Publishers and Vanity Presses – The Proper Direction of Cash Flow

**Note to Readers: In honor of National Novel Writing month, I want to write a series of interludes on important lessons I've learned from best-selling authors and other industry professionals. I hope that your find this information as interesting and informative as I have in the past. Don’t worry, however. In December, things around here will return to normal as I continue In Brief Sequence 05: Archetypes and Tropes: Exceeding Reader Expectation.**

Recently, an independently published author polled a discussion group for much we spend to have our works published. She had given upwards of $16,000 to a vanity press to produce her first book and was concerned that she wasn’t making her money back. Unfortunately, hers isn’t a unique story. Even with all the changes in publishing, money should always flow towards the author.

Author: The individual who created an intellectual property, and sells a license of rights to produce and distribute the work in exchange for a fee upfront and future royalties on profits.

Publisher: The individual or organization who is buying a license of rights to the intellectual property and is taking on the risk of creating and distributing a finished product. Publishing houses are organizations that maintain a staff to perform the multitude of tasks that transform a manuscript into a finished product (editors of various flavors, typesetters, cover artists, printers, marketing, distribution staff, etc). They collect profits and pay the author a percentage (in royalties) as defined in the publishing contract.

However, the lines between publisher and author have blurred a bit recently. The independently published author is BOTH creator and producer, and therefore takes on all the risk, financial responsibility, and operational tasks of the publisher. However, we live in an increasingly specialized society, so most authors do not have the skills to produce the book, nor the distance to properly edit the manuscript without help. Because of this, there is a rapidly growing industry of independent editors, proof readers, cover artists, typesetters, and other professionals focused on providing these services to author-publishers.

Economically, it was only a matter of time until someone started a company to provide all these services under one roof. Though a seemingly sound concept, vanity presses have a bad reputation for two main reasons. First, publishers are investing money and taking on risk against the future profits of the book. Their investment is their incentive to do a good job. Vanity presses do not have skin in the game. They seek to complete their contracts as quickly and cheaply as possible. Second, vanity presses tend to be significantly more expensive than managing the work yourself. Depending on the quality of the work, a manuscript can be ready as both an eBook and print book for one, maybe two thousand dollars. Total. Even at that lower price point, it will take a new author’s book a long time to buy out the investment, if it ever does.

As an author-businessperson, it is essential to think about your manuscript as an asset. Though takes money to develop assets for sale on the market, it is essential to know what you are buying when shopping for services. Have a budget, take the time to educate yourself on the inner workings of the business, and be honest with yourself if you have the time, expertise, and connections to transform your manuscript into a market ready book.


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