Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"How Much Did You Pay?"

When I do presentations about writing, one of the most common questions I'm asked is how much I paid to have my books published.

Answer: Nothing. I am not vanity published. I GET paid for my books.

It seems to be a pretty common misconception that you have to pay to get your books published. (Almost as common as the opposing belief that all authors are as rich as J.K. Rowling...) While there are publishing options that involve paying, traditional, contracted publication does not. And traditionally published books are often what bookstores, libraries, and even readers are looking for.

Paying for publication is an option. For some authors, it's their preferred option, and that's their choice. But it isn't held in the same regard as being published by a royalty and advance-paying publisher.

Basically, there are three types of publishing, and sometimes they're confused, so I'll explain a bit here:

1. Traditional publishing. This is when you are given a contract by a publisher WHO PAYS YOU. Often you are paid an advance, though not always. Nearly always, you are paid royalties (a percentage of the price of each book), unless you've sold your story for a flat fee, which is usually the case for magazine stories and sometimes for anthologies. But however the payment happens, YOU GET PAID. You do not pay a traditional publisher. If a publisher asks you for money, requires you to spend money on your own books or on promotion, or otherwise tells you to take money *out* of your pocket, they are not a traditional publisher.

(A note about promotion: Yes, authors have to promote their books, even when published through a traditional publisher. And yes, promotion costs money. The difference is that a traditional publisher will never tell their authors they HAVE TO pay for promotion. They might suggest it, but they will not require it.)

2. Self-publishing. When an author self-publishes, they are completely in control of the product from first draft to available-for-sale. The book is published either under the author's name or under a name they choose. (I chose a name for my self-publishing venture, which I won't share here because it's connected to my romance pen name.) Self-publishing does involve some expense; it's strongly recommended that you pay to have your book professionally edited, pay for professional cover art unless you're really, really good with graphics programs, pay to have your book formatted unless you know how to do it, etc. But you are not paying someone to publish your book; you are contracting with people to provide a service for you. You are the boss in self-publishing, and once you pay for the contracted services, any money earned by the book is yours. Self-publishing is often confused with vanity publishing, but they are not the same thing.

3. Vanity publishing. This is when the author pays a COMPANY to publish the book for them. Companies like iUniverse are vanity publishers, not "self-publishing companies." When a book is vanity published, the publisher's name is listed as that of the company, not the author. The author does not have any control over the publication process and sometimes not even over the finished product. Vanity publishing can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000, and it's unlikely the author will earn that money back, since vanity published books are difficult to sell unless they fit a specific niche. Some vanity publishers pay royalties; others allow the author to control the income from the book. While I do know authors who are published by vanity companies, I strongly recommend avoiding this option. If you want control of the process, self-publish; if you want someone else to be in control of it, submit to traditional publishers. I can't think of any advantages to vanity publishing, though I'll be interested to see if anyone else can.

A note about e-publishing: E-publishing is NOT the same as self-publishing, though I've seen the two used as synonyms. E-publishing is a PROCESS, just like print publishing. There are traditional publishers who publish e-books, some in addition to print and some who only do e-books. Likewise, print-on-demand is a PROCESS, not a synonym for self-publishing or vanity publishing. E-publishing and print-on-demand are methods for creating the book, not publication types.

If you have any questions, or if you disagree, please leave a comment. I do check in :) And I'll be back in two weeks with more.


  1. It's amazing the choices writers have for getting published these days! I prefer being traditionall published, but other authors have certainly had great success with other options.

  2. "Answer: Nothing. I am not vanity published. I GET paid for my books."

    This^ is so important to drive home.