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July 1, 2003

Follow the money
Posted by Teresa at 03:32 PM *

I believe I’ve identified a new variant of the vanity publishing scam. More than one publisher appears to be using it, so I’ll do a generalized description. It has a couple of interesting structural novelties. For starters, it’s configured to avoid setting off one of our most basic alarms.

For years now, we’ve been dinning Yogs Law into young writers’ heads: Money always flows toward the writer. Alternate version: The only place an author should sign a check is on the back, when they endorse it. Most of them are now clear on the idea that if a publisher wants you to pay to have your book published, or subsidize your book’s publication as a “co-investor” (a.k.a. subsidy, joint-venture, or co-op publishing), they’re a vanity operation. Some aspiring writers are sophisticated enough to recognize the sneakier forms of vanity publishing, as described by the estimable Victoria Strauss:
An increasing number of pay-to-publish ventures are trying to dodge the “vanity” label by shifting their charges to some aspect of publication other than printing and binding. Instead of asking you to pay to print your book, they ask you to buy goods or services. For instance, you may be asked to purchase editing, or to fund a publicity campaign for your book, or to hire the company’s own artistic or design staff. You may be asked to commit to buying a large number of your own books once they’re published, or to become a salesperson and pre-sell your books prior to publication. You may be asked to buy or sell ads for your book, or to pay to attend the publisher’s own expensive conferences, or to purchase a certain number of the publisher’s other books. No matter what the permutation, the bottom line is that you’re still paying money to see your work published.
One of my least favorite of these is the version where you’re asked to guarantee the advance purchase of a large number of copies of your own book. This is often represented as a “standard publishing practice” made necessary by the difficulty of selling first novels. Your money will supposedly be reimbursed when those copies sell—only they never do. In the case of some scammers, this is directly traceable to the books’ never having been printed in the first place, which undoubtedly saves a lot on printing and warehousing. The only copies that are ever made up are the few that get sent to the author.

The sheer number and variety of schemes for putting the bite on aspiring writers is why Yog made his law so simple. No matter what anybody tells you, no matter where in the process you’re asked to cough up the cash, no matter what they call their program: if money is flowing away from the writer, there’s something wrong.

So, when a writer armed with this wisdom encounters this new scam, it doesn’t look like a bad deal. The publisher undertakes to do all the pre-press production, printing, and binding, at little or no charge to the author. They don’t require authors to buy some pre-set quantity of their own books, either, and they pay a small royalty on each copy sold. Sales are made through the online booksellers. It look a lot like a standard POD operation. There’s just one oddity, not something you’d notice in advance: the publisher’s cover prices are higher—sometimes a lot higher—than you’d see on comparable titles from other POD publishers.

What’s the trick? It’s a combination of low production costs, high cover prices, and immutable auctorial behavior patterns. Authors always want copies of their books, and they always sell further copies to their friends and relations. Here’s something interesting: Jim Macdonald says that whenever one of these New Model Publishers (not just the scammers; all of them) gets to bragging in public about their total number of titles published and copies sold, the derivable average number of copies per title comes out right around seventy-five.

If a vanity publisher’s production and setup costs are low enough, and the cover prices on their books are high enough, they don’t have to make the author commit to purchase hundreds of copies of his own book. They can make their profit off the average number of copies the author and the author’s friends-and-relations are going to buy anyway. The publishers still aren’t making their money selling books to the general reading public. They’re still making their profit off the author and the author’s posse. They’ve just made it a lot harder to see that.

This is moderately clever. It relocates the sting to the point of retail sale, where it’s never been before. Further camouflage is provided by the author’s tendency to see that transaction as a book sale, a good thing, not as the vanity publishing on a per-copy installment plan that it really is.

What’s the difference between this scheme and books that just don’t sell very well? It’s the cover price. That’s the tip-off. Imagine you’re a publisher. If you honestly think a book is going to sell to a general audience, you set its price at a level comparable with other books of its sort. But if you consistently set your prices higher than consumers would imaginably pay, you’re betting against your own books. You’re calculating that there’s no chance this book is going to be bought by anyone who doesn’t know the author, so you lose nothing by giving it a cover price that guarantees it won’t be bought by strangers. Instead, you make your money by putting the squeeze on Rabbit’s Friends and Relations.

(Exception: Specialized nonfiction sold to a specialized audience. Totally different scene. Disregard it.)

Some additional background: Three developments have gone into making this new variant possible. First, there’s computerized desktop publishing (DTP) technology, which lets you pour the author’s electronic text into an existing template, run a spellchecker over it, and come out with something that superficially resembles proper text pages. This process is to your full-scale publishing production cycle as a cardboard display dummy is to a real computer, but if you’re not worried about quality control it can be extremely cheap.

Second, there are the ongoing developments in binding and dry-copying technology that have make it feasible to do short runs of books while incurring relatively low press setup charges. This sometimes gets referred to as POD (print on demand), though it isn’t; POD is a business and production model. This is the technology that POD publishing is based on.

Third, there’s online bookselling. Used to be, vanity publishers didn’t claim to be booksellers, for good reason: going out and selling books is a lot of work. However, it’s relatively easy to shovel your titles into the maw of and It’s a real stone soup kind of deal: they’ll sell any book that sells itself. But the setup enables vanity publishers to represent themselves as booksellers, which means they get to set the cover prices.

So there’s your necessary mechanism: (1.) lower production costs on the book, (2.) lower set-up charges for reproducing it, and (3.) the power to set the cover price, meets (4.) a relatively predictable number of sales generated by (5.) the irresistible desire of authors to buy copies of their own book, and talk their friends and relations into buying it too.

[Note: If you aren’t familiar with the basic publishing scams, you might find it instructive and amusing to check out the Writer Beware! and Preditors & Editors websites, Victoria Strauss’s original Writer Beware article, and the Writers’ Center Scam Kit. (Motto: “The easy path to publication is paved with your dollars.”)]

Comments on Follow the money:
#1 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2003, 09:29 PM:

You should get paid for your posts on POD and publishing scams. They're excellent. And much more thorough than some of the "tips" columns I see on other writer sites.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 12:21 AM:

This info is from R. R. Bowker.

The average prices (2002) for various formats:

Adult hardcover: $27.52
Juvenile hardcover: $15.78
Adult trade paperback: $15.77
Adult mass market paperback: $7.30

#3 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 01:10 AM:

Less the discounts for buying at Amazon, Costco, etc. of course.

Hmm. I'd been seeing more and more of this around and I'd been trying to figure out what it was. All I'd been smelling was something fishing, but thanks for pointing out the hook.

#4 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 02:03 AM:

I wonder if your several comments on different scams (different but--alas--the same) could be published in the SFWA Bulletin?

As well as various other Author society magazines. Author's Guild Bulletin, SCBWI's Bulletin etc.


#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 02:33 AM:

Let's look at the prices charged by Wildside Press, known honest. They publish a catalog, have sales reps, pay royalties, take returns, and in all ways act like any other small press. They also use PoD technology for their printing. This is based on all Wildside paperbacks listed at Amazon as being published in 2003:


Mean $17.01
Median $15.95
Mode $19.95
Range $7
Minimum $12.99
Maximum $19.99

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 02:41 AM:

The specialised non-fiction exception is pretty wide, and has always been around.

Mostly, though, that's a form of self-publishing, which is a bit more honest a game. There's pitfalls in it, and people tend to wear the publisher's hat and forget to pay themselves as the writer.

Anyway, you've mentioned that down-blog, in previous articles on this. What most of us are likely to see is local history. Some writers think it's worth getting their memoirs in print, and I suppose future historians will be glad of that.

But better to deal with an honest printer, or some sort of publisher. Is there a term for the honest operation, something like "contract publisher", who would do the work?

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 07:28 AM:

A nice example of specialized nonfiction would be Sailboat Self Steering You can Build by Willimam Wensel.

A twenty two page booklet on building the HV 101
Horizontal Self Steering Vane for Sailboats.

I don't imagine that there are enough people who want to build a horizontal self-steering vane for their sailboats to make it worthwhile for a commercial house to bring out an edition and for B&N to stock it, but those people who do want to build such a rig will go to great lengths to seek out the book, and pay nearly any price to have it.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 07:39 AM:

Thanks, John (and everyone else). If I have anything valuable to say on these subjects, it's in part because I happen to perceive scams structurally, and because I've done so many different jobs in publishing that I have a pretty good sense of how things relate.

The list of what I've done is best rendered as a specimen of that characteristically American art form, the extended brag:

I've been a typesetter, researcher, manuscript typist, copywriter, copyeditor, editor, line editor, proofreader, slugger, and once in a while a designer and illustrator. I came in at the end of hot lead and linotype, and was trained on some of the earliest computerized typesetting systems. I've read proof on long galleys and on screen, and still have a stash of lick-and-stick query flags. I brought the first Mac to Tor, produced its first DTP mechanicals and galleys, and oversaw its first digitally retouched covers. I've worked on magazines, newspapers, books, comic books, and websites, and edited science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, literary criticism reference series, comics, general nonfiction, naughty novels, straight news, editorials, features, church bulletins, political polemics, worldcon publications, Bob Webber's metallurgical engineering papers, and a bunch of other stuff I'll remember later. I've worked in editorial, crossed over the line to work in production, then crossed back over to editorial again. I92ve read Ace's and Baen92s slush (though not much), temped at Avon and Warner, and worked in a department that was sacked en masse the week before Christmas. I92ve proofread Latin, Spanish, Catalan, Anglo-Saxon, Elizabethan English, several dialects of Middle English, Early Modern English, Modern English, and equations. I once rewrote an entire book in one day. I've lost track of how many nonexistent dialects and languages I've kept track of. I92ve line-edited Terry Carr, proofread u&lc, held Harlan Ellison to a deadline, forced a packager to maintain quality control, and thrown fear into the heart of a Haddon Craftsman sales rep.

(Take that, Mike Fink!)

(Now Robert Legault looks up from his whittling, spits thoughtfully, and says "Hell's bells, that ain't nothin' 'tall. Why, I once--")

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 07:44 AM:

On the other hand, how many will seek out The Steadfast by M. A. Schweitzer, a 390 page paperback mystery original by a previously unpublished author, a book with a cover price of $51.98?

#10 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 08:41 AM:

Compare Wildside's numbers, above, with another PoD press chosen for illustrative reasons (this is a real place, though I forebear to mention its name).

Mean $29.54
Median $29.90
Mode $29.98
Range $50.02
Minimum $19.98
Maximum $70.00

Compare both with R.R. Bowker's average prices.

Both this publisher and Wildside produce trade paperbacks.

Average price of an adult trade paperback per Bowker: $15.77
Average price of one of Wildside's PoD trade-size paperbacks: $17.01
Average price of one of this publisher's PoD trade-size paperbacks: $29.54

Not surprisingly, Wildside's main page is covered with ads for books they have for sale. Not surprisingly, this publisher's main page is covered with notices that becoming a Respected Published Author is now within your grasp.

Who's your market, baby? Who's selling what to whom?

Further variants:

Bottom-feeding fee-charging agents are starting to send their clients eventually to the PoD over-priced-book publishers. These latter publish the slush-heap -- an agent is hardly required. The question in my mind is whether there's a kickback involved, or if the self-styled agents are using the publications there to boost their resumes: so-and-so many Published Authors on my client list! See, their books are available on Amazon and by special order everywhere! Hoo hah! Pay me my $200/month representation fee! Your book shows great promise. I can all-but-guarantee it will be published by a royalty-paying publisher! Oh yass!

#11 ::: Danny Yee ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 09:06 AM:

This is just so depressing. So many people writing so many bad books. And so many scammers feeding the frenzy to make a quick buck. (I don't have anything remotely like Teresa's experience, but for a while I was getting an unsolicited book a day to review and that was quite distressing enough.)

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 09:34 AM:

The depressing thing for me is that one of these print-the-slush-heap places likely has, out of every hundred books, perhaps two that would have been publishable. Alas! Those books will never be properly edited, nor will anyone but the author's mom and her bridge club ever read them. Alas! A loss to us all.

I'm told that J. K. Rowling had a number of rejections before Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sold. I'm told that one among the editors who rejected it, on being asked about the decision to pass on the book, replied that the version he saw was "unreadable crap."

What apparently happened was that somewhere along the line, several rejections in, Rowling sat down and learned how to write.

Imagine if rather than re-writing she'd gone to one of the PoD disguised vanity presses though! Her book would have been published exactly the way she wrote it! (The vanity PoD houses advertise lack of editing as a feature, not a bug.) She'd have been a published author! Hooray! She'd have sold her 75 copies (by dint of hustling everyone she knew). She'd have been happy. Really. The thrill of holding a printed copy of your own book -- I can't describe it. It's wonderful.


#13 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 09:52 AM:

Holding Harlan Ellison to his deadline sounds like a story I'd like to hear in more detail, Teresa. Maybe at Readercon? (if my wife doesn't deliver that weekend....)

#14 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 10:01 AM:

Ah yes, the "specialized non-fiction" exception. As one who hopes to get a tenure-track job someday, I'll keep my mouth shut on this particular topic. (Anybody want to buy a translated 12,000-line Old French epic? It's just like a Jackie Chan movie. Honest.)

#15 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 10:06 AM:

Anne: I'm curious, against my better judgement. What's the epic?

#16 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 11:32 AM:

The story I deeply want to hear is why - and above all how - you "once rewrote an entire book in one day."

#17 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 11:42 AM:

While I, too, would love to hear the "rewote in one day" story, I have a different publishing/making light related query.

By following the one of the "particles" links (loving this new feature, btw), I ended up at "the worst website I've seen this year." On it, this Publish America shill asserts that--

"There are 56,000 publishers in the U.S.
*9There are 1.5 million different books in print
*9Last year, 135,000 new titles were published, 540 each day
*9Bookstores stock less than 1% of all new titles
*980% of all book sales are controlled by only 5 publishing powerhouses
*9The top 20 publishers account for 93% of all book sales "

Does anyone have the hard numbers on this? I mean, 56,000 U.S. publishers sounds like, to put it mildly, wildly inflated.

#18 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 11:49 AM:

Cassandra: "La Chevalerie d'Ogier de Danemarche." Guts! Glory! Shenanigans!

#19 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 02:18 PM:

Holding Harlan to a deadline? There's a job waiting for you with the State Department . . . ever considered going back to school, say Foreign Service at Georgetown?

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Anne: Cool! Don't suppose you'd let me see it? (I have my "defrocked medievalist" hat on, not my "commercially savvy editor" model.)

Kevin, when I was mixing it up in that argument in PC Magazine, one of the other participants was M. A. Schweitzer, author of The Steadfast. He was deeply puzzled that his publisher had set the cover price of his mystery novel at $51.98. I was puzzled too. If a book isn't a major reference work, nor full of color plates, nor out of print, nor wildly specialized, there is no reason on earth for it to have a $52 cover price. Not this year, at any rate.

Here's the story problem version: How many copies of his own book does the author have to buy at $52 a pop before it would have been cheaper to go to Vantage in the first place?

Answer: a lot fewer copies than you'd have gotten from Vantage.

Jane, I'd be perfectly happy to have my posts on this subject reprinted elsewhere. I'd want to say yes on a case-by-case basis, and tidy up the text a bit, but the point of the exercise is to put this information where wanna-be authors will find it.

Dave Bell, it's called a printer. There's an article of mine on the Writer Beware website on how to do just that. If you want to go the POD route, I haven't seen Booklocker's contract or their production quality, but I like their approach, and I love their explanatory text.

Danny, there are some people who passionately want to be deceived, like the guy I heard of recently who's got a novel out from PublishAmerica, and poems in three International Library of Poetry anthologies. He's buying a dream. That's his lookout.

But some of these writers are honest. They aren't good enough to be published yet, but they might get there if they keep at it. For them, scam publishers aren't just a distraction and a ripoff. They're a heartbreak. Running afoul of them makes it that much harder to keep writing.

John, Sylvia, I'll try to get to those stories another day. The Harlan story is relatively short and not all that colorful.

Adrienne, what I know about Mr. Marcus is that almost all the Amazon reviews of his novel Crispy are five-star raves, and an awful lot of them are by PublishAmerica authors.

I have serious trouble believing there are 56,000 publishers in the United States. That'd give you an average of 1,120 per state. You might get away with that in New York and California, but they'd kind of stand out in Wyoming and Montana, and in Rhode Island the publishers would outnumber the burger stands.

I went and looked in our office copy of Publishers Directory. It's dated 1999 and was published by Gale Research, but there's a limit to how far wrong even Gale can go. According to the PD, in 1999 there were 18,985 publishers in Canada and the United States combined. That includes the America Tolkien Society, which publishes a quarterly journal plus buttons, t-shirts, posters, etc. Also: some people in West Virginia who self-published a tailgater's cookbook, a firm that publishes psychological testing materials, a bookshop that reprints antique maps of its historic local area, a guy in California who publishes real estate licensing test prep materials, a fruit & vegetable growers' association that publishes occasional newsletters, a professional organization that sends its members an annual directory of the pet industry in Canada, about a zillion local museums and historical societies, and the Urdu Society of Canada. Are you getting the idea?

There's been a tendency for unsaleable authors--mostly middle-aged men--to decide that their repeated rejections are a sign that the publishing industry is broken, and to start their own online publishing company. They start with just their own titles, and try to entice other unpublished authors into letting them publish their books. Some of these guys morph into scammers as they figure out how things really work. There are a lot of these guys, but in order to hit the target figure there'd have to be two of them for every "publisher" listed in that Gale Research directory, and that's just not plausible.

If I knew how he arrived at that "56,000 publishers" figure, I might be able to figure out how he arrived at his figures for the total number of titles published, etc.; but I don't, so I can't.

I wouldn't be terribly amazed to discover that 80% of all book sales are controlled by five publishing powerhouses (that'd be Bertelsmann, von Holtzbrinck, and WarTime, plus two more). For the top twenty publishers to account for 93% of all sales just means that publishers nos. 6-20 have an additional 13% of the total market. Maybe it's true; maybe it isn't. But it wouldn't surprise me.

So, I'd say he's got a mix of and bad and possibly good data there. The question is, what conclusions does he draw from it?

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 03:00 PM:

"I wouldn't be terribly amazed to discover that 80% of all book sales are controlled by five publishing powerhouses (that'd be Bertelsmann, von Holtzbrinck, and WarTime, plus two more)."

Actually, we're not in the top five North American trade publishing groups. As I recall, that would currently be:

* Bertelsmann (Random House, Vintage, Ballantine, Bantam, Doubleday, Dell, etc)

* Viacom (Simon & Schuster, Pocket, etc)

* Pearson (Viking, Dutton, Putnam, Berkley, Penguin, misc. flightless aquatic birds)

* AOL Time Warner (Warner Books, Little Brown, Time-Life, etc)

* HarperCollins (HarperCollins, Morrow, Avon, etc)

In North America, Holtzbrinck's book publishing comprises St. Martin's Press, Tor/Forge, Henry Holt, and Farrar Straus Giroux. I vaguely recall we're something like #9, all told. I'm fairly sure Harlequin is also bigger than us, when you include all their various paperback lines--Silhouette, Gold Eagle, Thrashing Man-Flesh, etc.

#22 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 03:36 PM:

Those stats are credited to Publish America in this newsletter:

(If you check around their authors' message boards you'll find they're trotted out whenever a PA author asks why his books aren't being shelved at some given bookstore. There are all these publishers, see, and all these books, and bookstore shelves are finite, so, just by accident your book isn't being shelved there. Besides, the big guys are squeezing out the little guys! We're all in this together!)

(No one comes to the obvious conclusion: Well, if 80% of book sales come from 5 publishing powerhouses, it would farking behoove me to make sure my book came out from one of those places.)

#23 ::: Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 03:56 PM:

SIGH. What's really sad, Teresa, is that the people who need this information, who really need to know that these are nothing but scams, are certain that it's being disseminated by embittered has-been and never-were writers who don't want any competition. About half of these darlings will continue to pay PublishAmerica for the "privilege" of publishing that "Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape" crossover trilogy at ridiculous prices, and the rest will only bite when they see a particularly good ad in "Writer's Digest". The likelihood of the latter is pretty good, though, when you look at the number of "writers" who continue to believe that buying ten-year subscriptions to "WD" will somehow allow them to make a living from writing science fiction short stories.

Of course, one would think that venues like "Writer's Digest" might be interested in offering warnings to their subscribers. It's not like that's going to happen, though, and not just because most writing magazines depend upon the advertising from vanity presses. The odds of "The Writer" or "Writer's Digest" running an article on publishing scams or what to do when a publisher won't pay for a previously published article are right up there with the Dallas Cowboys winning the World Series or SFWA requiring regular publication as a precondition for continued membership. After all, you don't want to scare away the people who plan to quit their jobs and write full-time the moment they get their story published in "Pulphouse", right?

(And before anyone says anything, I know "Pulphouse" shut down years ago. When I heard the news, I suddenly understood how Hunter S. Thompson felt when Nixon resigned.)

#24 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 04:20 PM:

There's been a tendency for unsaleable authors--mostly middle-aged men--to decide that their repeated rejections are a sign that the publishing industry is broken, and to start their own online publishing company. They start with just their own titles, and try to entice other unpublished authors into letting them publish their books. Some of these guys morph into scammers as they figure out how things really work

In a way, I can't help admiring their confidence and courage, but, of course, those who morph into scammers are a Bad Thing. The others may be too, but I still can't help admiring that confidence and courage.


#25 ::: Holly Messinger ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 04:40 PM:

About a year ago my grandad coughed up something in the range of $20,000 to Vantage Press for 500 copies of his book. He carries copies around in the trunk of his car, to foist on unsuspecting people who politely ask, "Oh, you wrote a book? What's it about?"

I had had the privilege of reading his MS before he started submitting it, and I knew perfectly well that any publisher willing to publish "Doc's Boy" was no publisher he wanted to be dealing with, but Gramps didn't listen. Now he's angry that Vantage isn't doing the marketing they said they were going to do.

All of this is sad, but what really torques me off is when he starts implying that I can get something published too, someday when I'm a big girl.

When I do I'm going to rub his nose in it.

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 04:44 PM:

Teresa, when I asked about what I labelled a "contract publisher" I had in mind somebody who could bridge the gap between the author and the printer. Am I seeing "printer" as something more limited than you do?

What I have in mind is, perhaps, somebody with your experience, who can make the connections. Whether it's possible to sell real editing to an author, I'm not sure. But there are things which can be sold, such as cover design.

Thinking about it, you'd probably end up with an unviable blend of agent and publisher that could all too easily fall into the fringes of vanity publishing.

#27 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 06:20 PM:

All this reminds me of a YA book I read waaaay back in elementary school called The Great Mom Swap or some such title. Essentially these two girls thought their moms would be perfect for each other so they convinced their moms to let them swap houses over summer break. One of the girls was a writer (of hilariously bad romance stories) and wanted to get published and actually had a run-in with a vanity publisher in the story. (She gets saved from being published by her "new mom" who tells the publisher off for trying to get money from a minor.) It made me wonder if the author had a run-in herself at one point. In any case, I too had always cherished dreams of being a writer and I was glad that life informed me of these scams before I actually fell for one.

Random thought: Why haven't people online noticed that if you go to a real publisher's website, you see generally see lots of books on the front page, and if you go to a vanity publisher, you see quotes from hapless authors, lots of "publish your book now" and nary a book in sight? At least nary a book on most of the publishers I've run into. 1stBooks and WePublish certainly didn't have any. PublishAmerica had loads, so I guess they want to prove the exception to the rule.

Totally amused by this letter from Dean Koontz to a PublishAmerica author.

#28 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 06:30 PM:

So, that's two people for the "Chevalier" epic.

I don't know where I picked up the idea that summer is for reading novels with pink covers and little content.
I wish I could get rid of it: though it doesn't stop me from laying outside on the green, contentedly reading 'serious' books, I always feel vaguely tratiorious.

#29 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 07:15 PM:

Three for "La Chevalerie d'Ogier de Danemarche". Especially if it has evil giants.

#30 ::: Ter ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 07:58 PM:

Three for "La Chevalerie d'Ogier de Danemarche". Especially if it has evil giants.

Any shopping, shagging, and quaffing Cosmos? With a pink cover, of course.

I'm having this vision of "Sex and the City meets Guts! Glory! Shenanigans!" Possibly a new line from Silhouette.

