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:
Story Editing and Copy Editing.
Cover development: Coordinated between A&M and the author.
ISBN and copyright.
Printing of books.
Ebook set-up and placement.
A&M Distribution of hardcopy books.
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.
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.
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.
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 SteveAlten.com)
- 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.
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.
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 —
*eyes pop out of head on springs*
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?”
Right on, Chuck. $0.00 is the answer. And you are correct as to the whiff of scam involved.
Shameful. Yes, you’re right…A new twist on a vanity press, designed to exchange hope for money. I will steer clear and let others know.
Just kind of sucks that where there is a dream (to one day publish a book) there will always be predators (whatever this malarkey is).
$12,500 is more than my first “grown up ” car cost! It does smack of a scam, as in smacks you in the face then does a little dance.
Great reminder, though, on paying for services, and the value of your agent and publisher being separate.
(clicks on “Sharkman” trailer)
(face melts off like he just opened the Ark of the Covenant)
What scares me is that 6 people gave it a thumbs-up.
I have never once bought a book from watching a book trailer.
* watches Sharkman book trailer *
Nope. Still good. My record is intact.
I once sold *one* book to someone who saw a screen cap of my book trailer (the screen cap was actually to point out that all of my recommended videos were Mr. Bean videos, which I thought was funny.) – and said picture viewer (who had not known previously that I had a book) then went and purchased one…So does that count at all? Otherwise yeah, book trailers are fun to make if you have time but that’s about the end of it.
I couldn’t even finish watching it… Wtaf
A quick trip to Nielsen Bookscan shows total sales of Sharkman to be…1092 copies. That’s the guy’s own book. The guy with the formula. That’s the bestselling elixir all drunk up and pissed out. 1092 copies.
I would never invest more than $127.37 for the memory of a gasolene-filled-money-filled-toilet going up in flames. Yes, that means it’s pennies filling the toilet, but I’d at least end up with a hunk of slag composed of various probably toxic metals as a souvenir.
However, I wonder if A&M are preying on the misconception most authors are closer to making the kind of money Rowling makes as opposed to the kind of money someone makes slinging fries?
I am sure of one thing . . . they are targeting people with access to relatives who have money. In my experience, people who save money are both aware of how difficult it is to save said money, and are more careful about what they do with the money they save . . . or they wouldn’t have any savings.
. . . I’m also keep in mind that more people got rich selling shovels to gold miners than gold miners got rich using the shovels they bought . . .
I watched the “Sharkman” trailer…I have never read a Steve Alton book, but it made this one look like the SciFi channel B movie of the week. I wouldn’t want my name attached to that if THEY pain ME-sure as hell wouldn’t want it for a cool $12,500
You say that * now *. But every contract comes with a free shot of shark DNA. NOW how much would you pay?
“Ditto” the face melt comment. Sadly, indie (no Indiana Jones pun intended) authors are vulnerable to these types of offers. Often the excitement to get one’s book out into the world causes rational people to take irrational measures. Luckily, I could not afford the luxuries laid out by companies like A & M. I was fortunate to learn the some of the self-publishing ropes from the generous community of writers I’ve met online, and I try to pay that forward whenever possible. Thank you for being one of the voices that helps inform and entertain!
I totally agree with your article. Publishers and Agents need to be aware that we know what they are doing. (Sneaks in a camera for the corner desk.) If my story doesn’t make the grade, I’m not paying $12,000 to put out a maybe toilet fire. Plumbers don’t make that much.
I think I’ll stick with self publishing my “steaming diaper fire that consists of words” for free.
I felt cold metal at the back of my head and heard a metallic click. Someone tossed a sheaf of paper in front of me.
“You’ve got to stop doing this, Steve,” I said. ‘And you’re not fooling anyone. I know that’s a cigarette lighter.”
“Who is this ‘Steve’ you speak of?” the voice behind me said, “And, MADE YOU LOOK. I count that as a read.”
“Whatever, Steve,” I said, but he was already gone. I knew he’d be back, though. I almost felt sorry for the guy. He had to get the manuscripts before reviewers’ eyes somehow.
$12,500 is more than my mortgage payment for a year; almost two years. It’s more than I paid for the family minivan, and I imagine that I will get a hell of a lot more mileage out of the minivan.
Thanks for this, much appreciated.
That Sharkman trailer is literally one of the worst thing I have ever seen…EVER! And did they really think it was a good idea to give away what amounts to most of the book?
I had to stop reading and comment after the $8,500 figure. That’s significantly more than I’ve budgeted to self-publish my entire 5-book YA series, including top editors and cover designers, formatting, etc.
As usual Chuck, you tell it like it is. Thanks! It definitely sounds scammy. I self-published my book and the bulk of my expense was the illustrated cover. The rest has gone to ordering copies and marketing. I still haven’t reached that rather high number they mention. I have a book trailer, amazon ads, Comicon appearances, book fairs, and even merchandising like bookmarks, cards and posters. And I also get paid every month. Granted I’m still in the red, but I’m confident.
If you have school age children, they try to do the same thing with children’s TV wanna-bees. Give us $$$$ and we will try to get your child an audition for a Disney, Nickelodeon, etc. TV show.
Also a trap.
You know, scams like this are pretty obvious (or should be). It’s the less-obvious nickel-and-dime writer scams that screw a lot more people, and they don’t get nearly as much press.
I took a look at Steve Alten’s anniversary trailer for “Meg” and while I’m not outright saying the footage from that trailer was stolen, because obviously I can’t say for sure. What I do know, is that after I watched it, I typed ‘megalodon’ into Youtube and a National Geographic documentary containing the same footage from his trailer appeared in the results. Now, maybe Steve Alten got permission to take footage from National Geographic and edit it for his trailer. But considering how cheaply made the trailer for “SharkMan” looked, cheap as in it looked like someone downloaded random home-videos from Youtube in about 380p quality and ran it through Windows Movie Maker. I’d bet that the “Meg” trailer was done in a similar fashion. And if that’s the case, then you’re not only throwing your money down the toilet for some half-assed, poorly made trailer, you’re also paying for footage that has probably been stolen and your name and book are now attached to that. And when someone discovers that the footage doesn’t belong to you, it’s your name and book out there, and I’d hate to see that happen to an unsuspecting author. Just another reason why A&M Publishing screams of a scam.
