AHA · Authors Helping Authors · Publishing

“Does this sound familiar?” ~ by Philip Catshill

Line art representation of a QuillAn adage proclaims everyone has a story to tell. Some aspire to tell their story by means of the written word. Perhaps like me, you sat at a computer, clicked away at the keys until one by one the words appeared, forming into page after page and chapter after chapter. Whether it is a story based on fiction or fact, you have ended up with a book on a computer disk. Okay, now you’ve written it, I suppose you want someone to read it.

In my case, I spent a few pounds on a comb binder and used half a ream of paper to print it out. I can’t remember who said, “Why don’t you get it published?” Maybe my inflated ego put the thought of publishing in mind. Somewhere along the line, I assumed that all I had to do was send it off to a publisher and make a few pounds in the process. Like most writers as they set out on this venture, I had no idea where to start. Does my story sound familiar so far?

What I didn’t anticipate is between the writer and the published book, there would be a plethora of professionals from editing to proofreading, from publishing to printing, all prepared to purloin a piece of the pie before it comes out of the oven. That is, people who want an advanced payment from the writer before I can sell a single book. You see, I thought writing and publishing my story might put a few pounds in my pocket, not someone else’s. Oh yes, I appreciated that there would be a few fees here and there, but I guessed in the main, these would be paid by the publisher.

Now, to cut a few paragraphs out of this saga, when I thought my book needed a publisher, good old Google came to the rescue. I just typed in “Publishing a book” and within the blink of an eye, I was presented with thousands of pages from companies eager for my manuscript. I selected at random a handful of impressive looking websites. Several asked for my aspirations as a writer, and some were prepared to offer a quotation based on the word count. I shall confess a bit of naivety on my part here, because on one site, I interpreted the wording as being how much the publisher was prepared to pay me! It didn’t take long for me to realise it was the other way around! It might amaze you to know, but until I started on this venture, I never knew there were companies around who I could pay to publish my book. Some writers refer to this as vanity publishing – I call it pay-up-front publishing.

Bless my mother. She’s been dead for over a quarter of a century, but I guess she is still around. Not only did she teach me how to write my name, but she also taught me to read. Especially if it was going to cost money, she would read every single word, every single line and every single detail, until she had a clear understanding what exactly she was agreeing to. No one duped my mother.

Maybe if other writers had followed my mother’s teaching, many of these pay-up-front publishers would go out of business. I am not a lawyer, but I am cautious about naming companies on a public website. There is always the threat of potential litigation, with which I choose not to get involved. Sometimes, it is difficult to get my head around the legal jargon, however, I have not yet found an example of ANY pay-up-front service associated with the publishing industry (from editing through to marketing) that offers any guarantee to the writer that their services will lead to a single extra sale of their book. In many cases, the best the writer can expect is a print-on-demand service and a listing in various retail catalogues or on websites. Under the same Google search, I found a company or two who are straightforward book printers, who prepare, print and distribute books. They too list the books in various book catalogues, make them available to various bookshops, but they are not publishers. yet it gets difficult to see the difference between these pay-up-front publishers and the printer/distributor – except of course, the cost.

I belong to several writers and author groups on different social-media web sites. From the number of times the topic veers towards disappointments experienced by authors with these pay-up-front publishers, I whisper a quiet thanks to that mother of mine.  At least, not only can I write – I can read. Vague promises on a website do not persuade me; neither does a contract telling me what the publisher can do. I want to see what they will do. I don’t want to see that overriding disclaimer at the bottom of the webpage which reads, “Some restrictions may apply.” With those legal loopholes written into the website, I am surprised that anyone would proceed to the contract, let alone (digitally) sign it, but they do.

Judging from the glowing testimonials and booklists on the websites, some writers are entirely satisfied with the service provided by the pay-up-front publisher, but there are also websites that have a growing list of writers wanting to express their dissatisfaction or in some cases, even disgust, with their experience of pay-up-front publishers. Why does the same pay-to-publish company attract praise from some and derision from others?

The wording on the website and in the contract is the same, so I think it comes down to the writer’s expectations, and whether they assumed what the pay-up-front publisher can do, as being what the pay-up-front publisher will do. In other words, did the writer spend all that money and derive great satisfaction from selling a handful of copies, or did the writer expect a service over and above what they signed up for (or thought they had signed up for.)

Just a thought, but if your reason for writing is just to leave your family with a printed memoir, why go to the expense of publishing? Why not spend a few dollars and buy a comb binder and a ream of paper? Whatever your reason for publishing, if you are determined to see your book in print, before you commit a single dollar, be sure you know what your pay-up-front publisher WILL do when they have your dollars. Otherwise, I’ll be seeing your name amongst the growing list of unhappy authors on those social media websites.