#31 ::: Jonathan ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 09:38 PM:

A relatively ancient variation on this scam is the "Who's Who in Whatever Field" industry. Or various poetry collections. The variation is that the scam artist publishes a book with a lot of subjects, many of whom can be counted on to buy a copy or three at some inflated cost. is an example of, as far as I can tell, a legitimate POD publisher. The URL below is for a hard copy of a manual for the Mac shareware program GraphicConverter. The author pays nothing, and can buy copies at a relatively low cost. The author sets the retail sales price, and apparently splits the margin with the publisher. From the name, they appear to be targeting technical manuals, but it's not a bad model for low-volume publishing.

#32 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 11:02 PM:

Four for Ogier de Danemarche, with a nod to Three Hearts and Three Lions.

#33 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 11:29 PM:

So, is this particular nameless (but I know who it is) publisher a good bet if I really only want one copy of my book? Seriously, I was thinking of letting them pay me a dollar for the privelege of printing up in a nice book all the recipes that I now have scattered on index cards, backs of envelopes, and scraps of paper, strewn all over my kitchen. I mean, if I'm going to go to the trouble of typing them up for myself, why not scam a scammer into printing and binding a free copy for me? Or did I miss something in the list of 'strings attached'?

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:03 AM:

S'funny, my strong association with Ogier the Dane is

'Well could Ogier work his war-boat, well could Ogier weild a brand/Much he knew of foaming waters, not so much of farming land."

Which just won't fit with the work described, but I'd like to read it anyway.

#35 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:20 AM:

Anne: Another one for Ogier.

#36 ::: Elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:29 AM:

If Graydon is five for Ogier, I'm six.

#37 ::: Elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:30 AM:

Make that seven -- Lois slipped in while I was posting.

#38 ::: Kenneth G. Cavness ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:38 AM:

Apropos of nothing: Why is it that "estimable" and "inestimable" mean essentially the same thing"? Every time I see the word "estimable", I want to make it an antonym of "inestimable."


#39 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:50 AM:

Add another to the growing list of Chevalerie d'Ogier fanciers. I spent a summer as a very young lass beating my way through an Elderly Anglish saga, with concordance and some sort of dictionary, primarily because I wanted to know what happened next. I never quite got to What Happened Next, and looking back I suspect that my expectations of narrative were not entirely congruent with those of the poet.

In any case, regarding why prospective authors don't notice when they're being screwed over by scamming PODs, there's none so ungrateful as a mark whose eyes you've just opened. Writers who've no hope in hell of going professional still want the typeset pages bound between cardboard and held together with cheap glue.

Look, when I go out for an afternoon and knock out a few pencil sketches, I can, over the next weekend, if I want, mat and frame them and hang them on my wall and they look rather nice. Not high art, but quite nice.

A hobbyist writer doesn't have that option, that finish. What he has when he's done is a printed manuscript, at best. It's not a book, there's no resemblance to a book. Not a book like you can buy in a store, with a fancy cover and all.

That's where the POD people come in. You can tell that writer till you're blue in the face that they're being ripped off, and all they'll see is that you're pissing on their book.

#40 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Oh my! Hooray! I should've known that this crowd would be interested!

No shopping, only one instance of shagging (but it's vital to the plot) and not much quaffing. But plenty of Eeeeevil Saracens and a two-headed, four-armed giant. Also a Divine Intervention and a very smart horse.

But unfortunately I haven't finished translating it yet. The only English version I have is a 10pg single-spaced plot summary that doesn't really convey the flavour of the thing. Which I'm happy to share, except I'm not sure how to get a Word-for-Mac file efficiently to all y'all's computers. (Of course, when I _do_ get it closer to done, I'm going to see about joining a writer's group, so they can point out my infelicities.)

Teresa, I think it's "medievalist in aeternum," from what I've seen. As for your hats, I've been planning it as a facing-page translation for use in the classroom anyway; my diss director told me there's one-a them wossnames for it, specialized markets or something? :-P

Oops. And now I hafta go teach....

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 10:32 AM:

Kenneth: because 'inestimable' is formed from the verb 'estimate', but 'estimable' is from 'esteem'. Note the absense of *'esteemable', at least from my dictionary.

A very large unpredictable number can be inestimable, but not estimable. No doubt someone will backform estimable in that sense and ruin everything. /pedantic whining

#42 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 11:18 AM:

Money flows to the author, true.

How much money, they never say.

Was it Mark Twain who said, you can make a fortune as a writer in America, but you can't make a living.

#43 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 11:54 AM:

The "fortune but not a living" observation was by James Michener.

I suppose, on the model of flammability, we need "noninestimable" just to complete the set.

#44 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:00 PM:

Saracens and a multi-armed giant?! Cool!

#45 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 04:14 PM:

And don't forget the divine intervention.

If you don't have a divine intervention, you can make do by having your characters watch as an elaborately symbolic masque is enacted. Or you can put in a big fight with a big monster. Or an intricate court case. Or a really bloody scene where someone slaughters their in-laws.

I'm sure I'm forgetting a few.

You get extra points if you work in more than one of them. You lose a point every time one character turns to another, says the medieval equivalent of "As you know, Bob," and rattles off a numbered categorical list.

If it doesn't have any really cool scenes, you're probably reading La Chanson de Roland, Western literature's first full-length piece of liebestod slash fic.

If it becomes apparent that the major characters are going to die violently together before the last page is turned, and this realization perks them right up, the story was originally written in Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon.

If something completely inscrutable happens, and one or more major characters conclude as a result that they're going to die before the last page is turned, the original story was Irish.

If the fight scenes average one or more spear-brasting per stanza, the story is French.

If you find yourself in a medieval epic, never agree to a one-on-one fight, on horseback, against an unidentified person who is wearing a closed helmet. If they're not your own true love, your true king, your long-lost twin brother, or a son you didn't know you had, they're some BNK fighting in disguise. No matter which one it is, you're guaranteed to wish you hadn't fought them.

#46 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 05:30 PM:


#47 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 05:41 PM:

Immoderate laughter! (Dunno what BNK means. Big-Name King?) You know, Teresa, you should put on your editor-hat and publish Marie de France's _Lais_. I know exactly who should do it, too.

I forgot to mention the Lovely Saracen Maiden, who's engaged to the Courtly Saracen Kannigget. And her treacherous brother.

Dang, all this is making me want to get back to work! Good thing I only have 3 more days of summer school.

#48 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 06:32 PM:

BNK = Big Name Knight. Galahad, Lancelot, Gawain, one of those guys.

#49 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 08:38 PM:

James: Just so. One of Camelot's MVPs.

Interesting idea, Anne. People would be bound to misinterpret the title, but that might be a commercial plus.

Who do you have in mind?

#50 ::: Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 10:17 PM:

The comments on that Publish America thread are so sad:

I look at it this way. If they took the chance on an unknown like me, then I have to live with the list price and pray I can sell enough copies to make some money. I am sure it would not hurt to ask them to lower the price, but it is how they stay in business, publishing new authors, that have no money to publish themselves. At least they are there huh. Without them, how many of us would have the money to print our own books? Not many I bet.
I dunno. Okay, yeah, there are a lot of situations that are objectively more tragic. But there's just something heartbreaking, to me, about these posts - the way they nervously preface their concerns with groveling, the way they've talked themselves into the idea that accepting this scam is a matter of self-esteem. Damn.

#51 ::: Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 10:18 PM:

Um, I was trying to offset that middle paragraph as a quote. It's not meant to be my words - just the first and last paragraphs are.

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 11:34 PM:

(working backward)

Jeff Crook: Have you counted how many people in this conversation are making a living writing fiction?

Anne: Medievalist in aeternum, check. It was a spiritual turning point in my life when I realized that there was neither pretension nor self-delusion involved in my taste for reading Middle English texts. I just like them.

Word for Macs is not a problem.

You should ask Jim Macdonald to send you the text of Syr Agricoli. I'd post it myself, if he sent me the text and gave me permission.

Fran, I regret to say it's more than one publisher, but I know which one offers a one-buck advance. It sounds like a good idea. I might try that myself.

Oh, that's funny. It's just occurred to me that this makes a very durable backup medium.

You do want to make sure you're familiar with WordPerfect. Here's their pr*d*ct**n c*cl* (I hate having to call it that): You send them your e-text file, formatted according to their specs. They pour it into a template, run a spellchecker over it, and send the file back to you so you can read proof and make your own corrections.

You have to get it right, though. Some of their authors have received their finished copies, only to discover that their printed-and-bound text has been transformed into a single continuous paragraph, or, in another case, into a single continuous word. I had no idea that WordPerfect was so powerful, but apparently it can do things like that with a single misplaced command.

(This is giving me a case of concretized metaphor. When we're reading blues -- those are page images taken directly from the offset plates, a very late stage in production -- one common rule of thumb for what you do and don't correct says you should only fix errors that are bad enough to make a dog laugh, or blatant enough to be visible from ten paces. I may never get to see a dog laugh, but PA has finally provided me with an example of a text error visible at ten paces.)

The obvious inference is that they forward the proofed text file to the printer without looking at it. This has all sorts of interesting possibilities we need not go into here.

I've been thinking about this for several hours now, and I can only spot a couple of potential problems. One is that you don't own the rights on those recipes. It'll probably be enough to give the book an unattractive title so that no one will buy it.

Of course, if you really were worried about it, I could suggest a truly dumb fix: Take a list of the commonest ingredients, and systematically change them to different and improbable nouns in your text. When you get your book back, paste a list of what's really what on the inside front cover: plaster of paris = flour, baseballs = onions, grunions = green onions, etc.

The other problem is that the publisher you have in mind has an "all rights for seven years" contract. If my correspondent with the interesting take on rights reversions is correct, you might want to use a pseudonym on the book to start with, to avoid having to use one later.

PiscusFish, authors tend to know (or at least meet) people who've had run-ins with vanity publishers. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if that one had first- or second-hand experience.

I've seen that page. Dolly Parton and Pat Boone sound like they might actually have read the books. The Mississippi author site lists all known Mississippi authors. Most of the rest of those breathlessly reported successes are essentially some Hollywood person's staff saying "Yes, do please send me a copy of your book, at absolutely no cost or obligation to me." (Alternate reading: "We acknowledge the receipt of your query letter. Send the book.") Charlton Heston's and Dean Koontz's letters are small masterpieces of polite denial.

You'd have to be as naive as a PA author to think those were something to crow about.

Dave Bell, try Booklocker. I really do like their approach. Oh, and the Botox thing? It's real. No kidding.

Holly, you hang in there. You're going to make it. So are L.J. and Fran, if they do the same.

Mary Kay, if you dealt with these guys, you wouldn't admire their confidence and courage. They're more like Dilbert's pointy-haired boss, forging on ahead because they don't care about anyone else's opinions, and they don't know enough to figure out that what they're trying isn't going to work.

Of course, if they cared about what other people think, and knew more about how the world works, they'd be better writers. They might even be good enough to sell.

Paul, WD has put a lot of work into not noticing some of the things its regular advertisers do. I don't know why anyone reposes their faith in it.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 11:37 PM:

Rivka: for future reference, use {blockquote} and {/blockquote}, and run your text in around the tags. I'm not sure you can get smaller text, but you can indent it. If you want to distinguish it further, consider italicizing it.

Now let me go see if I can fix that first one there...

#54 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 12:51 AM:

Jeff Crook: Have you counted how many people in this conversation are making a living writing fiction?

No. Is there anyone here making a fortune? I'd like to meet them.

Two years ago, I made the equivalent of 40 hrs a week at minimum wage from my writing. Last year was considerably less. This year will be somewhere in between, barring any sudden wild success.

Not that I would bar sudden wild success.

#55 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 01:22 AM:

Jeff: John M. Ford, Jim Macdonald, and Jane Yolen; and if I'm not missing someone, I'll be surprised. (Whoever you are: identify yourself so I can apologize.) And that's just the chance gathering of this topic thread; there are other self-supporting authors who turn up here.

Perhaps I'm mistaken. If so, I apologize. But I'm habitually suspicious of publishers, agents, and other mavens (not you) who go on about how hard it is to publish first novels, or how hard it is to make a living in publishing. It's not because I'm defensive of my half-cracked industry. It's because so many of the outfits that say it do so as a preamble to explaining to young authors that they deal they're offering is the best they're likely to get.

If you can write books people want to read, you can make a living. The corollary is that a publisher that'll take anyone who submits a manuscript isn't primarily making their money off sales to the general reading public.

#56 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 08:24 AM:

Teresa: Neil Gaiman, who else?

#57 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 11:16 AM:

But I'm habitually suspicious of publishers, agents, and other mavens (not you) who go on about how hard it is to publish first novels

Well, I am neither publisher nor agent nor maven. I'm just a writer working hard at being self-sufficient in the honest to God world of publishing. Some day (soon, I hope) I will be, before my boss catches me writing at work.

I am, however, a firm believer in the lucky break. But my philosophy is that you do the work you need to do so that when your lucky break comes, you can jump all over it. Meanwhile, you try to nudge fate into gear.

Sorry if I gave you the impression I am from 1stBooks. I really need to work on my opening.

#58 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 12:56 PM:

This Print-On-Demand discussion is important. The book publishing business is, for the first time since the introduction of paperbacks, undergoing a revolution. Amazon + POD already tips the balance, and ebooks are small but inevitably significant.

I am barely one of the "professional writers" in this comment thread. Having just filed, under threat by the California taxers, of 25% lateness penalty, my 2001 tax returns, I know my own figures. For 2001, my writing gross income was barely $17,000. That was $5,500 royalties for a science fiction novel I co-authored (I could have taken smaller advance if I insisted on my name on the cover), and business writing for hire (business plans, legal documents, and the like).

The cost of making that $17,000 (internet, cons, travel, postage, etc.) was $19,000. So I lost $2,000 as a professional writer in 2001. Fortunately, there is salary income in my 2 Professor household, so that loss reduced my Adjusted Income, and hence increased the amount of refund claimed.

I confess this, because I know that I am very close of a MEDIAN professional freelance writer in North America, according to National Writers Union figures. I was 7 years an elected member of the Los Angeles area NWU, and its Steering Committee.

When the median writer who actually has a book publication in a given year MUST have another income stream to pay the bills, the system is fatally sick.

My friends and I have experimented with POD, both as Authors and as Publishers. The verdict is not yet in. Our expenditures are reasonable research expenses for our broader business plan, which also involves our web presence (many tens of millions of hits per year from our little group).

My father, Samuel H. Post, was editor, then editor-in-chief, then publisher of science fiction and other genre authors including Poul Anderson, Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, and MANY more. For a more complete list, go to my domain (, click on "Science Fiction", click on "Authors", Click on Authors starting with "P", and scroll down to Post. So I learned about the book business growing up, with my mother also in an executive office as assistant to the head of a publisher. I went to cocktail parties, when the baby sitter was unavailable, at Norman Mailer's house, and I met many writers of global fame. But the rules then don't fit the realities now.

It is hard to get accurate numbers on the NA book industry, which even when combined with magazines, is a minor part of the paper and wood pulp segment, which is dominated by larger industries, such as toilet paper.

Print-On-Demand will affect your life more than toilet paper on demand.

But the course we take as an inefficient "mature industry" undergoes technological transformation is chaotic, inherently unpredictable. We could have 10,000 years of Dark Ages, unless we who professionally foretell the future do hereby create a POD Foundation for the entire galaxy... Oh, wait, that's another story...;)

#59 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 01:44 PM:

unless we who professionally foretell the future do hereby create a POD Foundation for the entire galaxy

I'm not so sure she was knocking the POD business model (or whatever you want to call it) so much as the newest morphs of the vanity press. POD technology is important. That's how we (at the Memphis Writers Co-op) are producing our Best of Memphis anthology. However, we are using a POD printer to produce our book, not a POD publisher, because it is the most cost-efficient model for an organization whose budget consists entirely of my small personal donations, plus the reading fees for the anthology. One of our members recently used the same printer to produce a book on HIPAA law, and it is currently the number one HIPAA book in the country. So we know we'll get the production quality we need. The rest of it is up to us.

If I may beat this drum a little longer...

We are still accepting submissions for the anthology. The Co-op URL is The major restriction is that the author must currently or formerly live in the Memphis area. It's a contest, with a reading fee (oops, there goes Yog's Law). Our panel of judges tells you that we are serious about this, so it is not a vanity publication. In fact, if all the great writers from our area were to submit, we'd have an anthology easily able to compete with the best on the market.

So if you know anyone who qualifies, please let them know about the anthology. If this anthology does well, we'll be able to pay our winners better in future anthologies.

Gosh, and didn't I just say I'm not a publisher?

#60 ::: Adrienne Martini ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 01:49 PM:

I'm not making my living as a fiction writer, but as a journalist, which, despite what some say, is still writing. I freelance for mags like Cooking Light and earn my regular cabbage as an editor/staff writer at an alternative weekly (think Village Voice, but smaller). I'm still working on getting that first fiction byline. Making stuff up is something I've avoided for the last decade or so as a copywriter and it can be difficult to break the habit.

#61 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2003, 02:28 AM:

The only way I can think of for the word to get out to the general public about vanity presses would be for Stephen King to write a novel about them, preferably followed by a movie. It's actually semi-plausible as a novel (humor, pathos, evil, retribution), but unlikely to happen, and only semi-successful as propaganda even if it does.

#62 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2003, 07:55 AM:

"I've been a typesetter, researcher, manuscript typist, copywriter, copyeditor, editor, line editor, proofreader, slugger, and once in a while a designer and illustrator...."

Yeah, but what have you done lately?
(since you rang)

#63 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2003, 05:39 PM:

Backing up a bit:

"I look at it this way. If they took the chance on an unknown like me, then I have to live with the list price and pray I can sell enough copies to make some money."

I can't bring myself to trawl through much of PA's material, so perhaps someone with steelier eyeballs knows: do they actually tell their marks that the company is "taking a chance" on them, with the possibility of financial loss hovering like a grackle with a green eyeshade?

Perhaps this is only the writer's misapprehension. But if not, then PA is making a deliberately false statement of the financial situation, which is not the same thing as one of its many fraudulent implications.

Though it is possible (given many of the issues already covered) that the marks are immune to even the straightforward statement that they are being lied to. Heck, I read David Maurer at an impressionable age. For those who haven't gotten to him yet, the Scamorama FAQ ("My 419 was signed by Dr. Owongo Gizmo, not Dr. Owongo Doodad. Could it be real?") is also highly instructive.

#64 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2003, 11:04 AM:

So what does sell from these vanity/near vanity presses?

You need books which a) aren't going to be in bookstores anyway, b) where the finished quality of the prose isn't the main selling point, c) which sell on word-of-mouth, d) to a niche market too small for a commercial house to look at. Like specialized non-fiction, price isn't the first consideration.

So what did I find? Cross-dressing/transexual/transgender fiction. Particularly genre fiction. There's a whole constellation (if you go to Amazon and follow the "People who bought this book also bought..." links). Decent Amazon sales numbers (in the five and six digit range). Reviews which sound like they were written by someone other than the author. And there're coming out from PublishAmerica, Xlibris, Booklocker, iUniverse, 1st Books and that constellation.

Not necessarily erotica -- regular books with protagonists who are "people like me." Westerns, thrillers, mysteries, romances.

So that's another data point.

#65 ::: Xhenxhefil ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2003, 04:16 AM:

Jane Yolen, are you the person who wrote a treasury of folktales from all conceivable cultures? If so, thanks for doing it. That was my favorite book of stories when I was little. I especially remember the Tlingit ones, and the Turkish ones about Hodja (hm, maybe that was a different book).

#66 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 01:41 AM:

I forgot to mention the Lovely Saracen Maiden, who's engaged to the Courtly Saracen Kannigget. And her treacherous brother.

Poly fiction; marketable.

#67 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 07:49 AM:

Speaking of vanity publishing, we have one of the vainer ones haunting at this very moment. He's flamming the group -- simultaneously flaming and spamming -- figuring that if he abuses the regulars enough, we'll all break down and buy his (over 50) books. He posts under a bunch of names, coming up with new ones as needed, most recently chiding me in the guise of a hitherto-unheard-from lurker who is so disappointed that I could doubt the word of this modern-day Gibbon (scribble, scribble, scribble) that he/she/it is going to filter me forevermore. Many of the posts are word-for-word identical.

Sounds like one of the ones who has to promote the book himself, and who has chosen to do it by spamming (and flamming, when that doesn't work). Hell of a way to make a living.

Parties who can't avoid watching car crashes may see for themselves. Either just open any post at random -- odds are good it'll be in that thread -- or look up someone whose name rhymes with obert tanek, and has the same initials as Rectal Sphincter. Sorry for the circuitousness, but I imagine he has the mutant ability to google for his name, and I expect you'd rather not be taken over by sock puppets today.

#68 ::: LNH ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 01:29 PM:

An AbFab/Farscape crossover still doesn't sound like a bad idea, and this time it isn't from too little coffee.

Another set of eyeballs for an Ogier translation. Medieval and rennaissance chivalric epics are a hobby — I'm trying to figure out how to fuse them with modern fantasy.


#69 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 06:34 PM:

The author pretending to be someone else trick is hardly new, though the rise of the vanity PoD publishers with a presence on Amazon has given it a new urgency.

See for example

And read the book yourself here:

#70 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 06:39 PM:

Gods below.

If the author has a driver's license, I find myself hoping that the text is grounds for his state of residence to revoke it.

#71 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 06:49 PM:

Oh, heck, Graydon, it's only half-vast.

(Undoubtedly not the first time that comment has been made.)

When, in the future, the histories of Jeff Bezos's karaoke Bar get written (and thanks to the new technology, they will) the sociological material will probably have far more interest than the business-model analyses.

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2003, 09:46 PM:

Doing a Google Groups search for is enlightening. Make sure you "repeat the search with the omitted results included."

This is neither the first nor the only example.

See also

and among the more notorious.

"Thanks to the Power of the Internet and the Miracle of Print-on-Demand publishing, everyone can read raw slush!"

#73 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 12:07 AM:

Oh, I believe in the practice; there's a reason English includes shill as a specific noun.

It's kind of embarrassing to see it being done so badly, though.

And, well, I worry that my writing sucks rocks. Stuff like the half-vast example produces a very complex emotion compounded of fear that mine is too that bad, disbelief that anyone could possibly not notice, and a sort of wonder that editors don't get operant conditioned to detest reading, that the authors and promoters of these things somehow escape effective mockery, and that there is clearly some reward involved utterly independent of being able to feel that one has just perhaps effectively communicated a story, or something like one.

#74 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 12:55 AM:

Shills, yes, but you don't often see three-card-monte dealers simultaneously play both the card thrower and a mark in the audience betting on which card is the Queen.


There is genuine pleasure that the authors get. There's one of 'em, on one of the vanity publishers' message boards, who talks about the day her author's copy arrived, about hugging it to her and spinning around in her kitchen, about taking it to bed with her that night.

The author really does get that experience. Later is worse, when reality sets in ... and the author blames himself for not trying hard enough. And thinks that the only reason the book isn't selling is because no one has heard of it. Maybe if someone posts about it on Usenet ... but it can't be the author posting, because on some level the authors realize that the problem with vanity published books is that readers know the only person who liked the book is the author.

So they create a sockpuppet. What can it hurt? Maybe there really is someone who would recommend the book if only he read it.

Alas, alas.

#75 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 09:02 AM:

I made the mistake of skimming PA's author message boards. All that hopefulness and anxiety--it's heartbreaking. One of the authors mentioned the high cover prices. "Oh, it's because our quality is higher," said another author. That's when I wished I could post Jim's comparison of prices.

Sigh. Now I'm all depressed.

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 10:26 AM:


1. "I happened to be doing thus-and-such thing, and came across a copy of this book."

2. Tends to tell, rather than show, what's good about the book, and gives the author a lot of diffuse, blurb-style praise. This is as opposed to genuine readers. When they've just had a great time reading something, their heads are full of the storyline and characters and ideas, and they talk about them very specifically.

3. "Can anybody tell me more about this writer?!" is a dead giveaway.

4. If there's an online discussion of some work of fiction, and one of the participants is incredibly tenacious, engaging with every remark and question and responding to every post, that participant is the author. If two participants are doing that, they're both the author(s).

#77 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 10:41 AM:

Other tell-tales: The post provides detailed ordering information for the book; the poster appeared only recently and has no interests other than telling everyone about this Great Book he's discovered.

#78 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 01:21 PM:

If the author has a driver's license, I find myself hoping that the text is grounds for his state of residence to revoke it.

...smelled the roses in the seat beside her... then plowed into the semi that had stopped for the school bus, thus ruining both her and the author's day, as the novel ended on the first page.

#79 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 01:25 PM:

I meant to add the observation that I thought I was a shameless self-promoter. But I see now that there are depths that I have not even begun to fathom.

