NINC Responds to Disturbing Publishing Development

- by BlogMistress

A message from the Board:

Vanity publishing is not new, although the Internet has become a lucrative feeding ground for vanity publishers. Presented with enough enthusiastic jargon and color graphics, a hopeful author might well be convinced that he has stumbled upon a fantastic new way of bringing his stories, his voice, to the reading public.

Alas, the truth is that vanity publishing is still the same old opportunistic hag dressed up in new clothing, with the added flash and dash of savvy marketing. It still exists to part dreamers from their money, with very little hope of return. The dangled bait never changes, the creatively couched language suggesting that all these good things “could, may, might possibly, perhaps” happen for you if you choose one from column A and two from Column B on their à la carte menu of pricey services.

There is now a new, deeply disturbing twist being applied to this age-old money grab. Publishers with brand names, currently enjoying respectable reputations within the industry and with the reading public, are putting both on the chopping block in order to get a share of the vanity publishing market.

It takes years to build a respected name and reputation in this industry. Losing that respect happens much more quickly, sometimes overnight.

No authors’ organization can prevent a publisher from setting up a vanity publishing division. Writers’ organizations can, however, speak firmly and clearly about the sort of egregious business practices that reflect badly on our entire industry.

Ninc strongly advocates that any and all publishing houses that now operate or are in the planning stages of creating vanity publishing arms do so ethically and responsibly, while adhering to accepted standards of full disclosure. This includes not using the same or a similar name for the vanity division of their royalty-paying publishing house.

Ninc further strongly advocates that these houses either cease and desist or do not institute the practice of steering hopeful writers who are rejected by the royalty-paying divisions of their companies into the open arms of their vanity publishing offshoot.

To do otherwise demeans the publisher’s brand and robs credibility from every one of its conventional, contracted authors.

For Those Considering Vanity Publishing

Novelists, Inc. (Ninc) is an international organization devoted to the needs of multi-published authors of novel-length popular fiction. Ninc has no unpublished members; all are experienced, savvy, and educated in the various perils and pitfalls that await the unwary writer in search of an audience.

So why is Ninc addressing the subject of vanity publishing? That’s simple. We care about writers. All writers. And we care equally for their audiences, the book buying public.

Vanity publishing, by definition, involves bringing together a writer eager to have his work in print and a company eager to charge that writer for printing the copies. Vanity publishers don’t care if the book is good or bad. Vanity publishers will print anything the writer will pay them to print. Quality and sales potential of the work are not priorities; in fact, they aren’t considered at all.

Ninc’s advice to hopeful authors remains what it has always been: work hard, learn your craft, and network with other writers to share knowledge and information. And remember, if an offer to publish your previously rejected novel and thus become a “real author” by handing over a check sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.


As long as there are people desperate to be published, vanity publishers will exist, and profit-motive companies, no matter the size or prior reputation, may at some point decide that if a starry-eyed dreamer and his money are soon to be parted, why not hold out a hand for their share. All Ninc and other professional writers’ organizations and consumer advocates can do, and thankfully are doing, is to educate people on the subject of vanity publishing. Please, before you open your wallet, take some time to open your eyes. Here are some places to begin educating yourself: Illustrators/displayPage.asp?PageTitle=An Easy Way to Lose Money


  1. Indeed.

    Publishers make their profits by selling books to readers.

    Whereas a vanity press makes all its profits by marketing “services” to aspiring writers.

    At its very BEST, a vanity press empties the pockets of aspiring writers on utterly useless expenditures. And as its worst… well, see the extremely distressing anecdotes and the court cases discussed at Writer Beware.

