How Much Should Writers Pay To Be Published?

The title to this post is Admiral Ackbar’s greatest fear:

It is, indeed, a trap.

Because the answer to this question is obvious: you shouldn’t pay anything to get published.

Now, classically, this was pretty easy to uphold and understand because authors had mostly one way to get their books into people’s EYEBALLS, and that was through the Legacy Traditional Old-School Publishing System. Which is to say, you sent your precious baby manuscript out to agents, and then when you snagged an agent, that agent sent your precious adolescent manuscript out to publishers, and if you snagged a publisher, your all-growed-up book got a job on a bookshelf somewhere in America selling itself like a piece of prime narrative beef.

And in that chain, the author was routinely warned not to pay anything. Don’t pay reading fees to agents. Don’t pay publishers to publish you. Don’t pay booksellers to sell your book. They will make their money off of your book — that’s how they get paid, and that’s how you get paid.

The saying went, and still goes —

It’s money in, not money out.

Money flows toward the writer, not away from the writer.

The rise of self-publishing has changed that equation… sorta. In the OLD WAYS OF THE ELDER PUBLISHERS, you didn’t pay for things like cover, marketing, editing. They did that because they are the ones backing the book and the ones with the ecosystem to (ideally) help that book not just survive, but thrive. They did that shit, because that shit was their job.

As a self-publisher, that shit is now your job, but it is of course unreasonable to demand that a single author is also simultaneously really good at cover design, e-book design, marketing, editing, and so on. Which means you have to hire people to do this thing for you, which somewhat disrupts that whole “no money out” rule, yeah? Though the core truth remains: paying for these things are not you paying to get published. Meaning, you could literally write a book (or any equivalent steaming diaper fire that consists of words), upload it to Amazon or wherever, and boom, YOU GOT PUBLISHED. No fees. No nada. Paying out money is therefore to make your existing product better — not get the product to shelves.

And so, it would seem then that the rise of certain bundling services is an attractive option — they bundle together editing, cover, marketing, liquor purchases, grief counseling, and other vital services — and then you pay one price and that gaggle of book-wizards turn your self-published book into something that looks better than the aforementioned diaper fire. It’s sensible enough — if you’re going to pay for these services individually, then if you find a trusted service-bundler, more power to you.

Of course there the question becomes, do you trust said service-bundler? Do they have the experience necessary to make this work? Do they hire the best, or do they just have a van full of chimpanzees they call upon to do their work?

In this interstitial gap of paying money, you start to find people whose intentions might be impure toward you and your manuscript. Or, best case, their intentions are well-meaning but their actual actions are either exploitative or simply incapable and inept.

Which brings us to A&M Publishers.

I cannot speak to their intentions or whether they mean to exploit authors.

They may be incredibly well-intentioned.

But let’s pick it apart. (And note: this is all just my humble opinion, kay?)

Let’s look at their new author program.

They provide the following services:

A&M Publishers will provide the following services necessary to launch a new writer’s book & career:

  1. Story Editing and Copy Editing.

  2. Cover development: Coordinated between A&M and the author.

  3. ISBN and copyright.

  4. Printing of books.

  5. Ebook set-up and placement.

  6. A&M Distribution of hardcopy books.

  7. Marketing.

  8. A&M will represent the author as a Literary Agent in an attempt to sell their work to a larger publishing house, if they so desire.

So, okay. Story editing is, I assume, developmental in nature. Everything else is fairly straight-forward, at least in terms of understanding what they mean.

Let’s dig down.

Editing —

Just because we’ve accepted your manuscript doesn’t mean it’s ready. The difference between A&M Publishing and self-publishing entities is the talent. After we’ve read and accepted your book, we want to take it from good to great. The process begins with a consultation with NY Times best-selling author Steve Alten and editor Tim Schulte, who have worked together since 2007, producing several best-sellers (The Shell Game, MEG: Hell’s Aquarium, Grim Reaper: End of Days). After the final edit has been made, we’ll assign the manuscript to one of our copy editors for spell-check, sentence structure, etc.

Not entirely clear what that means — like, “story editing” seems to be a consultation more than en edit, and the copy-edit doesn’t give a sense of how many passes they’ll do, or who the copy-editor is, but okay.