#80 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2003, 03:08 PM:

wrt authors feeling they should have tried harder to sell (per Jim's comment recently) -- that sounds almost like a codicil to Yog's Law; i.e., money for (or management of) publicity doesn't flow from the author. There was a court case >20 years ago in which an author (William Starr, IIRC) sued for breach of contract, arguing that the publisher had blatantly failed its obligation to diligently publicize the book; a west coast judge was exceedingly unimpressed by the publisher's actions, but had to close the case on the grounds that the contract was based in New York, leaving the author to give up rather than buying a cross-country ticket or hours from a New York firm.

#81 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 01:37 AM:

Hi! My name is Mortimer Glatzbier. The other day I was cleaning out the cat box when I saw a book that my friend Bob must have left lying around the last time he visited. It was The Apocalypse Door by James D. Macdonald. I'd never heard of either the book or the author, and it didn't look like the kind of book I like, but I picked it up. Before I finished the first sentence I was hooked! This book is the best book I've ever read. I asked my friend Bob who this James D. Macdonald who wrote The Apocalypse Door is, but he didn't know. Can anyone tell me who he is?! I must know if he wrote anything else, because I'm going to buy it! This is the best book I've ever read, and James D. Macdonald has to be the best author writing in English today! I can't believe that he isn't on the top of the New York Times Best Seller Chart! I'm going to have a sex change operation just so I can bear his love child!

I'm going to go over to right now and write a five-star review of this book. Everyone should go over there and write a five star review! Then I'm going to nominate it for a Hugo, a Nebula, an Edgar, a Howie, and a Rita. Then I'm going to read it again! The Apocalypse Door (by James D. Macdonald, a person I don't even know) is that perfect book that everyone will love!!!! You can get it at, at Barnes&Noble, or special order it at your local bookstore! It's got an ISBN of 0312869886 (you'll need that to special order it). Don't forget to review it at Amazon, because you'll be totally amazed by this wonderful book by an author I'd never heard of before today!!!!!

#82 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 09:10 AM:

James, that is a work of art.

Would you permit me to make one small alteration? That should be "It's got an ISBN number of 0312869886."

#83 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 10:08 AM:

By the by, I love the "recent comments" feature, else I'd never have seen these last two comments. (OTOH, it seems there might be some disemvoweling called for over on the old "saints" thread.)

Perhaps I'll see you all at Readercon on Sunday?

#84 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 10:22 AM:

Miss T: By all means, make the change. (That's why you're an editor, right?)

BTW, at Readercon I'll be reading from the sequel to The Apocalypse Door (Buy one! better still, buy a dozen! And write a review! Five stars, remember?)

#85 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 10:31 AM:

Alas, I won't be at Readercon on Friday, so I'll miss the reading. (And of course I'll write a review of it when it comes out--I pride myself on having got several people to read the first.)

#86 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 10:42 AM:

My experience so far is that money flows away from the author in specialized non-fiction as fast as it can go. I just got the bill for a bunch of material I want to quote in my book on Tolkien and war -- between the fact that neither my publisher nor my department will pay the permission fees, and the rather high price my publisher plans to charge for my book, I will be very lucky to break even. Well, it's tenure I'm aiming for, not riches, but riches would be very nice indeed.

#87 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2003, 03:21 PM:

I see what you mean about the identical praise. I saw that "Mortimer Glatzbier" letter before, but the last time I saw it, the writer was "Debra Doyle".

#88 ::: J. Grant ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2003, 03:06 PM:

Wow. This comments section is both informative AND entertaining. Thanks for the info - I'm a moderately successful cartoonist, but just finished my first manuscript (and hopefully novel somewhere down the line). I've seen plenty of info on POD services, but this takes the cake. Once again, to the whole crowd, thanks.

#89 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2003, 11:52 AM:

Experience mocks me. The major drawback of even the best service PODs is that you can't price your book to compete with the trades. PODs start at $15.95 for any decent length novel. Compare that to $8.95 or $10.95 from Tor or Penguin for a trade paperback. And you're an unknown quantity to boot--even if you're a decent writer.

And then...what do I find? This.

$24? Used?

As C3PO said, we seem to be made to suffer.

#90 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2003, 08:01 AM:

But John, it's a good book. I've seen cases similar to yours where the book was priced at less than four dollars. I can readily imagine some future universe in which the first edition of Dr. Janeway's Plague is a pricey collectible.

It's true that you can't get the low per-unit cover prices of conventional publishing. No way around that, this year at any rate.

J. Grant, you're welcome, and good luck.

#91 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 12:10 PM:


BTW, are you still thinking of doing something with pineapples? (Soak 'em in Stoli!).

#92 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 09:23 PM:

I appreciate all of the comments and great info about PODs. I have a question that I am almost afraid to ask but I have no idea where else to ask it if not here.

How can you be sure that your POD publisher is paying you accurately. I am awaiting my second quarter check and I cannot help but be concerned that it won't be right. I say this because a friend of mine discovered by accident that he had been shorted on his fourth quarter check for 2002.

Is there a way I can audit the sales to compare to the report?

#93 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 10:52 PM:

Alas, if your publisher pays on "net," that'll be difficult at best. Payments on net are an invitation to fraud. See, for example, all the Hollywood stories about payments on "net," where the studio proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that no movie ever made has shown a net profit.

If your contract allows it, you can hire an accountant to audit the publisher. Alas, many PoD presses have non-standard contracts which may not allow that recourse. Usually, if the audit shows an error above a certain threshold the publisher has to a) pay the royalties, and b) pay for the audit.

You usually don't wind up auditing your publisher until after you've decided that you don't want to get published by them ever again.

Standard, legitimate publishers pay royalties on cover price. That's pretty easy to figure out, and there are ways to find out how many copies sold that don't rely 100% on the publisher's say-so.

#94 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 11:03 PM:

Addendum: You can call Ingram's at (615) 213-6803 (have your ISBN handy) to find out how many copies of your book they shipped.

That won't be iron-clad, since it only tracks books that moved through Ingram, but it's a start.

#95 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 12:44 AM:

Addendum #2: April, that Amazon Sales Rank of 66,194 is very impressive.

Here's more on 1st Books, from a comparison shopping guide to the various vanity PoDs:

You'll notice that the reviewer says "They pay royalties according to an "Author Payment Schedule" that must be signed separately (hopefully) and is not explained in their contract. This can cause some serious trouble somewhere down the road" and "Their royalty payment system is too convoluted for my liking. You have no way of knowing how much you are getting." So what you're concerned about is a known problem.

#96 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 07:30 AM:

Thanks for the reply James.

My book went live last October and I knew from day one that I would be the one to promote it. But it is a NF and has a target market so I was pretty sure I could do the job. My efforts and strategies have paid off. At this point, I don't even know how many websites are selling my book. I find new ones every day. This is one of the reasons I am anxious to see my second quarter check from 1st Books.

So, you are saying that an Amazon rank of 66,000 is good? Good grief, in recent months it has been as low as 7,200. For several days it hovered in the 30,000 range and before that it was in the 27,000 range for a week. The articles I write seem to effect the numbers, but I am new to this game and I really have no idea what the Amazon ranking means.

I had to laugh at the discussion about author reviews. I have five reviews in Amazon and I didn't solicit any of them. It's embarrassing to me because when I read them it sounds like I might have written them (except for maybe one). What I don't understand is why one person wrote two, back to back. It makes no sense. I don't recognize the name so she didn't buy it from me directly. It's not that I don't appreciate the good feed back, but if I was going to write one I could come up with something different. Here's a laugh, I didn't realize I could write one. How do you get around the name recognition cookie?

Since we are on the topic, let me say that I knew, going in, that 1st Books was a self-published venture. A lot of starry-eyed wanna-bees buy into the hype. But I've been involved in publishing in a former incarnation and I just wanted to get my book out there quickly and I wanted to have editorial control as well as the photography. But, more importantly I had no idea how long it would take to do it and I didn't want a deadline. It took me seven months to complete the manuscript and the only deadline I had was the one I imposed on myself.

What I didn't do was buy all the promotion packages because I knew the direction I was going with the book and I know how to write press releases. I have to say that I've learned a lot in the past year. It's been an interesting journey. I could share some things - to do and not. What I need now is to learn more about the actual process of how the book is wholesaled. My knowledge about Ingram and the part they play in POD distribution has gaping holes in it.

I thought that my book was purchased from 1st Books because it is not warehoused. So where does Ingram come in? Does this mean that all the places that purchase to resell buy through Ingram and Ingram purchases from 1st Books?

#97 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 11:41 AM:

On the Ingram's thing:

You know how the various PoDs say in their sales copy that their books are distributed through Ingram's and Baker & Taylor and so on? Bookstores don't order through fifty-thousand different publishers, they order through a couple of distributors. Saying that a book is listed with Ingram or Baker & Taylor is the same as saying "Available for sale."

Your book falls in the category of "specialized non-fiction" that does particularly well when self-published (as opposed to self-pubished novels). The Amazon numbers are a bit inflated when compared to other books, since on-line is about the only way it'll sell, as opposed to mostly selling in bookstores with the overage coming through Amazon. But still, 66K is respectable, and 7,200 is outstanding.

Amazon reviews have tightened up a lot, since they started only accepting reviews from accounts that have at least bought something from Amazon. If you have two credit cards, and two e-mail addresses (hello, Hotmail!) you can have two review-capable accounts going. And so on. Like I said, things were formerly more wild-and-wooly. Nowadays it's a bit more limited, though not immune to cheating. As to why someone posted the same review twice -- that reviewer pressed the button, saw that the review didn't go up (they don't get published instantly) and tried again. Nothing sinister there.

As to what to do now, have you considered taking a a printout of your page from Amazon showing that nice 66K sales rank, and writing a letter to St. Martin's (the nice people who publish the Atkins Diet) or John Wiley & Sons, or some other nice, respectable able-to-get-books-into-stores publisher that handles non-fiction? I'm sure that arrangements can be made to get out of your 1stBooks contract.

(Yeah, yeah, I know, St. Martin's doesn't take unsolicited manuscripts. When you write your letter, and they write back saying "Sure, send us your book," all of a sudden it is solicited.)

#98 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 12:21 PM:

have you considered taking a a printout of your page from Amazon showing that nice 66K sales rank, and writing a letter to St. Martin's

A friend of mine currently has the number one HIPAA book in the country - self published through his own company. When it hit number one, he got a phone call from the big New York publisher who turned it down. He is now negotiating with them for other books.

Going to St. Martins or someone else is a good idea.

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 01:36 PM:

I've just added 101 Low Carb Dessert Recipes to Junglescan. (That's one way to get a record of sales history using the Amazon dipstick.)

(My most recent book is here so you can see how this works.)

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 02:11 PM:

The unsolicited reviews saying "Holy cow, these all taste really good!" are persuasive. Even the twin reviews from one reviewer look good; it means she was so thoroughly sold on the book that she wrote a second review from scratch when she thought the first one hadn't gone through.

You have a finished book on a hot subject. It sells better when you publish articles mentioning it, which I'd take to mean that when people know it exists, they want a copy. Definitely, send it around and see what happens. If you really loathe the cover, put a plain paper wrapper around the book with the title and your name printed on it.

And by the way, taking seven months to write a book doesn't put you at the slow end of the bell curve.

Onward to the question of your royalties. Jim's right about distributors. Your publisher won't be handling all those little orders and shipping arrangements. The great majority of these publishers just shovel their titles into Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble Online. Maybe they hit a few more distributors and online booksellers, but that's about it. They don't field a real sales force.

The question is, how many outfits ship copies of your books, and who are they? If your royalty reports broke out your sales by account, and you knew for sure that the reported royalties for a particular quarter were honest, you could take the percentage of them that were sold by Ingram during that period, and see whether your latest quarter's sales made through Ingram represent roughly the same percentage of the whole. If Baker & Taylor also let you check your sales numbers, that would make your estimate more accurate.

But that's unlikely, so you're probably left with methods that are even rougher and more approximate. For instance: you also sell copies of your book, yes? Has the way you sell them changed from one quarter to another? If not, the sales made through your publisher should be behaving in a more or less similar fashion.

Another thing to look for is unexplained fluctuations. If your sales have been gradually increasing, you'd want to look closely at a quarter where they showed an inexplicable drop, especially if they return to their previous level the quarter after that.

I have no idea what to do if your royalties are calculated from net profit rather than cover price. Nobody but the company can tell what their net profit is.

#101 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 04:47 PM:

Since this thread is still active, I thought I would throw this in here:

CafePress is now getting into publishing, in what looks like, to me, a POD model.

However, they've been pushing back the available date since I've been looking at that page (and right now it still says Aug. 4), so I'm not sure how well things are going. The prices look pretty reasonable to me, though.

I've only bought one thing through CafePress (a "Still Not King" mug), so I can't vouch for their service extensively, but this seems like it's worth keeping an eye on.

#102 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 05:22 PM:

you'd want to look closely at a quarter where they showed an inexplicable drop

I tend to follow the Amazon rankings as a measure of how my books are selling overall. So it was with some surprise that I had an explosion of returns of my second book last quarter, while it remains the best ranked of the three on Amazon.

#103 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 09:47 PM:

Hooboy, I have had a long, hard day and reading all these responses is both enormously gratifying and putting me over the edge into a completely overwhelmed brain dead heap. I might have to digest all this tomorrow with my first cup of coffee.

I will say this, I cannot tell you how excited I am to find intelligent, positive people who have REAL information. I've been flying blind since October, doing all the things I knew to do, lucking out in some cases with nothing more than ignorance as my guiding force. For example, I had no idea that POD's were treated by brick and mortar book stores as though they were vermin. I called my local Borders with the complete energetic naivete9 of a preteen to set up my first book signing. HA! Here's the good luck part: it was closing in on the Christmas shopping season, I am fairly well known in this area for a monthly column I write AND I promised to set up a styled table with nine samples of desserts. BAM! I worked two days, a Saturday and a Sunday, sold fifty books and the manager agreed to stock twelve books. She confided in me that they normally wouldn't stock a POD because there are no returns. I blinked, paused and replied, "well, you can return them to ME," with unbelievable bravado. You see, I was just too stupid to be afraid to ask.

So, here it is, my brain is working overtime wanting to discuss this well into the wee hours, but there are parts of my body that are whinning.

Thanks so much for the great responses, I promise to get to each suggestion and comment tomorrow. BTW, I have been approached by Bookman Marketing to republish. I know a few things about this new group. I might be stupid but I'm not dumb. :-)

#104 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 11:24 PM:

Bookman Marketing? Why, I have packets of their materials right here. They spammed me a while back, with a letter that made it sound like they were trying to reinvent distribution. That seemed quixotic enough that I dropped them a discreet note, and they sent me their pamphlets. Reading them, I find that they're just a marketing and publicity firm. They will get your book printed, if you really want to use them, but it sounded like they're more into charging people to do pointless marketing on the cartons of vanity-press books they already have sitting around.

You don't want to go anywhere near them. You want to put together a nice little package of your book, maybe some photos of the desserts, your various reviews and testimonials, a discreet mention of your Amazon ratings, and stuff like the story of your signing at your local Borders.

Bottom-feeder PODs and vanity publishers would rather have their nails pulled out with pliers than admit that brick and mortar bookstores won't stock their books. Most of their business is based on the common confusion about having your book printed vs. having it published. Most people think printed = published, and assume that if there's a finished book available, bookstores will naturally want to stock it. This is unwarranted.

I've seen threads, on the message board of a vanity publisher I will not name, where the frustrated and much-lied-to authors were exchanging notes on jolly maneuvers like going around to all the big B&N bookstores in their area and asking them to special-order a copy of their book -- and then never showing up to pay for it.

They figure that since the books are unreturnable, the stores' only option will be to sell their books. They've somehow failed to notice that stores can't force readers to buy books they don't want to buy. All the stores can do is take the loss. This isn't clever marketing; it's petty fraud.

I've recently heard third-hand reports that people who've gone into B&N bookstores to order titles from small but established and respectable publishers like Wildside and Misha Merlin, which happen to use POD technology, are being told that the chain now has a policy of not doing special orders on POD titles. If this is true, I have to wonder whether there's any connection.

#105 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:46 AM:

Oh, lordie, Bookman Marketing. SFF Net auto-filters their spam.

Went to their page.

First of their featured books: Love's Eternal Marriage by Irene Weinberg. Previous 1stBooks edition, 105 pages, $14.95, 2001. Bookman Publishing edition, June 2003, $28.99, no sales rank (which means no sales, and at that price, who's surprised?). No cover picture shown at Amazon.

Second book on the Bookman main page: Craps for the Divorced Dad by W. J. Giroir, Bookman Publishing, July 2003, $55.45. No cover picture at Amazon. No sales rank. No sales.

Third featured book on the Bookman Marketing main page ( A Second Chance by John P. Carinci. Writer's Advantage (an iUniverse imprint) edition, price $14.95, Amazon Sales Rank 2,216,954. (How to read those: Amazon Sales Rank not given = no sales. Amazon Sales Rank 2.5 million = author convinced his mom to buy a copy. Amazon Sales Rank 1.5 million = author's mom convinced her bridge club to buy copies.)

Fourth featured book on Bookman's main page: The Horseman by Kristina O'Donnelly. Hollis Books, 1999. Amazon Sales Rank 1,019,960.

Fifth featured book: Long March to Freedom by Thomas Hargrove. (Interesting publishing history. First came out from Ballantine Books. Subsequently reprinted by 1stBooks Library.)

Sixth featured book: The Four
Types of Men
by Dean Damato. Hardcover and paperback from 1stBooks, October 2002. No sales rank in either format. Under the title The 4 Types of Men, Bookman Pub, June 2003,
$20.48, no sales rank.

Okay, that completes the first row of featured books at the Bookman Marketing LLC main page. I don't think I need to check the rest of them.

"Before making any recommendations, our evaluation includes: ... Author?s budget"


Ding ding ding ding ding TILT! I'm sorry, Bookman, but it's game over for you. You just violated Yog's Law: Money flows toward the author.

There are many, many other red flags at Bookman Publishing & Marketing. (Just for starters, they ought to run a spellchecker over their web pages. Hiring someone who can write grammatical English would be another big plus.)

What exactly are the "exciting e-mail campaigns to media outlets, traditional publishers and directly to retail bookstores"? Are they offering to send spam on your behalf? (Given that they advertise themselves by spam, it wouldn't be a bad assumption that that's exactly what they're offering.)

Searching on "Bookman Pub" at Amazon (advanced search), we find 71 titles. The prices are horrifying; the sales ranks are abysmal. Very few even have cover pictures or synopses. The marketing efforts seem to be sub-minimal. Stay very far away, that's what I'd say.

#106 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 05:55 AM:

Okay, I'll tell you my experience with Bookman. Also let me say, up front and to CMA, this is my own personal experience and I make no accusations nor do I wish to cast doubts on this company.

The person who me was my original contact at 1st Books. He offered me a deal to send notices to 1000 bookstores for $150. I told him I wasn't interested in bookstores at the moment. I was looking to do a campaign to target health food stores. He agreed he would do that. In a weak moment I decided to let him try because I was so busy doing other things at the time. As requested I sent info including testimonials from emails and stats like the health food store in Gainesville that is now stocking it.

A month flew by. I received the text, for approval, of the press release. Imagine my surprise to see my own words, that I had written for 1st Books that had obviously been copy/pasted from 1st Books site.

I picked up the phone.

The person in charge of copy writing apologized and said he would rewrite it. Three weeks sneaked by. I get the revision. Same exact text with one bogus sentence tacked onto the front paragraph. I'm thinking, "do they think I am a complete idiot?" I reached for the phone. This time I was hot. I get another apology and a promise to "look into it."

I get a call about an hour later - it will be written by the "big guy" (my original contact). Next day I get the text by email. Garbage. I red ink it (including correcting the spelling of the word dessert) and send it back.

See, by this time, I'm already out my buck fifty and so I have to let them do their thing, whatever that is. I don't expect anything to come of it. I chalk it up to tuition in the school of life. [sigh].

#107 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 06:33 AM:

Alrighty then, I've had some shut eye and a cuppa and I'm ready to ask questions.

First, on Amazon rankings: I only started looking at my rankings a few months ago, May, I think, is when I first noticed that they had changed from the original 80,000 range which is where it was the first time I realized there was a ranking. One day, after my first article in came out I saw that the ranking was 7200 something. The next day it was back in 21,000 range. I figured it must have been a glitch. As I mentioned, I don't have a clue what these numbers represent. In July I started keeping a log because I noticed that the numbers had started creeping back up from the 27,000 range and I wanted to see if the articles really did effect them.
7/6/03 - 43,447
7/7/03 - 45,685
7/9/03- 45712
7/11/03- 45151
7/13/03 -42,418, 42480
7/14/03 -38,822
7/15/03- 39,599
7/16/03- 40,656
7/17/03- 41,091

I noticed yesterday it had popped back up to 71,000 range.

So, what exactly do these numbers reflect? How many books sales does this represent? I don't have a clue and since I have yet to see my second quarter report I have no idea how many books were sold between April 1 and June 30.

Re: Have I considered printing out my Amazon page and using it to represent my sales potential to a mainstream publisher? No, because until I joined this discussion I had no idea what the rankings meant in real terms and aesthetically speaking. At this point, I don't even know if I need to republish. I found out, by accident, that GNC online is offering my book, at a discount. Where do they get the book? From 1st books or Ingram?

Last week, a distributor, who sells products to health food stores contacted me and I sent him to 1st Books, was this the wrong thing to do? Should I have sent him to Ingram. Inquiring minds want to know!

Also, here's a question. I notice that my book is offered at discount from Amazon Marketplace sellers. How can someone sell a new copy of my book for 2 cents more than they can buy it from 1st books? BTW, I put up my own Marketplace account and I've sold two that way. I make the same money based on my royalty fee with 1st Books. I figure every book sold is...a book not sitting in my garage. :-)

That brings up the topic of royalty. 1st Books sent me a document as my book was nearing completion that gave me three options to set the price of my book, thus my royalty. I chose the middle number -$14.50 even though it netted me a dollar less because I am a realist and knew that perceived value by the buying public is the bottom line. I get $2.50 when a vendor sells it and $3.65 when someone buys it at $11.50 directly from 1st Books. I can buy it from 1st Books for $6.50 if I buy 100, which I do because I sell it for $19.95 (which includes shipping and the premium of a bonus recipe and an autograph). I threw in the autograph because I knew that people would be sooooo impressed (yawn).

Anyway, I make steady trips to the post office sending out my books from my website sales and I know that several other sites are selling it. reported that they have reordered three times. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN????? Oooooh I'm so frustrated. NUMBERS, I NEED NUMBERS!!!!


#108 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 06:37 AM:

James, your latest book looks amazing! If I order it from Amazon will you send me an autograph plate? ;-)

#109 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 06:42 AM:

One more thing, and I'll leave it be. I see there is a new review up on my Amazon page from someone who bought my book at my book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Destin, Florida back in January. That was an interesting experience. The promotions director who invited me to participate was very open to the POD concept and said she had been trying to break through the barriers. I was part of a panel of four (one didn't attend due to illness). We were all self-published.

#110 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:28 PM:

First off: the Bookman Marketing story. That's about what I'd have expected.

Next: the GNC bookstore. That's probably a co-marketing portal. My guess is that it's with wearing a funny hat and a false moustache; GNC is selling their book selection for five cents above B&N's "Reader's Advantage" price.

(You'll find lots of co-marketing through either Amazon or BN out there.)

As to how someone can make a profit selling a book for a penny or two above wholesale -- it's called selling lots and lots of them. Bookselling is a business with razor-thin margins. They may not be selling your book except theoretically; all the copies of Harry Potter that they're moving at two cents profit a piece is what's keeping the office open.

What the Amazon numbers mean: they aren't readily reducible to real numbers in terms of sales. They're a decaying average, against all other books being sold through Amazon on a given day, and how fast they decay depends on how close the book is to the #1 slot. The very lowest numbers are recalculated hourly; books with numbers in the four-to-five figure range are recalculated daily. Farther down the slope they're recalculated weekly and monthly.

Your 7,200 spike was most likely a non-book store or a weight-watchers' club doing a one-time group order.

I've already talked 'bout the seven-figure Amazon numbers. Six figure numbers are what you expect from a legitimate small-press release, or a major press backlist. Five figures are what you'd expect from a small press best seller, or a major press midlist. Four figures ... you're doing very well, chum. That's new release from a major press territory. Three, two, one figures: best seller.

It's a dipstick. It's all relative.

Recall too that bookselling is really a low-volume business. If someone sells a million copies of his book, he's a major bestseller and gets invited to all the cool parties. If a TV show had only a million viewers it would be cancelled the next week due to its horrible ratings.

