Dealing with retailers and the "vanity press" prejudice

davidRoddisdavidRoddis Toronto, Canada Writer
edited June 2018 in General Discussions
Hi everyone,
I've just started to market my paperback and have the first inklings of a problem.  I'm sure this problem can be overcome, and I wanted your thoughts on how that could be achieved.

The problem relates to bygone days when authors who couldn't get published otherwise would self-publish - this was called "vanity publishing", and lower end mags were filled with adverts for "publishing your book" or whatever, and often it was a scam.  Then people would stuff handkerchiefs in their mouths and read the books, which were usually dreadful. 

The problem came up like this: A friend of mine was in a shop and it occurred to him to mention my book.  The lady owner was apparently aghast at the thought some self-published book in her store, but he got her card for me.  Now it's my turn to persuade her that just because it's self-published doesn't mean it's a joke.

Of course, good writing, good proofreading and good cover design will help start the conversation. Also, reviews, which I'm working hard to get.  But what do you suggest is a way of expressing that this is an entirely new way of thinking about publishing?  How do I address that initial negative reaction, the "vanity publishing" kiss of death?


David Roddis
"From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down I was convulsed with laughter.  Next time I intend reading it."       —Groucho Marx
 
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Comments

  • The easiest way to clear the prejudice of that individual shopkeeper is to walk in, introduce yourself based on the friend's reference, and then show her a professional-looking book, with a clear and interesting back cover blurb. It must look and read as though it were one of the commercially published books on any of her shelves.

    As for the prejudice over all, we can only work to improve the overall quality of self-published books in general.

    On a different note, I've found that many small shops in my area tend to have a few books "by local authors" or "about local history." Most of these look self-published. Those shops show that not everyone has the same prejudices. One bookstore in a neighboring city has even allowed self-published authors to hold "Release" events on their premises.
  • Em_PressEm_Press Professor
    You are not a self publisher, you are a publisher. You can publish anything you want. If you change your frame of mind you can sell your book better.

    Tell store owners you'd like them to stock books from local authors.
     A citizen of the world.

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited June 2018
    The prejudice against self-published books has much the same basis as the old vanity presses. In fact, perhaps more basis. At least the more reputable vanity presses, such as Vantage Press, offered professional editing and design services, as do companies such as present-day Warwick House. And it was often difficult for bookstores and libraries to distinguish between a vanity press imprint and that of a traditional publisher, since many vanity presses even published quarterly catalogs like any other publisher. Sadly, the advent of self-publishing has enabled not only anyone who has a book to get it into print, but to get literally anything into print, regardless of quality. And there's the rub: self-published books created to the highest professional standards are absolutely swamped by the overwhelming flood of self-published books that are patently amateurish in the worst possible sense of the word.

    So, thanks in large part to the ease of self-publishing, it is an uphill battle for the self-published author.

    Skoob_ym is right, though, in what he suggests: Show your local bookstores that you in fact have something of quality that would be worth devoting shelf space to.

    Reviews are a very good thing, too, especially if the reviews are from respected sources---either someone with a recognizable name (as opposed to, say, pulling comments from Amazon reviews) or a newspaper or magazine. Likewise, quotes from known authors or personalities (which you can solicit via advance review copies) look great on the cover or back cover.

    And I, too, have seen a great many bookstores, both independent and chain, who maintain a section devoted to local authors. Some will often host events such as signings and readings.

    (And here is something that is probably bound to start an argument: I don't see much difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. In both cases, an author is undertaking the publication of their own work, underwriting all of the expenses involved. It's really only a "new way of thinking" technologically. Authors have been self-publishing for centuries, undertaking the very same tasks and facing exactly the same problems---including marketing---that face Lulu author/publishers.)
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • oncewasoncewas Librarian

    Bookstores order from pre-existing contacts. If a book does not sell it goes back to the publisher. The inability of self-published authors to offer this 'sale or return' facility is a stumbling block.

    Self-published books work best with print on demand. Rather than trying to get your book into a bricks and mortar store you need to stimulate the online demand.


  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    oncewas said:

    Bookstores order from pre-existing contacts. If a book does not sell it goes back to the publisher. The inability of self-published authors to offer this 'sale or return' facility is a stumbling block.

    Self-published books work best with print on demand. Rather than trying to get your book into a bricks and mortar store you need to stimulate the online demand.