Cover —

After brainstorming different concepts, we’ll select from a pool of dozens of artists who will submit covers. While the author maintains final say, our production team will offer our years of experience to help you determine what design might sell best. Not as eye-catching, but just as important, is the interior layout. Chapter headings, font choices, and any maps, graphics, or images can earn points with your readership. Every author receives a final e-file of their book for approval.

Fine, sure, I guess?

Printing costs —

While final costs are determined by page count and volume, A&M’s prices are far lower than self-publishing houses. Average Printing Costs: Paperbacks $2.25. Hardbacks $3.85. Prices do not include shipping and handling. A&M Publishing does not offer print-on-demand, as the quality is substandard.

All right, so they’re laying out what it’ll cost per printed book.

E-book Set-Up And Placement —

Your e-book will be sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other e-book outlets. Royalty split: Author receives 75%; A&M receives 25%.

A little vague. No mention of Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, etc. Also, there’s a royalty split which I would assume is the split after the e-book distributor takes its cut. Also, this should be a first sign here that this isn’t really just a bundling service, but they are acting as publisher. Which isn’t a surprise, given they call themselves a publisher — but it’s vital to start seeing that difference between we perform services and we are your publisher.

Distribution of physical books —

A&M Publishers will attempt to leverage Steve Alten’s presence in bookstores in order to place the new author’s books. However, no publisher can guarantee this service. Distribution goes hand-in-hand with demand, and demand depends a lot on marketing.

We’re getting more ambiguous, now. Their plan in distribution seems to be:

a) we will somehow use the magic name of this bestselling author to get an entirely different author’s books onto bookstore shelves, which I don’t think makes any sense at all. I mean, I’m a bestselling author (/humblebrag), and I don’t think I can get your books on shelves? I guess maybe in one or two stores where I have friends working, I could be like, “HEY, ORDER ESMERELDA BOOPENSTEIN’S BOOK, THE DRAGON OF DINGLEBERRY STREET, BECAUSE IT IS LEGIT GOOD.” But I also wouldn’t qualify that as a ‘distribution plan.’

b) none of that matters because *insert shrug emoji here* — I mean, I guess I appreciate their honesty that they’re saying WE CAN’T PROMISE SHIT, SO START DRINKING.

Marketing —

From Steve Alten: The importance of marketing cannot be overstated, but it does require a lot of bullshit-repellent. In the last 17 years, I have spent (and wasted) tens of thousands of dollars on publicists, 95% of whom charge for ACTIVITY vs. ACCOMPLISHMENT. At A&M, I’m going to direct you to the individuals and companies I trust with my own marketing campaigns, then we’ll work together to create and implement a marketing strategy that will include:

  • A quality, well-scripted book trailer (see trailers at
  • A P.R. campaign utilizing press releases that actually are read by reviewers and producers.
  • A social media campaign.

Printing 1,000 books and sending a book to every Barnes & Noble so it can be lost on a shelf and returned in four months is not our goal. We believe finished books are necessary to obtain reviews and generate publicity as well as to sell in stores; however we prefer to design a marketing strategy that will coordinate regional P.R. with book placements and national P.R. with generating on-line sales. As an example, a new author plans to launch his book in his home town. Working with A&M and our P.R. team, we arrange radio, local TV, and newspaper articles two months in advance, book the author for several local book signings, and ship books to these stores to support the local event. Now the author has a better chance for success, and signing the shipped inventory prevents returns. From here, we expand the sales territory while we gather reviews and increase distribution based on publicity and demand.

Mmm. Okay?

I appreciate the problem of accomplishment versus activity, in that a publicist cannot promise result, and yet you’re paying for it. That seems a bit at odds with their talk of book distribution, though, which basically says, “We don’t promise anything.” But that’s okay because they’re not charging the author any money, right? [/AdmiralAckbar]

They mention a book trailer, which… okay, book trailers are of dubious value and maybe you don’t want one? And if I’m going to be honest, looking at the trailers at the link the publisher provides is not the best example, because — though this is just my opinion! — those trailers look like a scorching smattering of barf-spatter. Some of them look like they might’ve used footage from VHS tapes? And not in an ironic hipster found-footage way? Your mileage may vary.