What meant when they said that they'd reordered three times depends on how many they ordered each time. Did they get a box of ten? Did they buy a box of two hundred? There's no real way to know. Have you considered asking them? Other places you'll have to rely on your publisher leveling with you on number sold. (I will note here, parenthetically, that royalty statements even from the legitimate presses are obscure to the point of requiring the Oracle at Delphi to figure out what they really mean.)

FREX, I know that my one small-press non-fiction book has been reordered four times by one bookseller who goes around to Science Fiction cons -- and he buys cartons of 100. You can see its graph here. The spike came when it was reviewed in Sing-Out magazine.

As far as sending someone to 1stBooks rather than Ingram -- if they didn't know how to order books to start with, going to 1stBooks was probably the right choice. They probably didn't have an account with Ingram.

I can't tell from your description exactly how 1st Books figures its royalties. (A copy of the document they sent you would be handy.) Miss Teresa can speak more to the subject of how royalties in general are figured. These are generally based on a percentage of cover price; and royalty rates tend to go up with sales (depends on your contract) so that if you're making 10% on the first 10,000 sales you might make 12% on the next 30,000 sales, and 15% on all sales thereafter (to use numbers that I just made up).

As to why to go to a legitimate press: More readers, a better-looking book with a lower cover price yet, less work on your part for a greater return.

#111 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 02:48 PM:

respectable publishers like Wildside and Misha Merlin, which happen to use POD technology

Oh, that's just lovely. Actually, I heard this, too. Some folks are having a hard time distinguishing between POD as a technology and the publishers that use POD. They hear POD and the wall goes up.

#112 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 03:41 PM:

Jim, did you do that under a pseudo or was that the wrong book?


#113 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 06:43 PM:

It's a psued. I'm also Martin DelRio.

#114 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 10:57 PM:

I'll dig out my contract and take a closer look at the royalty structure.

Re republishing: I had a chat today with a designer whose book I photographed in March of 2002. Granted it was a craft book but still it was just as grueling and time consuming in terms of producing. The publisher was Krause. They printed the standard run, 10,000, and promoted it. Vivian does quite a bit of HGTV and she promoted it too. But Krause dropped the ball and now, for all the work and investment of time, Vivian is not likely to ever meet her advance. The irony is, it is a quite salable book. (and the photography is good ta-boot ;-))

This tale is not uncommon and I don't think it is limited to DIY or craft books. This is why I anguished for a year trying to decide what kind of book to do. I wanted to pare down the worst of the obstacles at the get go and increase my chances of being able to actually SELL the book I invested so much time in.

When I determined that, I decided I'd go POD because, regardless of the growing pains POD technology is struggling with, I am convinced, based on my past experience with publishing, that it will change the book publishing/selling industry eventually. I'm sure the metamorphosis will completely transform it into something that is only an outline and possibly abused now, but I do see it coming down the road. Some take me to task for this POV because they wish to cling to tradition. But the one constant in this life is change. Might as well get used to it.

The digital age has already changed photography and layout and typesetting, so it isn't a stretch to see that POD publishing will evolve. And this is why I don't mind working to sell my book instead of handing it over to a mainstream publisher. Publishing is a business like any other and if I can't be sure about the reported calculations of even the big boys, then I'll take my chances with a book that can't be limited in print runs at the mercy of a someone else's bottom line.

Anyway, it isn't the Great American novel or something. It's well suited to being sold in small but steady quantities and it is very well suited to POD because it can't go out of style so it can be sold on and on. It's a freaking cookbook. LOL! :-)

#115 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 12:57 AM:

The publishing industry is always being changed, usually by one or two dozen things at once, and POD has already changed some things. But it hasn't done much of anything to bookselling and distribution. Those areas don't care how the book was printed and bound.

It's extremely difficult to sell lots of copies of a book if you don't have a sales force that goes out and talks to bookstores and other distribution points. To give you some idea of the difference in magnitude, a big online bookstore sells about as many books a year, total, as two or three big brick-and-mortar stores.

#116 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 06:34 AM:

I have no doubt that is true. However, I also know that traditonal publishing always limits a print run for books that aren't marked for big sales (like Living History) and sets a timeframe for a book to sink or swim. After that, there is no effort, by the sales force of the publisher to get the book into the stores. The author can buy the remainders and try to sell him/herself or move on. That's all there is, there is no more.

Is it crazy to think that, one day, there will be a refining of this system made possible by POD technology?

#117 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 01:36 PM:

Hi, April --

First off, how did you happen to find this discussion?

Next, you have a couple of misconceptions and a couple of yeah-buts in your last. The folks at publishing houses don't sit around and limit their books to a fixed number and no more. The first run will be what they think they can sell, plus maybe ten or twenty percent more (when you're talking about traditional publishing, printing the books is about the least expensive part of the operation -- they can throw away half and still make a profit). If a book sells more than they expected, everyone cheers and they order up a second printing.

If a book sells less well, and they allow it to go out of print, you have several choices a) sell it to another major publisher for a brand-new advance, b)go to a small press for a smaller advance, or c) self-publish (in which case you're just back where you started).

After the first run, when the book becomes a back-list item, it's still in the catalogs and still being sold by the salesforce. Take, for example, our novel Knight's Wyrd. First came out as a hardcover in 1992. Reprinted as a paperback in 1997, and still in print after multiple printings now, six years later. If it ever does go out of print, we'll just sell it somewhere else.

Most books (especially most novels) don't make it, but it's the readers making the choice, not the publishers. No one can make people buy books that they don't want. (See, for example, the Newt Gingrich/Robert Forstchen debacle, 1945.)

(It is true that books can be published badly. I could tell you horror stories. Nevertheless, those horror stories are the exception, not the rule.)

One of the counterintuitive facts of publishing is that a book that doesn't earn back its advance isn't a failure, and the publisher can still make a profit on it. All that not earning back the advance means is that you got paid a higher royalty rate on the books that sold than you were contracted for. No one asks you to give back the unearned part of the advance, and it doesn't limit your ability to sell more books.

As the PoDs are quick to point out, all publishers use PoD technology to some extent. For some it's producing advanced reading copies for review. For others it's to tide over demand while a book is going back to press. So the refinements you're asking for are already in place.

"The race is not to the swift nor the victory to the strong, but that's the way the smart money bets."

BTW, I see that you're back to a sales rank of 66K today. You're golden.

#118 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 04:59 PM:

I haven't been monitoring this discussion closely, but if I may butt in briefly, Jim Macdonald quite accurately describes the industry I work in.

It is certainly true that publishers don't frequently bet big promotional budgets on untried quantities. It is also true that publishers, the clueful ones anyway, are happy to turn around and start laying extra support on books that turn out to be performing better than expected. (And it's finally true that everybody blows it sometimes; all publishers are better at some things and worse at others.(

#119 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 09:01 PM:

Hi back a'cha, James. :-)

I stumbled into this discussion but since I don't really believe in coincidence, let's just say it was the answer to prayer. ;-) I have been about to burst at the seams with questions and no where I trusted to ask them. I joined a Writer's Forum that separates discussions into genre and the only board that discusses self-publishing is entirely too negative for me. I feel a sense of forlorn and defeat in there that feeds itself and frankly, I live by the motto, "Those who say it can't be done should not interrupt the one doing it."

From the small amount of reading I have done in this forum I am encouraged to believe that I am not alone in the idealology that long held rules can be broken and the world won't come to a screeching halt; that thinking beyond the limits may not be understood by the unwashed masses but it is the only way progress and innovation was ever kick-started.

I have a long history of making things happen that others have said couldn't. I thrive on spitting in the wind and then ducking. I am the quintessential curmudgeon who never says never, who won't quit until a problem is solved and the job is done.

Since I can't seem to stay away from this thread, let me give a brief bio and clarify where I come from.

I was teethed on NF, DIY and Crafting books. My name is in 2 pt font in the credits of twenty-three books, ranging from furniture design to quilted clothing, published by Chilton, Double-Day and Putnam. All of them are long out of print but even yet I ocassionally see an odd copy in the book rack of Home Depot or Lowes. It always takes my breath to see one because the last one I did was copyrighted in 1985. Imagine looking down and seeing your work and words of another century and by merely picking it up and touching it be instantly transported back to the you that once was but is no more.

I hear you saying, "oh, I see, she doesn't understand what really being published means." But that's okay, I'm quite accustomed to being "outside". My design to publish years bled into photo styling and then to art direction for catalog work and eventually to photography. When I was a professional stylist no one understood that either.

"And what do you do?"

"I'm a photo stylist."

"Oh, you do hair?"

"Uh, yeah, sure."

I still design prototypes and products but only on a referral basis and only when I can fit it inbetween writing three montly columns. I will do photography when the client is desperate and the money is right and I know for sure that I won't be dealing with an anal retentive, egomaniacal art director. I don't do those anymore. Thus I console myself that there are some advantages to aging. :-)

So, having said all that, when I talk about publishers who limit print runs to 10,000 I am speaking of the publishing that I am most familiar with, i.e., DIY and that whole genre.

You will just have to trust me, it involves the same process. Query, proposal, contract, advance, months of manuscript crafting but in this case it also means laborious design and production of prototypes to photograph and then the torture of technical instruction writing which is, for me, far more grueling than writing fiction. I spent twelve months on one book and it took another six for it to hit the bookstores.

Granted, DIY is never going to be blockbuster best seller but it does sell and it does have its place with the book buying public. Sometimes a break out hit rises to the top. I have a friend who's well-done book is now in its tenth printing and shows no sign of slowing down. It's timeless and there's no reason it won't be selling for a long time to come. This is not the norm, however.

And think about it, if you haven't, there's QVC! :-)

And yes, my book is now up there in Pennsylvania inching it's way through the stringent review process. If I make it to the next stage, I'll have to go up and talk to them about it.

I'm rambling, sorry.

You say I'm golden, huh? Golden maybe but still clueless. I popped into B&N just to see what my rank was there. 61,000+

What I know is: that and $4 will get me a cuppa at Starbuck's. heh heh

#120 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 02:41 PM:

Hi again, April. Ah, yes, I'm familiar with "two-point fame." Lots of people in and around publishing have done a lot of things in and around publishing. That's more stuff for you cover letter. Being listed in the credits of a book from Putnam or Doubleday makes you real.

(Oh, there's another discussion much like this one, with many of the same players, in the archives of this web log here.)

Hey, I even know what a photo stylist is, and what one does, (and this is no-doubt why folks who read your book say words to the effect of "Gee, what I make turns out looking like the illustration!" and that makes them feel good. Plus, the photos make people want to try to make the stuff.) And the color photos on your web page look good too. A pro look is a pro look. Nice halo effect.

Anyway, I have no doubt that books about DIY have the same general process as other books. And that, in the natural course of things, some will do well, while most won't. That's the nature of the beast, and part of the fickle nature of readers.

I'm not surprised to hear that DIY books aren't doing very well right this minute -- the economy in general has taken a licking, so that's going to make a double hit. Was your friend's book the one one decorating candles?

What do you mean about "Pennsylvania" above? Who's/what's there?

I lurk in a couple of writers' boards, where people who are going the vanity-press route post one to another. Such eagerness! Such hope! It breaks my heart to see it.

#121 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 03:56 PM:

I'm not looking to be rich or famous. I plan to work as a reporter until I am very old.
I could not afford to publish my book, so a friend who works at PA suggested that I submit it to her. Now my work will be published for my friends and family, instead of lying around my house collecting dust.
How can I be hurt if I understand that I am not going to sell a lot of books?

#122 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 04:28 PM:

I could not afford to publish my book is the key phrase. People pay authors for the right to publish their books, not the other way around.

If you already know by name everyone who is likely to want to read your book, you can do a lot better, pricewise, than PA. Their cover prices are wildly inflated. There's a vanity press fee, but your friends and family are paying it after the book is available rather than you paying it before the book is printed. Don't forget to add in shipping.

Your better option is to figure out how many copies you need and take that figure to a local short-run printer. Divide the price of printing by the number of friends and family who have offered to buy it, and make that the cover price. Sell pre-orders.

Public-domain clip art and PhotoShop aren't that tough to do for covers. Since you aren't planning to sell to the world, an ISBN isn't needed (nor is one needed if you're just selling off your web page).

The two problems with PA are a) inflated cover prices (four to five dollars per copy), and b) variable production quality.

Or you could look here: Compare the price for a book of the length you contemplate against the price PA charges for the same number of pages.

#123 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 06:00 PM:

One other point.... PA has a really obnoxious contract. All rights for seven years? I ask you.

#124 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 10:57 PM:

I'm not sure which friend's book you are referring to, the one in it's tenth printing or the one that I photographed. The one I shot is titled Cutting Edge by Vivian Peritts the review is here

My reference to Pennsylvania is where QVC is head quartered.

Lily, the decision to self-publish should be made with eyes wide open, no fantasies. Also it helps to set ego aside and do it for better reasons than just seeing your name on the cover. If you are a reporter, you've prolly passed that stage anyway. There is no shame in wanting to have your words and ideas bound neatly in a volume. Just do it. If nothing else, it is a learning experience like no other.

If you expect nothing, you can't be disappointed. It's the doing that matters anyway. If you don't do it because you expect nothing, you have no chance at all to be surprised. :-)

#125 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 11:39 PM:

Dear April,
Thank you so much. I think you are the first person that I've talked to who really understands why I am doing this.
So many of my articles have been run by Associated Press. Acquaintences from all all over the state often call me to tell me how they enjoyed my articles.
When I began writing books, my purpose was not for others to read them. I just wanted to be "involved" in a good story. I wanted to create a place where I could get get lost as I did when I read a good book, only I wanted control.
But I have a daughter and approximately three good friends with whom I would like to share my work and I think they would like to keep my manuscripts "neatly bound."
So, giving four people copies of my books(two copies will be given to me at no cost), should not break the bank.- Those who disagree- do the math.

#126 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:28 AM:

Somewhere around here we've been discussing using PA as a cheap method of creating hardcopy backup.

If four copies is all you want, PA wouldn't be a bad plan. Do be careful of your rights.


April, I'd been unaware that QVC was a publisher. Or are you thinking of selling you 1stBooks edition through them?

I was talking about the book you photographed.

#127 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:31 AM:

Thanks, James. That's good advice.
You didn't answer my question. Are you published?

#128 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:39 AM:

I'm sorry, Lily, I must have missed where you asked.

Yes, I am published.

#129 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:42 AM:

Jim Macdonald is an award-winning, multiply-published author of popular fiction in many genres. His work, solo and in collaboration with Debra Doyle, has been published by Harcourt Brace, Tor Books, Ace Books, Pocket Books, and many others, under his and Debra's own bylines and also under several pseudonyms. His latest novel, a hardcover from Tor Books, is The Apocalypse Door.

As I'm fairly sure you could have discovered if you'd simply run a search on his name on the very page you're reading right to, to say nothing of going to Amazon.

#130 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:58 AM:

Sorry, I just came back to the page to discover your message. I found several different books co-authored and authored by Mr. Macdonald - my apologies, respectfully.

#131 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 02:01 AM:

-- So, giving four people copies of my books (two
-- copies will be given to me at no cost), should
-- not break the bank.- Those who disagree- do
-- the math.

Meaning this very gently, what math am I being asked to do? If the goal is to create a small number of finished books for a non-commercial purpose, then I don't think anyone here would raise an objection to self-publishing. A while back, one of my friends was doing a contract copyedit on a man's family history; it was of no general interest, and was being produced as gift/heirloom for the large extended family. The fact that the printers paid for a freelance copyeditor increased the cost of the project, but strongly indicated that they took the work seriously and wanted to deliver a worthy product. Not much copyediting goes on at vanity houses (and, to be fair, some of the authors doubtless prefer it that way).

Quite a few professional writers have self-published, generally with books meant as personal gifts. Some have their own imprints, including Stephen King (who ought to fit anyone's definition of "not much difficulty getting into print") and, well, me, roughly every New Year's. So, yeah, we're sound on that side of the equation.

But I don't know what you're comparing it to, especially not following the phrase "could not afford to publish my book." Obviously you can, since you are doing so. The implication (and you will forgive me if this is a bad guess), is that you believe that being published by Random or S&S would cost too much. But that kind of publication costs the writer nothing, beyond getting the ms. ready and mailing it. Either the house sees no commercial prospects, in which case they would say "not interested" in a polite tone (as happens many times every working day at every publisher, except the vanity shops), or they offer a contract and payment of some kind.

This thread isn't, and never has been, about The Evils of Self-Publishing. It is about the evil of using publishing as a front for the very commonplace swindle of taking someone's money under the pretense of doing something you have no intention, and often no practical ability, to do. Books get made, because that is an enforceable contractual obligation (and besides, the author's covered the costs plus a nice profit), but they don't get distributed or marketed -- or, generally, sold. There's a sad letter on PublishAmerica's site (one of many) in which the writer talks about how she's willing to live with their wacky cover prices because they "took a chance" on her. This is baloney. PA has guaranteed itself a profit the moment the contract was signed; the cover price is merely a dividend they collect on the author's investment.

Self-publishing and royalty publishing have co-existed for a long time, because they fill different ecological niches. What's been discussed here as "vanity publishing" is neither, but a parasitic entity unto itself -- and indeed, vanity publishers tend to insist this themselves, by offering an "alternative" to people who don't actually understand what their options are.

#132 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 07:27 AM:

Just to clarify, John, QVC doesn't publish, to my knowledge. My book is under review for appearing as a product.

#133 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:21 AM:

It's a psued. I'm also Martin DelRio.

Cool. You know, I think Janni needs that book for her next middle-grade novel. Which tickles me to no end, mind, but is still true.


#134 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:37 AM:

John, Your points are well taken, however I am not a published novelist. I am merely a reporter who likes to deviate beyond the crap I deal with daily.
I agree that most POD and vanity publishers are sharks and they always make their money. Unfortunately, many people do not write well enough to be accepted at Random House, Simon and Schuster, etcetera. They just want to get their words into book form without paying outlandish fees.
Please explain to me again, if I am under no obligation to purchase books, or sell them, and if I do not have to pay a cent to get the books in print, how am I paying for them other than $50 at the most.
And, no, I cannot "obviously" afford to self publish, as you so eloquently stated.
You, and your fellow published authors are talented and fortunate enough to have been accepted at houses that are respected among the literary community; but I do not wish to line my walls with rejection notices. Getting published was not my purpose for writing in the first place.
For some people, time runs out, and you and your colleges should take the time to reminisce back before you were published. What was your purpose for writing?
From the messages I've read, getting published cannot be easy - and in most cases it must be an extreme humbling experience.
Nevertheless, I appreciate the advice given and much of it has provided much to consider if I do decide to sell books in the future.
But until I am willing to send my manuscripts to hundreds of houses with the confidence needed for hundreds of rejection notices, I think I'll go this route.

#135 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 01:15 PM:

If you're thinking about self-publishing, more power to you. Like Mike Ford, I've self-published. (A Xerox machine and a saddle stapler, way back when.) There are lots of options up from there, depending on what you want your book to look like, what you see as your market, and what your budget is.

If I were looking at just three or four copies, I'd consider Staples (they do PoD right in the store; I'm not sure of the price or other requirements), or CafePress (, or a Mom&Pop PoD press like Backyard Publisher () which is a retired guy in Florida who owns a high speed duplex laser printer, a large ink jet printer for covers, and a hot melt glue binder.

On PA specifically, you're asked to pay for your copyright, and to provide a long list of names and email addresses of people who are likely to buy your book.

The problems with PA are three-fold. First, they have a writer-unfriendly contract which takes rights that they are unwilling or unable to exploit for a term of seven years; second, that their production quality is reportedly poor, and third, that their cover prices are excessive. The prices that PA charges for books are three to five dollars above the cover prices of similar books printed by identical means by small presses which do take returns, offer a standard discount, put out a catalog, and field a sales force. Authors are put under heavy pressure to sell their own books, or to buy copies of their own books. PA has apparently decided that since the only people likely to buy an unknown author's book (which won't appear in bookstores -- see above about non-standard discounts and a no-returns policy) are the author's family and friends anyway, and since family and friends will buy the book regardless of the price, that the price can be set at a level that all-but-guarantees that only family and friends will buy it.

PA also advertises misleadingly on their webpage; I find this tacky at best. Writers, especially new writers, have dreams and preying on those dreams, selling moonshine, I find distressing.

Here's a letter that I'm told PA sent to its authors in April:

Today we are announcing that we are awarding a special royalty advance of $500 to author Christy Tillery French. She was PublishAmerica's best selling author in March. Her book Chasing Horses, which was released over two years ago, sold 208 copies in bookstores last month. Congratulations, Ms. French, the check is in the mail! Since we want to do something for our authors, whose works make any sales possible to begin with, we decided to award royalty advances.
Therefore, we will also be awarding a $500 royalty advance to April's best selling author. And, to celebrate with everyone what promises to be yet another great book sales month, we will pay royalties on all books ordered by our authors between today and April 30! This month, those purchases will also count towards who will win April's royalty advance.

I think that was an attempt to lure authors into buying their own books. Also, the "advance" mentioned isn't what's commonly called an advance in standard publishing. I found this misleading. Nor, for that matter, has there been any mention of who received such an "advance" in April, May, June, or July. I don't like that sort of tactic. They're coming out with about ten titles a day, and right now it looks like they have a six-month backlog. Going that route may not be the fastest, and unless you have an in at the company, not even a sure thing. I'm positive they're rejecting works purely because there aren't enough hours in the day with the staff they have to print them all.

As to why we write -- we all have our reasons, which make sense to us (some of the time). My reason, your reason, and the guy over there's reason may not be the same, but none of is is necessarily wrong. As long as you're sure in your own mind, and have examined the options dispassionately, I'll support any decision you make.

#136 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 02:24 PM:

James, It's a shame that everywhere you go and every turn you take there is a rip-off. Research is the only way to avoid a disaster. I'm doing an article on that very subject for the paper. We get three to four press releases daily about local people who are being published and all of them are through vanity presses. It to the point where the editor just put them all in a pile and after a month or so, she ask me to write about the costs and the scams.
People on this message board are helpful to young authors. Many of my questions have been answered.
I was once told that what makes something valuable is how rare it is.
That's also true with books, and I know that PA is publishing many books daily.
According to my friend who works there, she says "You wouldn't believe the stuff that we read!"
I know that it's no big deal to get published at PA; most people can figure that out.
But for those who can't, keep letting them know what they might be getting into.
Thanks again,

#137 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 08:30 PM:

Uh, I'd like to make a correction from a previous statement I made. I found out today that QVC does indeed have a publishing arm.

Who knew?

#138 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 01:15 AM:

Hi, Lily --

I can show you some places to look if you're interested in some of the scams.

Or, if you're interested in a PA author's first-person account, you can look here: I can point you to other discussions of other publishers and other scams. One of your best starting points is Writer Beware. Ask Ann Crispin, Brenda Clough, and Victoria Strauss for True Tales of Treachery.

Another thing to consider for very short run printing... and a joke, too, attached. It shouldn't be hard to find a printshop with a hot-glue binding machine. If you print out your pages duplex (and you have a good printer, or have a friend with a good printer) you can take the unbound pages to the printshop and ask them to bind the pages for you. Shouldn't be too expensive.

And here's the joke. Get a stack of brand-new five dollar bills, sequential order. Take them to your local printer and ask her to bind them with a rubber binding (like is used for notepads). Then put the stack of bound fives in a checkbook case.
When you need a bill, take out the case, and with a dry ballpoint, pretend to sign the bill. Pull it out, and pay your debt. See how many people find this astounding. See how many refuse to take genuine fives.

April --

QVC? Investigate them like you would any publisher. Can they do what you want? Can you find books that they've published in regular bookstores? If you know your objective it's a lot easier to achieve it. (I still like John Wiley & Sons, not that I've ever sold anything to them. It just seems to me that they can do a good job with the sort of book you've done. (And the recipes on your page look really good.))

#139 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 02:02 AM:

Lily --

What makes something valuable is that more people want it than there are copies available. This often correlates with rarity -- if many people want it and few are available, it's expensive. If few people want it, and few copies are available, it's less expensive. If two copies are available, and only one person wants it, it's likely to be cheap if that person can find it at all. I own several books of which only 5 copies were produced -- no copies appear to be for sale -- and yet I expect that I'd not be able to sell them at all on eBay. They're poetry booklets hand-written by my grandfather back in the 19-teens. Rarity is only part of the equation; desirability is every bit as important. These books are by any definition rare -- they are, however, valuable only to a very small number of people.

I personally value them highly.


#140 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 05:35 AM:

Thanks James, you are treasure box of good information and I truly appreciate your positive attitude as well!

