“Published Author” Proud Title–Or Not?

- by Judy Griffith Gill

As published authors, should we be concerning ourselves with the plethora of vanity publishers popping up, seemingly a new one every week or so?

To begin with, let’s first examine what vanity publishers are and what they are not: They are not like the publishing houses we’ve all been accustomed to—where we write a book or a proposal, send it to a publishing house—and they either accept it and make a monetary offer, or reject it. They do not charge us money for reading it. They do not charge us money for publishing it. Instead, they pay us an advance against the royalties they expect our book to earn. Once our book has earned enough money to “pay back” the advance the publisher has given us, we begin to get royalty checks. That is the way it has been for many years.

Those are qualities a new breed of vanity publishers lack, and practices they do not adhere to.

Of course, vanity publishers have been around for many years. They’ve advertised in the backs of magazines, on match-books, and more recently, on the Internet. And yes, they have their place. If you’ve written a family or local history of little interest to anyone outside your immediate community, and can afford the fee, then that can be a fine way to go. You pay them to put your book into print so you can give/sell it to the limited number of people who might be interested. A fairly large number of fiction books have even been published in this manner and a few have gone on to become best-sellers and picked up by major publishing houses. They are, however, in the minority. Vanity publishing is not going to go away—nor should it.

Recently, though, something new has been added to the publishing picture. Some publishing houses that have traditionally only been interested in manuscripts submitted by authors or their literary agents, who have traditionally gone to contract and paid the author, are now venturing into a practice many see as dangerous not only to new, hopeful writers who have books in which they believe, books they feel deserve an audience, but to the industry as a whole.  The would-be published writers  may  be right in their evaluation of their work. But what, in the opinion of many other writers, is not right, is the way some major publishers are cashing in on these people’s dreams solely to increase their bottom line by offering to publish the new, naïve, and hopeful author—for a fee. Quite often a large fee.

Some of these well-known publishers claim to be using this system as means to “discover” new authors, and advertise that this is a possibility. These vanity publishing arms of regular publishing houses are saying, in effect, “If you pay us to read your book, we may, in time, decide we really want it, that we believe in its viability as much as you do, so we might decide to pay you for its use.” What they are essentially doing is creating a “slush pile” of books the authors have paid to get into, instead of relying on the old standard slush pile of books writers have sent to them, books that could easily have been rejected after the first read. Only now, these books are not being rejected. They are being accepted and, regardless of the quality of the writing, published. And the publishing houses are making money from them. No, not from the sale of the books, but from the fees paid by the writers who are so eager and desperate to see their work in print they are willing to mortgage their futures to make it happen. In doing so, they risk ruining whatever chance they may have had of being published in the old way and making money in the bargain. Writers work hard. They deserve to be paid for the fruits of their labor. They deserve recognition–but not when they are asked to pay for it.

These victims (and I use the term loosely, because in this particular way, one can only be victimized with one’s own permission), refuse to listen to the warnings of those who have gone before them. Many who are willing to pay for publication consider detractors of this practice “jealous”, because we had to do it the “hard way” or “selfish,” because we’re in and want to keep them out. We have been accused of “fearing the competition” these newcomers provide.

So back to the original question: As published authors, should we be concerning ourselves with this new venture being entered into by recognized publishing houses? I think we should. The reading public has come to trust certain  publishers to provide a standard of quality. Will that standard be met when the vanity published books, quite possibly poorly edited, if edited at all, hit the market?
If the quality is low, will it reflect on all authors published by that particular house, regardless of which arm they are published under? Will public perception of low quality books from one division of a publisher’s business have a deleterious effect on the sales of other divisions?

If that becomes the case, will we all suffer? We may see the title “Published Author,” which we proudly carry become  diminished in the public’s eye.

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