A PR campaign utilizing press releases that are “actually read” is a weird thing to promise. Maybe Steve Alten personally goes to each reviewer and “producer” (?) and holds their nose against the press release until they promise to read it? And then what happens when they read it?

A “social media campaign” is vague. Details, man. Details.

Then the example of printing is like, WE WON’T PRINT A TON OF THESE, JUST ONES FOR YOUR HOMETOWN BOOKSTORE AND THAT WILL START A WELL-SPRING OF SUPPORT — I guess a guerrilla grass-roots campaign is not the worst idea, and again it’s not like they’re asking for a ton of money to do this for you! [/AdmiralAckbar]

Profits and Royalties —

A&M distributes our books through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and several other companies. The following are AVERAGE EXPECTED ROYALTIES based on the retail prices listed:

Hardbacks: Retail ($24.99) Profit per book ($8.00) Author receives 85%, A & M 15%.

Paperbacks: Retail ($9.99) Profit per book ($4.00) Author receives 85%, A & M 15%.

*A 20% reserve will be kept on all hardbacks distributed into stores. Reserve covers S & H on returns.

Royalties will be paid in May (covering June – Dec. sales) and November (covering Jan. – July sales).

They’re laying out theoretical math here, but okay.

And they only pay royalties twice per year? (Self-publishers enjoy payments every month. My YA publisher, which is Amazon-owned, pays royalties every month, and a lot of publishers pay quarterly.) You would think a small publisher could at least pay royalties quarterly — monthly would be ideal. And again, this is another clear sign that this is not just a service bundler — this is a publisher who is publishing your book. They handwave away that some of this is your choice, but a lot of this is pretty well cemented. And very much in their favor.

Agent option:

At A&M Publishers, we want you to be successful. In the event your book takes off and you’d prefer to work with a big publishing house, we’ll be happy to represent you as a literary agent to negotiate the best deal possible.

It’s probably a good time to point out that a literary agent’s job is to be the firewall between you and your publisher, and so it is rather substandard to have a publisher who then is also your literary agent. Their idea here is, I gather, to be the agent when negotiating with a larger publisher — at which point you should ask, wait, why do I need the smaller publisher then if we’re aiming for a bigger one? Bigger publishers, unless your book is a slap-bang success, will not want to touch your book currently being published by these guys.

Also, again, this is a spectacular conflict of interest.

Cost to author —

A&M Services: $7,995.00

Book Trailer Production: $1,000 – $1,500, paid directly to producer (A&M will work with author to develop a script and edit).

Publicity: Paid directly to either 2Dream Productions and/or Ascot Media.

See, I told you that they weren’t charging the author —

*does double-take*

*does spit-take*

*eyes pop out of head on springs*

Whoa-ho-ho-ho there.

Eight grand for “services.”

Which does not include book trailer production — no, that runs you over a grand, which presumably will make you a trailer like this one for SHARKMAN. *coughs into hand and winces*

Then unspecified costs for publicity.

Let us revisit, for a moment, the part where the publisher rails against paying for ACTIVITY versus ACCOMPLISHMENT — isn’t this exactly that? “Pay us a dumpster full of money and we will promise you basically nothing.” I mean, no publisher can promise you success, but let’s be clear about that: my publishers make no promise and still pay me money. Like, I don’t give them cash; they give me cash. The only time the money flows away from me is when my agent takes her well-deserved slice out of the pie before handing me the rest of the delicious pie.

(whispers in a tiny Ackbar voice: it’s a trap.)

Ahem. Okay. Well. Moving on.

Their Example of Result —

Author pays A&M Services ($7,995.00) and orders 600 hardbacks ($2.300) plus a book trailer ($1,200 approx), plus 1 month of press releases used to garner radio, TV, press and reviews. ($1,000).

TOTAL COSTS: $12,500 approx.

The author sells 500 of the 600 hardbacks ($3,400.00) plus 3,000 ebooks sold at $3.99 ($8,975.00).

In this example, the author realizes a small profit after expenses, has established a foundation of readers, and has a book trailer that will continue to garner ebook sales.

This is called a BEGINNING. From here, A&M and the author will strategize on how to increase sales, increase distribution, and evolve a BEGINNING into a potential CAREER.

WHOA WAIT SHIT now they’re telling me it’s $12,500?!