    I think you have hit the nail on the head!
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    The problem relates to bygone days when authors who couldn't get published otherwise would self-publish - this was called "vanity publishing",

    But it still goes on. Without causing insult to Lulu, even they offer paid-for publishing services, as do Amazon's publishing arms. It's up to the people who take those options if that's what they want. At least nowadays the reputable places will offer or give an ISBN, one just has to try to avoid the others. But even the expensive Marketing Packages are no guarantee of sales.

     and lower end mags were filled with adverts for "publishing your book" or whatever, and often it was a scam.

    Hrrmm. The adverts are not only in lower-end mags, whatever they are. They are even in household name national dally newspapers. I found Lulu in the Classifieds of a high-circulation gardening magazine, along with other a"Story to publish?!" adverts. Lulu is not a scam, I have no idea about the others, apart from some 'Guild' that offers writing courses leading to being published ...

      Then people would stuff handkerchiefs in their mouths and read the books, which were usually dreadful.

    Who would? Most Vanity Publishing places finish by sending you a box of 200 books that end up in your loft unread. (And a bill for 10 grand.) Some people do not seem to realise that being Published does not only mean seeing their name on a book.

    The problem came up like this: A friend of mine was in a shop and it occurred to him to mention my book.  The lady owner was apparently aghast at the thought some self-published book in her store,

    It is understandable, because a lot of it is rubbish, because no one edits or proofreads them.

     but he got her card for me.  Now it's my turn to persuade her that just because it's self-published doesn't mean it's a joke.

    But can you offer Sale or Return? That's the offer they often get from publishing establishments.

    Of course, good writing, good proofreading and good cover design will help start the conversation.

    Yes it will, but do the bookshop keepers actually have the time to read all the books they put on their shelves? I doubt it.

    Also, reviews, which I'm working hard to get.

    I would suggest that is a better guide, plus an existing fanbase. You know > 'a thousand people can't be wrong' kind of enticement.

      But what do you suggest is a way of expressing that this is an entirely new way of thinking about publishing?

    One that is almost a decade old  :) because it's really POD, or BOD that's the 'new' aspect, but that does make for expensive books. Don't forget that any shopkeeper may add at least 30% to the price you need. They are not interested how a book is printed, but how much they can sell it for, at a competitive price.

      How do I address that initial negative reaction, the "vanity publishing" kiss of death?

    Well you could search on line for already famous writers who have now gone the POD independent way, but they are possibly not easy to discover.
    BTW. Apparently 50 Shades was at first self-published. At Lulu Australia I believe. I guess that's a reasonable example-ish.
  • oncewas said:

    Bookstores order from pre-existing contacts. If a book does not sell it goes back to the publisher. The inability of self-published authors to offer this 'sale or return' facility is a stumbling block.

    Self-published books work best with print on demand. Rather than trying to get your book into a bricks and mortar store you need to stimulate the online demand.


    I think you have hit the nail on the head!
    Nothing precludes the small publishers such as ourselves from offering books to shops on consignment, which is essentially the same deal. But yes, the more profitable route is to let the buyer order it online.

    On a different note, the primary difference between a self-publisher and a vanity press is that we cut out the middleman who adds nothing. And with POD, we're not stuck with a trunk-load of books to sell so that we can break even.
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited June 2018
    Skoob_ym said:
    oncewas said:

    Bookstores order from pre-existing contacts. If a book does not sell it goes back to the publisher. The inability of self-published authors to offer this 'sale or return' facility is a stumbling block.

    Self-published books work best with print on demand. Rather than trying to get your book into a bricks and mortar store you need to stimulate the online demand.


    I think you have hit the nail on the head!


    On a different note, the primary difference between a self-publisher and a vanity press is that we cut out the middleman who adds nothing. And with POD, we're not stuck with a trunk-load of books to sell so that we can break even.
    True enough, but since the driver behind both remains the same I see no difference, in the end, between vanity publishing and self publishing. 

