Just when you think the publishing industry can’t get more complicated… it does.
The latest: Traditional publishers (Harper Collins, Simon&Schuster, and now Random House) are creating digital-only imprints to go after self-pub and unpublished authors without agents.
How is this different than the Vanity Publishing acquisitions made recently by S&S and Random Penguin (sorry, that’s just what I call them now)? Are these better, worse, or just different than self-publishing?
How are authors supposed to navigate all this?
The devil is always in the details, my friends. My guiding principle is always “what is best for the author?”
Vanity Press – publishers whose business model is predicated on making money off authors by getting money directly from them, rather than through royalties off the books the author is selling (see the SFWA extensive page on Vanity).
- Abbott Press (owned by Writer’s Digest)
- West Bow Press (owned by Thomas Nelson)
- DellArte Press (owned by Harlequin)
- Author Solutions (owned by Penguin/Pearson)
- Archway Publishing (owned by Simon&Schuster)
- Author House (the company that runs most of these Vanity Press’s behind the scenes)
The recent trend is for traditional publishers to run a “self-publishing” arm that is actually a Vanity Press, so they can “monetize their slush pile.” Beware of these.
Digital Only Press – publishers who do not (generally) do print runs. They may be strictly digital or digital and Print On Demand (which results in higher priced paperbacks, but no inventory/up front costs). There are many small publishers that are digital presses. They have small or no advance, sometimes pay higher royalties, and usually do not have distribution channels beyond the regular digital channels like Amazon/B&N. They may (or may not) help the author with marketing in any significant way.
The new trend is for Big Six publishers to start “digital only” imprints.
- Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Star digital imprint
- Random House’s Alibi, Flirt, and Hydra digital imprints
- HarperTeen’s Impulse imprint
Generally speaking, they can’t offer a better deal than self-pub, but for first-timers, it might be help to have someone else guide them through the debut process.
You’re published by a Big Six Press! (Go you!) If this is important to you, this may be compelling (see caveats above). Having a publisher means you have someone else to guide you through the debut process. You will get some money up front (maybe $1-2,000 advance), and you don’t have to front the costs of self-publishing. They may promote your book through their marketing channels. They may get you reviewed by the larger reviewers. If you sell big, they may put you in their print catalogue. If you sell nothing, you’re out nothing.
Your royalties are still low (15%-20%, possibly less, YMMV). You have no control over cover or marketing or pricing. They may price you badly, making you lose sales. You will most likely have to do your own marketing, without the benefit of having control over things like giving away free books to reviewers – there aren’t a lot of “digital promotion channels” that publishers have access to that you can’t access on your own. You will be UNABLE to have a print version, which even if it’s POD, does come in handy sometimes. If you sell big, you lose out on a lot of money. If you sell nothing, you now have a track record with that publisher of selling nothing.
If you give your book to a Big Six Digital imprint, you are unlikely to make much money on it, but it could open the doors to a print contract with them for your next book, if you sell well. If you already have self-published works that are selling well, and you can afford to “give away” one of your books, this could be a good way to possibly get into the Big Six’s print distribution system. If this is your first published book, you could do great or tank, and all of that will be in the Big Six’s system. You may be better off learning the ropes on your own, where you can control pricing, cover, and marketing.
Would I take a Big Six Digital Imprint Deal? Only if I was willing to give away that book. Maybe. (Also: I have no plans to submit, so that should tell you something.) I’d rather sell big on my own and get a print offer that way. Or just keep selling big on my own. 🙂