As for QVC, my book is under review for appearing on air as a product. Somewhere, up there in this thread, I mentioned that I wasn't aware of QVC as a publisher and during the course of a discussion with a client yesterday I found out they do have a publishing division. If I had to guess, I'd say that it was primarily to publish books for QVC to sell exclusively.

This is not something that should be discounted off hand, though, because I know that a cookbook authored by the resisdent chef on QVC, Bob Something-or-other, sold a hundred thousand plus books the first time it was presented on air.

I could live with that. Numbers is numbers. :-)

#141 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 10:32 AM:

A hundred thousand copies? Yeah, I could live with that. Moreso if it was a hundred thousand copies every year. That's hard to do with novels, easier to do with reference works. But still not easy.

It all depends on your situation. If the first step is "Become an on-air chef at QVC," well, that's a different career path than mine. If that's within your scope (and who knows, it may be) then let your conscience be your guide. If your goal is "make a few bucks, have a few laughs," (as one job offer came to me once) then there's a different career path.

I'm one for taking the long view. It is given to no man to know the day or hour, but still. My goals are to live well, in a spiritual sense, doing more good than harm in a given day. And if I can make a living too, then even better.

So I'm a full-time novelist, and volunteer with my local ambulance squad.

Anyway, back to the subject (more or less):

Every legitimate publisher does the following for all of their authors (though there are no-doubt legitimate exceptions -- if QVC (for example, and I have no direct knowledge) sells exclusively through TV offers, and they can regularly move 100,000 copies of various titles, they may decide to forgo bookstore sales entirely):

1) Human shoe-leather-on-pavement salesforce attempts to get book into as many bookstores as possible.
2) Advance reading copies go to all major reviewers and many minor-but-legitimate reviewers.
3) Print ads are placed in all relevant trade mags.
4) Hardcopy catalog with your book goes to all libraries.
5)Press releases get sent to all relevant newspapers.

This promotion is invisible to the author.

Some few authors get more and other things. Radio/TV ads, bookstore dumps, multiple-city tours. These are done for a variety of reasons, all to the end of selling more books. The reason Joe Newguy doesn't get radio spots is because radio spots that say "read the first novel by Joe Newguy!" don't sell a lot of books. City tours don't pay back the cost until you reach a certain level. It isn't that the publishers don't love you, and it isn't that they've decided who's going to make it, and it isn't you -- it's that there are limited resources and they're doing triage. When the vanity presses say that first-time authors don't get promotion from legitimate publishers either, this is what they're talking about. What they aren't saying is that there's a lot of promotion that does happen with everyone on the traditional side of the street, but that they aren't doing at all.

Big Steve King wasn't always STEPHEN KING; once he was a guy in Maine who lived in a double-wide and worked nights in an industrial laundry. Same for every famous writer you've ever heard of -- once upon a time they were a no-name in a slush pile. Luck's part of it, true, but a big part of luck is making your luck through hard work. If you're going to skate in Olympics you have to work a lot too. Same deal.

I taught myself to write by writing, a lot. I have novels that no one is ever going to see, because they were early on and not very good. Alas! There are books coming out now that should have stayed in people's desk drawers. This isn't helping them grow as craftsmen. Nor is it doing their reputations a lot of good. The #1 reason someone buys a novel is because they've read and enjoyed another book by the same author. If they read and didn't enjoy a previous book by the same author, the odds of their picking up a new one are vanishingly small.

Published authors are your friends. We aren't trying to hold closed the gates to limit competition. We know (at least the ones who've thought about it) that none of us can write enough in our lifetimes to satisfy a reader for his lifetime. We know that someone who's had a positive experience reading will continue looking for that positive experience, and may pick our book next time. Also -- writers are readers. We want to read good books. We're eager to find books we'll enjoy. Which is why we encourage new writers.

It's also why seeing baby writers get scammed makes our blood boil. Every one of us can see it happening to us, back when we were baby writers, full of hope, not too wary. There's one PoD that charges $8K. For $8K ... O it makes my heart sore.

I recall once, after a local paper did an announcement on one of my books coming out I got a call from a guy who wanted to know a) how much it cost me to publish it, and b) should he mortgage
his house to get his book published. By Commonwealth. (Commonwealth was a vanity press -- and a total scam. A horrible story.)

Yes, new writers are full of hope. Willing to bet the house, the car, the family farm that they'll be best sellers. Alas, most of them will be wrong.

I'm sorry if I'm getting gloomy here. April, you have a book that people want. You are (I'll say it again) golden.

#142 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 12:50 PM:

James, you are the kewlest guy! It is such pleasure to discuss this stuff with you because I don't see the angst and negativity that I have come up against with others on this topic.

I am not looking for a career at all. I am a full-time freelance designer and I write on the side because that is what makes my heart beat. I admitted this to myself only thirteen years ago. I'm fifty-six, so you can see I am a weeny bit slow on the uptake. ;-)

I took two years and several courses and read everything I could get my hands on about writing. Fiction was my first love but I keep drifting back into NF because it is easier, for sure. Not to mention I realized early on what the odds were against getting fiction published. Making a living at it was not even on my radar.

But, as I mentioned before, I make things happen, one way or another. So, I found a niche for my fiction as well as my other odd assortment of skills. I write/produce/ perform puppet shows for charity. I cannot tell you what a high I experience when I perform one of my original stories to an audience that applaudes and makes me feel appreciated. It's a good thing, as ole Martha Stewart likes to say.

I absolutely agree with you that it is a travasty that vanity presses prey on the hopes and dreams and illusions of those who think they should be published for whatever reason.

I'm somewhat more practical.

I spent a year agonizing over my cookbook before I committed to doing it. I knew it had to happen quickly because it was only a matter of time before others figured out it needed to be created. (and I was right, there are several out now with the same topic) I chose 1st Books because it seemed to me they had the best price structure. I think I might have gotten taken when I had to pay to make them fix the font size on the galleys so the pages would turn out right, but all in all, I knew I was dealing with a vanity press. They get their money somehow. I also knew I didn't have to buy their other packages so I got off pretty cheap. After all was said and done I spent less than $2000 and that included my first 275 books. I have about a dozen left of those that I sell off my website.

My experience is a glaring contrast to the woman who was one of the author's I joined in Destin, Florida at the book signing at Barnes & Noble. She used Heiress Arts, not a PoD. Spent $8000 and had 25 books to show for the year plus it took to get them. She isn't listed on Amazon and frankly, I read the book and though it is unique, I can't see it as a mainstream title. The sad thing is I believe she lost her marriage over it, although, who knows, it might have happened anyway. Sad sad.

BTW, I looked at the CafePress publishing and it looks interesting. I could see it for small specialty booklets. I have two Cafeshops for a couple of websites I manage and my experience with CP is that the stuff is a bit over priced. There's no reason to believe a book wouldn't follow the same pattern.

ps, I noticed my Amazon rank is climbing back up. Wish I had a clue what makes it dive ocassionally. I haven't seen it this high since the turn of the year. buggars!

#143 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 01:03 PM:

One more question.

As I anxiously await my second quarter check from 1st Books, dreading that they might screw me, I keep wondering how Amazon stocks books? Do they stock ten? 100? 500? Do they stock at all? Maybe they order only when they get an order????

Am I obsessing?

I went to the 1st Books website and checked out their titles. There is one book that claims to have reached the Amazon rank of 1 in January of 2002 -Spiritual Marketing by Joe Vitale. That was on their site yesterday. Now they are saying it reached #3 in June. Non-fiction. I still don't know what this means. Does making it to the top ten mean they are selling 10 a day? 100 a day? I dunno.

#144 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 01:12 PM:

Here's an article on what the Amazon rankings mean.

It's a bit outdated; the lowest Amazon numbers aren't in the 1.5M range. They're down to the 2.5M range these days. Still, it's a good overview of what the rankings are all about, how they're figured, and what they "mean."

From my point of view, they're a dipstick. They won't tell you how much water is in the boiler, but they will tell you if the level is going up or going down.

#145 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 01:24 PM:

Spiritual Marketing is a specialized non-fiction title. I'm just guessing here, but my guess is that Joe Vitale sells them from the back of the hall when he gives talks on Marketing. That's a perfect niche for self-publishing.

And since Joe knows the value of publicity and marketing, when it comes time for him to reorder the books to sell from the back of the hall, he orders them from Amazon. Gets free shipping for orders over $25, sells them at full-cover price, takes the royalty from 1stBooks, and gets to call his book "A #1 Seller at Amazon." Which is worth it from his point of view. My guess again is that the points where Spiritual Marketing hit #1 and #3 were the months when Joe reordered. I'll further bet that the book was in those slots for a couple of hours at most.

Right now his book is around the half-million mark in Amazon Ranks. That just isn't believable as a pattern for books that are selling regularly. There should be a steady curve, not sudden peaks separated by wide valleys.

#146 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 01:42 PM:

Okay, that's makes sense.
I am beginning to smell three day ole fish.

I just called the Ingram automated number and discovered that my book is not listed with Ingram.

So, I need advice. I wrote the following email to my contact person at 1st Books and I want to know (before I send it) if I am treading thin ice.

Hi ----,

When I signed on with 1st Books, I was lead to believe that my book would be listed with Ingram. The following quote is still up on the website:

"1stBooks Library has partnered with one of the world's largest book distributors. When your book is published, they deliver your book's ordering information97the ISBN, the publication date, the publisher, the page count, the dimensions, the format of the book, etc.97to bookstores and online book retailers. They ensure that anyone can order it through more than 25,000 bookstores worldwide, as well as through all the major online book retailers, such as, (Barnes & Noble Online), and "

If ingram is not this "world's largest book distributor", then can you tell me who is?

My book is not listed with Ingram. Can you explain this?

Also, I'd like an update on the status of the second quarter reports.

#147 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 02:00 PM:

Act in haste, repent at leisure. April, the Ingram number does list your book. Are you entirely sure you keyed in the ISBN correctly?

Here's what Ingram just told me are the stats on your book:

10 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
9 shiped last week
112 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

I didn't copy down the warehouses where your book is housed -- it was in more than one.

Okay, so take a deep breath, and think through your strategy for this year, for next year, for the next five years.

True, you aren't going to be a full-time pro author. But taking care of each part of your business adds up to taking care of the whole of your business.

My email address works, if you want to write to me privately.

#148 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 02:07 PM:

Remember that this is just one more dipstick.

That Ingram count isn't going to be the total numbers from all sources along all pathways. Only your publisher will know them all.

#149 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 07:30 PM:

Ooohhh, okay then. I thought I keyed in correctly, the auto voice repeated it back to me.

Reminds me of the old carpenter's rule: measure twice-cut once.

Thanks James. ;-)

#150 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 10:47 AM:

Alrighty then, I think most of my pressing questions are sated and at least I'm not flying instruments only. I really appreciate all the input from everyone, especially James. The article on Amazon from Thomas Sipos was wonderful.

FW!W, I dug out my contract with 1st Books and my first two quarterly reports. Basically, it seems pretty straight forward to me. I get the first $300 of all electronic sales and 40% after that. 30% of paperback sales @ $11.50 bought from 1st Books and 10% of all other sales from all sources @ $14.50.

To tell you the truth, I'm not unhappy with this. My job now is to find places to sell it, just as I have been doing. Although the temptation to buy from Amazon (as James described it) to raise my ranking called to me for about ten minutes, I realized that false rankings aren't going to help me at all and I don't have time for playing games.

Just wanted all of you to know how much I appreciated this thread and the responses!

#151 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 02:26 PM:

Lily --

I'd be interested in reading your article when it gets published.

Meanwhile, another place to look for True Tales Of Bad Things is, the Rumormill, specifically the Caveat Scrivener folder.

#152 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 04:21 PM:

Thanks, James.
That is really helpful.
How long did you work at getting your first book published?
Steven King said that he tried for 15 years before "Carrie" was published.
No wonder young authors decide to self-publish.

#153 ::: Lily ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 04:23 PM:

How can I get a copy of the article to you?
It will probably run on the Sunday Lifestyle cover in a couple of weeks.

#154 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 05:32 PM:

Lily --

You could streetmail the article, if it pleases you to do so. Do let me know.

As to how long it took to get my first novel published, any answer to that would be misleading. The shortest answer is that I was 35 years old at the time, and that I'd taken a dozen years off from submitting stuff in order to have a life and a job and a family in between. Writing was still a big part of my life, but not attempting to get professionally published.

Drop over by my newsgroup if you want to discuss this in greater detail. I don't know if this is the right place to have this conversation.

#155 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2003, 08:16 AM:

April, you still here? Have you been following your Amazon numbers?

Really and for true, you're doing well.

Let me know what comes of QVC and other things you might do. I'm interested.

#156 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 09:17 AM:

Hi, James, yes, I'm here. I have been busy with deadlines the past couple of weeks. Finished my Sept article for yesterday.

I'm glad you posted because I have a question.
This morning I noticed a new and somewhat negative "review" of my book. Here's the rub, this person obviously didn't buy my book because she states clearly that she would never buy a cookbook that used Maltitol. She referenced a European study that she found.

I'm confused. I thought a review had to come from someone who actually read or looked at the book. How can someone do a "review" without seeing the book?

I know that some people just have nothing better to do all day but scan Amazon and make comments, but wouldn't her opinions be more appropriate in a discussion forum?

The more I thought about it the more it seemed to have a hidden agenda so I emailed Amazon and asked if comments are allowed as though they are reviews, how I might be able to defend myself. I use a variety of sweeteners, each with their own positive and negative attributes and if this reviewer had actually seen my book, he/she would know that.


#157 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 09:34 AM:

I can tell you stories about people who post reviews who clearly never read the book, or who are trying to hurt the author, in the Amazon reviews.

Don't sweat it.

In general, readers aren't stupid, and can figure out if a "review" was posted out of malice.

No, Amazon doesn't check to see if a person read the book. All they check for is whether the person ever ordered something from Amazon.

In the old days, when they didn't even check that, things were wilder and woolier.

Like I said, I can tell you stories.

#158 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 11:24 AM:

Here's the irony: it's just a freaking cookbook. People who buy cookbooks will buy all of them. The more the better. If someone is trying to sabotage me for whatever reason, I'd have to say he/she/it needs to get a life.

What annoys me is that I can't respond as I could in a forum. Seems rather lopsided to me and devalues the review process.

You are a good guy, James. I appreciate the time you take with me.

I am considering querying AARP mag to see if they would be interested in carrying my articles on sugarfree cooking. Link to the last one here It's been a long time since I queried anyone and I break out in a sweat, my stomach starts boiling just to think of it. Why is that do you suppose?

My idea is to offer them the articles and photos free in exchange for promoting my book. Is this naive?

#159 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 11:37 AM:

Inserting myself for just a moment into the dialogue between James and April (which is wonderful to watch!) --

Querying someone about an article feels to me like asking for a date. There's an inherent (high) risk of rejection which _feels_ personal no matter what the real reason. Freelancers who move forward seem to do so by separating the rejection of a query from the rejection of the querier as a person (I have not learned how to do this myself; this is my guess as to how they do it).

Once I've actually gotten a rejection it's easy to make excuses about why. When it's still potential, it's a lot scarier.

And I do know your question was rhetorical; I still think it's worth trying to answer seriously.


#160 ::: Adrienne Martini ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 01:19 PM:

If I may inject a bit about rejection and the modern freelancer--

In many ways, pitching to magazines is a lot like dating. Not every potential mate is someone with whom you'd like to have a serious relationship. Some of your suitors you can easily weed out--he likes fast cars, say, and you are terrified of chrome.* Others require a bit more time and contemplation--so you have a drink or two and decided if there may be something more there. A very few, would be perfect if you can only find the right approach.

So, too, with freelancing. Granted, magazines are easier to bottom line than actual human beings but the basics apply. Some you get the pleasure of rejecting because you think they'd be a lousy fit with what it is you do. Some you query with a specific story (always have a specific story, btw) just to see if you may be able to spark some interest. (These are the pitches that you tend to not get overly attached to, simply because you're not quite sure about whether or not you may be right for each other.) And a very, very few, you sweat over, spending countless hours trying to perfect, simply because your heart will be broken if it doesn't work out.

It's a working model, I admit. Personally, it helped that before writing I made a fair portion of my living in the theatre. That's a whole different kind of rejection, which is more cruel than a mere "thanks, but no" letter.

* Sometimes, these quirkly little pairings can work out--but that seems more like the exception than the rule.

#161 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 06:23 PM:

Hi Tom and Adrienne, I don't think of this as a private discussion. The more the merrier. Here, I'll scootch over.

My trepidation is less about rejection, I92ve toughened up nicely over the years, but more about anxiety when I am faced with the task of 93selling94 the idea by choosing the exact right words. As I see it, you get one chance at it. After you have done your homework and picked your target, then the real work begins. You must then become a salesman. Creative people tend not to be adept at selling. It92s a left-brain/right-brain thingy.

Besides some spectacular emotional battle scars, what I came away from my years writing for my first employers was a handful of skills, techniques and philosophies that have served me well. I am, first and foremost, a problem solver and I approach all endeavors from this angle. You can call me queen of the workaround.

We, as writers, have basically two choices, the how and the where we attempt to sell what we do. But we also have another choice that we often forget about that is more subtle but nonetheless singularly important.

You see, I can puke out, as I do every month, a 600 to 800 word column in about twenty minutes. Yesterday I sent in a 2000 word article that took me a half a day to write and edit. I am a writer. I have endless words. Words, for writers, are cheap for us and we can use them like currency because we can actually spend them. This is called 93trading94.

We sit with our thumbs up our butts thinking of ourselves as being forever at the mercy of fate or finding the right editor at the right moment or being on top of current trends. We wrestle with the significance of labels and opinion and tradition. But we forget about the power we really hold simply because we have the gift and/or trained skill of communication. It is a true commodity because there are fewer and fewer people who can effectively use language. The trick is finding how to put it to work for us.

Everyone should know by now that print media is in trouble. Mags in particular are fighting for survival. To put it bluntly they aren92t buying anything they can92t sell. But what if that which I have to sell isn92t my writing? What if I give that away in trade for promotion of my book? Did you know that a single small ad in AARP costs $60,000. By my calculations, a free article that promotes my book to a targeted audience us equal to getting a $60,000 ad for free. It92s a win/win deal. I get the exposure for a half day of writing and they get an informative, entertaining piece for FREE, nada, zilch.

Call me crazy but I know it works. Times are changing and we have to be willing to change right along with them or get left in the dust.

#162 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 06:34 PM:

Sure thing. Let us know if it works.

#163 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 06:54 PM:

I'm sorry. That probably sounded more cynical than I intended. But is there some reason people can't just say "Hey, I've thought up something new to try!" without predicting the imminent demise of the print media? I've been hearing about the impending death of my industry since I started working in it. The reasons given for its terminal illness change from year to year, but the predictions themselves come in an unvarying stream.

As I used to say to Glenn Hauman when he was running BiblioBytes, "You'll know when you've come up with a workable business model because you'll have Lou Aronica and Tom Doherty right in there next to you, doing their best to horn in on the action." Sometimes I'd add, "And you'll have Bertelsmann trying to buy the whole thing out from under the lot of you."

I'm all for finding new ways to justify publishing more books, but you're as likely to stumble on a little-used but commercially viable alternative publishing model as you are to find a magically under-utilized commuter bridge into and out of Manhattan.

Let me know if you find one of those, too.

#164 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 07:00 PM:

April, offer them the chance to buy your writing. Don't lead with a freebie -- ask for cash. Maybe it's $60K worth of advertising. But how much more special if they pay you for the chance to run your ad. Only if they turn you down should you (in my opinion, and you know your own situation best) offer 'em a freebie.

If they're charging $60K for an ad, they're making money, and they have eyeballs on the pages. The people who the ads are pitched to want to have articles on the pages.

You really need to read Th Sobering Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript. Myrtle is about a fiction mag, true, and some parts are out of date, but boy is it worth seeing and understanding.

#165 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 07:32 PM:

Back when I sold a review to a computer magazine ($500 for a 1000 word review, which got Gene Wolfe to say to me "I'd kill for 50c a word!"), the problem they had was getting enough reasonable material to keep the ratio of content to ads high enough so they could mail the magazine as a magazine rather than advertising. They use the money they take in from advertising, among other things, to pay for content -- which means they _should_ pay you for your article, even if it's mostly material from your book and mentions the book. It isn't advertising, and it helps solve a problem for them -- which, in this culture, means you should hope they'll pay you.

Good luck with it! And yes, you only get one try with a given topic at a given magazine, but that doesn't mean there aren't other magazines or other topics....

Tom (trying to be an optimist again)

#166 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 08:20 PM:

OMG! Myrtle was too funny. Whoowhee, thanks for that! (wiping eyes)

Teresa, sometimes the best workarounds (new business models, as you call them) happen when no one is looking for them. For better than three years, my employers managed to place their editorial columns in mainstream publications (420+) because they found a backdoor. That backdoor was trading. They never would have succeeded in selling them, at least not that many in so short a time without a new way of approaching. Public interest pieces are usually on the short list. Editors want them, but not too many.

I was new in the game and had no idea that their business plan wasn't the norm. But even so, I could see the genius in it. It was this ingenuity that took that company from four employees to thirty in less than two years. Too bad they got greedy and let their egos run rampant and ruined it.

All I'm saying is there's more than one way to do nearly everything. :-)

Of course, this would never be an option or new direction for poorly written material. You have to start with good, salable writing. The focus is more about getting in the door and then staying because you get the chance to prove yourself.

I'm not contradicting you but I do believe the rumors that print media is in trouble. That's not to say they will go tango uniform tomorrow. But the signs that change is inevitable are there. One barometer is the way they scramble for subscriptions and the ratio of editorial to advertising pages per issue. Newspapers tout coupons to hook Sunday edition sales. It's all about business and paying the paper, printing and distribution bill. The more advertising they need to sell to stay alive, the less room they have for content they paid for.

Martha Stewart is a classic example of building an empire with advertising dressed up as homespun editorial.

If I was into predicting, I'd say, in the near future, you might very well see publications where the writers are never paid but have arrangements to trade their work for promotion of something else. It could happen. And I'm not saying that I like thinking of that possibility.

#167 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 09:30 PM:

April -- you have something people want. Generally speaking, folks pay for things they want. They should pay you. If it were me, I'd roll the dice. If it turns up snake-eyes, you're no worse off.

For that matter, when it was me, I did roll the dice.

#168 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 01:32 AM:

The print media are permanently in trouble. One gets used to it.

#169 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 12:42 PM:

Yes, the print media has always been in some kind of flux. Where does this leave those who seek to publish?

As has ever been true, in all corners of life, there will always be those who say, "this is the way it is, get used to it." Then there are those who arrogantly shout, "Yeah, but I can change it!" Unfortunatley, these poor saps finally die kicking against the pricks. But there's also a third group that says, "Okay, this is the way it is, what can I do to make it work for me?"

As it turns out, I have been most often seen hovering around in the third group because I simply have never been able to allow that which I can't do interfere with that which I can. :-)

#170 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 12:46 PM:

Good googly-moogly! I just checked my Amazon rank. What happened? I went from 64,000+ yesterday to 8468 today!!!

Sure wish I knew what that meant.

BTW, James, I ordered Apocolypse Door. Looking forward to it. :-)

#171 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 07:05 PM:

"Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside."

-- Alexander Pope


Never bet against yourself.

#172 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 07:44 PM:

Not much of a gambler, I rarely bet. :-)

#173 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 10:13 PM:

You ask where all this leaves people who want to get published? Where it always does: Some of them get published. Beyond that it's just fine-tuning: improved rights contracts, better editing procedures, et cetera. There's never a shortage of bad writers to explain at length how it happens that they haven't been published, and there's never, ever an oversupply of good, readable authors.

Do please consider the possibility that the real industry is largely made up of people who spend their working lives saying "Okay, this is the way it is, what can I do to make this book work?"

A while back I was trying to write an answer to something else you'd said, and got about 1500 words into it without feeling like I'd pinned down what I wanted to say. One of the main points in it was that the rickety-tickety half-improvised constantly-altered structure of the publishing industry is the way it is because we're constantly trying to figure out ways we can justify publishing more writing, and a wider variety of writing, in more ways and venues and formats, without quite going out of business.

One of the biggest and most infuriating lies the vanity and quasi-vanity publishers tell aspiring writers -- and it's one they tell constantly -- is that we're not interested in new writers, or unusual voices, or unprecedented subjects. They couldn't be further from the truth.

Some of them tell that lie to persuade young authors that their only real hope is to self-publish.