  2. I am not going to defend Harlequin or Thomas Nelson but just describe what these new imprints are about. They are not Vanity Publishers because such would mean they send you thousands of unwanted books to your garage and you sell them even though they keep 50% or so of royalty. They are not Self-Publishers because that would mean you do everything, and I mean everything yourself but you get to keep, obviously, 100% of the royalty. People have tagged them as Self-Pub for convenience. But they are ASSISTED publishing, which means you ask them, in the basic package, to publish your book, exactly the way you want it, or seek advice if you want a second opinion. They then have a distribution system in which you as the author like in traditional publishing, if you have any sense, will aid to sponsor your own book since putting a book on a shelf doesn’t mean it sells. You get 20% of the royalty for soft copies. With traditional publishers you get more or less 5% of which 15% is given to your agent- who has done what? Given you access to a publisher, changed your book round so much because obviously you are not the expert that an ASSISTED publishing author is otherwise you would take the responsibility of investing in your book with real money.

    The way I see it is that such publishers cannot publish in the traditional manner, give out advances that are not earned out and survive. The problem is indeed that traditional authors expect to have their book published, get a big advance, and if it doesn’t earn out hard luck for the publisher- they have to take risks. Well not anymore- you pay, and it’s only a partial amount, for the cost involved so your book is published and what replaces your advance is the increased royalty percentage, so no one loses out. I don’t see any unfairness in that at all, it’s what they have been doing in most countries, except the UK, for decades.

    You pay, only a partial amount, for the cost involved for publication in Assisted Publishing. The Agent Rachelle Gardner has given a detailed breakdown of cost involved in the publication of a book in Trade Paper which comes to $58,000 and Hard Back is $90,000. See her blog here: As you probably know, Harlequin asks for $600 and CrossBow $1,000 for a basic package. So, perhaps now you can appreciate why I don’t think it is possible that Assisted Publishing is there to make money off writers. They are there to give an unprecedented, excellent opportunity to writers who have no access to publishers because agents have denied them that access as judging such authors not fit for publication. Finally, publishing houses are opening up the doors to us, as most agents define us, SECOND CLASS authors. And I for one, thank them.

  3. Both of you make perfect arguements for each side. I am neutral on this as I have yet to publish a book either way. I am intrigued though by Westbow, but it really just boils down to how we as authors perceive our opportunities and how much time and/or money we are willing to invest in our works. As a wise person once said, “It is what it is.”

  4. WHOA.

    I kept wondering, with all the good information available to aspiring writers these days, is there even anyone left out there who’d fall for the familiar old vanity-press line that Harlequin Horizons is a “publishing opportunity” rather than what it actually is, a scam intended to empty the pockets of a desperate aspiring writer?

    And the answer is right here: Two people with access to this blog, and presumably other good information, who nonetheless persist in seeing vanity/subsidy swindles as “publishing opportunities.”

    I’m wasting my time in saying this, but conscience leads me to say it even so: Please pause to seriously consider the fact that the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers of America, Novelists Inc., the Romance Writers of America, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Writer Beware, and Sisters In Crime–all info and advocacy groups for writers–have all come out with statements condemning this new vanity/subsidy venture and explaining why Harlequin Horizons is NOT a publishing opportunity, let alone a “new kind” of publishing venture, but rather a same-old same-old attempt to empty the pockets of gullible aspiring writers.

  5. If you can offer another CHOICE to what I’ve mentioned above, I’d be happy to hear you out. If agents don’t want us- what is an author to do? An author has NO choice without an agent- that is why if the influence of an agent is curtailed- the chances of some SECOND CLASS authors to shine become a reality. I have yet to deal with an agent who is OPEN to us SECOND CLASS authors- perhaps some exist, but none have been on my path- and I’ve dealt with more agents than I have seen Sunday dinners. I think Assisted publishing like WestBow is an unprecedented, excellent opportunity for us, often categorized by the rest of the writing community as gullible “second class”, “inferior fodder” of the writing industry. I’m sorry that so many authors, agents and writers’ associations on the net are unable to see that, insult and object aggressively to me trying to find a different route to success- that’s not nice at all, from one author to another.