What I find saddest about these scenarios is that you always come across a few authors who will insist NOPE IT’S TOTES LEGIT and at the end of the day, what it comes down to is that these poor bastards have used the service and they can’t let go of that last glimmer of hope. The more info out about services like this, the better.
“HEY, ORDER ESMERELDA BOOPENSTEIN’S BOOK, THE DRAGON OF DINGLEBERRY STREET, BECAUSE IT IS LEGIT GOOD.” – Awesome
Seriously, I would not consider paying large sums of money for a promise.
Self-publish, it ain’t easy, but it’s free.
From Steve Alten
Well, Chuckster, you told it like it is – write a book, get an agent, get published, and we all live happily ever after. It’s like someone offering advice on how to be a best-seller, “It’s easy! Just get on Oprah!”
No shit, Sherlock.
See the problem, Chuck, is that in the real world it is extremely hard to find an agent or a publisher.
Which leads to 3 choices:
a) self-publish an ebook
b) self-publish with a publisher who will do everything needed to give you a shot at establishing a readership or
There are hundreds of entities who will happily take an unpublished author’s money, print a thousand books, then bid you adieu.
That’s not us. Our goal is to improve the author’s story (something I’m quite good at Chucky), then take solid babysteps in developing a readership.
So why do we charge?
Because we don’t have the capital to support dozens of authors. Just as I pay for my own booktrailers and p.r., and newsletters, and book tours, etc, the author needs to get behind their own career. (I paid $6,000 to my agent for story editing in 1996). That was 20 years, 16 published books, 3 million books sold and several movie deals ago.
And yes, if MEG is selling a few million copies via Ingram and B&T when the movie debuts, I might be able to convince them to buy a few thousand copies of our authors’ books — especially if we’ve got a strong marketing plan.
Not sure how you blessed us as the target for your… rant. Heck, we only opened our new author program in February. If you are going to judge us, at least wait until September when Marie Sutra’s debut novel,, DARK ASSOCIATIONS debuts. It’s a scary read by a terrific author who was turned down by agents but believed in herself
BTW: my first novel, MEG was turned down in 1996 by 65 agents. Only one believed in me, and he wanted $6,000 to edit MEG… which sold to Bantam/Doubleday 9 months later for $2,1 million.
Good thing I didn’t listen to YOUR ADVICE!
“So why do we charge?
Because we don’t have the capital to support dozens of authors.”
If you don’t have the capital to start up a publisher, then you shouldn’t start up a publisher.
Or at the very least you could do what many other underfunded publishers have done: Use the little money you have to pay for book-production, and pay authors royalty only.
Asking authors to pay you makes you a vanity press.
Thanks for coming by.
A few things.
First, your three choices aren’t exactly accurate.
Assuming one chooses not to go with a traditional publisher, then the self-publishing option is the correct one.
Your option, ‘b,’ though —
“self-publish with a publisher who will do everything needed to give you a shot at establishing a readership…”
— is nonsensical, because one does not “self-publish” with someone that is not their own (wait for it) self. Self-publishing means I do it. Not you. It ceases to be self-pub at that point.
If you are a publisher (which you are), you are either above board and pay the writers, or you charge money, and charging money generally makes you a vanity press. Vanity presses are known for fleecing authors left and right. Maybe you are not attempting to fleece authors, but publishers, even small ones, can make a great deal of hay out of helping authors and paying them instead of being paid.
If your goal is to publish someone’s book, then that cost is yours to eat, not theirs. It’s not even like you’re taking money up front and then handing the book over to them — you collect royalties, which means your relationship with them will be in play for — well, how long? How long are your contract terms? Will you share this contract publicly?
Self-publishing can certainly involve spending costs, just as you did. But those costs do not carry on into a deeper relationship. If I hire a cover designer or an editor, I’m not married to them. I don’t pay them forever. I don’t get in bed with them. It is a pure, beautiful exchange — I give them that money up front, I get services rendered, then I maximize my self-pub chances by improving the quality of my product. But I reman the publisher of the work.
Further, I certainly won’t spend over twelve grand doing it.
Regarding your own work — congratulations on the success of MEG. Seriously. That’s a huge deal, and go you. But its success is not mirrored by what you’re offering with your publishing program. At all. You paid someone freelance to edit your work, and I’m going to go ahead and assume that this editor does not to this day take a royalty on your book’s sales, correct? Further, you sold your book the old-fashioned way, and made buckets of money doing so. You in fact sold to a huge, huge publisher. And yet you’re now instead advocating selling to YOU as a publisher, while at the same time holding up your own book (which did not follow that same path at all!) as an example of success.
It’s all a bit dizzying. Especially given how little information you actually offer about your services, on your website or in this comment.
(Sidenote, saying that you sold a book for $2.1 million and then talking about movie deals and million-copy-movers and other presumably RICH-MAKING things, it seems strange to then say you somehow mysteriously don’t have the capital to support up and coming authors inside your own publishing company. Especially since MEG is now with A&M, so it should be, by your estimation, filling the company’s coffers — which could then be spent on new authors instead of having them serf up and fill the coffers further, right? I am not a businessman, to be clear, just a humble wordmonkey, and so maybe I misunderstand something about the fundamental nature of this. I do know, however, that however I publish — self or trad — I have been getting paid, not paying out.)
Interestingly enough, you mention Marie Sutra’s DARK ASSOCIATIONS — her name is actually Marie SUTRO, and as you’re her publisher, I think it behooves you to get her name right.
Good luck with your books. And fingers crossed for Marie Sutro, too.
Should be noted that the current edition of MEG (listed publisher as Ingram Book Company, ISBN 9781943957019) sold 564 copies last year according to Bookscan. Not millions. Not even hundreds of thousands. Not even thousands.
please add a “Well, Chuckster” mug to your merch page
YES. TAKE MY MONEY.
Mansplaining to Chuck Wendig about how publishing works is the funniest thing I’ve see all day.
Possibly this week, in fact.
Occasionally it does pay to read the comments. Can’t believe this guy; it’s made me want to avoid MEG, and anything else he’s written.
