Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Writing Advice: Vanity Publishing

Many of you faithful readers of this blog know I’m both self-published and vanity-published. Fortunately, these venues worked for me—mainly because they were for very small niche markets and for primarily local readers. Now, however, I’m thinking bigger and pursuing commercial publication for my two latest works (a retold folktale and a middle-grade novel) and my current work-in-progress (a YA novel).

For my recently completed middle-grade novel, I know that an agent is the way to go if I want to see my work well-published. Recently, a top-notch agent, who’s made some good deals this year and who represents some talented clients, requested a full—based on my query and first two chapters. (She also requested an exclusive for a few weeks, so y’all keep your fingers crossed for me!)

How did I learn to write a good query? From attending writing conferences and workshops and from listening to experts. Chuck Sambuchino, who spoke to my writers group last July, recently posted his query-letter information on his “Breaking Down the Query Letter” on his Guide to Literary Agents blog. Agent Nathan Bransford also has some good query how-to information in his “Query Letter Mad Lib” entry on his blog.

But for those who aren’t willing to query an agent, who don’t do much research other than the ads in the back of writers’ magazines (Aarrggh!), or who think a publisher will snap up their book right away because it’s so wonderful—you need to be really, really careful. Too many scammers are out there. Remember how easily my (now-deceased) elderly mixed retriever was offered a contract from one of the biggest scam vanity publishers/author mills for his nonsensical pseudo-poetry?

If you’re considering an independent publisher or a small publishing house whose editor thinks your work is absolutely wonderful, do a bit of checking to make sure that the publisher is legit and not a vanity publisher in disguise. Here’s a checklist to help you.
This checklist recently appeared on the Flights of Fantasy blog. Thanks to the blogger, Marian Perera for giving other bloggers permission to re-post.
Ways to recognize a vanity press

Most authors these days know that paying to be published is a sure sign of vanity publication, where the only book that matters is the author's checkbook. So some vanity presses disguise what they are (e.g. by shifting fees to the back end) or come up with an array of reasons as to why it's necessary for an author to pay.

No matter how much smoke and mirrors are produced, though, there are several sure signs of a vanity press. If anything in the checklist applies, investigate further. Some of these are signs of amateur presses or inexperienced micro-publishers as well.

1. Fees

___ The publisher charges an upfront fee before the manuscript will be accepted
___ When questioned about this fee, the publisher responds that it is an investment or necessary contribution on the part of the author
___ The publisher charges for any other aspect of book production and marketing

2. Responsiveness

___ The publisher responds very quickly to manuscript submission, sometimes accepting the manuscript in under a week.

3. Types of manuscripts accepted from unpublished writers

___ Collections of poetry
___ Collections of short stories
___ Non-fiction from writers without a platform
___ Fiction of almost any length and all genres

4. Editing

___ Editing is minimal, often limited to a spellcheck
___ The author is given the option to have the book printed without editing
___ This is couched in positive terms such as the author having complete control over the process or the publisher not altering the author’s unique voice

5. Book covers

___ Authors are asked to write their own blurbs for the back covers. These do not receive editorial input

6. Reviews

___ The publisher does not send review copies out in advance of the book’s release
___ The publisher says it may send review copies out, provided reviewers request such copies
___ Authors routinely provide each other with positive feedback, which is accepted as a substitute for professional reviews

7. Sales of books

___ The publisher relies mostly or exclusively on POD
___ The publisher says that its distributors are Ingram and Baker & Taylor
___ The publisher assures authors that their books will be available on, Barnes and and the publisher’s own online store, and this is presented as an adequate substitute for bookstores
___ The publisher offers discounts to authors if they buy their own books, but does not offer the same or better discounts to bookstores.
___ The publisher encourages authors to buy their own books, especially in bulk

8. Staff

___ The publisher does not make the previous relevant experience of its staff available
___ The publisher provides full names and bios of the staff, but they have no industry experience listed
___ Authors work for the publisher, e.g. reading slush

9. Publisher claims and achievements

___ The publisher claims membership in organizations whose requirements have nothing to do with the way authors are treated, e.g. the BBB, Mensa, etc.
___ The publisher claims to have signed up the largest number of previously unpublished authors, but says little or nothing about the number of books sold
___ The publisher’s advertising is geared to authors, e.g. making their dreams come true
___ The publisher refers to itself and its authors as a family
___ When asked whether it is a vanity press, the publisher responds that it is a traditional publisher, self-publisher, subsidy publisher or co-investment publisher
Thanks again, Marian, for giving me permission to re-post this.

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Blogger CountryDew said...

Thanks for that.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Becky! That is great news! Oh, I hope she takes it on! I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Me, too. I'd really like to be represented by this agent. Meanwhile, I'm a couple of chapters into my next book—a YA.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

No one can say you're not prolific.

I still haven't gotten to Scott Loring Sanders' The Hanging Woods. Have you read The God of Animals? I LOVED it and it's got horses in it. It's a YA but like Sanders' novel, it's also for adults.

10:39 PM  

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