  6. But there are publishers who accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. Harlequin is one, although there will be some people who don’t want to submit to them now because of Horizons. Off the top of my head, I know Baen accepts unsolicited manuscripts, and I’m sure there are other SF/fantasy/romance/etc. presses who do the same. It can still be hard to get into these publishers, but that’s because so many other people are submitting to them. (That’s why some people would still rather get an agent. And that can work as long as the agent is reputable.)

    Also, if you write romance or paranormal, what about reputable e-book publishers such as Samhain, Elloras Cave, etc.? Contrary to popular belief, some of those publishers do accept non-romances, depending on what they are buying at the time. Those are respectable publishing credits — unlike vanity presses.

    The important thing is that writers must do their research. Tragically, I’ve seen authors spend years writing a book, and minutes researching the publishing. Read blogs like this or sites like Writer Beware. Read magazines like Publishers Weekly or genre-specific magazines like Locus. Join a group like RWA (you don’t have to be a romance author to join). And don’t accept everything you hear from naysayers who tell you that the big publishers are against you. Some of the people who tell you that don’t know any better, but some of them have their own agenda. They want to make you so certain that you will never get accepted that you would rather give them your money to get published.

  7. I don’t write romance, and none of the other publishers want to know without an agent- Really! Well, thanks for trying to help, anyway. But please don’t try to spoil my only chances of being published in a reputable way by spreading half truths about the Assisted Publishing business and try to degrade it, which is not true at all. Thank you.

  8. Baen is not a romance publisher — Baen is an SF publisher. Really, Baen does accept unagented manuscripts. I’m pretty sure Tor accepts unagented manuscripts, too. Yes, it takes ages to get your manuscript read, but please don’t tell people that all publishers require agents. Agents do make it a lot easier, of course, but there are still unagented authors getting published with big publishers.

    When people try to get the word out, they are not trying to spoil any one’s dreams or chances. They are asking them to put the breaks on and understand what the risks and rewards are before they end up paying a big bill and getting no distribution. I’m not degrading “assisted publishing” when I try to warn authors of the pitfalls. The phrase isn’t even an industry standard — it was invented by the companies that sell these services.

  9. Sorry, I don’t write SF either. I write in two two different categories and publishers in these genres require you to be represented by an agent. As I am getting quite on in life, and I have tried for years to be published I refuse to die without being published- but as I am in no hurry to die, I still have time- I’m just sorry that you think publishers like Thomas Nelson have no integrity or that they make statements that are a pack of lies- well really, I hardly think that is so.

  10. Apologies, I should correct that last sentence to read:

    I’m just sorry that YOUR Fellow AUTHORS and WRITERS’ Association think publishers like Thomas Nelson have no integrity or that they make statements that are a pack of lies- well really, I hardly think that is so.
    Leave a Reply

  11. Eva, the fact is that you’re exactly the reason that these vanity presses stay in business. And it is VANITY. You’re admittedly desperate to be published. Have you considered the fact that perhaps agents don’t want your work because it’s not good enough? Because it doesn’t have commercial appeal? Have you tried small presses? Because there are many, MANY small presses that accept quality work without an agent–work that might not be commercial. But if you are writing commercial fiction (no matter the genre) and you can’t find an agent or a publisher in the traditional sense, then the problem might not be with publishing.

    I can’t understand how professional writers in five major writing organizations (RWA, MWA, SFWA, NINC and HWA) can all agree on something–these are people who are actually making money doing what you want to do–and you call them all liars.

    Are they telling you what you want to hear? No. Because that would hurt. But they are telling you the truth, even if you refuse to listen.

  12. Eva, most of us start out with a dream of becoming published writers. We have the same strong desire to succeed as those who fall for vanity press scams. But those of us who do succeed accept the reality that what we write may not be good enough…yet. Rejection sends us back to the drawing board.