Mr. Steven Alton.
Dude, why? Why do you feel the need to justify yourself here?
Mr. Wendig expressed his opinion, which is an educated opinion in that he’s been around the block a few times.
He even makes a point to say that he by no means is trying to imply that you’re scamming people. Just that what you’re proposing has been proposed by other people who turned out not to be as above board as they’d like us poor struggling authors to believe.
Your story is one of success. And that’s wonderful.
But not only does that not mean that you have the ONE TRUE WAY of doing things or know better than anyone else how anything works.
But that’s not even the point.
This is a personal blog. Chuck Wendig didn’t spit in your mailbox and take a shit in your cereal. He decided to share his thoughts in his own space at his own leisure.
You then coming in here and mansplaining his horrible ignorance and DON’T WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE?!?! It looks bad, Stevie.
It makes you look petty and vindictive. Someone with your success and business sense should be above it.
Unless you think that there’s a reason Mr. Wendig commands an audience and that his voice may carry further than you’d like.
Which in turns implies that he does in fact know a thing or two about publishing (what with him being so well-known and fairly widely published).
Either option doesn’t bode well for any follow-up responses you might make.
Actually, listening to Chuck’s advice wouldn’t have had any impact on your success with MEG. You went the traditional publication route. After querying a series of agents (I actually also queried 60+ agents before getting an agent as well), you signed a contract with one of them. The agent was representing you in exchange for a commission on future earnings, but suggested that he could essentially sub-contract and edit your book to get it ready for being pitched to editors. (btw, did you actually pay $6,000 in 1996 to have MEG edited? you say “he wanted” but I’m not sure from your phrasing whether you actually cut the check) The agent (with, I’m just clarifying, no money up front for this service) pitched your book to traditional publishers. A traditional publisher took your book nine months later, and your advance was $2.1 million.
You didn’t pay to get an agent.
You didn’t pay a single cent to your publisher.
All the money came TO you.
How does this somehow equal what you are currently marketing, where aspiring authors pay you $12K out of pocket for publishing services?
If you want to set up a vanity press, sure, go right ahead. But it’s pretty unethical to suggest in any way that what you are selling is in any way comparable to the route you chose with MEG.
In 1996, you actually DID follow Chuck’s advice — if you had become upset and frustrated with following the traditional publication path, there were plenty of operating vanity presses that you could’ve approached and cut a 12K (or less) check to, and seen a printed copy of your book. Notably… you didn’t. You stuck to traditional publication, and you have done extremely well from that.
…failing to mention that the agent, Natasha Kern, ran a *fake* auction, was called out on it by AAR’s ethics committee, and the advance was subsequently a lot lower, plus the book tanked. Look in 1996 & 1997’s Publishers Weekly magazines, youngsters. Credibility minus here.
“we don’t have the capital to support dozens of authors”
I work for a small press (http://autpress.com) founded in 2015 on about $10,000 in capital – less than you charge a single author, I notice. We’ve put out four books since then, and our next release wave is scheduled for March 15. Taking our production calendar for the next twelve months into account, we also support “dozens of writers.”
We do not charge them. We pay them.
How much capital do you think you need, anyway?
You left out option D) Keep writing, keep trying, hone your skill, write the next book, network, observe, learn, and never stop trying.
Hi Steve, I’m a self-publisher and you’re talking complete crap. You are just another skeavy vanity press operator, and the only real twist here is that it’s an author doing this to his own peers. Nice.
Find yourself a copy editor, Steve. Your message is festooned with errors.
If your editing advice is worth $8K, why is your reply full of misused punctuation and grammatical errors?
(I just need this to be said, and ahh, I don’t want this to be uncomfortable or anything, but I am legit geeking out that you’d come by here and drop a comment. I grew up on your books, so — I’m going to dial it back here so I don’t look too much like a gawping freakshow but hey hi welcome.)
Um, apparently authors aren’t good at math.
Pays out $7995 + $2300 + $1200 + $1000 for a total of $12,495
Returns $3,400 + $8975 for a total of $12,375
Your “small profit” is very small indeed. In that it’s still a loss of $120.
I see I wasn’t the only one who caught that.
Yeah, I noticed that too, and I’m terrible at anything maths related!
Um, what is this “math” that you speak of…some kind of urban slang? Korean food? I’m a little lost here…
I’m going to point out that even their example numbers are wrong, and a great illustration of why basic math skills are essential. $3,400 + $8,975 = $12,375. Subtract the $12,500 quoted, and you get a small *loss* for the author, not a small profit. Leaving aside any of the rest, I wouldn’t even consider doing business with someone who screws up the math in their own marketing copy, especiall not when they’d be handling the bookkeeping side of things. It bodes poorly for getting accurate accounting out of them.
Plus, their math is $3.99 * 3,000 * .75, but what about the distributor cut? Amazon don’t put those up for free.
General rule of thumb is run away from bundled services. Run, run, run and don’t look back because PILLAR OF SALT and fly you fools.
Also. I’ve yet to find any service with the word “marketing” in it that does anything truly useful, unless you count things like bookbub as marketing.
Someday there probably will be a bundled service that does marketing that will actually be a legitimate service, but when that happens I expect it to cost no more than $1000 and I expect it to be “not as effective as doing it yourself, Just less of a hassle.” if a service charging more than 1k is not specifically an artist for the cover or a really (really really) good editor you are probably being ripped off.
Should be noted that the current edition of MEG (listed publisher as Ingram Book Company, ISBN 9781943957019) sold 564 copies last year according to Bookscan. Not millions. Not even hundreds of thousands. Not even thousands.
Does bookscan track e-book sales? I was under the impression it didn’t. That shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of this thing, by the way. I’m not about to drop 12.5 g’s on any kind of publishing service. That said, the self publishing market is mostly e-book sales, and if bookscan doesn’t track those it’s not a useful tool for evaluating success in that market.
Steve specifically mentioned that number as it relates to Baker & Taylor and Ingram, so it can only be assumed he’s talking about print books. This is specific to that title, MEG, which has other, earlier editions that have sold well, in it’s most recently released form.
Fair enough. I obviously glazed over that part.
This is a good reminder of what not to do.
