Last week I spoke about what to do if you were thinking about getting your book published by an independent publisher. I covered the positives and negatives of both the smaller and bigger indie publisers and gave tips on how to research a publisher before submitting your manuscript to them.
While explaining all this I touched on the indie publishers who aren’t so good. As a book blogger alone, I’ve encountered a few indie publishers who really weren’t very good and speaking to some of the authors who signed on with them, the list of problems these publishers have range from the minor to the terrible. For a start some don’t edit books very well at all, while others have poor ways of communicating with bloggers and authors. One publisher I agreed to review for wouldn’t stop harassing me every other day for an update on whether I’d read the book yet. Another was the opposite, replying to emails after two or three months, or in some cases not at all.
Some indie publishers have gone out of business suddenly leaving authors lost on what to do and having to re-publish their work via self-publishing. One particular publisher that did this left the author (who I spoke to) confused as their didn’t keep in contact during the shut down of their business until after it was all over. As a blogger doing a blog tour for that publisher at the time, and for that author’s book, I was personally frustrated by the arrogant manner the publisher took with me over the blog tour edia kit stuff I needed for my blog post, I wanted to have the mateirals for my post set up at least a week in advance (I would be away and not an unreasonable request of an established blogger) but they gave me less than a day instead!
However, the actions of these indie publishers pales in comparison when you realise there’s a worse type of indie publisher out there. The indie publisher who isn’t indie at all….The secret vanity publisher. Now before you believe that you’ll never get mixed up with vanity publishing, think again, it’s a lot easier than you think and I’ve been unfortunate enough to work with one for quite some time before learning the truth…
Noticing something wrong
Several years ago I began reviewing books for an independent publisher who, at the time, I thought was great. The online sales staff I dealt with were always so positive and polite (and I still believe they are nice people who were caught up in a bad company-so no bad feelings towards them). I was excited to be getting free books to review from a UK publisher as it had never happened to me before then. But it didn’t take long for me to realise that something was wrong, and it happened with the very first book I read.
At first it was silly typos every now and then which I chose to ignore. But by the time I read the third book I’d been given I was shocked by what I had seen. The book appeared to be professionally published with good quality paper and a decent cover image but the text inside was messed up. Every page of the book had typos and grammatical errors which made reading it difficult, but I persevered and wanted to read the story, the blurb suggested a good crime thriller and I was eager to read it. But as I read on it turned out that the story was terrible too. The book read like a first draft (an extremely bad first draft) where whole scenes shifted without continuity and character and place names kept changing, throughout the story. It’s not that I was confused by the plot, the names literally were changing, first with how they were spelled and later the people just kept changing completely to new characters, with old ones vanishing out of existence. The ending was nothing special and made little sense after all the messed up plot. The quality of this book was so horrible that I felt I couldn’t review it and I had to tell the publisher how bad it was, afterall maybe I’d been given a dud or proof copy?
They apologised and dismissed the book saying nothing more than sorry for the experience. Again, I can’t fault the sales staff I was dealing with, they either didn’t know what had happened or felt genuinly sorry for my discovering it! I thought my copy was a weird one-off and was going to dismiss it but I later looked up the book on Goodreads and it had a few reviews of people who had bought it stating the same things I had seen in the book, grammatical errors, strange scene shifts and whole character and place names changing. The reviews were all negative (except for one I could tell was from family – the same surname!) I felt bad for the author, this was an independent publisher that promised high quality editing, but this book clearly hadn’t been edited at all! I couldn’t understanad what went so wrong. But like many times before I dismissed the bad feeling I had in my gut and kept reviewing more books.
More and more books I received had the same stupid errors. Some were well written, while others felt like unedited drafts. Some books were published in a wrong format. For example there were colouring books which were published with glossy pages (try using colouring pencils or felt pens on glossy pages of a magazine and you’ll see the obvious problem!) or with such tough tight spines there wasn’t a point in trying to crack the book open to colour in the images. Some stories I read had potential though – I remember one being based on historical facts (which made it sound so interesting in the introduction) but it was let down by scenes where things just weren’t edited right, for example a horse suddenly appeared inside a manor house library, with the character mounting it and riding away – I assume he didn’t spill the afternoon tea he was holding and drnking at the time! 🙄 In other parts of the book characters who had been mentioned leaving the scene were suddenly standing next to the protagonist as if they’d always been there. Clearly this book along with so many others had never been read by a decent editor, otherwise they would have caught all these obvious inconsistencies.