    The proper industry term for "vanity publishing" is "subsidy publishing." This is when the author of a book is entirely responsible for its publication, including any costs or expenses. This is, of course, exactly the case with any self-published author, by definition. They are their own publisher and are consequently responsible for any costs attached to the publication of their book. With POD publishing an author who is willing to dispense with commissioning any professional help, such as editing, design, etc., and/or commercially available distribution/marketing packages, may have little or no out-of-pocket expenses. This doesn't really change the underlying identity of self-publishing/subsidy publishing.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • davidRoddisdavidRoddis Toronto, Canada Writer
    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments and suggestions - they certainly have helped.  I certainly think the "local author" route is a definite sales angle, and I am going to approach an LGBT bookstore in town, which I think is a good prospect.  I do know one celebrity (!) and I've solicited their review; I may even have a Forward from them.  At any rate I've attached myself to them like a zebra mussel attaches itself to the hull of a ship.  Fingers crossed.  In the end, I believe in my work, which is the best basis for selling, at least for me.  Thanks again!
    David Roddis
    "From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down I was convulsed with laughter.  Next time I intend reading it."       —Groucho Marx
     
  • Here's something which can change anyone's mindset on this subject. Get a pal to open a Lulu account, he can call it, I dunno - Fred's Books, say. Then he can publish your book for you; he's a publisher, you're an author, to the world at large (outside the You and Fred gang of course!), you are then a fully published author. It may be contrived, it may be based on friendship rather than making it beyond the reject pile, but, it still counts. Just a thought.
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    I don’t know why anyone would need such a convoluted scheme. Or how this self deception could possibly help anyone’s self esteem.

    The only identification in a book of who the publisher may be is whatever is put on the title page and elsewhere. For instance, all of my Lulu books bear the Black Cat Press name and logo and nothing else. There is nothing in any of the books that points to me as the actual publisher.

    By by the bye, you are a “fully published author” no matter who your publisher is. Whether or not you are published competently is another matter entirely...but you are still published.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments and suggestions - they certainly have helped.  I certainly think the "local author" route is a definite sales angle,

    More often than not they are books, often very thin ones, about local things. Local history or guides, stuff like that. It's always better when written by a local who lives in and knows the area. But it would be interesting if there are any statistics to do with how many people in the area some famous novelist lives actually bought their book. I would bet the demographic percentage would possibly be the same as sales in any other place.

  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Here's something which can change anyone's mindset on this subject. Get a pal to open a Lulu account, he can call it, I dunno - Fred's Books, say. Then he can publish your book for you; he's a publisher, you're an author, to the world at large (outside the You and Fred gang of course!), you are then a fully published author. It may be contrived, it may be based on friendship rather than making it beyond the reject pile, but, it still counts. Just a thought.

    Very contrived because if using a Lulu ISBN then it will still state that Lulu (a self-publishing site) is the publisher, and if the book is only sold direct from a Lulu Storefront, then it's very obvious it's still published on a self-publishing site, even by proxy.

    Interestingly, I publish e-books direct to Amazon (for Kindle, not ePubs) and it marks me as the publisher. However I do not use any ISBNs there.

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments and suggestions - they certainly have helped.  I certainly think the "local author" route is a definite sales angle,

    More often than not they are books, often very thin ones, about local things. Local history or guides, stuff like that. It's always better when written by a local who lives in and knows the area. But it would be interesting if there are any statistics to do with how many people in the area some famous novelist lives actually bought their book. I would bet the demographic percentage would possibly be the same as sales in any other place.

    Local authors will also write stories and novels with local settings or based on familiar events.

    Regarding what you suggest about well-known authors, I suspect you are right.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Local authors will also write stories and novels with local settings or based on familiar events.

    Some possibly do, but I cannot say I have seen any. But I do recall reading an SF novel by someone I have never heard of, and  some of it was set not far from where I used to live. But every one I asked had never heard of him either, so if he was local, no one knew! Incidentally, local history books etc., are normally found for sale in local newsagents' shops and post offices (often printed by some small local printers, too) I do not recall seeing any in a book shop. But that SF novel was the opposite.

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor

    Local authors will also write stories and novels with local settings or based on familiar events.

    Some possibly do, but I cannot say I have seen any. 

    Try a search for “regional authors” or “literary regionalism.” That might be a good start. 
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Try a search for “regional authors” or “literary regionalism.” That might be a good start.

    Would one not need to tell a search engine which region?  :)

    I recall one strange thing from around 30 years ago. A tiny local 'pub' in a small place local to me had a guest reader night. Oddly, it was Stephen King. It's hard to get less local. I think six people were there.

