Once more, with feeling

And another vanity press, this one from Australia, makes its way into the Writers Beware spotlight.

Dymocks definitely presents a bad deal. If I thought Book Country was bad, Dymocks’s D-Publishing has you forking over $997 (Aussie dollars) for what Book Country would charge $549 – setting up your cover, formatting your files, uploading and release.

It’s a damn rip-off, of course, and its contract is effectively unbreachable unless the press fails to publish (which I’m sure it will not), but the press can terminate it at any time. It’s also exclusive, which means that they effectively reserve your first publication copyright, which is an author’s primary asset.

Once again, let me reiterate a known fact: set-up of cover, format of file, and the upload thereof are one-time processes. Not for nothing, but I’m about to contract a client for a fraction of the above cost to do the exact same thing, save the upload. Guess what: my client keeps his copyright. He keeps his royalties. I do my part only in the form of document formatting, and I see absolutely no reason that a one-time set-up charge is worth that much. Being an independent contractor/designer, I could do that, but guess what keeps me from it: this little thing called business ethics.

Victoria Strauss says, “The pricing isn’t horrible, by middleman self-pub standards.”

I beg to differ. If you’re really keen on paying someone to do the formatting and cover set-up, Lulu is cheaper. So is a third-party contractor, and turning a file into e-book is not that difficult. There are, once again, alternatives. Heck, if you’re willing to go that route, again, iUniverse gives you a lot more bang for your buck in terms of developing the author’s branding, and I’m pretty confident that they would be able to do international.

But the one thing that I like about this article is that Ms. Strauss thoroughly fillets the contract. It is a bad deal, top to bottom. I cannot think of a good reason to sign anything with those people, especially if you consider that there are, once again, alternatives that would allow you to keep your rights to the work.

What I dislike, however, is the utter lack of differentiating between a self-publisher and a vanity press.

Again, see above quote. Middleman self-pub standards? Self-publishing has been created for the purpose of cutting the middleman out. As in, to NOT pay someone for something that the author could take care of on his or her own. So why is there any reference to a middleman here? Publishing medium is a more accurate way to put it, if I have to get persnickety.

Vanity presses take money up front. That’s the only litmus test for self-pub vs. vanity press. You’re not “paying someone to publish” with self-pub, you’re just doing the work on your own. Reimbursement of raw materials is doing business, but after the initial proof copy, a proper way to cover costs is, like the traditional publisher, to have those costs taken out of royalties. A vanity press, like D Publishing, and like Book Country, is charging you for use of services, and on top of that, D Pub is keeping your rights, to boot. And for how long is that, precisely?

Additionally, in comments, Victoria Strauss is asking why the people aren’t as angry or taking her to task like with the last time. Simple answer: this particular press is in Australia. An enormous percentage of the authors who had lambasted Book Country before are American. This affects them directly. And most authors know to beware of foreign presses bearing contracts, so if it will not affect them directly, they would not stir up as much of a furor as what had happened with Book Country. Book Country was set forward by a seemingly reputable publishing house, but upon careful review, it is nothing more than a money grab at the author’s expense.

Let’s call a spade a spade here: a vanity press is a vanity press. Self-publishing and vanity presses are not the same thing. Kindle Direct Publishing, being free to use up front, is not a vanity press. CreateSpace, with the only real set-up cost being the cost of raw materials in proof printing, which can be avoided by an issued code, and is comparably minuscule as opposed to almost a thousand Aussie dollars in this case, is not a vanity press either. Book Country is a vanity press, and so is Dymocks’s “self-pub” option.

And, while it’s not illegal to run a vanity press, I find the practice disgusting. Basically, it’s counting on the author to not do the research and hand over money and their rights. And while a lot of authors will do their research and select an option that’s suitable for their needs, whether this requires money or not, there will be some who will fall for it, and that is how a vanity press profits.

Again, if you want to argue the “paying to publish” angle, what’s worse: handing over 30% to Amazon, or handing over 85% to a publishing house? Even if you do end up getting picked up by a publishing house, there’s no telling that the book will ever make it off the mid-list. At the very least, if your book doesn’t do well and you’re a self-pub, you don’t have to wrestle your rights away to try another avenue in publication.