Jesus on a honey badger, that’s a lot of money. And their example of a result is, “You make a small profit,” and then in all caps BEGINNING and CAREER and SHUT UP BECAUSE IT’S GOOD.

My opinion is: that is not good. That is the opposite of good. That is, “You would be better off throwing your money in a toilet full of gasoline and then setting that toilet on fire,” because at least then you’ll have that very cool memory forever. (Who else in this world has born witness to a toilet full of burning money? You could own that. That could be yours.)

The beginning of my career consisted of me:

a) self-publishing a writing book and a short story collection


b) having a book published, for which I got paid.

In both cases, I came out having money in my bank account. Which was nice.

And that’s also how it’s supposed to work. I’ll cop to the fact that the beginning of a writer’s career is not necessarily about a big truck backing up to your house and filling your yard with money, but in my experience the beginning of one’s career also looks a whole lot different than what you’re seeing with this publisher.

There’s some other stuff on their website — and you can go and take a peek at the people they have working for them (?).

I’ll note here part of the message as to how they help you “beat the odds.”

So why do we charge you? We’re charging you for services required to launch an unproven author – services that I still pay out of my own pocket. For every novel I hire the same editor, P.R. person, book trailer guy – that’s the cost of success. My job is to teach you the business of being an author so that you ACCOMPLISH your goal; the other guys are more interested in selling you a package of ACTIVITY. Lots more activity in that Diamond package! Pass the bullshit repellent.

Again that message: activity versus accomplishment.

Only problem is, this “publisher” is not offering you accomplishment — they’re offering you activity, and a pretty vague slate of activity, at that. With basically zero track record to show for, excepting the track record demonstrated by their one author/owner, Steve Alten, who had success long before this publisher existed.

And for that, they note the low-low example price of $12,500.

I don’t know if they’re trying to exploit authors — I’ll assume optimistically that this is an author who has characteristically spent a lot of money on his own publishing endeavors and they’ve paid off, so he thinks new authors should do the same. But I’ll note here that presently, authors have two fairly straightforward paths —

One is the same as it always was, and you get paid an advance and then royalties and owe your agent and publisher nothing (and also, hey, your agent and publisher are totally fucking separate)

Or two is that you self-publish and you either pay for services or pay nothing for services and the end result is that your book is yours — nobody published it but you, you own all parts of it, you aren’t forced into any publisher’s ecosystem. And note here that A&M is a publisher, not just a service provider, and without seeing a contract it is impossible to know exactly how married to them you must become.

Both options are great. Try one. Do both. Whatever.

As always, the essential truth remains:

Writers get paid. And that means not paying to be published. Yes, you may pay money for services rendered, but this is very much not that. This is a publisher who is producing books, taking royalties, and controlling several significant aspects of your work — all based on zero track record by people whose qualifications are dubious.

It smacks of a vanity press.

Writer, beware. Not just of this entity, but any entity that would ask you to pay any money — never mind over twelve goddamn grand — for a hearty non-guarantee at success.

Pass the bullshit repellent, indeed.

191 responses to “How Much Should Writers Pay To Be Published?”

  1. I’m going to chime in here. I started off self publishing my own novels in 2011, then started a small press the year after that has started to develop a reputation for putting out a quality product and achieving a modicum of success and critical acclaim while making a decent profit. I state this, not to publicise my own press (which will remain unnamed for that specific reason unless I need to) but to establish a baseline before I start stating production costs. (UK prices adjusted to US Dollars)

    Most expensive story edit to date: – $1407
    Most expensive line edit to date: – $1200
    Most expensive cover art to date (from an award winning artist for a hand drawn and painted custom cover) – $844
    Print formatting costs (done in house, but this is the amount I charge as a 3rd party) – $140.77
    Ebook formatting costs (as above) – $70.40
    New title set up with Ingram – $70.40
    Inclusion in the Ingram catalogue (that makes it available to every bookseller on the planet) – $84.47

    Total Production Costs: $3817.04

    In reality, most titles cost quite a bit less than that to produce. Those are the absolute top end figures over 15 books and 5 years.

