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Becoming a Published Author: Roadmap to Rejection

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Chapter 2: Vanity Presses; A Siren Song

Though far from being my first mistake, it’s still the one that rankles me the most.

If you’ve queried enough agents or publishers, it's likely you’ve received a glowing acceptance letter making you feel like you’ve hung the moon. They immediately begin honeyed-tongued negotiations and then slip in the, “It’s going to need a little bit of editing, of course, but don’t worry; we have a package you can purchase for that.”


And I’m going to put this next part in bold so the people in the back can hear.


Whew! There, I feel better now.

Also, of note. If you didn’t directly query a company and you suddenly have a perky little happy-gram in your inbox, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your story was not so fabulous as to have made it to an outside source through the grapevine (ask me how I know).

Trust me on this—if an agent or publisher has enough regard for your work as to warrant a second glance, the last thing they would do would be to release your information to someone else who could benefit from it. Even if they were swamped and couldn’t possibly take on another project, they would likely offer your work to someone else within their group or simply send you a, “thanks, but not now,” rejection letter.

No, if you got that telltale “We’re interested in your novel,” letter, and it’s not from a company you recognize, then you are currently being targeted by a group who has scented your desperation and is now circling the chum that is your bleeding heart.

Vanity Presses are just that—presses that feed off a writer’s vanity, ergo, their desperation. And no writer begins the querying process without a significant amount of desperation. Call it hope, if you will, but the fact remains, all it takes is one kind word among the sea of rejections to turn a writer’s head to precisely where they know it shouldn’t go.

Sort of like dating, in that respect…

But I digress. The usual hook, as I’ve said, is a thrilling acceptance letter. They will then go on to describe how they are “not like other traditional publishing houses,” who have a backlog of unread submissions and writers beating down their doors to get in, because they leave the monetary risk in the hands of the author, which then allows them to not be as selective in whom they choose to publish. The author pays a printing fee, gets books in hand to market, easy peasy! Hey, we’ll even offer you a discount on our marketing package and handle that part for you as well!

Sounds legit.

And trust me, it will.

And they'll offer you copy editing packages, and line editing packages, content editing and beta readers (yes, they charge for that, too). They’ll charge you for filing for an ISBN and for copyright (see my upcoming chapter on copyright laws) and for filing with the Library of Congress. Your design fee for the graphics guy to do your cover, a typesetting fee (better opt for the small print because they charge by the page) and let’s not forget a separate graphics fee for any content inside your book—“But it’s an epic fantasy book. I have a map.” / “Flat rate $100 for 1-15 pictures.” / “But it’s one black-and-white picture!” / “Sooo $100 then?”—Breathe… Breathe…

And, after all that, they retain the rights to your book.

By now, I’m sure you see my point.

And you may be thinking, as I did, early on, “Well, what’s so bad about charging for their services? They are working for these fees, aren’t they?”

Well, yes. They are. And there are legitimate “Hybrid” publishers out there that do require the author to foot some of the bill for production. But when your company wants to charge you a $200 fee for copyright and ISBN, both which are easily obtainable on your own by a simple Google search, you can bet your beanie you’re dealing in vanity.

No legitimate editor or marketing guru would be caught putting a vanity press on their resumé, so even if you do have the means to pay for these services, you wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth. You would be presented with a poorly designed (again, ask me how I know), poorly type-set, poorly edited end product that you had better hope would be promoted by an equally poor marketing team (as mine was) and no copies would actually end up in circulation to haunt you later.

The company I was targeted by even went so far as to push copyright service on me after I had already told them I’d previously taken care of it on my own. They went on, and on, citing risks and plagiarism and such… Yeah, I was a sucker.

Next question: “Rebecca, if you had so many red flags going up, why, by little red rosebuds, did you go for it?”

...A question I still ask myself today...

To be frank, I was so afraid of not being published that I was easy prey. I didn’t know enough about publishing to navigate the waters well enough to self-publish on my own, and I was so defeated by my first two rejection letters that I thought this was the only route open to me. I was convinced that if I could just get my book out there and into reader’s hands, it would be an immediate success.

Morals of this story:

#1: Sometimes we’re rejected for a damn good reason.

#2: If you get an offer that comes with a reading fee, production fee, copyright fee, ISBN fee, editing fee, graphics fee, or basically, any type of fee—run.

#3: If it sounds too good to be true… Yup, you guessed it—it definitely is.

Caveats to above chapter:

-- Yes, if you want to self-publish, you are in for a healthy investment and a lot of hard work. But, if you choose to do this, know that it’s not the 80’s anymore. You can research and hire an editor of your choosing (and yes—hard yes—you need an editor) and then self-publish on Amazon. Not sure how to do it? Google it.

-- Hybrid publishers do exist. They offer paid editing services and marketing plans to help you succeed as a self-published author without stroking your ego or making outlandish promises geared to make you spend more money.

Until next time!

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