Archive for February, 2010

Sorting Through the Book Publishing Maze

I received an email from a puppy-mill Internet publisher this morning trying to interest me in publishing with them.

Granted, puppy-mill publisher isn’t an official book publishing industry term, but it’s my term for those publishers who publish just about anything sent into them.

They like to sell the dream of being published (rather than the business it really is), and they start out with low prices that include

  • someone who will talk with you about your project (aka one-on-one author support or representative)
  • a discount on books you purchase from them
  • a book cover (I wonder if you know most covers from puppy-mill publishers are template and the design remains the property of the publisher)
  • an ISBN (which every book needs if you intend to sell it commerically somewhere other than your own website or trunk of your car)
  • world-wide book distribution (isn’t that called a website?)
  • interior formatting (again, typically done in template and the design belongs to the publisher, not the author)
  • digital printing (I agree digital printing is much improved, but it’s still done on a photocopier on steriods and most quality books are still printed using offset printing)
  • author sets retail price
  • publishing house pays  you “royalties” on books you pay to print (which seems odd–if you own the copyright on the book and pay to produce it, why is the publishing house keeping some of your money and expecting you to be happy to get what’s left after their cut and they call that a royalty?)

Of course, you’ll note they’ll have to upsell you if you want editing, proofreading, LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number)–just a few things you might like to have if you’re putting your name on a book and you want that book to be professionally published.


According to the Independent Book Publisher’s Association, to be self-published, you must own the publishing company. If you do not own the publishing company, you are not self-published. Yet, the puppy-mill publishers continue to use the term, perhaps hoping potential authors will feel they won’t have to dig deeply into the offering–they already know what it is.

Unfortunately, most authors don’t.

Vanity Press

Everyone knows that a vanity press should be avoided with every fiber of one’s being. But what’s the definition of a vanity press? A vanity press is one that publishes anything sent to them–no discernment (and, in most cases, no improvement either). If you’re willing to pay, you’re published!

Subsidy Press

Subsidy presses typically make all orders come through them, so they get a piece of the action on every order. They hold your inventory and pay you “royalties” on books you’ve already paid to produce.

Subsidy presses became synonymous with vanity presses a few years ago, so now almost  every one calls themselves “self-publishers.”

Equity Publisher

We at Expert Publishing struggled with how to label our publishing house.

We don’t publish everything (we publish business, self-help, and inspiration).

We are proud of the books we publish (our name is on the book too, after all), and we use professional designers who do original (not template) designs. We use book editors. We proofread. We do both offset printing and digital printing.

We don’t pay royalties because we believe that when our authors pay for publication, they automatically own their inventory and should keep the money when they sell books. That’s a lot better than royalties.

Since we didn’t fit self-publishing, vanity publishing, or subsidy publishing, we needed a new term. We selected the term equity publishing because we don’t charge extra to include books we publish in our “world-wide distribution catalog,” which you would call a website. We don’t charge extra to show books we publish at book trade shows. We even help authors set up their own accounts and don’t charge extra for that. Equity publisher seems to sum it all up.

You have so many book publishing options available to you that you really need to do your homework and select the best option for you. Of course, being published is a dream for many, but don’t let it become a nightmare.

Wherever you are in the book publishing process, I hope you’ll find this post helpful in sorting through the book publishing maze.

Happy writing.


Thoughts on Do-It-Yourself Publishing

Last week I listened to a teleseminar about publishing your book yourself for no cost. The teleseminar was put on by the presenter, so I know he wasn’t a guest, yet he had a host interview him. Well, I say interview him, but I use the term loosely. You see, we had to listen to the host promote this guy’s upcoming series of teleseminars for a “ridiculously low price of —-” that was so low the host could not believe the price. Blah, blah, etc.

Of course, that price was only available to the first twenty people who called in, so callers had to hurry.

Since the  host was still making the pitch at the end of the hour-long teleseminar (which started five minutes late, by the way), I assume there weren’t twenty people interested in the offer for that hour.

Why not?

Perhaps because of the content in the teleseminar. This guy was very proud of his work with professional speakers and that he coaches them into turning their speeches into published books. I can see that as a good thing, if done well.

He suggested they start out by envisioning their reader and said men read while sitting on toilets and women read while in bed. According to him, by envisioning your reader reading your book, you connect better with your reader as you write.