The quality of all the books I was reading was going down, even non-fiction books became tedious to read, one particular one was meant to be for anyone interested in historical relics in Britain, but it explained the ruins with such technicality that I felt I needed a masters degree to understand what the author was trying to say. Stories became boring and many of the books were badly written where the author had a wonderful idea, but clearly needed more mentoring or practice before submitting their story to the publisher. Of course there were good books among them too, but the amount of bad ones were growing and it became a chore to read each story as I could spot all the obvious problems with each book from the first pages and kept wondering why this publisher, who claimed a quality experience, was allowing these books to be published in this way. I know, I may have been becoming a more fussy reader, but when about 70% of the books you pick up are bad, it’s no longer being fussy!
I was torn, did I review these books honestly and give them low star ratings (I just couldn’t give any of these books even a 3 or more- unless I reviewed the plot idea alone) or should I just not review them, which didn’t set well with me as I’d never shied away from reviewing something before. I wanted to give books an honest critical ( but not nasty) review if I felt readers deserved to know what they were gettting if they were going to fork out money for these books (I’d want the same warnings from others myself).
At some point I’d decided I’d had enough, I’d received a package of four books from the publisher and couldn’t bring myself to review any of them. I had read most of the books in full and loved the story potential (I knew what I’d have said to the author to help them re-edit their books if I was the editor) but I just couldn’t review them. I didn’t mind giving bad reviews, but these authors were clearly not being supported by the publisher and I felt so bad for them. I was going to contact the sales staff and discuss the problems with the book but then I a few things happened at once…
The first was one of my reviews was used by the publisher in promotional material. I didn’t mind and had approved this under certain conditions but the review was plaigerised (in a way) as it was credited to a big online site and not my own. At first I thought this was an accident, I didn’t give permission for my reviews to be used without some form of credit to me, but I later realised this was done on purpose (as the review had been linked with a newspaper that had a hugeonline presence which would make it look better than my tiny little blog) and I was passed onto a manager of the company when I decided to complain. The manager was very unpleasant to deal with, refusing to apologise but eventually went as far as offereing me my own column on the publishers site, as long as I kept queit about the incident and wrote positive reviews of their books. Worse than that, when I refused and demanded (nicely – I know how to be forcful but courteous 😉 ) that I was entitled to an official apology that manager agreed but I had to write up the apology myself (huh?🤔). I did, which felt ridiculous, but oh well…Anyway, when it came to them publishing it…they didn’t even bother writing what I worte, and their much brisker apology on social media was quickly hidden among other posts which they flooded in their feed on purpose to make it disappear 😞.
I cut all ties to the company after that and although many months later I heard the manager I dealt with left the company I still encountered one more example of how dodgy this person and this publisher really was. I never stopped following their online social media accounts although I refused to engage in the posts in any way. One day there was a competition to win a bundle of free books. The competition winner would be the first to answer some book-related questions. But while attempting the questions myself (for fun – I do like puzzles a lot!), just two minutes after the giveaway was live, that same manager who had been unpleasant with me (I knew their name from emails I’d been sent) answered all the questions from their own personal Facebook account. I even clicked on the account where the person named themselves as an employee of the publisher! 😮 Employees of companies running competitions/giveaways are usually not allowed to enter, but I guess this publisher wasn’t keen on giving any books away at all and just used it as a marketing ploy to raise their profile again!
A not so independent publisher
Despite all the bad behaviour I noticed, I wasn’t alone in seeing how terrible they really were. Through just searching specifically for bad reviews of the publisher I saw a wealth of comments on how bad they really are. Authors complaining that their books were badly edited, lack of support from marketing and crucially the money they had lost after paying the publisher to help create their book.
Paying the publisher? Yes, authors had been paying the publisher to help get their books published. A lot of authors, some I have spoken to since, have confirmed that they agreed to pay a contribution to the cost of publishing their book because the publisher dazzled them with the idea that they will make that money back through royalties. The reality is that none of the authors I spoke to have made their money back, spending several thousand pounds (British £) on getting a high quality looking book printed but hardly any marketing and little or no royalties. What none of these authors had realised was that they were dealing with a secret vanity publisher.
The reality of vanity
There’s nothing wrong with vanity publishing. It’s a form of publishing where the author pays to have their books printed in a professional way. Vanity publishing has existed for years (I’ve come across some old books in my local library which I know were vanity published) and it’s a way of getting a book into print if you are having no luck with publishers directly. But the problem now is there are some indie publishers (and I stress this is only a small few of all the ones out there) who charge authors to publish their own books. But they claim themselves to be indie rather than vanity and you may wonder how they get away with such behaviour?