I guess that covers it, except to say that I urge you to take my mother’s advice and never commit to a contract, unless you are 100% sure the company will meet your expectations, not just theirs.

For me, thanks to my mother insisting I read through and understand everything before making a commitment, my books have been ‘self-written’, self-published, self-promoted, and self-marketed. As a result, I am self-satisfied with my self-success, but I am no business whizz kid.  One day, I’ll commit them to print through a straight forward print-on-demand-and-distribute company.

I consider I’ve been successful in marketing my books, but not because I’m forever telling you to buy, but through the support, help, advice and guidance I give to other writers and artists. (Note the word give – it means no pay-up-front charge.) I have had three major strokes, a cancer scare and a heart problem but I still have a working brain cell or two, and I use them to help my fellow writers wherever I can.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~You can find contact details are on my webpage at http://www.philipcatshill.com

Of course, I have to add – Subject to terms and conditions – some restrictions may apply!

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17 thoughts on ““Does this sound familiar?” ~ by Philip Catshill

  1. I have no idea why when it comes to getting their manuscript published some authors let go of any common sense they have.
    Why pay for something you can do yourself for free, or get done better when you shop around in your network.

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  2. Very educational and “yes!” to your last sentence, you DO help your fellow authors and I am a grateful recipient of your wisdom, insights and generosity with your time and talent as well.

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  3. Very interesting article Philip. A friend used one of these companies, resented the commission they took on sales, and wanted them to de-publish the kindle version and they won’t do it – until they do, he cannot pub on kindle, so he has lost control of his own book. The same company asked him for £3000 so they could ‘market’ his book to American film companies. Luckily he didn’t fall for it. I must say that although I’m a proofreader, I do pay for proofreading, because you can;t see your own mistakes.

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  4. I agree, self-publishing and pay up front publishers are the same. I am the 1 in a million that liked my vanity publisher. I know I’m not making the same royalties as I would had I self -published, but I had no expectations of how well the book would be received. I liked the all-in-one idea to get my book out. I was treated very well and I am the sole owner of my work. It was published 1-31-13. They did everything I expected and more. I was too green in this business to think I could do it on my own. I have learned a lot and think the second book I can do as a self-published addition to the first.
    I was and still are extremely satisfied with the whole process. I did not have to give up control of any of the aspects of getting my book published. Only thing I would do is reduce the cost of the actual book. I know my results are unusual but they did what I wanted and in a timely fashion. I do believe the price was comparable to doing it piece by piece on my own. It was a good experience and I have learned so much.

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    1. That’s exactly what happens and that excitement carries them away…been there myself. I was amazed that I so easily overlooked important matters in the contract, only seeing what I wanted to see, and I am normally a stickler for such things. It was a hard lesson to learn and I think it’s very important that we do our best to help others not make that mistake. Now when I get those acceptance letters, I celebrate and enjoy the moment and take the time to let that pass so I can see things more clearly before I sign anything. That pause is what makes the difference! Thanks so much for participating and sharing your thoughts. Debra

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  5. Great post Philip and so true! I always vowed I would never pay anyone to publish my books, I wanted to make money from them – for myself – not for someone else. On that basis I said I’d never self publish, then I discovered feedaread.com a superb print on demand publishing company who publish free. Thanks to them I now have all of my books in paperback format, and also on kindle with Amazon. I think that self publishing has come into its own and at last so many talented authors are getting their voices heard.

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  6. Philip, you did a nice job of explaining the frustrations of many. You are a huge support and I hope many have got your back as you have gotten ours. Much love and success to you friend!

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  7. feedaread – although this is listed as a “publisher” it is a straightforward print-on-demand and distributor, set up to produce paperbacks. One interesting point about the terms and conditions is they specifically state that the contract is non-exclusive – I guess that means you can take your book elsewhere – they specify a notice period – again, it is a matter of reading the contract. I see several books on Amazon with them listed as publisher, and some of these books are quite high in the Amazon ratings.

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  8. …fabulous blog post… at the end of the day, there’s NO FREE LUNCH… I agree also, that the REAL support on the web comes from the great and generous spirit of the universal family of writers … LUV IT ! … gonna re-blog this one!

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  9. Bless my mother. She’s been dead for over a quarter of a century, but I guess she is still around. Not only did she teach me how to write my name, but she also taught me to read. Especially if it was going to cost money, she would read every single word, every single line and every single detail, until she had a clear understanding what exactly she was agreeing to. No one duped my mother.
    I do that too

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