Talking To Authors Who Pay To Get Published

This might be my last post for a week or two, depends whether or not they have decent Internet access at the Cape Cod Writer's Center, which I'm attending next week. Since there are going to be a lot of unpublished authors there, I thought I'd do my preaching about paying to get published now, so I don't get sucked into arguments while I'm there.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm not an advocate of paying to get published. I'm a self publishing advocate, which means starting your own publishing company and going into the publishing business. Yet, I'm also on the record stating time and time again that there's nothing wrong or immoral about paying to get published. It's just not a business model. I've heard from authors over the years who have been very happy with subsidy publishers, including some which have horrible, abusive contract terms. The reason these authors are happy? They read the contract before signing, they paid their cash, and they got what they paid for. They didn't have dreams of bestsellers, they weren't trying to make a living, or even a car payment. If you've written a book you want to make available to the public through special ordering or Internet shopping, you don't want to start your own self publishing company, and you can't or won't go through the trade publishing process, subsidy publishers are pretty much the only logical choice.

But, you do have to read the contract, you do have to do your homework about what you are paying for, and you better be prepared for the ridicule of snobs. There are some terrific subsidy published books out there (thanks to the author, not the publisher) and there are some horrible ones. I can say the same thing about trade published books. While there's no question that the editorial quality of books that authors have paid to get published is generally inferior to trade published books, that not the main difference.

The primary difference between trade published books and subsidy published books is commercial viability. Trade publishers don't publish books unless they believe they have a very good chance of earning money, and while they are frequently wrong, it's the main consideration. Trade publishers, after all, are in businesses. Authors who pay to get their books published are often doing so precisely because their books aren't commercially viable.

Earlier this week I heard from an author who had a bad experience with a subsidy press and wanted to know where she could go to publicly warn other authors. In response to that, I wrote:

As to the warning off others, there are plenty of discussion groups where you can vent your spleen, but it probably won't make you feel any better. I'm not unfeeling on the subject, it's just that I've corresponded with thousands of authors in the last ten years. Authors who use subsidy presses and aren't happy with the results may have been lied to or misled, but more often than not, they simply didn't do their homework. They thought they were buying something that nobody can sell, success as an author. Don't get discouraged, if you want to write for a living, keep at it, but make sure you put as much effort into studying the publishing business as you do writing your next book. And don't confuse POD, the technology, with the subsidy presses who use it, they are a minority of the POD business.

Maybe I was little gruff. But when you've been writing about self publishing as a business as long as I have, yet keep hearing from authors who have confused self publishing with paying to get published, you'd occasionally lose your patience as well.


Robert Burton Robinson said...


Before I discovered your site, with its hundreds of valuable posts about self-publishing, I tried and one other subsidy press. I write mystery novels, and at first was hoping to get an agent. But then I realized, after reading a number of writer blogs, that the mid-list novelists with agents and publishing deals are very lucky if they can make a full-time income from their royalties.

So, I decided to publish my own books, and signed up with Lulu. They make it easy to do, and it's free (assuming you can provide the finished files for the bookblock and cover). But they force you to give a 50% distribution discount. So, by the time you figure that discount along with the printing charges, you can't make a profit without charging a high price for your book. And it's hard enough to sell fiction without slapping a $20 price tag on a paperback. And there's no guarantee that booksellers will give customers any discount at all.

Then I stumbled upon your site. By following your advice (even though my books are fiction, and you are mostly talking about non-fiction books) I am able to offer my mystery novels at $9.95 retail and still make a decent profit. My first three books are 228, 272 and 272 pages.

Don't get my wrong, though. If all somebody is looking for the easiest, cheapest way to get their book in print, and they don't plan to sell but a handful of copies, you can't beat Lulu. I tried it. Their submission process is very user friendly. But if they hope to do some serious book sales, they'd better follow your advice.

It is costing me an average of $150 per book for setup fees, including the ISBN (prorated - I bought a block of 10) and a proof of the book.

Thanks again, Morris, for putting me on the right path.

Robert Burton Robinson

Morris Rosenthal said...


Sounds good, only trick left is marketing:-)


John Derrick said...

There is a new alternative that deserves consideration in the self-publishing analysis. It's Amazon's new CreateSpace on-demand book service. Earlier this month, Amazon renamed CustomFlix -- its on-demand CD/DVD business -- as CreateSpace and added on-demand book publishing to its services.

CreateSpace is an alternative to BookSurge, Amazon's other on-demand offering. Both are now described by Amazon as "brands" of On-Demand Publishing LLC, a newly created subsidiary. But, as shown below, CreateSpace is conceptually very different.

Both CreateSpace and BookSurge use the same book printing/manufacturing operation, which is built on what Amazon got when it acquired BookSurge. But whereas BookSurge is aimed at people who want to pay for publishing services (and well as at large trade publishers who want on-demand printing for backlist titles), CreateSpace is a service for authors and small publishers where there are no charges at all -- other than the cost of buying one book as a proof copy. There aren't even set-up charges. Not only are there no charges associated with CreateSpace, but there are not even any optional services that incur charges. The service is aimed at people who provide ready-to-print PDFs.