Others have a different motivation. You're a good, competent writer. I expect you'll know what I mean when I say that a great many not-very-good writers console themselves with the idea that it's their uniquely creative prose, the unfamiliarity of their groundbreaking new literary theories, that keeps them from being successfully published, when in fact they're simply unreadable. They hang out in writers' online venues, or their own "independent publisher" websites, and go on and on in semi-plausible fashion about how the publishing industry only wants books that are exactly like the ones we've already published. And other writers, hearing this particular bit of wisdom so often enunciated, think it must be true, and pass it along without pausing to have a look at the writing of the person who told it to them.

What I know about you and your cookbook: It's on a very hot subject. You write good clear prose, and you worry about being able to make your deadlines. You pay attention to details. You follow through. You're a gifted self-promoter. And while it's true that people who are doing low-carb dieting get very impressionable when it comes to desserts, the enthusiastic reader-reviewers who praise your cookbook on Amazon make no excuses for you whatsoever. Wonderful recipes, they say. The sort of thing they'd love even if they weren't dieting. Want to try every last one of them.

It's not that hard to write a mediocre nonfiction book. Putting in that last ten or twelve percent that makes it a good book takes as much work as all that has gone before, and the presence or absence of that quality won't necessarily be obvious to someone who glances through the manuscript. I trust that in your case, it would be there.

I'm primarily a fiction editor. But if I were a trade nonfiction editor, I would definitely have been interested in your book, and I still think it's entirely possible that there are trade nonfiction editors out there who'll think the same. Given the number of copies you've sold, in spite of the circumstances of its publication, that book ought to be in the hands of some nice sales force, getting sold in heaps and cartons and pallets, while you work on writing your next title.

I think you can still do that with your cookbook. I think that if you have another idea that's that good, and you write another book of equal or greater quality, that one will be saleable too. I think you ought to be taken on by an agent, a real one, the kind that sends you money, and makes your life easier not harder; and who, if they were selling their own soul to the Devil, would still insist on inserting proper indemnity and reversion clauses.

By all means be clever; even the best writer will have some trouble getting found. But you need to stop thinking about all this in terms of getting away with something that wouldn't normally work. You're legit.

#174 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 07:14 AM:

I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. Allow me to reassure you that I understand completely. I do. And I agree with you that the vilification of the business of publishing comes from the sour grapes of ne92er-do-wells and the vanity presses that seek their money. My position isn92t coming from a negative or skewed view of publishing. I will always hold the tradition of publishing in high esteem.

I was a peculiar child and loved the written word before I could read. I would sit for long periods and stare at a book willing the words to speak to me. I don92t recall the moment I first learned to read but I only know that I92ve never gotten over it.

When I was hired to design projects for the now defunct Family Workshop I came as close to emersion in the perfect job for me as I will ever experience. Imagine a dream come true for someone who loved to design and make things AND write. I wrote both fiction and non-fiction. I worked in the design shop a couple of days, I composed and then line-edited one day and then worked with the photographer two days a week. Not only did I have variety in my daily work that used all the unique skills I had to offer, I communicated with REAL publishers. I was literally in heaven. By the most bizarre set of circumstances, I had landed in a job that exposed me to the inner workings of the business I most admired, and I loved knowing I was a small part of the honorable world of written communication in not one but two fields, books and newspapers.

I earned a liberal education in those three plus years. That92s when I learned about deadlines and not sleeping for thirty-six hours straight because the manuscript HAD to FED-X to New York by Monday. I learned about thievery too and underhandedness. How easy it is for major magazines to get around copyrights. And even though I found out that publishing is just a business like all businesses it never changed my respect for the ideals of publishing. But I have to admit I was singed and smoking by the time the company went belly up (from gross mismanagement). I took a decade to do other things, photography styling was a natural segue.

It took a year for me to decide how I was going to publish this book. I knew the process and I knew my chances, as an unknown, unproven author. I knew it was a hot topic, I knew what I was capable of and I knew I had a narrow window of time to get it out. I didn92t have two or three years to go through the query process. All I am saying is, I had to make a choice and I made it. I92m not saying that I would be opposed to the book going mainstream. For all my experience I don92t really know how to make that happen so I have to continue on with my plan. I get enough emails from people wanting to know if I am doing a book of general recipes to know there is a viable market out there.

If I follow this path and land a column in AARP, I am thinking that I will then have the name recognition required to get the attention of a publisher who will be willing to take me on for another book. Although I didn92t see it that way in the beginning, the acceptance of my book has given me a glimmer of hope this could happen. In the meantime, I just have to keep peddling.

#175 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 07:32 AM:

April, the "name recognition" thing is highly overrated (as I'm sure you're aware).

What could it hurt to send a query letter to St. Martin's this morning?

What's the absolutely worst thing that could happen? I mean, those are the nice folks who published Knitting With Dog Hair. I promise they won't laugh at you.

As for the brief spike in your book's Amazon number, if you look here you can see that I had the same thing happen to me, about the same time. Looks like an Amazon Brain Cramp.

#176 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:06 AM:

April --

Every time I put a manuscript in the mail -- which hasn't been successful yet -- there's this one line from Chesterton that runs through my head:

Army of eastland yokels, not strong enough to fail

That's with fiction, which is irreducibly unpredictable. You've got something that you can prove works, so you can come much closer to offering a publisher a sure thing than a would-be fiction writer can. That's the best odds anyone is ever going to get, right there.

#177 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:29 AM:

Today at Ingram, 101 Low-Carb Desserts:

7 on hand
10 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
6 shiped last week
125 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

12 August (x13 days)
10 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
9 shiped last week
112 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

Since last checked, then, 13 shipped, or one per day.

The mean Amazon rank for your book for that period was 66701, the median Amazon rank was 64476.

So, from this, we can begin to hypothesize that a mid-60K Amazon rank correlates with selling one book per day through Ingram.

#178 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 10:34 AM:

Wow! Now that's number crunching! Do I love you, James, or what? :-)

Knitting With Dog Hair?????????? ROTFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hooboy! Bet that sold a bunch a copies! Wonder if the editor that brought that one is still there?

You know how it is when people gather to discuss a topic; all participants come with things of their own hidden in their pockets. As the discussion gathers momentum, everyone slowly begins to pull things out and lay them on the table. But I find, regardless of the things in plain view, all individual POV remains slanted toward what he/she owns.

This topic began with truths about vanity publishing and has dodged and weaved all around publishing in general. My contribution, as all others, comes from my experiences and the way I look at life in total. When I said that I am more likely to see things the way they are and then find a workaround, I was laying some serious things out on the table but I92m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I92m agreeing that certain elements of publishing are profoundly written in stone. Instead of whining and commiserating with others who can92t break through, I have looked at the issues from another angle. This is a process I apply to all problems, not just this one.

First: Identify the dominant obstacle. In this case, it is Name Recognition. I don't believe this is over-rated. I understand that I am not proven and I can92t get proven until I get Name Recognition. I fully sympathize with publishers who can92t risk money on an untried writer but what does that get me?

After identifying what I can92t do, I ask myself what I can do. I can write, I can photograph. I92m fast. I92ve done my research, I know what I am talking about and I can say it so that average readers can understand it and feel a kinship to me.

Next question: How do I get this ability on paper and into the hands of the buying public?

It92s not enough to be a fair-to-better-than-fair writer. It92s not enough to say, 93I can do it.94 It92s not enough to claim to be the diamond in the dunghill. You have to do it, not say it. From my vantage point, what I92m doing right now is the necessary prep work to remove as much of the risk as is possible from the equation for some lucky editor who will eventually get the chance to see the diamond and want it. And though I didn92t start this project with this goal in mind, the response to my book in the last ten months has encouraged me to revise my direction and strategy. Given that this book could be improved ten-fold by a real publisher just the possibilities alone make me break out in hives.

Next step: Isolating the solution. Abandonment of ego and being willing to give away my writing to earn a byline and that precious, hard to come by credential. This is what I mean by using my writing as currency.

And even if I never get this book or its sequel to a major publishing house, I still will have done something positive instead of sitting around grumbling that something positive hasn92t come along and happened to me.

Last Step: Do it.
Conclusion: To be continued85. :-)

#179 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:31 AM:

When Knitting with Dog Hair was being sold but hadn't come out yet, we all got a memo from SMP asking for donations of dog hair. They'd arranged to have samples spun and knitted to send to major accounts, but they'd run short of fiber.

We spent about fifteen minutes being sure it was a joke.

#180 ::: Adrienne Martini ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:51 AM:

I know that at least one copy of Knitting with Dog Hair has been sold, simply because I was given one a couple of Christmases (Christmasi? Christmasum?) ago, by a well-meaning aunt who knows that I knit. While, yes, it does have a very specific market, there are some dog hair knitting fanatics who would love to make a scarf out of a beloved doggie's fluff. A dog-loving friend of mine pondered collecting all of her pet's sheddings and giving them to me, until we sat down and did the math on how much fur we would need.

So-my point: the immediate niche may not be immediately obvious in the circles in which you travel, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

#181 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 12:45 PM:

April, you know I mean the very best for you.

Knitting with Dog Hair has better Amazon sales numbers than you do. Yet I promise you that more people are interested in low-carb desserts than are interested in knitting a scarf out of Spot.

That's the difference between having distribution and not.

The path you're looking at, it'll be a year, minimum, before you're ready to submit to a major. Time for some other clever person to pitch the same idea (though not so well done) to that publisher, and get it printed. The books similar to yours that are out from major publishers have Amazon ranks that are one or two orders of magnitude better than yours. This isn't right. You're first on the market with a superior product.

I don't know what to say more than I've already said.

#182 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 01:07 PM:

I had a friend in college who had a samoyed. Long, soft, cream-white fur. She saved every bit of fur from the comb. I understand she wound up with a REALLY NICE sweater that she had for years after the samoyed went to Dog Heaven.

#183 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 02:48 PM:

You just never know and I guess that's the crux and the conundrum ( isn't that a great word? I try to work it in to many conversations a week).

Bless your heart, James, don't be frustrated. I'm listening. But I've more or less reached a place where I have to make a choice. Do I move in the direction I started, which includes seeking places to present myself and establish my name. Or do I take a new tack and start the query process. This could take a year also, you know. In the meantime...what? Do I keep peddling along the way I am now?

If I take the advice so generously offered here and query St.Martin's I feel that I should put other things on hold.

BTW, James, I ordered Apocolypse Door Sunday morning. Do you think that had anything to do with your numbers. If so maybe my brief low rank was from a single order from some little old lady in Peoria?

Ah, these mysterious numbers. 1st Books has assured me that while the reports are a weeny bit behind this quarter, I should see one "shortly".

#184 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 02:55 PM:

And AHA! I just checked Knitting With Dog Hair - today's rank 57,021 - my book - 53,926

I know this means something significant but it escapes me at the moment.


#185 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 02:02 AM:

To keep myself humble, I track the Amazon sales rank of How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?

I rejoice when my books are doing better. I weep when my books are doing worse.


Meanwhile, April, I don't see a decision point here. Or there is one, but it isn't what I think you think it is. If you sent a query off to John Wiley & Sons or some other publisher that you think would be a good fit, at the same time pitch a series of columns to AARP.

You really do have a lovely query package right now. Fire off the query, then forget it. As if it never existed. Only when the SASE comes back do you need to pay the least attention. In the intervening days and weeks, work on the other column idea. (But do consider asking for money first. Folks value what they pay for. Nor have I ever seen a rug merchant start the haggle by asking a price lower than cost.)

And good luck with whatever you decide to do.

#186 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 05:43 AM:

Thanks, James, I appreciate the input. And, I appreciate all of the input from this thread.

What do you know about Hyperion?

#187 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 09:44 AM:

Hyperion? Respected publishing house, branch of Disney Publishing, distributed through AOL/Time-Warner. Keeps books in print. Publishes around 300 titles per year, fiction and non-fiction. Has one cookbook out already this year, with another coming in September, two more in October, and another two in November.

No unsolicited manuscripts.

This could boil down to "get an agent," or "send a query letter; if they say 'yes,' it's solicited," or "Look elsewhere."

So... shall we work on finding you an agent, or do you want to gut it out, or try both at once, or shall we look elsewhere? (The easiest way to get an agent is often to have a book offer in hand.)

Then there's John Wiley, no agent required, submit proposal or manuscript. Here are their guidelines.

You also might consider small-press. But I'd only go there after I'd exhausted the majors. Not as much advance money, not as much market penetration.

You do have your copy of Writers' Marketplace?

#188 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 07:21 PM:

I didn't have a current WM so I ordered one yesterday from Amazon. Man, it is so scary how easy it is to sit in the wee hours of the morning shopping on Amazon and just hit the one click button. Don't even have to set your coffee down. :-)

I've been gone all day. I do puppetry you know. When I got home imagine my surprise to see two different emails from 1st Books informing me that I have had two requests from "the working media" for review copies. First time that has happened.

The reason I asked about Hyperion is because they published Fran Mccullough's The Low-Carb Cookbook. This was the ground breaker that others followed. In fact, it was this book that made me consider doing a "just desserts" books because her dessert chapter was so skinny (pun intended).

Nothing would tickle me more than to hook an agent. But that's another one of those dreaded NAME RECOGNITION things that looms large and shadowy. (insert teeth chattering here)

Hope I get Apocalype Door soon. My 11 year old grandson is a reading fool. It's all I can do to keep him in literature. He is waiting for The Wish List to come out. One of his favorite authors. LOVES SCI-FI WAR stuff where the enemy is some kind of super machine. Is AD appropriate for him do you think? He just slurped up Sum of All Fears.

#189 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 08:10 AM:

Hi, April--

I'm not certain that Apocalypse Door is appropriate for an eleven-year-old (a couple of sex scenes, one f-word, some grotesque violence). You might want to pre-read it. For that age group, and especially someone who's interested in science-fictional Giant Fighting Robots, we have A Silence in the Heavens, Truth and Shadows, and (coming in November) Service for the Dead. These are by "Martin Delrio," which is the name we use for media-related fiction (Spiderman, Mortal Kombat, etc.).

The enemy isn't a super machine, but there's good (IMHO) sci-fi war in our Mageworlds series.

Let's turn back to getting you an agent. Yeah, it's scary -- like asking the most popular girl in high school to go to the prom with you. So, what's the worst that can happen? Someone says 'no'?

Anyway. You're a good writer. What you need else is ideas for more books. Agents aren't mostly interested in selling one book -- they're interested in a career. Does your pal who does the craft books have an agent? If so, that's the first place to start, either to ask for representation or to ask for recommendations of other agents.

Or, you can get a list of authors whose books you admire, and whose works are similar to yours, write to them, and ask who their agents are. Don't sweat this part.

This too is something that you can do simultaneously with looking for traditional publication for 101 Low Carb Desserts, and trying to pick up a magazine column gig.

#190 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 11:10 AM:

Just a thought, but April, I wonder whether you are overrating the name recognition thing. There are a couple different levels of it, after all, the important ones being recognition by the general public and within the industry. The latter can be established by credits and product, showing you are professional and a good writer, respectively. And that's the sort of thing publishers and agents are looking for, more than the former.


#191 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 02:24 PM:

wellllllll...I guess I will never know exactly what it feels like to ask the most popular girl in school to the dance...heh heh heh.

I have a bazillion ideas, that's not a problem. I can make lists, pages of them, of ideas. I'm a natural idea person. There aren't enough hours in the day to follow through with my ideas. Getting all those ideas into the hands of someone who can do something with them, ah there's the catch in the getalong.

The poor guy who came to me at 4:30 on a Friday about three weeks ago needing some conceptual designs for a new product had no idea he would have 23 concepts and five prototypes by Monday afternoon. Yeah, I have lots of ideas. (insert eyes rolling here).

I am waiting for my Writer's Market which is on its way. BTW, Apocalype Door shipped yesterday. I expect that tomorrow. In the meantime I am writing and producing two new soundtracks for puppet shows I am booked for in September. When I get my WM I will dust off my writer's investigative skills and see if I can find a good fit. I'm not really apprehensive about querying. I'm over that. I'm just productivity oriented and I really hate wasting time. As I am writing these articles for I am doing the photos and the recipes so in a very short while I will have a whole new book done and I haven't even broken a sweat!

One thing I know, though, I was spot on for knowing my book topic was hot and needed to get out there because just since my book came out last October there have been three or four more. One of them even used my website name. Low Carb Sweets. How's that for originality? :-0

#192 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 04:52 PM:

Hooboy! Bet that sold a bunch a copies! Wonder if the editor that brought that one is still there?

A friend of mine recently opened a yarn shop; based on conversations with her, I doubt that the market is as infinitesmal as I would have guessed. And based on the one year of work I did in the craft/DIY publishing industry, there are things that seem ludicrously specialized to people outside the market which can still be profitable books if the publisher knows their niche.

Just a thought, but April, I wonder whether you are overrating the name recognition thing. There are a couple different levels of it, after all, the important ones being recognition by the general public and within the industry.

Seconded. At said previous job, some of our authors were top names in the field (award-winning artists or experts at a particular aspect of the craft; HGTV shows; appearances on Martha), but I know of at least two books by people with no name recognition that we published because they were good ideas that served a particular sales niche, and the editorial board was always willing to consider a well-thought-out proposal that seemed like it would sell, especially if the photos of the work were attractive. I can't imagine that quilt books are really that different from cookbooks in that regard.

#193 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 05:35 PM:

Hey, Steve, do you know Julie Stephanie? Friend of mine. We have a long history. She's the New Acquisitions editor for Krause. I've been in the Craft/DIY design/publish business for many years. I have numerous friends who still do the HGTV circuit. Some of them live here in the Atlanta area with me. I did the photography for one of Krause's books last year and I still do freelance design work but I don't want to do it all the time. And yes, niche publishing can be profitable if you know how to market to it.

I'd love to know which craft pub you worked for, but it's okay if you don't want to tell me. :-)

#194 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 07:45 PM:

My friend Nancy Hanger has her first book coming out in September: The First Year - Lupus: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed

#195 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 07:44 AM:

Hi James,
i took a peek. Interesting topic. I see that The First Year series has many topics as well.

I received my WM but haven't had time to open it. Learning new software. I can now officially input and mix my puppet story soundtracks on the computer. What a relief!

Hoping to dive into Apocalyspe Door this week.

Strange things going on at Amazon. My rank is static, which is weird. Hasn't changed from 53,588 in many days.

They responded to my inquiry that the review from the person who hadn't even seen my book fell within their guidelines and then the next day it was gone. They also removed one of the posts from the reviewer who had done two. Cleaning house I guess. Also, I am confused why one day it says, "usually ships in 24 hours" and then later it says, "usually ships in 8-9 days" and then later it says, "usually ships in 9-10 days".

#196 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 09:00 AM:

Hi, April --

Don't obsess about Amazon. That way madness lies. It's a dipstick, nothing more. All of on-line bookselling equals three or four big-box physcial bookstores.

#197 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 05:40 PM:

I promise I'm not obsessing. It's just interesting to me, now that I have enough information to be dangerous. :-)

#198 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 09:16 PM:

Got a call this morning to do another radio interview. This one will be on Sept 15 KJSA 1120 AM Dallas/FT Worth metroplex.

Is this something I could or should not include in a query? :-)

#199 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 12:09 AM:

For a query: keep it on one page, and only mention the most impressive/most recent things. You can have attachments (the Amazon page printout).

Radio interviews -- I dunno. One line: "I have been interviewed on WXYX, KEFG, and WDNQ...." should about do it.

Try not to look like a nut-job. (I recall one slush manuscript, where the story was set in a certain town in a certain state, and the author sent along photocopies of picture postcards of the town to prove that he hadn't made up the town, and photocopies of the (many) letters-to-the-editor he had sent to his local paper, which he listed as prior publishing credits.)

Think of what you want to send as supporting material for the idea that this is a well-written, well reseached book with a definite market.

And good luck.

#200 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 05:35 AM:

Okay, I'm working on it. Every day that ends without my having received my second quarter check contributes to my motive for moving on. :-)

#201 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 06:09 AM:

Just found out that Walmart Online is now carrying my book. Lists Lightening Source, Inc. as the publisher.

#202 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 04:14 PM:


It helps so much to have written a book that people want to read.

#203 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 07:01 PM:

I appreciate the cheer. :-) But we all know that certain NF topics, especially hot ones, are mucho easier to sell than fiction. I'd be doing mighty serious celebrating if I had similar interest in a fiction title.

Nevertheless, and not to sound ingrateful, I'll take whatever comes from this ride until it's done. In the meantime, I'll be casting about for ways to make it new.

One of the things I do enjoy is the email. So far I haven't been nailed with anything negative, though I am prepared for this eventuality. This morning, the first one I opened was a single sentence. "Hi, I recently received your cookbook and tried some of the recipes that are great."

Made my day. :-))

#204 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2003, 12:59 AM:

(615) 213-6803

12 August (x 28 days)

10 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
9 shipped last week
112 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

25 August (x 17 days)

7 on hand
10 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
6 shipped last week
125 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

13 September

9 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
8 shipped last week
140 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

28 shipped in 28 days. 1.0/day. 15 shipped in the last 17 days. 0.9/day.

Since the 25th of August, mean Amazon sales rank 58149. Median 57733.

Previous sample period: mean Amazon rank 66701, median Amazon rank was 64476.

Since starting to keep stats: mean Amazon sales rank 61965. Median 61751.

You're showing a downward drift in the mean, which is good. You want that. Mean rank of around 62K is correlating very nicely with one per day through Ingram. I look forward to tracking this, especially if you can keep the downward trend going. If we revisit the numbers every two weeks or so, we might have something useful in a year or two.

(If I didn't have anything else to do I'd start keeping track of a couple hundred books and see how well I can predict Ingram sales from Amazon numbers.)

As you head into a mean in the mid 50K then into the mid 40K range I hope to see those Ingram numbers improve. What's the Amazon level that means selling two per day? Three per day? A hundred per day?

Did today's 45643 rank correlate in any way with publicity you're doing? We'll see if there's a spike after the 15th.

#205 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 10:57 AM:

Well, imagine my surprise this morning to find a 5321 rank. It has held for a couple of hours too. I have also noticed that the availability notice changes during the day from "available in 24 hours" to "available in 10-12 days." This indicates to me that they sell out of their stock and reorder.

I have noticed that it does help that other sites have picked up the book and are selling it through Amazon partnership. Stands to reason that more exposure means more potential sales. So, I'm concluding that the Amazon sales are coming from all over the place now.

BTW, I have only the last chapter of Apocalype Door to read and then I'm posting my review on your website. Wow, just wow! So, now you can add me to your fan list. :-)

#206 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 11:02 AM:

One more thing...I just finished my radio interview which went very well and when they asked me where the book could be purchased I replied Amazon and my website. I guess I should have mentioned that they could order it from any bookstore too.

Ah, the clarity of hindsight...

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the interview boosts the sales.

#207 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 06:47 PM:

Thanks for the kindness, April.

I too am interested in seeing if your interview boosts sales.

Go get 'em, kid.

#208 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 03:53 PM:

Well, you never know when your world will turn upside down. Monday at 3:00 I was working. At 4:00 I was packed and heading into the jaws of hell to rescue a dear relative. I just got home. If you ever need a good plot for a mystery/thriller story, I've got one for you.

Since Monday I have driven a total of 36 hours. You might guess that I'm exhausted.

When I get a chance to catch up. I'll do your review.

#209 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 04:01 PM:

That's life. One darn thing after another. What kind of hell?

Oh, and in a minor boast, I've got a short story reprinted in Mr. Patrick's New Skies, just out today.

Buy one. Better still, buy a dozen.

#210 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 04:44 PM:

You friends will love them, and they make great Christmas presents.

#211 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 05:17 PM:

Oh man, I still have the last chapter of AD to finish and here you go throwing out another one, a collection even.

What kind of hell you ask? I can't tell you but I can drive you crazy with some references:
1. Rogue CIA with a duel citizenship(US & South America)
2. Dirty FBI
3. Unfettered US Marshalls (who answer to noone)
4. Mexican Mafia
5. Stupid nephew who needs to be under a jail somewhere
6. Sister caught in the middle

I'm not kidding.

#212 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 05:35 PM:

At a previous point in my life, I've had contact with at least three out of that six; I suspect what kind of thing you could be dealing with. Hang loose, and keep cheerful.

(There was a real spike at Amazon on the 15th, the day of your radio interview. Did you notice?)

Getting back more onto topic here: This is an article from a year ago, still all-too-true:


Do you see how well you're doing, April?

You'll tell me when you grab that traditional contract, won't you?

#213 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 08:08 PM:


Thread drift r us.

Yes, yes, I hear the arguments and though some of what he said does not exactly describe my experience with 1st books, it is nonetheless valid and I understand completely.

