The Empire: Great Ideas Strike Again

I haven’t done a post about the publishing industry in awhile, but I think I’m due, as the publishing industry has coughed up a few more hairballs for us to examine.

Let’s start with the one that is apparently old news, yet I had not caught wind of until yesterday: Writers Digest is starting its own vanity imprint, Abbot Press. Yes, I’m calling it a vanity press, because there’s no other way around it. It’s not about self-publication, its not about maintaining independence. It’s about vanity. Here’s a thumbnail listing of their offerings:

 

 

  • For $1,000, you get an ISBN Assignment, “volume discounts”, Channel Distribution, Cover Design, Back Cover (should be the same damned thing), interior design, E-book formatting and distribution, complimentary author copy (whoopedy doo), 10 free paperback copies, Sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (no joke, that should be in distribution somewhere, right?), WD Mark of Quality review (a badge, literally, just a badge for your book), and a newsletter.
  • For $3,000 you can get the “elite” package, which includes all of that and 25 free copies, a subscription to writers digest (hah), hardcover format, free hardcover copies, Barnes and Noble “see inside the book”, Book buyers preview, 100 “promotional materials”, an editorial review, and a webinar. So that 1,000 doesn’t even include an editor.
  • There are even more asinine price packages at $4800 and $8300 that include a publicist and “social media setup”.

Incredible. Just incredible. $3,000 just to publish a book. I can’t fathom that amount, in 2011. I mean…let’s take Corridors of the Dead, which has been limited in advertising money so far but hasn’t exactly been cheap, either. Here’s the theoretical “package”, if I was going to offer it as a bundle. This bundle would be right around $1,000 (exceptionally low budget considering I worked out a deal for the editing – will pay more next time – I expect this to jump to somewhere in the $1,500 range for Room 3).

  • For $1,000 I got an ISBN Assignment, discounted print and proof copies, Channel Distribution, two professional cover designs WITH Back Cover (ooh, ahh), interior design, E-book formatting and distribution, Sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, advertised in at least three different markets, professional edit, a website, “book buyers preview”, promotional materials, “social marketing setup”, and a few things that I’m forgetting.

In the end, there’s no way around it: this is a vanity offering. These are all things that you could do, and do fairly well, while outsourcing those things that are absolutely essential, such as cover art and editing. Seriously. Get an editor. For God’s sake. Get an editor.

But this isn’t completely my point. I’m not really here to bitch about the service. It’s just…okay, time for a trip down memory lane. When I was 13 or 14, my English teachers had just informed me that I had A Gift. They encouraged me to take outside writing courses and subscribe to things like Writer’s Digest, really opening up the world of writing to me. At the time I was a very poor kid, so those writing books that I found, while incredible, were typically out of my price range unless I saved my allowance for quite some time. Keep in mind that this was pre-Internet, so a lot of this stuff was very inaccessible, and I knew very few writers personally.

So I subscribed, and received my first copy of Writer’s Digest in a few weeks. I can even recall the cover – a painting of a marionette, and the first thing that I learned from that issue was about how to handle character epiphanies. It was a revelation. I was amazed to see that other people thought about these things and wanted to teach. I absorbed the information in every issue like a sponge, thirsty for knowledge. I also met friends through the magazine, through their old pen pal service. I also enrolled in a few courses and learned quite a bit from them.

But, as with most things, I eventually learned that I had outgrown it. I subscribed again a few years ago, and it just wasn’t the same. I didn’t get much out of it; certainly not as much as I had when I was younger. A lot of the information either didn’t apply to me, or I had already learned it from some other venue. I let the subscription fade away, but always had a fond place in my heart for the magazine, like an old friend once you’ve grown apart.

I know it’s my fault for assigning emotional value to a company and publication. It’s silly. But I can’t help it. It’s like finding out that the old friend has started up on heroin. A sad day.

Oh, other news, when I went to check my sales on KDP yesterday morning, I learned about the KDP Select service. Many gallons of virtual ink have been spilled over the topic already, with my favorite coming from Smashwords founder Mark Coker, so I’ll spare any rhetoric about the larger implications of the service (troubling though they may be). I’d rather talk about something that I actually understand and control: my own little slice of the publishing world.

After examining the fine print about the program, including the Kindle exclusivity clause that constitutes the real sticking point for me, I decided that only works that were originally planned as Kindle exclusives will go into the lending library. This means that The Kayson Cycle and The Corridors of the Dead are not going into the library. Qwendellonia’s lone piece by another writer, The Witching Hour: Jubilation, will go into the service for now. This is, obviously, something of an experiment for the company.

Personally, I don’t see how an author can make a lot of money off of the service if they’re not already well-known going in. Prime is already a subsection of Amazon users. Then you’re going to the Prime users who use the Lending library. Definitely a smaller subsection, because I’m in Prime and don’t use the library. I like to think I’m fairly savvy and all, but something about the library rubs me the wrong way, and so I have no interest in it.

So you’re talking about exposure to a very small subsection of readers, and a sea of indie authors. For example, pre-announcement, the Lending Library sat at 5,000 books. By mid-day yesterday, it had jumped to 14,000. So that small subsection of users is being served by all that competition. At one book a month. I just don’t see myself signing away control over my work in exchange for a chance to maybe, possibly, entice that small group into getting my book for free (for a potentially very small slice of that pie).

I’ve learned a hard lesson the last few months: not all exposure is equal. A lot of artists and writers, including myself, come into this thinking that any exposure is good – bad press is still press, right? You can trade just about anything for that exposure! It will pay off long-term! Right?

Sometimes. But far from all of the time. Possibly not even the majority of the time. But there are always hidden costs, including opportunity and time – and you have to weigh these against what you gain (or could gain) from the exposure. Look at the woman who made a fool of herself reacting to a negative review on a blog. I’m sure she saw a temporary boost in sales from it. I’m sure for awhile there people knew her name. Can you even remember her name now? I know I can’t, and I’m not going to seek out a link because I have no desire to prolong those 15 minutes. There is such a thing as bad press – detrimental press. The payoff is just not enough.

So that’s my thought on the system. I might wait and see what happens. Maybe it will be the great next thing in publishing (God help us all). It is at least a stab at innovation and forward-thinking, even if it’s not in the right direction. It beats starting up a vanity press.

Oh, be sure to check out my interview with Paul Dail tomorrow! Really interesting guy.

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks Jonathan, this was a great post, very timely for me as I just ended my contract with my agent in favour of self publishing. Thanks!

  2. I didn’t know that about Writers’ Digest. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re in it for the money, but it’s a little disappointing. I’ve done a couple of their online workshops. One was amazingly good (targeting someone trying to get up to date on social media, platform, etc.). The other was nothing special, and definitely overpriced.

    Really, any information you want from Writers’ Digest is probably available free on various blogs.

  3. We seem to share a history in Writer’s Digest: early on I found it a treasure trove, then I left it behind, recently tried it again and was not impressed. Eh…

    I agree with you on Amazon’s lending library too. Amazon’s play at becoming a megalopoly. I don’t feel we can afford to snub the other outlets.

  4. Wow … I’m the same as you, started subscribing to Writer’s Digest when I was about 14, and eventually let my subscription run out because it just didn’t seem relevant anymore. I can’t believe they’re running such a shady vanity press. $3,000 to publish a book? That’s crazy.

  5. Yah, like you I started reading about publishing and how to write books at a very young age. And even still I do enjoy writer’s digest. But I’m beginning to hate how we can just buy the title “published author.”

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