Recently, a co-worker of mine–someone who knows that I am working on a novel–came to me in the break room and handed me a classified ad out of the Penny Press. That’s a small-town all-classified ads type publication with versions for just about every region there is. (Possibly not yours.) Lemme tell you. If you want a new carburetor for your Ford or if you have a few straws of bull semen to sell, the Penny Press is your best friend.
This particular ad began with the phrase “WRITERS WANTED” and then went on to the glories of
self vanity/subsidy publishing your novel.
She had the best intentions at heart, so I thanked her, and put the ad in my purse, and maybe felt a little guilty for not explaining the difference.
I’m not talking about the difference between indie publishing and traditional publishing here. This is straight-up vanity press vs. indie publishing.
So, a vanity press is a “publisher” that never says “NO” to anybody who’s got the money to pay them. You pay up front. They make their money off of you, not off of your book. And yes. Just in case that book turns out to be worth anything, they’ll want a majority stake in that. You pay them to publish the thing, but somehow, they still wind up in control with an on-going stake in your book.
In indie publishing–which is a term that’s explicitly supposed to separate Indie Publishers from vanity publishers–you own the intellectual property rights, and you hire people. So, you might hire a cover artist. You pay him for his work, and then, he’s gone. He doesn’t get an on-going stake in your book. And if you also want to hire an editor, you don’t have to hire the cover artist’s best friend. You pay for everything, and any profits above that are yours to keep.
And in traditional publishing, you’re essentially taking on a very selective business partner. Someone who brings knowledge, experience, and money to the table. They’re very selective. They’re not going to publish your children’s book, Baby Hippo’s First Book of Number Bases because they know it’s not going to sell. They bring value to the partnership (see knowledge, experience, and money) and YOU bring value to the table (your book/intellectual property) and you each wind up with a percentage of the overall business you start together. (And yes, that’s an oversimplification.)
So, on to analogies. Imagine that you want to sell antiques.
There are three basic ways that you can do this.
Subsidy publishing is like a booth at the local antique mall. Nobody cares whether you’re selling Chippendale dressers, or handmade soap, or that nifty collection of Care Bear themed glasses from 1980’s Pizza Hut. (Yes, or human remains.) You pay your rent, and there you are. BUT WAIT… you’re tied in, because people don’t look up booth #217 in the phone book. They look up Antique-y Antique Mall. And–if you’ve been in one of those places–you know that the profits from snack bar, and the t-shirts and so forth all go to the mall, no matter how much rent you’ve put in.
Indie Publishing is like opening your own antique store. You’re going to pick what goes in there, and you’re going to design the logo, and figure out your own snack bar, and advertise your own name, and your own particular niche and if you do it right… well, you own a business. The risk is all yours, and so are the profits.
Traditional publishing is more like that high-end antique store in a nice neighborhood of a big town. IF they think you have something GOOD, you don’t have to pay the rent or put an ad in the phone book, and they already have name recognition that says “We sell the best Care Bear Collector’s Glasses around.” And the partnership should be worth more to you than the fraction that you bring to it.