    In terms of marketing – each title generally has an absolute top end of a $2000 marketing budget OVER ITS LIFETIME. This is achieved through a variety of mediums including sending out ARC’s, giveaways on Goodreads and Librarything plus Bookbub promotions and the like, although experiments have been made in doing full page adverts in print magazines etc.

    We charge the authors a grand total of nothing and can afford to pay advances against royalties plus give 40% net royalties on every sales channel. Yet the press is not only self sustaining but makes a profit which grows with each new title we produce.

    The simple fact is that the figures quoted for A&M Publishing are, at best, unrealistic and at worst indicitive of a vanity press scam to trap the unwary and naiive. Mr Alten has done well with his own books and he should be congratulated for that. However, as has been previously stated, his experience is in the traditional publishing industry – he has next to no discernable experience in the small press (which he is claiming to represent) and the amounts stated are almost three times what it would take AT MOST to produce the books. It does not take a great deal of imagination to work out where the rest of that money is going.

    • I kinda get the impression that this is an attempt to set up a bunch of people that have been let go by their trad publishing employers into something approaching a salaried position, at trad publishing rates rather than the reality of the market as it stands. No one pays $6k for a story edit any more. Not even the big houses. Which really shows that, at best, they are out of touch with the market that they are trying to represent

    • Exactly this. I’ve worked with a number of small publishers and I’d ballpark the average fiction book at a cost of $1,500-2,500. For all the activities that a publisher has to do ( some genres, like romance, are on the low end) including minor publicity like a press release, or a book signing.

      And those are the costs that the publisher incurs, when they decide that the book is worth publishing. It’s their skin in the game, as it were. If a publisher doesn’t think the book will make them a profit, due to its sales, it will not contract to publish it.

      That is how this works.

  2. I remember when novelist Richard Paul Evans tried a scheme like this a few years back. Hard to believe anybody could think they could get away with a classic “vanity press” scam like this today in a world when it’s now possible, and easy, to publish an ebook and trade paperback virtually for free. Steve Alten should be ashamed of himself. Oh, and his trailer for SHARKMAN is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. This whole enterprise is pitiful and shameful.

  3. I sold my first short story in 1981. Note the word “sold.” SOLD. As in I was paid for it. Not much, but then it wasn’t very long. Since then I have sometimes given stories to publications without charge. My choice.

    I wasn’t always a decent writer (and hey, some folks may not think I am now), but never, EVER, have I paid someone else to publish me. E.V.E.R. And generally, I’ve gotten “pay raises” as I’ve gone alone. And now, since I am a full time writer, I am paid for my words except in very extenuating circumstances.

    At the end of the month, you cannot give the electric copy a contributor’s copy or a URL to pay your electric bill. And you certainly can’t pay that electric bill if you’re giving your money away to companies like A&M Publishing.

  4. I currently have a traditionally-published novel and a story in a traditionally-published anthology. If my next book isn’t picked up by a publisher, I’m concerned because I have zero interest in learning to self-publish. ZERO. Yeah, people say it’s easy. Easy if you don’t do a good job of it, maybe. I can do a decent job of writing, initial editing, and social media marketing, and that’s all.

    I need a copy editor. I need a cover artist. I can’t do those things well on my own, and I wish more self-pubbed authors would realize that they need them, too. I’ve read the formatting books, and those people who say it’s easy didn’t, and look what their book looks like.

    Of course, I can hire an editor and layout artist. I can go to an author friend who is also an artist/graphic artist and has done wonderful covers for her own novels. Those costs go against my future royalties, but will they reduce my portion to the % typical of a traditional publisher? And do I want to be the project manager when I’d rather write? It may be easier to hire a “Hybrid” publisher.

    Those who note the multiple agent and multiple publisher approach above are right–if you want a solid publishing contract, you may have to work for it. If your novel is outside of what publishers want and you believe you have something readers will buy, there’s nothing wrong with using a service. Not everyone has the skills to be a publisher or the willingness to do a good job of learning and implementing those skills. Nothing worse than a crap self-published book–a service is justified on that basis alone.

    The comparisons with A&M are easy. Dependent upon sales, A&M is charging a hella lot for the service compared to long-standing companies who offer the same services, whether for a cut of royalties or a fixed fee. A writer can expect the service of experienced professionals at these companies, e.g., my anthology editor did a short gig with one of them in hope of earning more, which didn’t happen. A writer-turned-editor may just be sharing some bad habits.