I feel fortunate that as I move forward into the tedious process of query/wait/rejection/query/wait/wait/wait/rejection, I can still be plodding along selling 1-2 a day through the online sources and 5-10 a week through my website. And ultimately there's no harm/no foul if I never see the "...we are pleased to inform you..." letter.

I am soooooo itching to do the review on AD. I love writing reviews. :-)

#214 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 07:57 AM:

Is a Barnes & Noble rank of 48,048 as good as Amazon? I wonder how they compare.

#216 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 06:21 PM:

How do B&N ranks compare with Amazon ranks?

They're another dipstick, and mean nothing by themselves.

To see how they correlate, take a number of books available through Amazon. Look at their numbers. Find the same books on B&N. Look at their numbers. See what kind of correlations you can draw.

If I had a bit of time I might do just that, but not today.

I'm getting set to go off to that annual Writers' Workshop I help teach (

Maybe I'll look at the numbers afterward.

#217 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 08:38 PM:

And a very fine workshop it is. This year, the ratio of students to instructors is 2:1. Talk about face time ...

#218 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 08:40 PM:

Wish I was a fly on the wall.

Have a great workshop!

#219 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 10:12 PM:

Tell all your fiction-writing friends that this is the workshop where the instructors are all either best-selling, award-winning writers or acquiring editors, and where for one solid week you get a lot of personal attention from the best, most talented teachers around.

As one of last year's students (who subsequently started selling to paying markets) said, "It took my writing to a whole new level."

#220 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 05:21 AM:

I'll post the url on my writer's forum. There are many sci-fi/fantasy writers. :-)

#221 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 03:14 PM:

(615) 213-6803

101 Low-Carb & Sugarfree Dessert Recipes


9 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
8 shipped last week
140 shipped this year
5 shipped last year


12 on hand
0 on order
0 on backorder
2 shipped this week
9 shipped last week
165 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

Over the last 25 days, your mean Amazon rank is 34784, and your median is 33476.

25 days, 25 shipped, still showing one per day.

Nice spike on the 15th, same day as the radio interview.

#222 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 08:00 AM:

Hi James, how was the writers' workshop?

#223 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 11:20 AM:

The workshop was great. A lot of work, but great. We had some very talented people attending.

How are you doing on submissions?

#224 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 12:52 PM:

Great! I would have loved to have been there just to soak up the energy.

Re: submissions, I've been loaded down with deadlines with no time for even opening my new Writer's Market. I'm looking at early next week for a break. Interesting thing happened though. I had an opportunity to bid on revamping a website for a large New York based company and during discussions with my contact, the issue of low-carb and sugarfree came up. He asked for a copy of my book and a sample of the Butter Pecan Brittle, which I certainly was happy to FED-X to him. He was impressed and mentioned that he had a family friend who works for Double Day. I'm playing it somewhat close to my chest, not wanting to press for this person's name, but if it comes up, I might try to find out (through my contact) if she would allow me to send a book and the Butter Pecan Brittle to her.

I would never consider doing this without an "in" like this.

You know what they say, it's not what you know, but who. :-) One thing is for sure, I'd rather try this first than cold canvasing queries. Then if she isn't interested I can fall back on plan B.

My new article in fabfoods should be out in a few days. This always spikes my Amazon rank also.

#225 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2003, 02:52 PM:

It was a very good year. We had students from Mexico and Belgium, and from Martha's Vineyard itself. The two-to-one student-to-teacher ratio may have been an involuntary luxury, but we put the extra time to good use. Laura Mixon was a great addition. Previous years' student bodies had said they wished there'd been more writing assignments, so this year we ran them off their feet. And so forth and so on.

The Menemsha Bite was closed, and I still didn't get my storm, but you can't have everything.

#226 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 08:57 AM:

Ah, so you like storms, eh? Me too. Negative ions, I think. Effects the electromagnetic flow...or something...:-)

#227 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 05:19 PM:

Big. Loud. Joyful. There are't words for it.

#228 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 08:44 AM:

Ever been in Texas when a Blue Norther threatens to roll over you like a black tire on a bug? Fearsome.

Or have you ever been in Oklahoma and watched a thick white finger dip out of the clouds, stir up the horizon, sucking up dirt, homes, cars, anything in its way?
Jaw dropping.

Storms remind us how small we are.

#229 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 11:27 AM:

I haven't been there for one of those, though I did manage one walloping Oklahoma thunderstorm when all the TV stations were flashing "storm alert" at the top of the screen, and rain was falling so hard that fair-sized twigs were floating down a front walk that wasn't a runoff collection point.

I admit to wishing I could see a tornado, but I'm conflicted about it, because they do so much damage. Same goes for major storms on the Atlantic coast: the fishing fleet and the beachfront homeowners would, I'm sure, take a different view of it. So instead of wishing for a storm, I'll wish that I may be there to see one that's going to happen anyway.

I have seen some goodies, though, like dust storms that came in looking like a giant wall (technically called a haboob, I believe, though that sounds silly.) Here are photos of a couple:

Once, when I was a little kid, we had a storm so fierce that it was dark as night in the middle of the day, and it rained mud. That must have been a wowser, though I didn't get to see much of it; Mom herded us inside, along with all the other kids who were playing nearby, and we waited it out in the kitchen. I don't think it lasted all that long. Mostly I remember how dark it was outside the kitchen window, and my mother sticking something out into the storm, and pulling it back in again splashed with raindrop-blots of reddish-brown mud.

When I got to be a little older, I'd run out into dust storms, laughing, enjoying their violence; and would come home with muddy teeth.

The most beautiful storm I ever saw was at night, while driving from El Paso to Tucson. The land the road ran through was lower than the areas off to either side, and llines of giant cumulo-nimbus clouds had formed on both sides of us, quite close, though the sky was clear overhead. It was as if we were driving down a corridor between rows of cosmic-sized cauliflowers, or giant white roses. And all the while as we drove, the clouds were lighting up, swiftly and randomly, with interior lightning discharges. There were no bright lightning bolts. It was all interior incandescence, like enormous lanterns switching on and off. I remember it as being silent, though there may have been low distant thunder.

The most musical storm I've ever gone through was a freak hailstorm a few years back that dropped large but irregularly shaped hailstones -- some were almost ribbony -- on Park Slope in Brooklyn. That was when we were living in our previous apartment, a few blocks from here, and had a tiny metal back porch with a spiral staircase going down into the back garden. I was standing at the open back door when the hail started hitting, and got to hear all these odd hailstones hitting the backyard metal fixtures of my building and all the buildings nearby: fire escapes, lawn furniture, metal fencing, window grates, et cetera; but especially the fire escapes. They're made out of metal strips, and they rang like xylophones.

I have never seen a really good cyclonic storm. I have never been in wind strong enough to knock me over or push me off my position. I have never seen rain I couldn't stand up in, or breathe in, or tolerate on my skin. I have never seen hailstones big enough to be dangerous. I've never had lightning hit close enough that it scared me.

That last one's a bit of a cheat. I love lightning. I don't know why. It makes me happy. In the prudence of middle age, I no longer climb on top of buildings during lightning storms, but I still want to. It might be best if I never have lightning hit close enough to scare me.

#230 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 06:32 PM:

Cloud lanterns from 30,000 feet will give you an out of body experience. Especially if it's close to the end of the day when they are all pink and gold. Inspirational.

Tornadoes are scary not so much because they are powerful, but because they are sudden and unpredictably destructive and you can't really run. You can see a hurricane coming and evacuate.

After tucking my children safely away in a neighbor92s fraidy hole, I stood paralyzed with a mixture of awe and disbelief watching an F3 tornado rip up a six-mile swath through an eastern most neighborhood in Tulsa on December 5, 1975. I couldn92t make myself go inside the shelter, which might have been somewhat irresponsible for a mother of three young ones, but I had a life-long need to fulfill.

What they don92t mention, when talking about experiencing a tornado, is seeing the small explosions as the white rope swings into power transformers. This is something you can92t expect or the realization that the rope has suddenly taken on a dark muddy gray color because it is slurping up soil and the debris it has caused. Then many minutes after it withdraws, the stuff of people92s lives rains down on you. Even six miles away, pink insulation, mail, boards, a child92s teddy bear, shingles, these fall as though they were bones spewed out by the monster that had just had lunch at the expense of hundreds of souls.

No lives were lost that day, but I didn92t know that as I dodged chunks of twisted metal and lumber slamming into the ground around me. Standing in front of my TV watching the towers crumble into dust, twenty-six years later, I instantly felt the very same stomach wrenching. Lives gone in a nano second.

I could go the remainder of my life and never wish to feel that again.

#231 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 07:55 PM:

I have a question that will (gasp) relate to the topic of this thread.

I ran across some info on a POD publisher that claims they accept returns from bookstores, print better than Lightening Source and don't do ebooks but sell retail on their own site.

I downloaded their brochure and it is fairly explicit. At least I don't see any hidden loopholes. They charge a small fee to list with Ingram but they don't charge for other things that 1st books does. They also pay royalties monthly, not quarterly.

Discuss please: Infinity Publishing"

#232 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 09:21 PM:


In re Infinity Publishing:

For a one-time set up fee of $499, your book is made "Print On Demand" ready, gets an ISBN and barcode, a cover design if needed, and is made available for sale at our ecommerce website.


They offer marketing packages, ranging from $125-$470.


The usual blather about listing it with Ingram and Baker&Taylor and being available on the web. The usual blather about how The Internet Changes Everything.

Just what you needed.

It's yet another vanity press. No advance, sales force, no publicity, no bookstore distribution, no respect. Stay away.

#233 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 06:43 AM:

Yes, yes, I understand. Actually I was asking for someone else who has a rather controversial POD already out. He has a place to distribute for his niche through a web based ministry. He has had trouble with 1st books not fairly reporting his sales. He knows this because of people who buy the books by the dozens and then the numbers don't match with his quarterlies.

Unfortunately he didn't ask me before he got tangled up with Bookman and they have reniged on their original promises. I told him to forget Bookman and publish without the ISBN because the books are sold privately. But he is convinced that people would buy it if it was available in bookstores so he wants to find a mainstream publisher.

Bottom line: stranger things have been published and given publicity, but this one challenges traditional religion and I can't see Zonderan or any other mainliner taking it on. I've been honest with my friend about this but told him that I would help him try to find a publisher.

When I saw that Infinity accepts returns, I thought this might be the answer for him.

BTW, I don't know what is going on, or what kicked it in to gear, but my book is selling from my website like crazy. And I shipped my first one to the UK this week too. Must be the holidays coming up or maybe my new article. I don't know, but it's keeping me busy. :-)

Don't ask...I'm looking for a publisher...

#234 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 07:26 AM:

One more thing on my mind, might as well download.

I'm currently reading a book written by a local author and published by St. Martin's Press. Because she is practically a neighbor, I planned to review it, both on Amazon and in the library in my website. But I'm having trouble getting through it. Mediocre at best, which translates to no misspelled words, so far.

What were they thinking? So many good writers looking for a home and this gets an agent, paper, ink and backing? I don't get it. And it isn't that I'm all that eudite or picky either. I've read better stuff in the challenges in my writers' forum.

What will I say to the author when we bump into each other?


#235 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 08:09 AM:

Hiya, April. Your book is also selling from Amazon like crazy. (I almost wonder if it isn't the exposure at Making Light...)

Anywho -- your friend the minister. Get him a copy of the Writers Market for 2004. They index everyone who publishes religious material. Start at the top and work down. Things that challenge traditional religion are all over the bookshelves. Go to a bookstore, find the religion section, find books that challenge traditional religion, write to their publishers.

When you get down to it, if he self-publishes, he can buy an ISBN for less than Infinity is charging then get a local printer to print up a bunch. It'll have better acceptance than anything any vanity POD will be able to get him as far as in-the-store bookstore acceptance. He'll still have to be his own salesforce, but he won't have an anchor on his leg.

He may have to buy a block of ten ISBNs. I wonder if he can sell the rest on eBay?

As to the local author: you aren't her audience. It happens. "It reminded me of many great books" is a way to get around saying anything. Great books have covers and pages too....

#236 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 10:52 AM:

April, was your neighbor's novel her first published book? I'll admit that sometimes an established author gets away with a lackluster book, if only because everything else about it is already set up, ready to go, and hard to just toss out by the time it becomes apparent that her final version of the manuscript is not going to be all that great.

If your friend's book is too religious for the secular publishers and too unorthodox for the religious publishers, publishing it himself is not an unreasonable option. He'll get a much better per-unit price if he goes to a normal bookmaking printer, too. ISBNs aren't that hard to obtain or use, and you can keep the leftovers around in case you or your Aunt Minnie decide to write another book. (And no, Jim, you can't sell them on eBay.)

Congratulations on your ramped-up sales. If this discussion has added to that, I'm glad; but I suspect you're also the recipient of word of mouth recommendations.

About storms: Patrick read your account of tucking your family into a storm cellar and then standing out in the open to watch the tornado, and said "April Fields is your kind of woman." He's had a quarter-century of trying to get me to come inside during storms.

As a tornado video junkie, I've seen footage of transformers popping, one after another. I've also seen way-too-intrepid footage of an F5 monster where, if you look closely, you realize with a start that the debris it's caught up isn't little bits and pieces. It's plucked sections of building up whole.

In the video that made me finally understand a little of what tornadoes are like, you never see the funnel at all. The footage was taken by a guy in Louisiana who rigged up a video camera on the inside wall of his carport while he prudently went down into the basement. All that's in view are the tops of his cars, and a bunch of young pine trees growing right outside. What you see is the wind hitting the trees -- hard, fierce gusts; then harder, with the trees bending over, wind as hard as you've ever seen blow. Then the wind goes off the scale of normal experience, and you see the trunks of the pine trees snapping like toothpicks. And right after that, it takes out the videocam.

All the bits of our physical lives look big to us when we walk in the door of our home or office, and when they're shredded by a disaster, they look so small.

#237 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 11:43 AM:

Teresa, nothing, not even a good book, beats a serious storm for blood perking inspiration. :-)

My neighbor's book is not a first. Her first was somewhat successful so I guess that explains it. Perhaps I should read that one first and develop an affection for her as a writer because this one disappoints in many ways including story and execution. The review on Amazon for this one from Publishers Weekly sort of sums it up for me. Oh well...I'm going to finish it and find something positive to say...if it kills me, in case I run into her at the Publix.

I don't know what has bumped my sales, and if this strange thread which has taken on a life of its own has contributed, I am truly grateful. I certainly have learned a lot from this exchange. :-) Now I am wondering if the sales from the Amazon affiliates are helping too. I find more and more of those that are listing it. Just more exposure. One thing that might be contributing also is the new medical information out about low-carb. You know, one day eggs, peanut butter, fat and coconut oil are BAAAAAAD for you and the next day....

James, re: my minister friend's book: I read all kinds of "counter religion" books and it seems to me that new-age and way out cultism is far easier to get a mainstream publisher to take a risk on than just plain hard-ball-cut-to-the chase spirituality. To be blunt, it's not touchy-feely enough.

I'll mention to him about buying a block of ISBNs. He has more books in the wings. I am somewhat convinced that if we find a real publisher for this one it will be only because God wills it. :-)

#238 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 07:43 PM:

I wish to recant all statements about the book I bashed in previous posts. It might be moot but I feel somewhat ashamed. Note to self: if you commit to read a tome, read it and then decide how you feel about. NO assumptions until the last page is turned. This is only fair and the minimum respect I would want for anything I might write.

This one kicked in for me on or about page 29 and now I can write an honest and positive review.

Humble pie will be served, in the drawing room, directly. Low-Carb, of course.

#239 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 02:46 PM:

There's a take-away lesson here, folks.

If you're a first-time novelist, the readers won't cut you a lot of slack.

If the reader has read and enjoyed a previous volume of yours, that reader will cut you quite a bit of slack.

So, on later novels you can have a slower or less sympathetic beginning.

Of course, any novel you write might be the first one that a given reader picks up...

#240 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 08:06 PM:

(615) 213-6803

101 Low-Carb & Sugarfree Dessert Recipes


12 on hand
0 on order
0 on backorder
2 shipped this week
9 shipped last week
165 shipped this year
5 shipped last year


9 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
17 shipped last week
210 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

Over the last 25 days your maximum Amazon Sales Rank was 33,151, your minimum ASR was 1,633, your median ASR was 19,111 and your mean ASR was 17,637.

Congratulations -- you've gone from one per day to two per day through Ingram's.

(Something I'm not controlling for is what day of the week corresponds to "this week." I may have to start figuring that.)

#241 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 07:52 AM:

So that 17 mark for "shipped" last week must be what held it in the 5k range for at least 24 hours, which leads me to believe the bulk of the 17 came close together.

I shipped to the UK last week and the hits to my website tripled in less than one week. Most of these were from the UK, Ireland and Netherlands. I couldn't figure it out and then I realized that as soon as I added the Paypal function to accept Pound Sterling and Canadian, the search engine robots started listing me under the key words Sugarfree Dessert Recipes.

Interesting isn't it?

I'm polishing up the queries and they are going out this week. I have already sent one out on behalf of my friend to Chosen Books. Feels strangely good to be back in the query saddle again. It's been a long time.

#242 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 09:34 AM:

Hang a sign on your wagon: Traditional or Bust!

#243 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2003, 07:51 AM:

And speaking of bad ideas, here's, which looks ever so much like that same sad story: Rich white guy writes unpublishable novel, rich white guy can't sell unpublishable novel, rich white guy figures publishing is broken, rich white guy founds PoD or e-book "publishing house."

No advances, no titles. No surprise.

So sad.

#244 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2003, 06:20 PM:

Well, in spite of delays, family crisis and obstacles that jumped out like boulders crashing on a mountain road, I finally got my query to the agent off.

Ball now lobbed into play.

I decided not to do simultaneous submissions because she made that request in the WM. I can honor that. Anyway, my book is selling like crazy right now. I don't know if it's the new article or just getting close to holidays. I've personally shipped everyday and my Amazon rank has stayed in the four digit rank for at least two days. Lowest today, that I have seen (got a screen shot) 2801. Still not the all time low of 1633 :-)

Moral of story - do a cookbook on a hot topic.

#245 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 08:31 AM:

Re: ranking, here's an interesting thing. I haven't really paid much attention to the B&N ranking. But someone who ordered my book directly from her local B&N emailed me with some questions. We struck up an email exchange and she asked if I wanted her to do a review on B&N website. Of course, I said yes.

I don't know if she did it or not but yesterday, I noticed that my rank was 56,000+ and the ship date was 2-3 weeks. Today, though there is no review, my rank is 36,000+ and the ship time is 2-3 days.

Now, here's the kicker. The counter on my website helps me track back to the engines and the key words that bring people to my website. This helps me bump my rank in the engines because I can see exactly what words are used. Handy tool. This morning I found that there was an entry from the B&N community relations manager.

Today, higher rank and quicker shipping. What a coincidence. Just wondering if the ranking is sometimes manipulated?

#246 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 01:07 AM:

You want my guess?

My guess is that the rankings and shipping times are run off a batch command every so many days or weeks, more often as the book gets higher in the rankings. But, if someone has the password, he or she can tell the thing to "run the numbers now" for a book they're looking at.

So the CRM was looking at your book, and pushed the Run the Numbers Now button, to see how it's doing, and sure enough -- it's doing better than it was a month ago.

That's my guess.

#247 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 06:26 AM:

Works for me. I like that answer better than what I had imagined. :-)

#248 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 08:13 PM:

Want to see something totally evil?

Author's Market

#249 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 02:11 AM:

And back to an earlier question: I've finally seen a Infinity Publishing book.

Poor quality, amateurish appearance. (The text was pretty poor too.)

Give 'em a miss.

#250 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 05:28 PM:

Reverse psychology? hmmm...clever

My NEW ARTICLE hit today and so far I've done a screen shot of 2993. I've got another radio interview for a station in Richmond VA on 12/9 and a speaking engagement/book signing on 12/16.

No word from the agent yet but as long as I am selling, I can wait.

#251 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2003, 10:18 PM:

Hah! Remember, way back (2 July, to be exact) when the surprising statistic was revealed "There are 56,000 publishers in the U.S."?

This was followed by general disbelief, and the revelation that there are actually only 18,985 publishers in Canada and the United States combined. Remember all that?

Well... I've solved the mystery!

Elsewhere, I found someone who quoted a similar statistic, (53,000), but this person gave a source for it, and a bit of important clarification.

It isn't 53,000 (or 56,000) publishers. It's 56,000 (or 53,000) publishing-related businesses. That includes the publishers, the bookstores, the distributors, the wholesalers, the printers, the binders, the typesetters, the guys who make the presses, the guys who make the ink, the guys who make the paper, the delivery drivers, the grocery stores with wire-rack spinners, the advertising agencies, the whole kit and kaboodle of publishing-related business.

Yeah, 56,000 (or 53,000 anyway) suddenly sounds reasonable.

#252 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 07:05 PM:

(615) 213-6803 is Ingram's booksales number.

Let's do some comparison shopping, eh?

101 Low-Carb & Sugarfree Dessert Recipes
ISBN: 1403360421


9 on hand
5 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
17 shipped last week
210 shipped this year
5 shipped last year


0 on hand
10 on order
4 on backorder
3 shipped this week
16 shipped last week
250 shipped this year
5 shipped last year

Spiritual Marketing
ISBN: 1403347085

5 on hand
2 on order
0 on backorder
0 shipped this week
0 shipped last week
79 shipped this year
22 shipped last year

Service For the Dead
ISBN: 0451459431

1071 on hand
0 on order
0 on backorder
14 shipped this week
119 shipped last week
913 shipped this year
0 shipped last year

#253 ::: April Fields ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 07:48 AM:

I was forced to order 100 last week because I am selling them from my website and I have a speaking engagement coming up. When I order these from 1st Books, These numbers don't show up in Ingram. My first order last year was 275 and those numbers definitely didn't show up in Ingram. i have sold all of those too.

Here's a question. I received an email from someone who bought my book from Amazon and was impressed. She is opening a low-carb healthfood store in St. Petersburg and wanted to know how she could stock the book. I gave her Ingram as the distributor. But then I wondered if that's where I should have sent her. My knowledge of the distribution system is very limited. If she orders from Ingram, it comes from Lightning Services which is the POD division. How can I find out what the wholesale on the book is if it retails for $14.50? The wholesale from 1st Books has gone up for the bulk rate. 100 books cost me $870 (including shipping).

Also, if someone orders one book directly from 1st Books, it is $11.50. I wonder if this is the number that Ingram uses as wholesale?

#254 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 03:12 PM:

The obscure eccentric French writer Raymond Roussel had his works published by a vanity press. The book "How I Wrote Certain of My Books" (ed. by Trevor Winkfield) tells his story.

#255 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 05:25 PM:

No matter the pathway of the books, April, they're printed by Lightning. You might call LSI on the phone and as them your questions.

#256 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 09:41 PM:

'Kay, everyone: Get this book: Ten Percent of Nothing.

It'll be out soon.

Preorder here: Ten Percent of Nothing.

#257 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 10:02 PM:

An actual working preorder link:

Ten Percent of Nothing

#258 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 02:12 PM:

I guess wanna-be authors are just about the most vulnerable segment of society, huh.

I still have not heard a word from the agent I reponded to. Frankly, with the holidays and a family crisis converging in on me simultaneously, I haven't had time to think about it. I sold 8 books at a book signing in December. Not too bad since there were only about fifteen people there. I'm still shipping from my website. Trinkle trinkle.

I don't know what the deal is with Amazon but between Thanksgiving and Christmas my rank was consistently low and the ship time was all over the place. For about two weeks it was 6-8 days and then it was 24 hours. Now they have dropped the price and are saying it ships in 1-3 weeks. Even if they didn't stock it, I can't imagine it taking that long.


I did get a couple of interesting updates from 1st Books. They offer inside color printing now. Can't want to know how expensive that is. And for the minuscule fee of $699 a year you can belong to a program whereby they guarantee book sellers "return" status.

#259 ::: Ebookren ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 02:55 PM:

1stbooks is now offering bookstore returnability.

#260 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 03:06 PM:

So? 1stbooks is still a vanity publisher. If you're defending them because they "published" your book, you have my sympathy.

#261 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 01:57 AM:

Wow. Returns! If you'll agree to buy 47 copies of your own book at full retail, and not receive the copies. Per year.

Wow. What a deal!

This isn't the first or only PoD vanity that's offering some kind of "returns" policy. The vanities are being forced to offer something with the word "returns" in it, since more and more authors are learning, and telling others, that the "no return" policy was a non-starter for bookstore sales. Kiss of death, even.