With CreateSpace, one can either self-publish under one's own imprint using one's own ISBN obtained from Bowker in the normal way, or one can publish under their imprint using an ISBN they provide for free. Either way, one is promised in-stock availability on Amazon.

Compared with other on-demand options, CreateSpace yields more money than any other choice out there, other than dealing with Lightning Source direct and offering a very short discount.

For example, with a 152-pge book listing for $16, the self-publisher will net a little over $5 on sales through Amazon. That is not as good as using Lightning Source with a 25-35% discount. But it is vastly better than what you get if you publish through Lulu or any other of the other publishing services companies that are effectively front-ends for Lightning Source. (It's also more than you get going through BookSurge. That said, BookSurge itself pays out a lot more on Amazon sales than any of the publishing service companies that utilize Lightning Source.)

And unlike with Lightning Source, there is a guarantee of being listed as in-stock on Amazon and receiving all the benefits of Amazon's promotional services, shipping deals, etc. Right now, going through Lightning Source will very likely lead to the same -- but there has to be some question as to how long that will last when Amazon makes so little on short discount POD titles. The underlying anxiety of the Lightning Source route is that one has no contractual rights with the sales vehicle on which one ultimately relies.

For that matter -- as I believe you have pointed out in your blog -- there is also some doubt as to whether Lightning Source will forever keeps its doors open to people with only one or two books who want to deal with it direct but who are -- according to some perceptions -- really more "authors with their own ISBNs" rather than "publishers." With CreateSpace, the self-published author doesn't have to worry about "posing" in the right way in order to get through the door.

CreateSpace has to be in a category of its own. It's unfair to lump it in with the "pay to get published" crowd, because you don't pay. It's different from Lulu in a host of respects -- not least, the fact that you make a lot more money. And you can be a self-publisher in the "pure" sense with your own ISBN. It's really a direct route into Amazon for those who, recognizing that bricks-and-mortar sales aren't going to happen anyway, decide to put all their eggs into the Amazon basket.

Anyway, I think it deserves a posting in your blog. I'd be curious about your take on it. The URL is


Morris Rosenthal said...


I was supposed to have a phone conference with somebody there last week, but they didn't get back tome in time before I went to the Cape Cod thing. I'm just getting moved into a new place tomorrow, so I'll probably try to schedule a phone meeting later this week.

At the moment, my impression of the new operation (and the old Booksurge operation as well) is that they lack distribution beyond Amazon and direct shipping. For some publishers, especially some self-publishers, that would encompass the majority of their customers, but I count on the Ingram-Lightning tie in for substantial sales myself. I believe they are seeking distribution deals, but I haven't seen anything announced yet.


John Derrick said...

BookSurge gets you into Baker & Taylor, although CreateSpace doesn't. Theoretically, BookSurge can also supply bookstores direct. But it has no tie-in to Ingram.

CreateSpace, by contrast, is completely focused on Amazon. Both BookSurge and CreateSpace sell off their own Web sites, but I believe these essentially operate as front-ends for Amazon.

So CreateSpace -- and to a lesser extent BookSurge -- is for people who are happy with 100% Amazon distribution. (Although CreateSpace's prices for buying your own books should also make it economical if you want to sell off your own Web site as well -- it works out at about $5 for a 152-page title, depending on volume. More than Lightning Source, but not too bad. And, interestingly, much less than buying your own books as a BookSurge customer.)

If you harbor no ambitions for bricks-and-mortar sales at all, putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket may not be such a bad idea. I'm not suggesting that CreateSpace is for everyone -- but it is quite a good choice for self-publishers with one or a few niche titles.

Also, as CreateSpace's Web site points out, if you have your own ISBN, there is nothing to stop you printing and publishing the title through other channels at the same time.

In that regard, CreateSpace provides an on-demand alternative to Amazon Advantage. It gives you the assurance of dealing directly with Amazon, but yields a much bigger margin than you end up with using Advantage -- not to mention freeing you from the hassle of shipping books all the time. The Advantage web pages for publishers already in that program have begun to include plugs for CreateSpace as an alternative.


Morris Rosenthal said...


I am waiting for an interview date with their marketing director to get the details. I agree that for people with no bookstore ambitions, an Amazon centric approach is a good way to go. In some cases, Amazon Advantage is the best solution since not all titles are practical with POD, in some cases, Lightning Source, and now CreateSpace may provide a new option.

Until I talk to them, I won't be able to comment on the specific issues, like cover prices, discounts, publisher identity, returns, etc. I don't know if they have a UK partner yet either.

It's good to hear about B&T, and it's also bad. I say that not only because the different customer base of Ingram vs B&T, (the latter tends to focus on libraries and certain schools) but the performance. In my personal experience, B&T failed to do a good job with some aspects of fulfillment, like telling customers a book was unavailable or out of print when they simply didn't have it in stock. But, that was years ago, maybe they've improved.