    Who watches those videos, anyways? I think that part’s a scam.

  5. Aside from all the other bullshit, the one thing I’ve never seen any above-board, legitimate business do is bomb the comments section of a blog in vehement, snarky, assbaggerly defense of their own venture. From the moment I knew I was going to publish a book, I knew what a Vanity press was, and knew to avoid them at all costs. This guy sets up a vanity press – and there’s literally no other definition or rationalization, it’s a *fucking vanity press* – and now he’s in here chewing his own foot off and trying to shine a turd with it.

    Absolutely amazing to me that a) he legitimately believes A&M is anything but a vanity press (and a fucking expensive one, at that), and b) he legitimately believes he’s doing himself any favors by coming into these comments and snarking the shit out of a well known writer and his readership. I’m in Kameron’s camp: Attempting to pub-splain to Chuck on his own blog is absolute COMEDY GOLD.

  6. Quite aside from the high upfront costs and limited profit per book, I also have distaste for the “marketing” strategy that seems based on guilt-tripping the author’s friends & family to buy hardcovers (for $24.99 each, of which the author gets only $6.80 from which to make back their costs) so that the fledgling author can get their “start”.

  7. For anyone who’s curious about the identity of the agent who charged Mr. Alten $6,000 to edit MEG, it’s Ken Atchity of AEI, via Atchity’s Writer’s Lifeline “editorial services” company.

    Writer Beware has gotten quite a number of reports from writers who submitted to AEI and were referred to Writer’s Lifeline. Unlike some agents who sell their own editing services to clients and potential clients, Atchity is completely upfront about the coexistence of his agency and his editing service–conflict of interest be damned–and Mr. Alten did beat the odds with his major deal for MEG. For most writers who hand over money in a scenario like this, however, there’s a much less happy ending.

    • Thanks, Victoria — I was actually really curious about this. 6K is such an appallingly high number for an edit, even today, let alone twenty years ago.

      Personally, if an agent ever tried to say something like that to me, I’d run far, FAR in the other direction, assuming I had unknowingly stumbled into the cave of a scam-artist. For anyone curious, the more typical (and ethical) situation is that when the agent likes a lot of the novel, but has some concerns, they generally pass on the book but give you a fairly detailed explanation about why, and will often invite the writer to re-submit it to them if suggested changes are made. Still no guarantee that the agent will take the project on, but again, no money ever changes hands.

  8. Another red flag:
    “signing the shipped inventory prevents returns.”

    This is a myth that has long been passed around in author circles, but the reality is that booksellers return signed books all the time. Anyone who claims to be a publisher should know that.

    • This is absolutely 100% true. The only ones that we find ourselves faced with as non-returnable at B&N are the ones sent to us that are pre-signed for Black Friday and they have COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ISBNs for the sole purpose of separating them out from the other books.

      Then again, guess what? Eventually those get coded for return, too. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes a year, maybe, but it totally happens.

  9. There are only so many ways to spell “scam,” but people keep trying to invent new ones.

    At a time when we’re fighting tooth and nail under the banner of “pay the writer,” something like this is frankly dangerous.

    And if a lot of this is based on the idea that Mr Alten paid 6k to an agent for an edit…..then we need to make it clear that NOBODY should be doing that. Nobody.

  10. How did he go from paying $6,000 for someone else to significantly edit his own book ($ that he seems to still be very happy he paid to a professional editor) to bragging about his own editing expertise and skill? To whatever extent his testimonial works for his approach, it doesn’t work for him being the one to be hired to do it.

  11. Did this Alten character think addressing the blog author in a deprecating fashion was going to win him friends and influence people? He just flashed a pit stains, white flecks at the corner of the mouth, flop sweat fear flag for all to see.

    Been lurking for a few years. First time posting. Much respect for all you do, Chuckster. Especially the innovative cursing. Muy obbligato.

    Chuck-o-roonie, The Chuckmeister, Chuckorama, Ol’ Chuckholio, Chuckles the Wendigo.

    Yeah, I’ll stop now.

  12. My favorite part was when Alten decided he’d had enough of the comments thread…AND THEN TOTALLY CAME BACK. And every time he emerges like one of the Walking Dead, Chuck knocks him down again with his Boomstick. Hee!

