Great Googly Moogly

Okay, I’m reading about the dust-up about Harlequin (the romance writers, y’know) starting their own vanity publishing arm*, and as I go through the comments, every now and then one jumps out at me and breaks my heart into tiny little pieces.

These comments say things like "I know you have to pay to get published…" or "Up until I read this thread, I didn’t realize you didn’t pay to get published."

Oh sweet god.

You are all very smart people of impeccable taste–or at least, you’re reading the blog, so I like to pretend–but just on the slim chance that any of you are not quite as informed on this topic as you could be–NO NO NO NO NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO.

The publisher pays you. ALWAYS. You do not pay the publisher. EVER. It does not cost the author to publish the book. The publisher does all that. They take the book and give you money. The only place you sign the check, to paraphrase, is on the back, is over the little line that says "Endorse here."

You don’t pay to get published. The publisher pays you for the privilege of taking your book. You invest time and energy and printer cartridges. The publisher always pays you.

(This is also why you don’t hire an illustrator–because the publisher hires them. And pays them. That is how it works.)

It’s okay if you don’t know this stuff. Don’t feel dumb. Publishing is weird and arcane and I still take royalty statements to my buddy Deb and go "What does this mean?" and I still don’t understand half of it. You’re not dumb. Much of this isn’t intuitive. You don’t have to take my word for it–find the author resource online of your choice. and ask questions. There is no need to be embarassed.

I have produced…uh…if we count Digger volumes…nine books through four publishers. One of the publishers is a very respectable small press, one is a starting-out-but-getting-there small press, and two are big giant scary publishers with New York offices and budgets bigger than a third world country.

All four of them pay me money. Sometimes they pay me lots of money (at least by my standards, which are quite modest) and sometimes they pay me a couple hundred bucks. The big houses can afford to pay me mondo advances, the small presses can afford to take me to dinner.** This is fine.

The point is, they all pay me. I don’t pay them. Ever.

The sum total I have spent on any book I have ever written was about two bucks worth of postage to send out the initial draft of Black Dogs, over a decade ago, and I did buy a decent pen in order to sign copies of Dragonbreath. (And by "decent" I mean like 2.99 for a pair. I am not a pen snob.) Then I lost the pen.

The only times money goes the other way is if I’m buying a couple of copies of Digger–I get free copies of each, of course, but sometimes I want to sell them at cons where Sofawolf’s not attending–and in this case, they just slap the wholesale price against my royalties. This is pretty normal, and the only example I can come up with off the top of my head. (Okay, no, wait, I sent a print to my editor once because she wanted a signed art print of the Nurk cover for her office. Technically I paid for that, but I didn’t stuff twenties in there or anything.)

I do not pay for those big publishing runs. Authors don’t. There’s a little under thirty thousand copies of Dragonbreath floating around out there. Total cost to me = $0.

If somebody is telling you that the authors do pay for these, they are either misinformed or…well…you’re smart wombats, you can figure out yourself why somebody might have a vested interest in believing that you give people money for this sort of thing and who might not have your best interests at heart.

Now. Self-publishing. This is something else. If you are self-publishing, then you know it up front. (If you have to ask if you’re self-publishing, there are problems already.) We can talk about this later and in lots of detail if anybody wants. Self-publishing is great for what it does well. I am a big fan of self-publishing. ( I myself have work in a self-published little anthology that our local comics group puts out every year, as a print-on-demand thing. You can buy it on Lulu, it’s got some nice stuff in it, a couple of the members sell the occasional copy at conventions. I didn’t buy any of the wholesale copies because I don’t have table space in my usual con kit. Cost to me = $0. Profit if I HAD sold them at the table = maybe a buck or two. It’s a neat little thing to have, but none of us are making money on it, and it’s not a publishing credit I’d take seriously. I could talk about this longer, but we’re already running long.) Self-publishing is kinda like merchandising. I would self-publish a webcomic the same way that I would get a run of T-shirts printed, I’d sell them at cons or over the internet, like T-shirts, and I would expect to make approximately the same amount of money.

So. To recap. They pay us. That’s how it works. If you are paying them, then something is very very wrong.

If you’re self-publishing, things are a little more complicated, but you should really only be self-publishing for stuff that self-publishing is good at. If you want to be a bestselling fiction author, that’s not something self-publishing is particularly good at. If somebody tells you that self-publishing is good for that and you can make zillions if you give them your manuscript and a lot of money, they are predators and need to be ridden out of town on a rail.

Vanity publishing, which is what Harlequin Horizons is offering, is a scam. They take your money by the fistful and dangle this promise that if you pay enough, you can be a Real Writer. Well, Real Writers get paid, they don’t pay. Nobody is so bad a writer that they deserve to lose money for it. If you just want readers, put it on the internet, if you just want a physical copy, go to Lulu, but please, PLEASE don’t believe that writers have to pay to be successful. Please.

*There are lots of posts and comment wars. The fast and amusing one is here. The gist is that they’re implying heavily to the marks that this is a Real Book with Harlequin and then turning around and telling their real authors, who are Not Amused, that no, no, it’s not, nobody should think that, and the books won’t actually be on shelves or anything, we just kinda found a way to make money off the slush pile. It is very sad and makes me very angry.

**And in no way shape or form should you think I’m raggin’ on the small presses–I am deleriously glad they exist because a big New York house wouldn’t ever publish Digger, there’s just not the demand. Small presses aren’t small because they can’t be big, it’s because they publish things where demand is small, but often very passionate. I do not know how many copies of Digger have sold, but I’m sure all for volumes are less than the initial, not-very-large-by-industry-standards print-run of Nurk. That doesn’t mean Digger’s bad, it’s just specialized.

Leave a Reply