So we have JADA Press offering "returns," and Infinity Publishing offering "returns," and iUniverse debuting their "Star Program" with "returns," and PublishAmerica popping up with the Independence Books Imprint featuring "returns."

Most of them with various hoops and extra expenses the author has to jump through or provide.

All of them still vanity PoD publishers. The defining symptoms of vanity publishing aren't whether or not the publisher takes returns, it's whether, on the first day the first book is printed, money has flowed into or out of the author's pocket, and whether the publisher or the author owns the rights.

#262 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 06:47 AM:

Which is why I had a good laugh when I got the announcement email. $699 a year to underwrite the possibility that booksellers might return the book.

This is the quote that blew me away:

"The 1stBooks Booksellers Return Program allows bookstores to return books - without a restocking fee. Best of all, if a book is returned under this program, there is no additional charge to you and your royalty fees are not reduced."

Imagine that!

#263 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:38 PM:

Hey, cool! Jim Macdonald's right. Everybody needs to buy a copy of Ten Percent of Nothing. And guy, why didn't you mention who wrote it?

Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent who's now a professor of Political Science and Criminal Law, absolutely knows his stuff when it comes to scam agents and vanity presses. He was the inventor of the Fisher Scale, a sophisticated and useful device for judging the dubiousness of agents. It assigned numerical scores to a list of characteristics commonly seen in agents or agencies that were known to be scammers.

When you ran into an unknown agent, you could check their professional practices against the Fisher Scale, tot up their score, then make your own judgements about whether or not to deal with them. As Jim Fisher was always at pains to make clear, the Fisher Scale didn't claim to determine whether or not an agent was a scammer. What it did was provide a rough measure of the degree to which that agent resembled known scammers.

What characteristics did it look for? Sending out solicitations to unpublished writers got you points. Charging fees got you a lot of points, as did referring your clients to book doctors. Having an in-house vanity press operation got even more. On the other hand, having your operation based in some area other than NYC only earned you one point. If you're a real and reputable agent like Val Smith, who's located in Modena, NY, about two hours' drive from the city, you come up with a negligible score. No prob. But if you charge fees, and you send out mass solicitations to unpublished writers, and you're based in Boca Raton or Tonopah or Redmond, the points will add up.

For some years now, the Fisher Scale has been unavailable online -- I got the impression that harassment and legal threats may have contributed to its disappearance -- but you can still find scam agents denouncing it. Take that as a tribute to him.

More credentials: Ten Percent of Nothing is being published by Southern Illinois University Press, a very respectable university publishing program that's gradually been expanding into more and more titles of sort-of-general interest.

What Jim Fisher has written is a book-length account of the Deering Agency/Sovereign Publications/Appaloosa Press/Atlantic Disk Publishers/Daniel Craig Literary Group operation, which turned into one of the longest-running confidence games in American history, and defrauded and bitterly disappointed hundreds of writers. What I know of it is already a lurid and convoluted story, and Jim Fisher's spent years doing further digging and tracing on it, so this should be fairly spectacular.

Onward to the subject of returns:

Jim, you should have mentioned the pertinent fact: when a bookstore returns one of your books, it's your publisher that pays for it. You don't get charged a thing.

Here's the deal: 1stBooks, JADA, iUniverse, PublishAmerica/Independence, and other vanity houses are now instituting mechanisms that enable bookstores to return unsold copies. Too many wanna-be authors have figured out that most bookstores won't touch non-returnable books.

Hmmm. Back up. How returns work: Bookstores accept shipments of books and are charged for having received them. If the books don't sell, the bookstores ship them back and are credited with having returned them. For obvious reasons, this system greatly increases the willingness of bookstores to stock new titles. If a non-returnable book doesn't sell, the bookstore that stocks it will be stuck for its wholesale cost. This is not a good way to market titles that were marginal to start with.

(Digression: I've seen online discussions where vanity-published authors have been talking about how clever it is of them to special-order copies of their own books from their local bookstores, then never go back to pick them up and pay for them. They figure this will force those bookstores to shelve and sell their books. They're mistaken. The bookstores will indeed have to eat the cost of the book, but they aren't likely to waste further resources on a no-hope book they already have reason to dislike.)

What the vanity houses are doing with these "return" programs is arranging for bookstores to stock their titles risk-free and return them if they don't sell. This is normal enough. However, it means that someone else must assume that risk, why is why the vanity publishers are charging the authors substantial sums: the authors are paying for the returns in full. From the way things sound, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the authors are paying more than the cost of the returns.

In conventional publishing, the publisher pays it. But no vanity house is going to do that, because the great and central tenet of vanity publishing is that they take no risks whatsoever. That's why they'll publish anything you send them: it's your lookout, not theirs.

It irks me to see, in some of those same online conversations I mentioned earlier, weepy authors blathering on about how grateful they are to their vanity publishers "for being willing to take a chance on me." Idiots! Their publisher risked nothing on them, and never will.

#264 ::: DC ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 11:50 PM:

From what I heard, they use a service of a company called Springboard Logistics. They sort of work like an insurance company. The publisher pays the premium (well, the author does, actually,) and Springboard Logistics will handle the return and absorb the loss. Since Springboard Logistics eats the loss, it does not, supposedly, affect authors' royalties or the price of their books.

Sounds good in theory, but considering the high price of this service, the authors would have to sell a LOT of books for this extra investment to be worthwhile.

By the way, I heard Springboard Logistics charges $500 a year for this service. And 1stBooks charges their authors $699 a year? Guess who is profiting the most?


#265 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 01:19 AM:

Who's profiting the most? Not the authors, that's for sure.

#266 ::: April S Fields ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 07:20 AM:

Here's a reality check and I preface this by saying I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from self-publishing but I just completed my year end accounting and numbers are fairly hard and cold.

The warm fuzzies of "being published" must ultimately give way to what is real.

My book, which was engineered to take the path of least resistance, i.e., it is non-fiction, timely topic, moderately priced and easy to sell, has been out for just over a year. My Amazon rank is relatively low (big whoop) and the book has been picked up by a number of online sellers, both Amazon affiliates and independent.

I still made less than $1000 in profits (sales less expenses) this year, including sales from book signings, online from my website and royalties from 1st Books. I worked pretty hard for that too.

Sobering isn't it?

My advice? Unless you are financially secure and don't need the income, don't self publish. Regardless of the hype freely given by the vanity publishers, the real issue is less about the merit of the work and basically boils down to promotion and distribution. Even a good book needs enormous support and promotion. Translation: lots 'o dollars thrown at the task. The initial expense of getting it from manuscript to printed book is nothing.

So, your friends and family like your book, unless you have a dynamic system for getting it into the hands of the buying public, you are doomed to fail.

And know this, there are as many critics standing ready and willing to pan your efforts as there are those who appreciate them once your baby is exposed to the general public. You have to be tough and coated with Teflon. Otherwise, you'd be way better off saving your money or at the least having a small printer put together a dozen of your books to pass around to your family.

This sounds so negative, it is not meant to be. I'm not sorry that I did my book and 1st Books is as good as any self publisher to choose. I went into this with some experience and foreknowledge about my chances. But I'm ready to do the sequel with a mainstreamer. I'm not happy about waiting for the agent, who responded to my query so quickly and who now seems to have lost the ability to email me with a quick, "no thanks", but I will wait. In the meantime I still ship out a book every other day and I continue to develop new recipes that will eventually make for a great second book...some day.

#267 ::: Just A Clerk ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 04:04 AM:

Teresa, they (the authors) aren't idiots at PA and it does you a disservice to call them that. It puts you against them, and you know what? The authors are not the enemy.

Now here are my thoughts:
Most of the warnings from sites such as the sfwa and P&E make PA look fairly benign. That's not a shot at SFWA or P&E, it's simply an observation. When I read their warnings I thought, "They have higher prices, so what? Contract problems, so what?"

Writers (like myself) feel they can talk PA into a lower price and we soon learn that PA doesn't take book rights for a lifetime (which in turn makes the seven years look good) and that the movie rights are the authors to keep. Suddenly the warnings seem silly and the author goes for it.

Now let's get into some real problems at PA. Ones the author can't fix by rewording the contract or begging for a lower price.

First of all: PA does offer a standard bookstore discount that starts at 40% (depending on the volume and relationship the bookstore has with the publisher that can be, and usually is, better).

What they don't tell you is this: all bookstores are required to pay up front. Credit card, cheque or money-order. You want the books you have to pay. Any bookstore that does not have a relationship with PA won't do this for the same reason that you won't offer your credit card over the Internet to some company you've never heard of. It's dangerous and can cost you.

So the bookstore sees it can go through IBC or Baker and Taylor, two well-known distributors with whom they have a relationship. Great! Problem: IBC is only offering a 20% discount and B&T only offers ... (drum roll please) 5%! Mention this to PA and they claim they have no control over how IBC/B&T discount their books. But a little information from Lightning Source (the printer PA uses to print/distribute their books) will tell you that the publisher sets up the discounts at the distributors based on the discounts they offer the distributors. PA will argue differently. Send them a copy of your email direct from LS and you'll simply be ignored.

Never mind the returnability. Those discounts will scare away any potential bookstores simply because there's no profit. Whether you order 5 copies or 500 it's still 20% or 5%.

Even if you do get your book down to $16, the bookstore may decide to charge an extra 20% to make up for what it isn't getting from the distributor. Now your novel that you talked into a more reasonable price is STILL at $20! Just be glad that store isn't ordering through B&T where they'd have to mark up the book 35% to make it profitable!

What warnings would I like to see on SFWA and P&E? Besides the ones regarding the distributor problems, I'd like to see the foreign rights issue addressed. Why does PA need foreign rights? They won't market you here at home, chances are they won't do it in Japan. Get the authors to keep those so that when (and it will) their deal with PA goes south at least they can attempt to market their book overseas. Hey, just because an American publisher turned it down doesn't mean a British one will. Losing publishing rights in the homeland might turn out to be the best thing for an author!

---Just a Thought

#268 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 11:27 AM:

Good comments, Clerk, and it's good to get the perspective from your side of the cash register.

I wouldn't call PublishAmerica's authors idiots either -- we're talking about naive and trusting first-time authors who have fallen afoul of practiced snake-oil salesmen.

It's true that PublishAmerica authors do say that PA "took a chance" on them. (You can see one of them doing it here on the 13th of January of 2004: "PA - Thanks for taking a chance on an unknown."

PA "took a chance" on that unknown in the same way and to the same extent that Caesar's Palace "takes a chance" on its slot machines.

PA knows that authors love their books, and that the authors will move heaven and earth to sell them, to the extent of bugging everyone they know to buy a copy. Mom and Dad and Aunt Ruth will buy copies, regardless of the price. The authors will buy cases of the books to peddle from the trunks of their cars.

PA overprices their books, to the tune of about five bucks a copy.

PA knows that authors will, as a group, on average, sell 75 copies of their own book. (If someone doesn't sell any, that's okay -- someone else will sell 150. The average holds. That works out to a vanity press fee of $375 per title, right in line with iUniverse, 1stBooks, and all the rest of the vanity PODs. PA is willing to wait a bit rather than charge the money up front. That the difference.)

The reason PA stacks the deck so heavily against selling through normal bookstores, I suspect, is that selling through bookstores is a pain. If they limit themselves to selling to people who call them on the phone with a credit card in hand they can simplify their lives and keep the office lean. Once the book is out they don't have to waste any time on keeping the author happy, or selling the book, or doing accounting, or anything.

Looking a bit further at the PA thread I mentioned above, you can see more evidence that the authors are really out of their depths:

We, as authors, retain all the rights to our books. That is in our contract with PA. Read it. "Copyright shall be taken out in the name of Author in the US and in foreign countries as the Publisher may deem advisable." says Brenda M.Weber, author of I Promise Not to Tell.

Copyrights and rights are different things, Brenda. Isn't it true that PublishAmerica took all worldwide book rights for seven years, plus electronic, reprint, translation, serial, book club, and abridgement rights?

Nowhere in my contract am I required me to make any payment to PA, nor am I required to purchase a single copy of my book, says C. L. Gammon, author of Hail to the Chief: The Presidency by the Numbers. (Not yet released -- ever notice how many of the PA defenders' books haven't yet come out?)

I have a question for C.L.: Are you willing to promise not to buy a single copy of your own book?

That's not counting the $30 fee you had to pay for your own copyright. After figuring in the the $1 advance, that puts the two "free" author's copies you'll be getting at $14.50 apiece out of your pocket.

I wish the PA authors would go to other places than the PA messageboards for information.

#269 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 11:27 AM:

Good comments, Clerk, and it's good to get the perspective from your side of the cash register.

I wouldn't call PublishAmerica's authors idiots either -- we're talking about naive and trusting first-time authors who have fallen afoul of practiced snake-oil salesmen.

It's true that PublishAmerica authors do say that PA "took a chance" on them. (You can see one of them doing it here on the 13th of January of 2004: "PA - Thanks for taking a chance on an unknown."

PA "took a chance" on that unknown in the same way and to the same extent that Caesar's Palace "takes a chance" on its slot machines.

PA knows that authors love their books, and that the authors will move heaven and earth to sell them, to the extent of bugging everyone they know to buy a copy. Mom and Dad and Aunt Ruth will buy copies, regardless of the price. The authors will buy cases of the books to peddle from the trunks of their cars.

PA overprices their books, to the tune of about five bucks a copy.

PA knows that authors will, as a group, on average, sell 75 copies of their own book. (If someone doesn't sell any, that's okay -- someone else will sell 150. The average holds. That works out to a vanity press fee of $375 per title, right in line with iUniverse, 1stBooks, and all the rest of the vanity PODs. PA is willing to wait a bit rather than charge the money up front. That the difference.)

The reason PA stacks the deck so heavily against selling through normal bookstores, I suspect, is that selling through bookstores is a pain. If they limit themselves to selling to people who call them on the phone with a credit card in hand they can simplify their lives and keep the office lean. Once the book is out they don't have to waste any time on keeping the author happy, or selling the book, or doing accounting, or anything.

Looking a bit further at the PA thread I mentioned above, you can see more evidence that the authors are really out of their depths:

We, as authors, retain all the rights to our books. That is in our contract with PA. Read it. "Copyright shall be taken out in the name of Author in the US and in foreign countries as the Publisher may deem advisable." says Brenda M.Weber, author of I Promise Not to Tell.

Copyrights and rights are different things, Brenda. Isn't it true that PublishAmerica took all worldwide book rights for seven years, plus electronic, reprint, translation, serial, book club, and abridgement rights?

Nowhere in my contract am I required me to make any payment to PA, nor am I required to purchase a single copy of my book, says C. L. Gammon, author of Hail to the Chief: The Presidency by the Numbers. (Not yet released -- ever notice how many of the PA defenders' books haven't yet come out?)

I have a question for C.L.: Are you willing to promise not to buy a single copy of your own book?

That's not counting the $30 fee you had to pay for your own copyright. After figuring in the the $1 advance, that puts the two "free" author's copies you'll be getting at $14.50 apiece out of your pocket.

I wish the PA authors would go to other places than the PA messageboards for information.

#270 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 04:15 PM:

And another article in PoD, this time from the New York Times.

Good quotes:

The real challenge is not to produce books, it is to achieve all the goals of publishing - to get the books edited, distributed, noticed and, above all, bought. That is no easy feat: in the United States, 150,000-160,000 new titles were published last year, according to R.R. Bowker's Books in Print. On average, the P.O.D. titles sell just 150 to 175 copies, the companies say. Many authors are happy to pay for 50 or 100 copies of their magnum opus to give or sell to family, friends and business contacts. Others, though, confuse production with publication and end up disillusioned.

At iUniverse, the "Star" program is another important hook. If a title sells more than 500 copies its first year, the company may invest in marketing the book and invite the author to become a Star.

But of iUniverse's 17,000 published titles, the authors of only 84 have been chosen as Stars, and only a half-dozen have made it to Barnes & Noble store shelves.

Whatever method of self-publishing an author chooses, one factor is the same: the author is the only one driving the sales. "The bottom line," as Ms. Yoder has learned, "is promoting yourself. When push comes to shove, it's your money."

#271 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2004, 07:09 PM:

More information on 1st Books, from a 1stBooks author, here:

I highly recommend that people steer clear of 1stBooks Library. I published with them last year. I paid for copyright, Library of Congress Control Number, Standard Promotions package, and Book Signing kit. I have experienced many problems with them.


The Book Signing kit contained a page that listed 30 bookstores in my area that I should contact for possible events. 6 of these bookstores on the list had been out of business for more than 4 years.


Now, as of this past Friday, 1stBooks Library has changed their name to AuthorHouse. They didn't even bother to let any of their authors know this. Apparently there was some sort of a buyout on some level as well.
The contracts are a nighmare as well. I recently had an attorney review my contract - I had to go through an attorney in Indiana because of a clause in the contract that says that Monroe County Indiana is where any litigation must occur. Apparently the contract through 1stBooks only makes provisions for attorney fees to be awarded to 1stBooks attorneys in the event of a lawsuit-which discourages any attorney from representing any authors.


There's much else that's very on-topic an apropos in that post.

More from the same author here.

Here's the information on the name change to AuthorHouse.

#273 ::: Jeremy Leader finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2004, 06:29 PM:

Very strange comment spam above; it looks like character-level Markov monkey output, interspersed with fairly nasty-sounding porn URLs.

#274 ::: Bill Blum finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2004, 06:40 PM:

Wow. Burst of three.

#275 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2004, 07:08 PM:

Y'all remember, mentioned here in a post November 08, 2003, 07:51 AM?

Their site's down, looks like permanently.

Show of hands for who's surprised?

#277 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 12:28 AM:

I'm just reading a book from Five Star, one of the more reputable of these people -- by a previously published author, whose work I like. And I'm saying, over and over, "God damn -- if this thing had had a good editor, it'd be a brilliant book!" But it wobbles, and the different first-person sections don't _sound_ different, and it's just enjoyable rather than knockout. No idea if it would have been a breakout book (and the author's firmly established as midlist, and therefore Not Good Enough in today's market), but I think it could have been.

And that's one of the real problems with these schemes -- we lose books that might have really given us back that sense of wonder, because they don't become what they could be.

#278 ::: Henry E. Powderly II ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2005, 04:16 PM:

So. I understand what you are all saying. However, many people write wroks that will never be published. Is it wrong for them to want to print their own work. And then, what's wrong with that if you know that publishing POD will never bring you fame, or significant money. You just want to design a cover for something you worked hard on, and put it on your bookshelf.

What does Yog say about that. And remember, there's a lot of crap on Barnes and Nobel's shelves, published crap, just because its marketable.

I agree that these vanity houses should not overprice the books, nor should they inflate the idea of what they're doing. But for some, it is the only way their work will be bound, and perhaps there's a sense of accomplishment there worth paying for.

For some it's about art, not money, and as long as these POD companies aren't taking writers money and not providing a product, lay off.

This whole idea that if you're not getting paid to write then it's not worth it may silence writers that shouldn't be. Even if only 75 of the writers' closest friends read them it's more than none.

#279 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2005, 10:06 PM:

Hi, Henry --

I think you're missing the distinction between self-publishing (often a bad idea, but not a scam) with vanity-press/author-mill publication (usually a bad idea and a scam).

Nothing at all stops an author from printing up 75 copies of his or her own book and giving or selling them to family and friends. These can make nice Christmas presents. More than one among those who have commented in this very thread have done as much. I personally have self-published.

The problem with the vanity-press/author-mill model is twofold:

First, there's the rights question. Who owns the publishing rights to the work? The authors who go V-P/A-M may find they've paid someone to take their rights away, for years if not forever.

The second problem is price: Going through a V-P/A-M is more expensive than trotting down to a local short-run printer and having the same number of books run off.

A side issue is the false and misleading advertising that many V-P/A-Ms use to lure in authors who don't want to pay to have their own books published, and who don't realize until too late that that's exactly what happened.

#280 ::: Julie ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:08 PM:

Bookman publishing is now Airleaf Publishing. And they are agressively pursuing authors who have used

#281 ::: fidelio ponders the issue of spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2006, 07:17 PM:

If you don't feel used yet, you should.

#282 ::: fidelio is strongly suspicious of spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2006, 12:16 PM:

I don't know if this is the same lot as was behind the last deluge, but really...

#283 ::: Stefan Jones sees cool spammer name ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 12:19 AM:

Cadwallader. I like it.

Burn in hell, Cadwallader.

#284 ::: Carrie S. sighs at more spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:46 AM:

Cadwallader is great. Faith and Juilius are almost dull by comparison.

#285 ::: carissa ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:19 AM:

Authors, have you had to wait months for any word from Airleaf publishing? Remember when you were promised your promotional material within a certain amount of time? well for those of you who got tired and contacted the attorney general as soon as airleaf gets word of that they take the book in question to their writers and tell them they need SOMETHING that day because as long as they prove they did SOMETHING you have no leg to stand on. Even if it's the biggest piece of crap promo ever written. oh and they at least use to have a system called gammadyne that would mass email the promos you thought were going to places that actually wanted the promos. most of the 'bookstores and such' considered it spam and it got deleted. oh and if you think jones harvest publishing is any better. do you remember dealing with brian jones? well it's his company and he stole author info before he left airleaf. so be ware!

#286 ::: Dave Luckett finds spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 02:03 AM:

What does a pedigree poodle say?

Crufts! Crufts!

#287 ::: Spam Deleted ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 07:40 AM:

[Spam from]

#288 ::: Darren ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2009, 04:54 PM:

You know, many people invest in their own businesses without the aid of investors and you never see anyone walk into one of their stores and go...... "Man, you're not a real business, you had to use your own money. I can't believe you fell for that scam." Traditional publishers don't offer all the services they promise either and they're always more than happy to force you to change your book until it's no longer your book, unless your J.K. Rowling, Dean Koonz or Stephen King. Vanity presses are looked down by one group of people only, writers. Bookstores don't care if a book is self-published and neither do the readers. Only whiny babies are. Just like the whiny baby movie actors who used to believe it was a black mark on their career to appear on television. Just be smart if you're going to publish. Research what's required of you if you want to sell your own work.

#289 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2009, 06:45 PM:

"Bookstores don't care if a book is self-published . . ."

Yes. Yes they do.

#290 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2009, 06:53 PM:

Darren @290? That would be (he says), IP address

Feel free to have at him.

#291 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2009, 07:00 PM:

Teresa #292: Why bother? He's just pathetic. ;-)

#292 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2009, 07:40 PM:

...neither do the readers.

Except, they do.

Faustus: Come, I think hell's a fable.

Mephistopheles.: Ay, think so still, 'til experience change thy mind.

#293 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 02:59 AM:

Hmmm.... Lessee... The book we just published (myself and my father), with a "traditional" publisher was edited, not much.

We were paid for it, and when Barnes and Noble decided, regrettably, not to re-stock (the economy is hard), we weren't out any money.

Odds are it won't earn out (unless Amazon sales are outstanding, lord knows people who borrowed it from folks who bought it thought it decent, and some went and bought it), but the $6,500 advance they paid is ours to keep.

As opposed to being out of pocket a few grand and discovering that getting Barnes and Noble to stock it in the first place is impossible; never mind the questionable quality of the "editing" we'd have been told we needed.

As a "writer", looking at those differences, you better believe I, "look" down on frauds like PA (vanity presses I don't mind. They serve a useful purpose, but selling books isn't really it).

#294 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 09:15 AM:

Traditional publishers don't offer all the services they promise either and they're always more than happy to force you to change your book until it's no longer your book, unless your J.K. Rowling, Dean Koonz or Stephen King.

Darren, man. Your manuscripts are coming back with changes for a reason.

#295 ::: Carol ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2009, 12:50 PM:

I just read many of the posts. I have a specialized non-fiction book "Wineries by County" that pertains to California Wineries. Publishers have said it is too regional. Regional publishers said they only do a couple of projects a year and my book doesn't fit into their projects.
I have sold about 400 books on my own in the last year. I have 600 books left to sell.

How do we get our books with Ingrams without going through POD places? I don't want to use a POD as I have my books already professionally printed. But need to get with Ingrams to get into certain bookstores in California and Nevada.

#297 ::: spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 12:27 AM:

[ spam from ]

#298 ::: Earl sees spam made from dog meat @299 ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 01:12 AM:

Stringy and lacking the virtue one would reasonably expect of even the meanest cuts of meat.

#299 ::: Cadbury Moose spots spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 06:09 AM:

Clearly the spammers are out in force today.

#300 ::: Lee sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2010, 02:22 AM:

@ 303-304

#301 ::: mcz sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 09:55 AM:

And very obvious too.

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