Someone should get a collection of all these various examples of poor behavior and put them in a master post that we can point to every time someone heads down this road.
The incomparable Victoria Strauss does that in her Writer Beware Blog, and has been doing it for years. http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/WriterBewareTheBlog/~3/9C_5DmteAuA/new-authors-as-shark-bait-steve-altens.html
Hmmmm… on the “we will get you publicity” side, a lot of media outlets just won’t review self-pubbed stuff, and most of us reporters are smart enough to tell something like this apart from a traditional publisher.
I work at a smallish newspaper, and even in a town of approx. 140,000 people, we get frequent press releases from vanity published/self published local authors. Generally we do nothing. The last one we actually wrote about was by a former Olympic gold medalist who had written a children’s book; all proceeds were going to a local wildlife sanctuary. Basically, if you’re not famous already/selling The Martian or 50 Shades of Grey levels, the media isn’t going to be interested.
There are plenty of bloggers and sites who review self-pubbed books, of course, but I’d love to see some more specifics about how their social media campaigns would get their clients’ books out to those specific reviewers.
I think it’s funny that someone can start up a venture like this and think writers won’t analyze the shit out of it. I’m also not sure why this fly-by-night thinks he can do publishing better. It is a fact that most books don’t earn out on advances lower $12K from publishers that can purchase placement in bookstores, have whip-smart promo people and sales teams with relationships with booksellers… yanno, publishers that have successful track records with many, many books rather than this one book none of us have ever heard of.
Sounds like just another asshole who is banking that people think an overnight success is an actual thing.
MEG sold far more than 564 copies, the book is being used in thousands of school curriculum and we gave teachers big discounts to buy direct.
The definition of a PUBLISHER is an entity that publishes. Not all authors receive advances. But frankly — who cares? We’re offering a service and a chance to get up at the plate. You can’t get a hit nor homerun from sitting in the stands. Everything we offer is above board. We even provide the printing invoices so the author sees the exact costs – something I know other services dare not offer as they tack on 30%.
From what I can tell, not one person (besides Chuck) aims to be an author. No problem. But why attack another person’s dream? Maybe other people aspire to mortgages exceeding $12,500 a year. And, as far as “don’t become a publisher unless you have the capital”… huh?
As I state clearly on the A&M site (and thanks for pointing out the math mistake, that will be fixed) I started A&M because I was pissed off that two of my books were left to rot on the vine by a publisher (yes, I received advances) who did zero marketing, zero promotion, and created horrible cover art. So I bought back the rights and decided to do it myself, along with four amazing partners. And A & M is now publishing MEG.
I’m offering services that I would want if I had to begin my career over and couldn’t find an agent. We’re giving a new author an AT BAT. We’re above board, no hidden costs. And yes — there’s a huge difference in having me as an editor than an unpublished vanity press “editor.”
CHUCK – compare A&M to the competition. Or don’t.
LAST – to all those who judged SHARKMAN by it’s trailer, READ THE REVIEWS ON AMAZON!
Better than a 4 1/2 star review average on Amazon with 122 reviews. Nice review from School Library Journal. Excellent.
Of course, I didn’t see any reviews saying, “The reason I bought this book was because I saw the trailer and knew I had to have it!” In fact, I didn’t see any mention of the trailer as a selling point.
Nobody is discounting that you can write a good book or even that you’ve sold well (though that “millions” comment on Meg is hard to verify on Bookscan). What they’re saying is — Nobody buys books because of book trailers and paying thousands of dollars to have one produced is a waste of money.
I’m an author, both trade and self-pub, and while there’s ten thousand things I don’t know, I do know that when people start claiming that criticizing business practices equates to “attacking someone’s dream” I pretty much assume they got nuthin’.
Publishers sell books. Marketers sell dreams. But if they’re selling them to authors, not to readers, then I suspect that’s where they’re making the real money…
Amen all over this.
Animoto.com. For as little as $10 a year, you can produce book trailers yourself using legitimately sourced, high quality stock photos, videos, and music. And, yeah – as far as I know, no one’s bought my book solely based on the trailer, I just thought it was a fun thing to do to give a potential reader a feel for the mood of the story. I’d never consider paying $1000+ for one.
“The definition of a PUBLISHER is an entity that publishes. Not all authors receive advances. But frankly — who cares? We’re offering a service and a chance to get up at the plate. You can’t get a hit nor homerun from sitting in the stands. Everything we offer is above board. We even provide the printing invoices so the author sees the exact costs – something I know other services dare not offer as they tack on 30%.”
Those are platitudes — hits, homeruns, etc — and are designed to dazzle away from the reality that you’re charging where other publishers, real publishers, do not. As for who cares? Well, I would imagine that someone who drops the price of a new car on your services cares very much. Not all authors receive advances, no. But in real publishers, the author does not offer an advance to the publisher.
“From what I can tell, not one person (besides Chuck) aims to be an author.”
I don’t understand what that means. I’m going to go ahead and guess I’m not the only person who ever tried to become a writer?
“But why attack another person’s dream? Maybe other people aspire to mortgages exceeding $12,500 a year. And, as far as “don’t become a publisher unless you have the capital”… huh?”
Nobody is attacking dreams. What’s being attacked is a business plan by a publisher that asks its authors to pay them a rather exorbitant amount of money just to be published. See, authors with dreams make very good targets. But it’s important for those writers to know that they can achieve their dreams without handing a publishing company a third of their annual salary.
And I have no idea what the mortgage comment means, by the way.
“We’re giving a new author an AT BAT.”
A new author gets an AT BAT by self-publishing or by getting paid by a traditional publisher. They do not require a publisher who demands they dig very deep into their pockets. They can accomplish an AT BAT for low or no cost. Or, even if they decide to spend ten grand on getting their book up to speed, they can do so without getting into bed with a publisher and, instead, acting as their own publisher.
“CHUCK – compare A&M to the competition. Or don’t.”
To be clear, your competition is vanity presses. Not big publishers, not self-publishers, not small publishers. Vanity publishers.
“LAST – to all those who judged SHARKMAN by it’s trailer, READ THE REVIEWS ON AMAZON!”
See, nobody is judging SHARKMAN by its trailer. The book might be a masterpiece. I’m glad people liked it, and I hope it continues to sell well for you.
