt, who was an Army nurse and prisoner-of-war during WWII. It was extremely gratifying to have the book recognized in such a way, especially since the MWSA gets tons of entries for its book awards every year. On the heels of this, I was asked by a TV producer in Madison, WI (my aunt was from WI) if they could feature my book in a documentary on the military history of Wisconsin, another unexpected honor. And just this year, the book was awarded an honorable mention by the Great Midwest Book Festival. This book was a very personal labor of love and I wrote it less for the general public than as a tribute to my aunt, so I’ve been very pleased that it’s touched so many people.

That wasn’t too bad, or was it?

Not bad at all. We writers tend to live in our heads, and our stories can be very real to us but may not connect with the public. It’s always gratifying when we see that our readers “get” our stories; makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Since you’ve come here to talk about your work, can you tell us the title of the book you would like to talk about?

My latest book is Stone’s Ghost, a modern ghost story. It’s not the scary, horror type, but a rather gentle story about love and loss and friendship, mistakes and their consequences, and redemption. Matthew Stone, the main character, becomes friends with a female ghost who haunts the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and their friendship becomes the bond and the means by which they each confront and deal with their own inner demons.

x-StonesGhost-final

AMAZON

Did you have difficulty coming up with this title?

I did, actually. I didn’t have any ideas for the title until I got very close to the end of the book. I actually had a different last name for Matt, but finally decided that Stone was very fitting for him, as well as echoing the stone in the old bridge. The title alludes to the fact that Janie, the ghost, belongs to Matt as well as the bridge.

If you would have to change the genre in order to be able to publish it, what would it be then? i.e. would you conform to the market?

I was disappointed in Amazon when I set the categories for Stone’s Ghost as fiction, ghost (I can only choose 2 categories). When the book comes up, the string of categories read out as literature & fiction> genre fiction> horror> then ghosts. Needless to say, that’s not a good fit for my book. I would much rather see it as literature & fiction> paranormal> ghosts. I don’t want to class it as a paranormal romance, since the romance is not between Matt and Janie and I don’t want to give my readers unrealistic expectations. Categorizing the book in the right genre is important to reach the readers, but it can be a tough call if the book spans genres or doesn’t follow the prescribed notion of a certain genre. I would only consider changing the genre if it was still a good fit; my goal is to market it in such a way that the reader has a good understanding of what the story’s about so they don’t come into it with expectations that don’t match up. I don’t think there’s anything worse that starting a new book with high hopes, only to find out the story isn’t what you thought it was going to be.

You are so right about that! And it is tough to find to right genres on the Amazon store, but I take your answer to mean you wouldn’t rewrite either to make it fit into a popular genre.

Can you tell me how you celebrate finally getting that tricky chapter (or para) right?

In this particular book, it wasn’t a chapter or a paragraph, but the ending. No pressure, right? I had an ending in mind from the start, and I actually thought it was a good wrap-up to the whole story, but when I got to the end, it didn’t sit right. I had to stew on it for a while and then delete the very last bit, go back a couple pages and re-read and then let the ending flow out of that instead of trying to twist the story around to meet my original ending. When I wrote it out, I knew it was working and I knew it was perfect—and it wasn’t like anything I had planned. But when something fits like that, you can feel it; it’s like that sigh, that very contented exhale of breath after you’ve watched an extremely satisfying movie or closed the cover on an excellent book. The only thing I did to celebrate was tell some Facebook friends in a very tight-knit writers’ group, because I knew they would understand exactly what I was talking about.

What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?

I do everything I can to get my name and my books out there for the public to see. I blog several times a month and am a regular contributor to Indies Unlimited, which means I get frequent coverage there. I submit my books for review at popular review sites, and I ask for author interviews (like this) whenever possible. I run 99-cent specials on my e-books on notable occasions (a new book launch, my birthday, etc.) and will even do a free promo from time to time. I appear at local book festivals, accept speaking engagements at libraries or book clubs, and of course am active on Facebook and Twitter. All of this helps to keep my name out there, but I would say the biggest buzz is generated by the review sites. Many of these are major influencers, so getting a mention there is gold.

Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?

Food always comes up in books, but there’s nothing I use with any consistency. In life, yes—I have distinct favorites. I love Mexican food and could easily eat it three or four or five nights a week. My mainstay while writing is jawbreakers. I have to be careful and measure them out, though, because it’s easy while writing to just keep popping them into my mouth until they’re gone.

What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?

enchiladas

Picture from Better Home&Garden

The best dish I make is pork enchiladas. I cook the pork in the crock pot with spices, then shred it when it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender. The aroma from the crock pot fills the house all day long and is to die for. Yes, I can give you the recipe.

Please do and let us all enjoy those delish enchiladas!

Would you be able to come up with a credible excuse why you haven’t written a whole day? Remember, I have to believe it!