    I watched a close friend through this process in the years after his wife died. He wrote a book that I thought was pretty darn good for a novice. Sent it to an agent. Agent hated it. Wrote another book. Sent it to the agent…agent hated it a little less. This went on for book after book. My friend didn’t like the criticisms he got–he wanted (as much as anyone else) to be told he’d written a wonderful book the first time and every time since. But he didn’t cling to the fantasy that he was a genius not being appreciated. He went back to work–revising one, writing another.

    He just made his first fiction sale. His publisher is enthusiastic about his work and wants more. The check cleared the bank. And it happened because instead of lashing out at those who criticized him, he chose to learn from what they said.

    Most successful writers have been rejected multiple times. We all continue to get criticism from editors and agents. The ability to take that criticism and think it over and then get better–fix the problems, avoid making the same ones again–defines the professional writer.

    Personally, I hate the need for that. I want to be drenched in nothing but praise. Millions of people bowing down to my genius would suit me just fine. Every reader who ever picked up my books swooning in ecstasy: yes, right, absolutely.

    But the reality is otherwise. My first stories didn’t sell because they were lousy, not because someone was trying to keep new talent out of the system. The book rejections were the result of editors’ belief that such books would not sell. When my agent or editor tells me that a passage stinks…it stinks.

    If you asked someone who drove regularly from Chicago to Denver what the best route was…would you then listen to someone who told you to go to Miami first? Would you call the person who had actually gone where you want to go–many times–a liar? Or even mistaken? If you really want to get your books into the stores–if you really want to have a chance to be a bestseller–then listen to the people who have done it. Not the guy with a chain of truckstops on the road to Miami, who’s expecting to sell you gas, food, and candy all the way down to someplace you didn’t want to be.

  13. Eva,

    I don’t have an agent, either. I didn’t have one for the first five years of my career, I haven’t had one for the past 3 years of my career. During those combined 8 years, I made many sales. During the years that I had an agent, I also actually made a number of my sales myself.

    However, working without an agent does require a good business head and the ability to research publishers. Without wishing to sound rude, someone who views a vanity scam as a publishing “opportunity” probabyl does need a good agent to advise her on business matters–but please be wary, as there are a lot of bad agents out there who are simply incompetent, as well as quite a few scam agents who will deliberately steer you into vanity presses in which they have a financial interest. See Writer Beware and Preditors-and-Editors for more information. Only a legitimate agent who knows his job will be able to assist you, and to find such a person, you WILL have to educate yourself about the business and do sufficient research.

  14. I’ve admitted repeatedly that my work is considered as the inferior fodder of the writing industry but that’s no guarantee that what is published is good, excellent writing.
    “Bad” writing can become extremely successful with the right pushing. For example:

    “Your grandfather gave you the key, but failed to give you the account number?”

    If I wrote anything near such a phrase, what would you say? You’d say that such simpleton repetition is insulting your intelligence, would you not? What about this:

    “Jacques Saunière is dead?” he demanded, his eyes filling with horror. “But… How?!”

    It’s so melo-dramatic it makes you want to laugh- but it’s not a joke- in fact it’s quite tragic that this is acclaimed as the crème de crème of English literature. And I am not, by any means, the first to make such annotations on the book. Oh yes, the book: all from the same page of The Da Vinci Code.

    What is also true is that some fantastic authors, authors that can really contribute to the literary heritage of a nation are barred from access to publishers by passing them by, so basically the public is inundated with a lot of pulp that will sell because that has been decreed it will sell at the expense of worthwhile literature that can satisfy the heart of man more than the cheap thrills that are made available.

    Guess, you prefer publishers pack their bags and fold up rather than let them make money from authors who openly acclaim to be the inferior fodder of the writing industry and want to offer a better choice to readers. Yes, very supportive of you all.

  15. Ah, I get it now. Quote the DaVinci Code as bad writing…we know what camp you’re in now, Eva. You go ahead and vanity publish. This sort of venture has been dreamed up just for you, as I said before.