We are, however, judging your publishing company by its trailer. A trailer that, in fact, has very few views, and seems of fairly low-quality. Which is not a great reach for a trailer, by the way. And that’s in part what you’re offering (and also not offering because your website wavers on its promises) — you’re offering things other publishers don’t, or that are out of reach for self-publishers, except that’s not true at all. All of this is easily within reach without committing to join a publisher who demands a big check up front — a check that pays for activity but not accomplishment.
People aren’t necessarily judging the book Sharkman by the trailer. What they are judging is the fact that A&M charges a lot of money to put together a book trailer, and apparently that is the best they have to offer. In terms of quality, that trailer is shameful.
Agreed. I got 23 seconds in before I had to stop. I made a trailer for my own book that was about at that same quality. However, that was also the very first time I’d ever used any kind of video creation software. So if I’m going to fork over that kind of money and get the exact same result? No thanks, I’ll continue to do it myself – because at least then I know I’m going to get better at it rather than HOPE it will get better. And let’s see, I self-published and only spent $365 for a cover, which I made back in a few months (admittedly, to my surprise).
In the end, social media campaigns aren’t going to sell my books, press releases aren’t going to sell my books. They might get it in front of more eyes, but ultimately people have to LIKE what they see before they buy it. I’m not dropping that much money just for more eyeballs. And considering I’m a manager at a B&N, don’t even get me started on book signings by little-known authors – even if you’re on the local news and on the radio. Likewise, NO ONE ships books to us for local author signings unless WE order them from our distribution center.
Ok, I’m going to end my rant otherwise I’ll just keep going. 😛
I hate trailers, they always ruin the movie, erm, book. Don’t need to read the thing now. Did get the urge to watch The Fly though.
“Not all authors receive advances. But frankly — who cares?”
Authors who like to be paid for their work and who want to make a career out of it.
Bless your heart.
On what planet is it OK for a company that wants to buy a product, to turn around and want the seller of the product to pay for the company to sell the product?
The author makes a product. You want to sell it. It’s on you to do everything in your power to sell that product. You only have to do the easy part.
I certainly hope Steve isn’t also the editor of these books. It’s good to know the difference between its and it’s, for example.
Or not knowing that curricula is the plural of curriculum.
Is it? Heh. Consider myself learnt.
Hi, first time commenter long time smart ass here …
One quick teensy weensy question … You have a trailer, but you don’t want people to judge the book by the trailer. So, why exactly do you have a trailer to begin with?
This kinda begs explanation.
“From what I can tell, not one person (besides Chuck) aims to be an author.”
Did you mean not one person here? I would guess at least 90% of Chuck’s readers are authors, published and as-yet unpublished. That’s his blog readership, and I imagine that’s why he wrote this post. I’m really curious what this sentence was intended to mean. I’m hoping you didn’t purposefully insult 90% of the people here.
Maybe at this point, Steve, it’s time to let A&M’s work speak for itself? If the next months and years prove Chuck and others wrong, I don’t think anyone will be upset. We’ll be glad for you and your authors.
Mr. Alten, what you’re saying makes no business sense for an author; it sounds like the very definition of a vanity press.
1. If a writer contracts with a traditional publisher, the publisher agrees to bear the full up-front cost and risk of producing the book, and they split the proceeds in the publisher’s favor, as the publisher is hoping to both recoup their costs and make a small profit margin.
2. If the writer self-publishes, they bear the full up-front cost, and they keep all the proceeds.
3. With a vanity press, the writer bears the full up-front cost, pays a margin to the vanity press, and you split the proceeds (should there be any).
Option 3 makes absolutely no business sense. Writer should never enter a deal where they bear the full cost, pay a margin, AND you split the profit.
As if there would be any profit…
A vanity or subsidy press has no incentive to actually sell any copies of the book (and you don’t appear to offered any specific commitments about what your press would be doing, either). You’ll already have charged the author $12,000 (in this case), which far more than covers the cost and provides you with a hefty profit they can pocket. You have no costs to recoup; the author has already paid all the costs out of their own pocket. So, as you’ve taken zero financial risk and zero financial gamble (all of that’s on the author, who’s providing all the capital), why would you spend some of your profit to market or publicize their book, when you could simply go to the next author, and the next, and the next, and the next, charging exorbitant fees each time, at zero cost to you each time, and pocket a stack of the cash each time? That’s pure profit with no risk (for you). Now, the author can of course put additional dollars, sweat, and time into marketing and publicizing their book (bearing the full cost of any such efforts on their part), and you will then take a cut of those proceeds, too, because you’ve agreed on a royalty structure for the book.
Tell me how this isn’t a vanity press?
Finally, I’m totally bewildered by your comment that no one here but Chuck aspires to be an author. Many of us commenting here are aspiring authors, published authors who have been in the industry a long time, self-published authors, or (like myself) hybrid authors who have worked with traditional publishers and have also self-published. Let’s be honest/frank here. This is Chuck Wendig’s blog. Seriously. It’s going to be frequented by a lot of people in the biz.
But with great skepticism,
[…] knowledge) like vanity publishers are infamous for. [UPDATE: since we published, Churck Wendig wrote THIS awesome article about how much writers should pay to be published. Check it out] I would make the argument your […]
I object to A & M’s premise that print-on-demand quality is substandard–particularly since their whole set up sounds like something I could rig up through Lightningsource’s “short run” option…which would essentially be me, as a (self)publisher, saying “Give me X number of copies of my print-on-demand book right off the bat.” My memory on that might be confused, since I quickly determined I don’t want X number of copies to sit around my house right off the bat, but there’s nothing offered on A & M’s print side of things that I couldn’t get done myself, easily and without potentially bulked up middleman costs.
As far as distribution, Lightningsource distributes my books–as very lovely print-on-demand copies–through all their channels (US & international) for only $12 a year. This means my local book stores can easily order copies as needed without being stuck with signed leftovers–as I believe I read in A& M’s description–from some promo event the store graciously let me hold. (My knowledge of those, contrary to what I got from A & M’s description, is that I would be responsible for bringing in books to a signing–and those would be dealt with as consignment sales (should any happen to sell). The bookstore would take a percentage, and I would be stuck with the supply cost & whatever books didn’t sell.)