    Seriously, dude. If you’re truly baffled why we all have you pegged as a vanity publisher, maybe you should check out some other vanity publishers’ websites and take note of the stunning similarities. Also, once you’ve been called out on Writer Beware, you’re toast. Burnt toast.

    And if none of us are real authors, shouldn’t we be beneath your notice, as implied by your tone?

    Waitasec…I just sensed a vast disturbance in the force, as though Janet Reid’s head exploded.

  13. He’s not a shark, he’s an ill tempered sea bass with a lazer pointer taped to his head, pretending he’s a shark. What threw up red flags for me, happened to be the biographies that referred to personal tragedies and illnesses as selling points. What legitimate business does that? Then, having it turn up on Writer Beware, was the last word for me on it.
    Don’t do it, Yogs Law applies. You invest your time and your effort into writing the best book that you can, and then other options emerge from that.

  14. And dear god the book trailer is awful. Not a selling point in the slightest, not if you’re potentially paying thousands of dollars.
    ‘The sharks’ DNA is too aggressive.’
    Really. And the music behind it sounds like the demo patch on a pawn shop keyboard.

  15. I don’t know much about accounting, but:
    Expenses: $12,500.00
    Income: $8,975.00
    Profit = Income – Expenses = -$3,575.00

    And I’m not even accounting for all the living in between (rent, food, etc)

  16. I enjoyed Steve Alten’s books but this new scam and using his name as “consultant” definitely stinks of vanity press. Every writer/author who uses this press is either a millionaire and can afford to lose money or is just plain stupid.

    • I know I have over $12K just sitting around, burning a hole in my pocket, and I’m so glad Alten came along to tell me I can use it to become a reel auteure.

      Doesn’t everybody?

  17. This article is insightful (watch out for predators). However, it implies that there’s only two routes to publishing—traditional and self—when actually, neither exist in the form they were just a few years (months?) ago.

    With eBooks, the fall of many publishers, and the rise of Indie Authors (self-publishers wearing more of a marketing hat) the publishing industry has changed dramatically. While I would not suggest anyone pay the sum mentioned in this article to publish a book, today’s author—even if he lands a the “traditional” deal and gets his ~$2,000 advance, at best—must take more of an active role.

    For self-publishers, you can’t upload a book to Amazon with a cover designed by your nephew and copy reviewed by your wife (whose good with grammar) and expect to make money. You have to BE the publisher. It’s a business. You have to invest in the appropriate things—like hiring a cover designer, investing in editing, and buying ads on Facebook or Bookbub etc. You have to pay to play.

    With the “landing an agent route” you may not “pay” upfront for the cover, editing, and even marketing (if they do it), but you do with the small percentage you make. Traditional publishers (the Big Five and many small-to-medium presses) will still expect you to build a platform through social media, mailing lists, blogging, and a web site.

    The days of sending a query, signing an agent, getting a huge upfront deal, and then sitting back waiting for royalty checks to fill your mailbox are long gone.

    While I agree with Wendig about not paying $12,000 to some ONE to essentially do everything, you will have to pay a much smaller amount (maybe $500-1,000) to have the appropriate things done to your manuscript to make it shine.

    • On e-Books — yes, you may pay in money, as the post notes at the fore. The trick here is, even if I pay a full twelve grand for services to get my manuscript up to speed (along with printing and marketing, that MS is still mine. No publisher controls it. No publisher takes a royalty off of it. A&M is acting as publisher, which is the problem.

      • Even on print books. Yet there’s little money to be made in print. They’re too costly to make. For the prestige of a paperback, CreateSpace (or other PoD) work fine. Agree A&M sounds skeptical.

  18. For some reason clicking on the post in fb takes me to a comment saying the opposite of what you’re saying, which is confusing as shit on a phone. Somebody who paid 6k for editing. I dunno.

  19. Two side to this. First is i don’t find Mr Altern;s pitch convincing. The second is I charge $US800 a day. A simple reason: if a client’s not interested, they won’t understand what people are bringing to the task.

