posted on Nov, 2 2006 @ 05:03 AM
You have my sympathies, Mr. Oldham. It's good to read that you are now planning to sell your novel to a conventional publisher. This is the only kind
of publication worth pursuing, whether you're looking for market success or literary credibility.
I myself am a published author (two books, dozens of magazine articles) who has also worked as an editor in book and magazine publishing, so I can
claim to have experienced the business from both sides of the table. I hope what I write here will be of some use to you and others. It will sting a
bit, I'm afraid, but then so does vaccination.
The publishing industry has its own term for what you call self-publishing. They call it vanity publishing. The term is unkind, but it is exact; such
publishers live by preying upon writers who are too vain to accept the advice of an expert when he tells them their work is unpublishable.
Orthodox publishing is a risky business. The publisher must pay for editing, printing, distribution, publicity and so on. Should the book fail, he
stands to lose a lot of money. So successful publishers are men and women who have become experts at determining whether or not a given book will
appeal to the public. If they think it will, they'll publish it. If they think it won't, they won't. Orthodox publishing is as simple as that.
Publishers are human too. Sometimes they make mistakes. There have been great novels and popular bestsellers that earned any number of rejection slips
before finding a publisher at last. Certainly no writer should ever give up hope of publication on the basis of one or two, or even half a dozen
rejections. But when publisher after publisher rejects a manuscript, the odds are that it really is unpublishable.
Every now and then, a would-be author will not accept the odds. Disregarding any amount of evidence to the contrary, he remains convinced that the
publishers who rejected him are ignorant philistines and that discriminating readers will snap up his brainchild by the cartload if only he could get
the blessed thing published.
So he approaches a vanity publisher.
In doing so, he rarely asks himself the one vital question, namely, how do vanity publishers make money?
Everyone knows how orthodox publishers make money. They make it through book sales, the sale of translation, foreign publication, film and other
rights, merchandising intellectual property from the book and so on. The spin-offs can sometimes be more lucrative than the book itself, but if the
book doesn't sell, it's no deal for the spin-offs, either. So publishers, in short, make money off books that sell well. To put it another way, they
make money out of people who buy the book -- readers.
But vanity publishers can't make money out of readers. Rarely if ever does a manuscript reach them without having been tossed out by several real
publishers first. The experts have seen it and declared it a turkey. Chances are it will fail. Yet the vanity publisher still takes it on. How
Well, you know the answer to that, because you found out the hard way. Vanity publishers don't care whether their books succeed or fail, because they
make money out of writers, not readers. This is what self-publication means to an author. It means bearing all the costs of publication yourself.
So what are you paying for, exactly? What is it that vanity publishers do?
Mostly, they turn manuscripts into printed and bound books. This involves editing, typesetting, proofreading, printing and binding. The end result,
for the author, is the gratifying sight of a prettily bound volume (several hundred or thousand of them, in fact) with his name on the cover. Most
vanity publishers will execute this part of their commission flawlessly, because to the majority of their clients, it is all that matters.
The next step, in orthodox publishing, would be marketing and distribution. But vanity publishers don't like marketing their publications. Unlike his
client the author, the vanity publisher is quite willing to accept the verdict of the experts -- he's convinced from the outset that the book hasn't
a hope of selling. Any attempt at marketing the thing would simply be throwing good money after bad. Oh, he'll make a few half-hearted stabs -- shoot
off a few press releases, send off a few copies of the book for review. If you're fairly well-heeled, he may even design and print (at your cost) a
brochure or flyer that will be mailed (at your cost) to wholesalers and big retailers. None of this is done with any hope of securing actual orders
for the book; it is done to impress you and also to stay within the letter of his contractual obligations to you.
Distribution is the tricky part. The book was unsaleable anyway, the marketing was half-hearted and botched -- how many orders do you think the
publisher is going to get for the book?
Yes, that's right.
Without any orders, there won't be any sales. Without any sales, there won't be any royalties. And when the royalties fail to roll in, things start
to come unstuck between author and publisher.
Has your publisher sent you a record of orders or sales to date? Have you asked for one? I'm not a lawyer, but it stands to reason that your
publisher could only be said to be defrauding you if there have been sales but no royalties. If there have been no sales, you are entitled to no
royalties. On that score, Phenix &c. are untouchable.
I devoutly hope, for your sake, that your losses will be confined to whatever you have already paid the publisher. They need not be. You say you've
asked the company to take your work out of print and cease all dealings with you. Unfortunately, this does not indemnify you against claims for work
already done or in progress -- all those unasked-for 'services' you're getting billed for, and which will turn out, on closer inspection, to be
aspects or subsets of services you've already agreed to.
Finally, and most worryingly of all, Phenix may now be able to lay claim to publication and/or subsidiary rights with respect to your novel,
preventing you from placing it with another publisher or earning money from its publication.
Check your contract. Talk to a lawyer. Find out just what it is you've let yourself in for. And next time you're tempted to try an unorthodox
shortcut to a desirable goal, do yourself a favour and ask yourself why the orthodox structure came to be there in the first place.
Good luck and may you find a proper publisher soon.
[edit on 2-11-2006 by Astyanax]