Maybe their editors are awesome. Maybe they’ve got the best graphic designers in the world & pay them a fair rate. But I can’t go for the print & distribution offer without thinking it’s an expensive version of what I can get for myself while maintaining ISBN ownership & finite control.
Steve, I am confused by.your dismissal of people commenting as writers. More specifically, you condescend to imply that a)chuck is only aspiring to be a writer. And b) that I don’t even qualify as that. But go ahead and tell me that you’re a Good guy giving chances. I call bullshit. I write. I am a writer. I’ve been published. I guess that makes me a published author. Chuck is leaps and bounds ahead of me. I’ll tell you what. You pay me 20 grand (as a start) and we can work on PR and tone.
What you didn’t mention, but I think should be said is that many publishers want original UNPUBLISHED works. That means once you’ve published with these guys, it doesn’t matter that Big Publisher likes that book. Big Publisher is gonna want a new book from a new universe (as in, not a spin-off or sequel) to publish. So by working with these guys, you might be paying twelve grand to take your shot with Big Publisher and kiss it goodbye. No, thank you!
That, and once you publish with these guys, you have the stain of their name on your book. Not just that you wrote a book, but you had to pay someone $12,500 to publish it — which says nothing good about your book, justified or not.
Thing is, there are more ways than ever to get our words in print and that’s great for writers!
I never think, “Oh I feel sorry for someone who got a book deal (with or without an advance).”
I never ever think, “Oh I feel sorry for that writer who self-published.”
But I’d feel sorry as hell for the poor sap who pays 12K to publish when there exist so many other, better options for getting books into the hands of readers. If a writer can’t realize at least that much about their own industry and profession, I think the chances are their book isn’t very good.
To be fair, I don’t think people should be calling it a “scam,” as Alten may very well deliver the (albeit overpriced) services promised. That makes it a bad deal, but not a scam.
Also, can I just say, I am SO TIRED of the nonsense that “even if you write a great book, you can’t get publishers/agents interested these days” because “changing nature of publishing” or “gatekeepers” or “dinosaurs” or insert cliche here. This is bs. I know quite a few writers who have broken in within just the past couple of years via the traditional route of querying agents or subbing directly to smaller presses. It’s time consuming and requires both patience, and hard work, but it absolutely is still a thing. If you want to go the self-pub (or even vanity pub) route, so be it, but do so because you CHOSE to take that route, not because you bought into some defensive writer’s anecdotes/justifications for their own difficulties.
I used to have a job buying books for a large library district. We purchased at least half a dozen books by debut authors every months. Most months it was more than that. And those are just the ones we bought for the library, there were almost always more than that available to order. The idea that publishers aren’t accepting new authors is totally ridiculous.
One of the comments above mentioned how vulnerable new writers choosing to self-publishing might be to these sorts of things. Posts like Chuck’s are a great counter to that.
What helps perpetuate the success of vanity businesses is the estimate of professional costs well-meaning trad-pub writers give to those looking into self-publishing. If a new writer is told a great cover costs around $3-5K, proper editing $4-6K, and proper printing upwards of $10K… Yeah, a new writer who trusts an experienced author could most certainly look at a $12K bill as damned reasonable.
Fortunately, the unhelpful information has become more rare as an increasing number of writers opt for self-publication or hybrid careers, and as forums for solid information come of age. I still come across folks at conventions, though, whose first assumption is they can’t afford to self-publish a thing because they haven’t a minimum of ten grand to invest.
The “real” cost of self-publishing depends on a multitude of factors. It’s like trying to answer how much it costs to feed a family of four for the week. Some will be amazed to discover it can be done for under $300. Others will be amazed folks spend more than $150.
Thing is, even there, paying $12 grand into polishing the unholy hell out of your manuscript and buying into marketing and whatever STILL doesn’t put you in debt to a publisher, which is what’s happening here. You’re paying in for the services, but it’s not a cheap date — you’re married, now.
Oh, I certainly agree. Just pointing out a factor that helps vanity presses meet their sales goals, and expressing my relief it’s becoming less common. 🙂
Agreed, it can be very affordable, though the upper levels of the costs CAN be very high. If you are looking for a top-of-the-line cover artist, you could conceivably drop a few grand (I would rather find someone less well known whose work I like) and editing prices seem to be all over the map though I’ve not run into one who charges more than $1500 (which is still too rich for my blood–if it costs more than rent or a mortgage payment then I can’t afford to do it).
I think what a lot of these services try to do is take the highest prices they can find for editing and cover art in order to get you halfway there and fill in the rest of their price with the perceived nebulous cost of “marketing.” Marketing and discoverability are the hardest nuts to crack in self publishing–even the wildly successful authors on the self-pub side generally attribute a lot of their initial success to “well, mostly luck” and their advice tends to focus on growing more audience once you’ve passed a certain point. So it’s the idea that someone other than you will be shouting your name with implied effectiveness that sells the rest of the gap.
The dream they are actually selling isn’t so much “we will help you polish the gem” (that’s just where it starts) — the dream they sell is “we will make people care.” It’s not a realistic dream, even in the realm of traditional publishing.
Okay, next time I replace a toilet in my house I’m totally going to to the dollar store, loading up on fake money, and burning it in the old toilet. I know it’s not exactly the same but, dammit, I want to SEE that shit!
Even for self-pubbers who hire top-quality freelancers for EVERY step of the way, the total cost *might* be half what Mr. Steve is charging. I understand wanting to make a profit (yay, profit!), but *that* level of upfront charging equates to bilking everyone but the unexpected massive success.
I’ve worked with a lot of people, from the raw-newcomer first-timer self-pubber to the Old Pros in the Old Houses, and they’ll all GET IT: even if it’s well-intentioned, this “service” equates to a scam. And even if I were offered a higher-than-normal rate to do my work with them, I wouldn’t feel happy with doing it, as the author’s getting a raw deal.
By way of example, I hired two editors and a cover artist for my self-pupped debut. I went 4 passes with a developmental editor, 3-ish passes with a copy-editor, and had a fantastic painted cover (not a photo manipulation) done by a wonderful artist.