Easy. Sometimes it’s way harder to get down to writing than it should be. I like to know that I’m going to have a good block of uninterrupted time, as I really immerse myself in my writing, so if I don’t have that, it’s easier to do smaller, less time-consuming things like reading the latest blogs, writing my own posts or guest posts or querying for reviews or interviews. Readers might think that once you’ve finished a book and published it, that you move on the next story (true enough), but the fact is, I keep getting hauled back to the last book, or the one before, for some promotional aspect. Writers today have to divide their time between creating and marketing, but it’s always a balancing act to figure out how much to spend on each.

Okay now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cats, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something no one has ever heard before from you. (hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

Going back to the subject of being outdoors, my love and fascination with nature’s power can get me in trouble. I love thunderstorms, love lightning, love tornadoes and have a yen to experience all that in the closest possible way. Years ago when my husband and I were camping at Lake Powell on our boat, a thunderstorm came up with massive amounts of lightning. We had a portable (but bulky) VCR unit and camera (this was waaaay before camcorders) and I was determined to get some good video of the lightning. I convinced my husband (usually a much more rational man) to haul all our gear up to the top of nearby ridge so we could film the lightning. As the storm got closer and closer, of course, it became very obvious that we were not in the safest location, being the tallest things on that ridge. Devoted man that he is, though, he stayed beside me until the rain started pelting us and then we both ran back to the boat. I think he still has nightmares about that. I, on the other hand, find myself energized by that kind of power. There’s a part of me that would like to be struck by lightning so I can fully experience it, but of course the rational part of my brain knows that it can do great and lasting damage to the body. It’s probably better that I keep that an unrealized fantasy and just imagine what an epiphany that would be. 

Thank you very much for being here Melissa. Do come back when you feel like it. You’ll always have a home here. 🙂

How’s Your Gas Mileage? How To Be a Hybrid Author by Melissa Bowersock

It used to be that there was one path an author could follow to publication: find an agent, pitch your manuscript to a traditional publishing house, sign a contract, and get published. Pretty straight-forward, much like buying a car. You narrowed down your choices by style of car, color and options, you bought the thing, and drove it off the lot.

Easy, huh?

Not anymore. Now we’ve got a zillion options for powering a car: regular gas, diesel, electric, hybrid, flex fuel. Having these options is a two-edged sword: we have lots to choose from, but the decision-making process gets a bit tougher because we need to research all the options to know which one is the best fit.

Publishing is much the same. That one avenue to publication has turned into a superhighway complete with onramps, off-ramps, overpasses, bypasses and cloverleafs. It’s sometimes hard to know which is the right way to go.

I got into the game back in the 1980s when that one clear path was the only way to go. Through an agent, I sold my first two books to a NY house and was *ta da* traditionally published. All well and good, although the experience was not quite the joyful satisfaction I had dreamed about. The publisher changed the titles of both books, chose the cover designs, and the only editing process consisted of asking me to either add or delete x number of pages in order to make the page count. But, true to their word, the books were published, they appeared in book stores, grocery stores and drug stores and I made a little money.

making money

Enter the 90s, and the rules started to change. The traditional big houses got more and more gunshy; they were less inclined to gamble on a new, or little-known name. The good news was that the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well, and small presses were springing up like weeds to take up the slack. Or rather, they were making tracks in the weeds, carving out their own dirt roads to the promised land. Suddenly there were a few more options for authors, although some of those dirt roads were bumpy and some took longer and more convoluted paths to get where the author wanted to go.

where

Breaking into new genres my original publisher had no interest in, I hooked up with a few of those small presses. One contracted with me to do only an e-book of my satire of romance novels. Another picked up a contemporary romance and did both a paperback and a Kindle version.

Then I learned about CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing company, in the mid-2000s and decided to give it a go. The first time through the process had a steep learning curve. Formatting the book to the finished size with chapter headings, page numbers, and headers, creating the cover, uploading the files and then proofing the final product were all huge steps, and I did quite a dance around my mistakes before I broke through to the finish line. But in the end, I did it—I self-published my first book. And it looked good.

happy

Next challenge was converting the book for Kindle. Again, there was a learning curve, but after the formatting experience I’d already been through, it wasn’t that difficult. Now I was an e-book publisher, as well. Reading through several of the writers’ forums online, I heard about Smashwords, an independent e-book publisher that would provide digital formats for all the other e-readers out there beside Kindle. More learning curves, but I followed their extensive guidelines, plowed through it and converted most of my books for all readers. I had all the options covered.

And that’s the best part about being a hybrid author. When you buy a car, you’re pretty much stuck with that engine system, be it gas, diesel, electric or some combination thereof. But as authors, we have a plethora of choices to choose from—one, two, or all of the above. We can keep going the traditional route or we can branch off into any of multiple directions dependent on how much time, effort and money we are comfortable putting into it. If we have multiple books, we can publish each in a separate manner. If we have only one book, we can still divide the print and digital versions into separate processes. The opportunities and the combinations are unlimited, and many authors are mixing and matching as their wants and needs dictate.

What’s the best way for you to go? Do your homework, research the options and choose the path that fits. Don’t limit yourself to old school thinking; find the option that gets the best mileage for your work, and kick that engine into overdrive!