Well, I agree that it’s important you envision your reader reading your book, but I’d rather you think about content–what the reader needs to know that you can offer. I also prefer you strive to offer it clearly so the reader understands your points. That just seems more reader-friendly than envisioning what they do physically.

He suggested you use your friends and family as your editors. They’re free, after all.

Well, I agree you need an editor, but you need a book editor if you care at all about the quality of your book that is in print for decades and has your name on it. Friends and family love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they are kind, not critical. English teachers may be an option, but only if they understand why the book publishing industry uses one manual and the periodical publishing industry uses another. You need a book editor if you care at all about your book and book editors aren’t free.

He suggested art students can fill the role of book designer for you. They’re free because they want to add your project to their portfolio.

Well, I can see that some very talented art student can design a book cover for the ages, but I think that’s about as likely as becoming the next American Idol when you’re not an incredible singer.

And what about interior design? Do you want your book to look like it was not complementary to your cover or like it was done by you? Perhaps you do if you don’t care that your book represents you professionally. If you’re simply fulfilling a dream of being published, anything is good enough and you can do it yourself. If you’re establishing your credibility as an expert in your field, you probably don’t want an I-did-it-myself  image in your published book.

Since he never said how one gets one’s book printed free, I assume he was talking about ebooks–slapping your book up on the Internet for the world to enjoy. If you print your book (whether one copy or thousands), there’s a cost involved.

And he often said how he works/consults with speakers to write their books, but he never said he donated his time and worked free. In fact, he had a series of teleseminars for a ridiculously low “investment” of something around a couple of hundred dollars, so they weren’t free either.

You may think I didn’t like the teleseminar, but you’d be incorrect. I very much enjoyed the gamesmanship and lack of answers to basic questions about quality, distribution, etc. when you spend nothing to publish your book.

There’s a lot of information floating around about publishing these days–the industry is moving away from royalty publishing, which means authors have options and need to be discerning as they sort through what’s thrown at them.

Happy writing!

Passive Voice is Okay–but Rarely

If you’re into writing at all, you’ve heard the mantra, “Use active voice” more than you care to ponder.

When I teach publishing and writing courses at the local colleges, I repeat the mantra, and I typically get two questions: What is active voice? Is passive voice ever okay?

The answer to the first question is fairly straightforward. Active voice creates more interesting reading. Active voice relies on active verbs. If you recall the job of verbs from your English grammar class, you’ll remember that verbs show action.

Active voice takes away the game-playing in your writing. It’s direct. It’s interesting. It’s enjoyable to read for it creates images (this is the other manta, “Show, Don’t Tell” at work).

One test to determine active voice is reviewing verbs used. Active verbs DO something. Passive verbs ARE something. Active example: Jane appeared sad. Passive example: Jane was sad.

Once you’ve decided to use active verbs, you get to improve your writing by choosing strong verbs. Example using a good, active verb: Tom looked at Bob in disbelief. Example using a strong, active verb: Tom glared at Bob in disbelief. Both verbs offer good choices in writing active voice, but the strong verb makes the writing even more alive in the reader’s mind.

As long as I’m talking about strong verbs, I’ll offer a tip on using strong nouns as well. Dig back to English grammar class and recall that a noun names a person, place, or thing. General nouns, like man, woman, or child, are okay. But your writing becomes more vibrant when you get more specific. For example, a man can become an attorney, a woman can become an entrepreneur, and a child can become an older brother (or sister). When you get more specific, your reader gains insight and begins to make a better connection to the attorney (versus man), entrepreneur (versus woman), or older sibling (versus child).

Okay, now on to the second question: Is passive voice ever okay? The answer is yes, but rarely. Use passive voice when you don’t want to show ownership of the action. Example: It was noticed you were late to work three times last week. Well, who noticed? No ownership. Don’t know.

Use passive voice when the object of the verb (the subject is the one doing the action) is important. Example: Karen was in a car accident. What’s important is Karen, not the accident, in this sentence. Something happened to Karen and she is the object (she didn’t do the action–or at least we can’t tell from this sentence if she caused the accident, which is the “no ownership” point I made earlier).

Government, academia, and business tend to employ the passive voice most of the time. Why not? No ownership! Everyone knows how much people salivate to get their hands on the latest tax regulation, and that should show us how much readers want to read passive voice.

Use passive voice when it serves your purpose, but use it rarely if you want your readers to keep reading.

Happy writing!