My total up-front costs were just over $2,000. And worth every penny.
Yes, I have to do my own marketing and PR, but I can’t even fathom a) slapping down $12k in advance and b) actually being convinced that I’d make it back.
Jesus. SEE THIS IS WHY YOU NEED AN EDITOR
Pahahahaha! I was wondering what exactly what being ‘self-pupped’ entailed!
That, and once you publish with these guys, you have the stain of their name on your book. Not just that you wrote a book, but you had to pay someone $12,500 to publish it — which says nothing good about your book, justified or not.
You’ve never seen our work, never spoken to one of our authors, never tried our services… but you’ve decided that nothing good can come of this. If Marie Sutro sells 20,000 books and then sells her second novel to St. Martin’s Press for a nice advance…. then are we still a stain?
Show me one negative comment about A&M (other than this blog).
And the $12,500 figure was an example. Marie didn’t pay half that much to A&M. That $12,500 figure includes money we recommend paying to publicity firms we recommend – NOT TO US. Same thing with the booktrailer.
As an author, my job is to support my work. Most publishers do not spend money on p.r. An author can spend $4K – $5K or more a month on small campaigns. Annie Jennings charges $4k for 12 radio interviews. Others charge far more. Chuck, you never invested money in p.r. on any of your books? P.R. money does not go to A&M.
My advice to any author is to seek an agent FIRST, and before that, an editor. A good STORY editor can drastically increase your chances of finding an agent. Is that a rip-off too? Does that violate the “never go into your pocket to be published” rule that seems to run thru this blog?
I spent $6,000 back in 1996 for these services and it paid-off in a successful career. Does that mean everyone can or should do it? Of course not. But if you do it with A&M, at least you are working with someone who knows the business, knows how to write, and wants you to succeed.
When all means are exhausted to find a traditional pub, then and only then seek alternatives. And the buyer beware because YES most of these services are rip-offs.
A&M is NOT a rip-off. That you somehow selected A&M (and me by extension) to be your target baffles me. I’ve been helping new authors get published for the last 15 years.
OK, I’ve tried to respond to some of these comments… time to move on. If I insulted anyone, my apologies.
“Show me one negative comment about A&M (other than this blog).”
OK, Steve-a-roonie (just trying to keep things on the same keel as your “Chuckster” bit, earlier):
Howsabout this entry on “Writer Beware”, the premiere scam-warning site sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, with additional support from the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors? Will that do?
Here ya go: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2016/03/new-authors-as-shark-bait-steve-altens.html
If Marie Sutro’s book sells that many, then it is a book she could’ve sold on her own to readers or to a publisher. Right now, she “sold” the book to you for the low price of *negative* thousands of dollars. Listen, if she does well, good for her, good for you, and I hope all are happy. But for my mileage you’re taking her money both coming and going — as a fee for services and THEN as royalties on the long haul.
Your company reads like a vanity press and it defies the common sense law that money flows to the writer, not away from her. That’s the problem, and that’s the bad taste it leaves. You’re not doing much to defend against that here, either.
I don’t think it is necessarily a scam or a rip-off, but to me it reads like a very bad deal for authors.
“Show me one negative comment about A&M (other than this blog).”
and here: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?316537-A-amp-M-Publishing
There’s also been several comments on Facebook, but if the authors of those want them in public they’ll have to publish them themselves.
I still say that the definition of rip-off is a company wanting you to sell a product to them for negative dollars.
“Most publishers do not spend money on p.r. An author can spend $4K – $5K or more a month on small campaigns. Annie Jennings charges $4k for 12 radio interviews.”
*Most* publishers? What?! No, no, no. Publishers, legit publishers, pay for your publicity–not the author. Your book is their investment, and these expenses are part of that investment. You may, if you’re with a smaller publisher, get stuck paying for your own travel expenses if you do a book tour or go to cons. But spending thousands a month on your own “campaign?” You, the author, buying radio interviews and such. No. It sounds as if, for a “highly successful writer,” you have worked with an unusual number of shady, disinterested, or disreputable publishers.
Right. I have never spent meaningful money on publicity.
Mr. Wendig, I have a question: what about paying for editing services as an isolated thing? Let’s say that I’m a future self-publisher and I do indeed want to put a decent quality product on the shelf, what’s reasonable to estimate for just that chunk of the process? (I recognize that this doesn’t address the exact content of your post, but to be fair I was going “NOPE” long before you hit the $7k price tag, even before the $12k price tag, which got some hearty LOLs happening.)
And granted I should probably google this, and I will, but what’s “normal” for editing fees when companies and individuals are sometimes saying .03 cents a word and .09 cents a word, and aren’t we actually paying out of pocket for that in order to be published if we’re forking over $1200 for pro editing services? (That’s a chunk of change I actively have to save for to plonk a book on Amazon and there’s no guarantee for return on that either in the end, and the more I think about what I could be doing with that chunk of change, the more I ask myself “ARE YOU REALLY SURE YOU WANT TO GO INDIE, GIRL?”)
Can’t I just pay with my first born or, you know, a chunk of my soul or something?
I’m an editor with over a decade of experience and a book doctor for a literary agent at Folio, and I don’t charge even close to that. An agent charging to edit the book of a potential client is scandalous, not to mention a huge conflict of interest. And $6K? My god, did the agent write the book for Steve?
Editors’ prices vary widely based on experience, time (if you don’t have a lot of time, you often charge more to get fewer clients who are still worth your while) and recommendations, but I’d say $500-2000 is reasonable, depending on the work involved. Anything more than that would raise my eyebrows. And if the price is too low, the editor probably is actually a writer hoping to make some cash on the side. Not all writers make good editors.
I’m a freelance editor and JMH is right with costs between $500-2k for a copy and/or structural edit. Shop around. Speak to AT LEAST five different editors to find your fit; you find that, and the magic happens.
I’m also an editor for a successful small Australian press and NO WAY IN HELL do we charge authors for editing, proofreading, cover/internal art, promotion, printing, marketing et al. That’s NOT how you do things. Money flows TO the author, not away.