  20. I have a friend who owns a “hybrid” press. She doesn’t bundle services, you choose what you want help with and she does it, for a fee. She’s upfront about that. She’s not making $12k per project, I know that. And when all is said and done, the author owns all the rights and keeps all the profit. Because she’s already been paid for the services she’s done so the author owes her nothing from the royalties. She even sets up KDP accounts for people who don’t want to learn the self-publishing world, or don’t have time to (no judging from me!)

    • This sounds like me with my business. I run a professional formatting business which is set up with a Publishing name due to publishing my own books. The client keeps all royalties and rights. Each client has their own kindle, createspace account, which I will help or teach them to set up and upload their work if they don’t wish too. I also do interviews, put them in my newsletters and make sure they have a blog up and running. All this is done with minimal cost because like many others, I’m an author too. I also support Indie Businesses for Editing, Cover Art, PA’s, Book Trailers etc by listing them on my website. I’d be lucky to make $400 US from any one client.

      The thought of paying over $12,000 is horrendous. Total scam and Vanity Press. I’ve had a few clients who have lost money to Vanity Press. In some instances I have done free work for them too. I can’t abide seeing bad formatting and layout.

      Self publishing all the way. Why the other is called Traditional Publishing is beyond me considering it’s only been around about 120 years! What did people do prior to that…..Oh yeah. Self Published or Printed small amounts.

  21. I spotted a post on reddit the other week by someone who wanted to know if paying someone 80% of their royalties from self-publishing was a bad idea – the person wanted it for distribution, the poster still had to pay everything else.

    Inspired my similar post of what you should pay for:

    I hate these scammers. There are so many people who don’t know what they’re doing and get taken in by them. That’s the point of self-publishing: it’s your money, you don’t need to spend it all!

  22. Bloody hell in a hamburger bun – $12,500? I am officially too poor to be a published writer. 🙁

    Thanks for the heads-up, Chuck. Looks like I’ll be sticking to schlepping around agents/proper publishers or doing the Amazon KDP thing then. If my w-i-p eventually turns out to be good enough, of course.

  23. […] DEPT. OF RANDOM THINGS (2): Hey newer writer dudes, dudettes and all between—confused about the various things you can buy that will “help you become a published writer”? Well, if you’re not familiar with Chuck Wendig, maybe you need to read this particular column: […]

  24. What these guys are doing is VANITY publishing. It’s how they got all the newbies back in the day. Basically legacy publishings bad step brother. And yes, it IS a trap! 🙂

  25. When I put my post about A&M online last week, A&M’s “Our Team” page included Michelle Colon-Johnson, owner of 2 Dream Productions, one of the PR services to which A&M authors apparently are referred. Following my post, in which I pointed out the conflict of interest inherent in such referrals, Ms. Colon-Johnson was removed from A&M’s website. I very much hope this isn’t part of an effort to conceal the connection, and that authors who are referred to 2 Dream Productions will be informed that one of A&M’s owners will benefit from their purchase of services.

  26. Looked at the book trailer. That’s Grade-A reader repellent. What that book needs to save it is a tornado and some chainsaws.

  27. Great post. At a time when old-timer publishers seem to also want to do less and less for their daily bread, thereby making self-publishing more attractive, great *important* post.

    This paradigm is so much like the music business, not to mention the grad school business (yes, it is). It’s counterintuitive; but, the more people invest in you and your work, the more invested they are in a good result all around, the better, more thorough and conscientious job they will do.

    • I’m a nobody, and it’s been a while since I read it, but my take away from Meg was,”That was a cool Jaws story, but it needed an editor.”

      But, shit, now I want to read it again so I have specific examples…
      I guess I’ll have to buy it back from the used bookstore.

      You win, Alten. You win.

  28. It’s nice reading a blog where someone has a fowl mouth and not afraid of writing how they feel about things. I enjoyed reading this post.

  29. Am I the only one who read that “Woah-ho-ho-ho” in the voice of Ned Ryreson from Groundhog Day? No? Just me?

    Great post though.

  30. Hooooly Jeebus. I’m almost afraid to say anything about the Sharkman trailer, in case it gets back to the 10 year old who made it for a school project and hurts their feelings. But damn. My favourite part has to be the way the main character changes age and ethnicity in every scene. That, or the fact that every individual event that led to (what I presume is) the basic premise of the book is explained fully in ’90s movie trailer narration voice.

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