    I’m not going to argue over the merits of the writing in the DaVinci Code because clearly, the MILLIONS of people who read this book and ADORED it are wrong. You can rest assured that when you vanity publish, none of those MILLIONS of people will read your book.

  16. My books are not aimed at such audiences.

  17. Right, your books are ART. We get it now. Duly noted. The rest of the unwashed masses will continue to read books that entertain, written by authors who respect their readership–unlike you, who think you’re better than the vast majority of readers–because “such audiences” are the ones that make books a part of the collective consciousness, which the DaVinci Code did.

  18. I guess your psychic powers are not turned on at the moment- I don’t like the Da Vinci Code not only because it is written in a way that most authors can do much better just by looking at books on how to write- but because it is making a mockery of my values in life. And believe me, there are many more millions of people in the world who think like me than those who read the Da Vinci Code. Happy now- what else do you want to know?

  19. I loved The Da Vinci Code. Many people did. Many people didn’t. Different strokes for different folks, and all of that.

    However, this comments section is reserved for discussing the blog post: NINC Responds To Disturbing Publishing Development.

    Okay, so some might squint and stretch that to discussing The Da Vinci Code (not me, as I said, I’m a fan…), but it’s really too much of a stretch, don’t you think? Much better to stay on point, on topic.

    Eva, you’re a sweet lady. I’ve read all of your comment posts here and I, and the other posters who have tried to help you, sincerely wish you the best of luck with your writing projects, no matter how you proceed with them. After all, at the end of the day, the decision is yours, and yours alone. If you think you’re right, what do you care about what others might think? You don’t have to convince anyone else if you’ve already convinced yourself.

    I will give you a piece of unsolicited advice (face it, you knew that was coming…), born of my thirty years in this business and my over 110 published novels (whether you like them or not doesn’t matter — I like them, and my editors like them, and enough of the reading public likes them to keep me busy at my keyboard).

    Anyway, that advice? The first thing a writer has to do is develop a pretty healthy ego; otherwise, she’s doomed before she starts.

    Because you will be rejected. We’re all rejected at some point. In thirty years, I’ve seen lots of rejections, believe me (I once thought about papering my powder room walls with them…). But we don’t EVER begin thinking of ourselves as second class writers, lower tier writers, etc. We rant, we rave, we hit that half gallon of fudge ripple ice cream in the freezer, we even shed a few tears … and then we pick ourselves up and go back to work.

    Writers write, Eva. They don’t moan, they don’t groan (at least not for long, and never in an open forum! ). They don’t waste their time comparing themselves with authors and saying, “But I’m better — this isn’t fair!” They don’t blame the editors or the agents or published authors, or a cruel, uncaring world.

    No, writers go back to work. Knowing they have to write, because it’s in their blood, it’s in their hearts…and might even define who they are, at least to themselves. They could no more stop writing than stop breathing, and still consider themselves alive.

    So I — we — understand your passion. We care enough to worry, to not want to see you, or anyone, fall prey to a fistful of dreams that cost a fistful of dollars.

    But hey, there’s always the exception that proves the rule, right? Maybe your book will be that exception. That’s what vanity publishers want, need, you to believe. And no matter what name they invent to describe themselves, if they’re charging you to publish your book, they’re vanity publishers…and you’re not their author, Eva, you’re their customer.

    If you choose to go with one of them, then at least you’ve chosen that path fully aware that published authors everywhere are pretty much holding up warning signs that say, at the very least: please proceed with extreme caution.

    Best of luck to you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

    Kasey Michaels
    NINC President, 2009

  20. Thank you Kasey for your long comment. But don’t worry about me, I am aware of being the eternally rejected writer and since I am also aware that my days on this earth are not as many as they once were, unless I do something about it I shall die unpublished. I don’t fancy that idea much so I’ve discovered that WestBow is my only and best solution for me to die a happy respected, reputably published author. Of course, you, and your writers’ associations are quite in your prerogative to spoil that for me, but I don’t think that will bring you any happiness at all.