And $6K? My god, did the agent write the book for Steve?
jmh, that was MY thought! That would be today, 20 years later, $10,000? That is a HUGE amount of money for an Editor. A friend worked with a well respected freelance Editor (previously Editor at 2 of the big 5 publishers over her 25 year career) and even with extensive Editing, many re writes, my friend paid just over $3000 over the course of the year she worked with her. Twenty years ago, that would be, what, $1500?
I know I’m not the Chuckster, but I’m a self-published author who hired two editors for my first novel. My developmental editor cost $1,000, and I did 4 passes over my manuscript with her. My copy editor cost $500 for a 120,000-ish word manuscript.
My understanding is that these prices are about the norm for the services provided, give or take. You could pay as much as $1,500 for a developmental/story editor, and as much as $1,000 for a copy editor, and the numbers get fuzzier if you get an editor that does both. Between $500 and $2,000, depending on services, seems to be a pretty standard range.
Back in my day they slapped a tantalizing little blurb on the back cover to get you to buy a book.
I’ve hired well-known editors,and well known cover artists, and after paying both I was still well under $1,000 invested in a book. The amount this agency is charging is outrageous and takes advantage of desperate writers. You will never go broke, (or lose an election), however, underestimating the intelligence of the human race. Lots of these services still exist. Beware: Here there be tygers.
It’s really weird for a man who talks (boasts?) about how he was turned down by 65 agents before finding big success to then turn around and assert that finding an agent and going the traditional publishing route is too hard, and thus the three options remaining are self-publish, work with his company, or be a dirty dirty quitter baby.
Like, dude, trad-publishing wasn’t too hard for you, was it? Then why act like it is for other people? New authors get traditionally published every day. Most of them quietly slip beneath the waves shortly thereafter, but that’s publishing–ALL forms of publishing have a high attrition rate for new authors.
Why should I expect one of the big five (or an agent, for that matter) to take a previously pubbed work? WTF?
Alten is a major-league putz if he sells this as a legit way for new writers to break into the business. 2% of his victims will make a few bucks, the rest will be in the red, and the only party that will turn a good profit on this is Alten. Again, fuck that guy and the horse he rode in on, sideways.
Again, without hearing from one author, without ever having worked with either myself or my team, YOU, Emma Leigh have determined that our services are a rip-off.
Emma, have you written a manuscript?
If you did, and working with a writing coach could take your manuscript from fair to great, would that too be a rip-off?
These comments are ridiculous. Any author who comes to us COULD NOT get published. Our first task is to find out why. My senior editor and I read the book and decide if it has potential. We might need to work on it 6 months before it’s a decent read. If it’s not WE PASS – no money exchanged.
That’s story editing, and YES, we charge for that because it’s a lot of work on our part.
Steve, I believe you’ve conflated me with another commenter, so I’ll ignore your hysteria here.
Doesn’t say much for his skill as an editor.
No comments about the above links, which show your service listed on pretty much the premiere scam-warning for the entire publishing industry? Nothing at all?
I’ll repeat it here: Your service has been the subject of a write-up in “Writer Beware”, which is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
It seems odd that you are going out of your way to complain in response to comments here, yet ignore the fact that your service has been red-lighted as a scam by Writer Beware, a service with the backing of almost every major genre-writing professional organization.
You’re not exactly painting a picture of a competent professional.
They charge you twelve grand for “editorial services” (probably a spellchecker run) and a distribution pipeline you can get for free through KDP/Amazon, AND you only break even if you buy 600 of your own books and hand-sell them yourself. Fuck that shit sideways.
PublishAmerica used to use that business model (selling authors their own books), and it’s little more than a scam and a vanity press. You’d be better off using PoD if you really want to have ten boxes of your own novel sitting in the garage to hand-sell. Alten is a major-league putz if he sells this as a legit way for new writers to break into the business. 2% of his victims will make a few bucks, the rest will be in the red, and the only party that will turn a good profit on this is Alten. Again, fuck that guy and the horse he rode in on, sideways.
I’d give the man 12 grand for the sheer joy of the bullshit repellent joke. You know. He writes sharks and Bat– *shoots money at Steve Alten from t-shirt cannon, Alten flees, chases Alten while shooting* TAKE IT, TAKE IT, BULLSHIT REPELLENT, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA…
“Assuming one chooses not to go with a traditional publisher, then the self-publishing option is the correct one.”
I’m going to take issue with this. You cannot “choose” to go with a traditional publisher. You cannot call an agent and say “congratulations, you’re now representing me and I think we’ll publish with XXX publisher.” You can choose to submit yourself to the publishing industry, which means you might have a 0.1% chance of being published. If you are an established author who can choose, then that’s privilege.
It’s interesting hearing from the man himself . . .
I’m currently shopping my novel around AND in a month or so I will put my house up for sale.
Here’s the comparison . . . IF I wanted to sell my house on my own, I know I will be blowing around $3K to $4 in associated costs. The benefit is that I can lower the asking price of my house and still make more money than if I go with a realtor.
Or, I can sign a contract with a realtor, and they make all the effort necessary to sell my house. If she is successful, she makes 6%. If not, she loses time and money and reputation and I can list with another realtor.
The skill of the realtor is deciding what my house is worth, having the confidence to sell it for that much, and then doing it.
I can tell you what I WON’T do . . . I will not pay the realtor the commission ahead of time, have her make a disclaimer saying that she cannot guarantee results, and listen to her reassure me by saying she was able to sell her house for a great price.
In that latter case, she has no reason to work hard, or at all. All she needs to do is list the house, be there if anyone asks about it, and it’s no skin off her nose if the house never sells. She already has her money.
THEN . . . I also won’t pay her extra money to stage my house, hold an open house, or listen to her when she says I need better presentation and I need to put money into landscaping.
THEN . . . if she does sell the house, I will not be happy being told I owe her more money because the house did well in the market.
Nope, I know my choices when it comes to selling my house, and they are surprisingly similar to my choices when selling my work.
Are there people who will see what A&M offers as a good deal?
I also know people who believe Elvis is alive and that prayers work. I’ve tried talking to them about it, but it invariably comes down to them sticking to their . . . well, I call them delusions, and will keep doing so until Elvis stops by to pray for my book to sell.
And that, as they say, is that.
Brilliant analogy. Love it.