The trick is that they do publish several books a year the traditional way, asking no fees from the author, but these books are usually ones that will sell well, perhaps written by a minor celebrity or someone who works/worked in a certain well known industry. These books will get sales and push the profile of these publishers up. But while a few books are well printed, and some do get the professional treatment, they only make up a fraction of the publishers huge lists of published books. The majority of their income comes from authors who are so taken by the offer of being published that they hand over their own money without a second thought. These books are only high quality if the authors put in the hard work of editing and are unlikely to ever receive more than a handful of sales online.
Unfortunately reading employee reviews of the publishers I know to be secret vanity ones makes for depressing reading. About half of the reviews are negative, with employees admitting that they have no time to proofread books and that it’s all about getting the contracts. Other reviews lament the working conditions and how there’s a high turnover of staff. Of course these reviews may not be all true, and there are many that are positive, although these positive ones tend to show up the day after a negative review is posted overly-praising the company, finding no faults in it and even explaining the exciting future direction of the publisher (so just a normal employee review?).
How to avoid the secret vanity publishers
The reality is that very few indie publishers today are secret vanity publishers and I can count the ones I’ve heard/know of (apart from the one I had dealings with) on one hand. The vast majority of independent publishers are proper indie publisher and most of them are good and they publish good quality books which any author and reader would be happy and proud to own. These indie publishers will never ask you for money and that’s the main issue here. Though the quality that each independent publisher can offer does vary between them, it’s whether they ask you to contribute financially that matters.
If a publisher is asking you to cover the costs of publishing then don’t! Walk away and find someone else! Don’t be swayed by any persuasive arguements. Don’t be fooled by their promises of huge sales and royalties or the support they say they will offer to you throughout your publishing journey. These publishers aren’t interested in helping you succeed as an author, not really. And don’t be fooled by the positive reviews they may have (search for the negative reviews instead) despite the long list of other authors praising them and the odd media appeareance which some of them have (ending up on local radio for example), these are likely to be authors who have a traditional contract and haven’t paid for publishing, authors who go out and seek the media appearances themselves or positive-thinking authors who haven’t yet discovered how bad things really are.
Many authors I’ve since spoken to who have since left the secret vanity publishers have regretred ever signing with them in the first place. Their contracts only lasted a short time (a few years) and many of them have now re-published their books through self-publishing on Amazon and other platforms. Others have given up and it’s broken their confidence completely which is heartbreaking as many of them had such good book ideas (some even edited their own books to very high standards).
Getting your book published traditionally is not easy but it’s also not impossible and many people get published every year. With many of the bigger publishers today (both independent and not) you need an agent. If you want to go down this route of publishing then try approaching an agent first.
With other, smaller indie publishers you can submit your work to them directly and some even accept previously self-published books! If you can’t find a publisher then I’d advise turning to self-publishing. There is more work involved in formatting your book, setting up an acount with sites like amazon, arranged isbn numbers if you want them, etc. But self-publishing is a growing market and there are plenty of people online who are willing to help and show you how it’s done. Self-publishing is better than turning to a secret vanity publisher. You will keep all your money (make a bigger percentage on sale per book) and can use that extra money you saved to help fund book giveaways, websites, book fairs, etc.
Getting published is a wonderful goal for any author to reach and it’s something I would encourage all writers to pursue. Just be aware of how to research the publishers properly and don’t be afraid of taking more time to find the right one (or the right agent) before signing into a contract with them. Do your research, search for negative reviews (by looking up words like ‘bad’ and ‘don’t publish’ alongside they name of the publisher-it seriously shows up different results in search engines), try also using a variety of search engines as the most famous one tends to show us the websites we’ve already visited first. Also ask around to see the experiences others have had with any publisher you are interested in approaching.
No matter what happens never give up on your dreams of being published which ever way you decide to do it. And I wish all of you who try to get published very good luck, I hope you make it! 🙂 🙂
Please note– I have not included the names of any authors I spoke to or the name of any of the secret vanity publishers I know of. This is because I have cause to believe that some of them threated legal action if they are implicated negatively in any way online. So please refrain from mentioning any specific names in the comments below in case it flags those publishers here Thank yo 😀
Have you had any bad experiences in publishing? Are you thinking of publishing with an indie author, or would yo uprefer to self-publish? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