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited June 2018
    Well, here’s something to start with. Note the reference to writers associated with individual states as well as the large number of literary journals devoted to writers of this region. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_literary_regionalism
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • SeamusSeamus Creator
    I spoke with the owner of my local book store and she was willing to try a small order 4-5 books on consignment. She has had  a lot of experience dealing with POD authors. Like many of you have pointed out, a big problem is poor quality, and lack of proofreading. But another issue she said was authors who dump books as consignment and then disappear, only to return a year later asking for $. She expects an author to be in the shop, say monthly, checking on their books and refilling the quantity and being proactive. She also wanted to know where else in town the book might be offered to avoid inundated the town with a book.
    Finally, this book store sells new and used and she basically said forget having it in the used section, she won't waste the space, since someone could easily buy the book new at any time online.
    I could be off on some of her reasoning and  explanations, it was a lot to take in and she was super kind to explain it to me. I'll see how things go, maybe I'll take her up on the offer eventually. 
    Tim Reinholt Author of Pow, a ski bum heist adventure
  • HULSEYHULSEY UK Publisher
    I went down this route about four years ago. A local bookstore offered to stock my books on a sale on return basis. I gave them twenty books and offered them a fifty-fifty deal. They all sold and I recieved a cheque. I repeated this and again, they all sold. Anyway, I ceased stocking the bookstore as I was only recouping my money back. Something I might consider again in the future. 
  • oncewasoncewas Librarian

    Hulsey

    Would it not be more cost effective to do a giveaway promotion on Amazon? That way you could reach many more than the 20 people who buy your books, and give away perhaps two or three copies. While it is possible that those who want a book for free have no interest in buying a book, I do find that I often make sales of other titles when I do a promotion.


  • HULSEYHULSEY UK Publisher
    I'm not sure how the giveaway promotion works, Oncewas, or how it would attract readers, but it is something I will consider. Thanks. I read somewhere about an Indie author who gave his book away for free and is now a bestseller. I tried that and have one of my novels for free. Yes, over ten thousand downloads, but not sure it helped with other sales.

  • Seamus said:
    But another issue she said was authors who dump books as consignment and then disappear, only to return a year later asking for $. She expects an author to be in the shop, say monthly, checking on their books and refilling the quantity and being proactive.
    This is an often under appreciated aspect of consignment/local bookstore selling. As a self-published author you always have to be your biggest and most vocal advocate. But you also have to apply that same dedication to the bookstore selling your book.

    It's all about cultivating relationships that will allow you to sell more books over time, reaching an ever expanding audience.

    oncewas said:

    Hulsey

    Would it not be more cost effective to do a giveaway promotion on Amazon? That way you could reach many more than the 20 people who buy your books, and give away perhaps two or three copies. While it is possible that those who want a book for free have no interest in buying a book, I do find that I often make sales of other titles when I do a promotion.

    One thing I hear from authors over and over is "wouldn't this be better than that" or similar. I can't say this enough: do both. Get some copies on the shelf in your local store and do a promotion online. There isn't a silver bullet for success in bookselling, it's more about applying every method that works and being relentless in pursuing those methods.
  • oncewasoncewas Librarian
    Hulsey

    Perhaps if a book is permanently free it doesn't create the same buzz as a giveaway. People might figure they will come back tomorrow and download it. Actually, while on this subject I don't often buy a second book by an author whose book I have already bought, but that could be because I have such eclectic tastes.

    You will need an Amazon account to create a giveaway. Go to the page your book is displayed on then navigate to the bottom of the page where you will see a link to create a giveaway. You then log in with your password and follow some easy steps. You can either create a sweepstake lasting the number of days you choose, or set the odds of an entrant winning a prize, or award the prizes on a first come, first served basis (probably not advisable). You can also choose whether entrants have to follow you on Twitter, watch a short Youtube movie, etc or do nothing at all.

    You could have over 1000 people enter your giveaway competition. That's potentially 1000 people who will visit your book's web page or remember your name (or not as the case may be; this is book selling after all). If someone wins a prize they might tell a friend about your book. That's the theory anyway.

    All I know is that book selling is a stressful roller coaster ride. My sales go up and down all the time, though strangely with roughly the same amount sold each month, except at year end.


  • I actually spoke to the owner of the local Cornerstone Christian bookstore. He said he'd be glad to setup a table for me if I wanted to bring in books to sale. He did ask for 10 percent of any sale. A nice offer but after shipping etc I don't think there would be much profit. I do much better selling online and not having to buy stock or ship myself.
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Well, here’s something to start with. Note the reference to writers associated with individual states as well as the large number of literary journals devoted to writers of this region. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/no-there-wasnt-an-advanced-civilization-12-000-years-ago/

    That seems to be dealing with some chap called Hancock. Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is fascinating, though, and I last saw it dated to 15,000 years ago. Whoever did them were astonishingly skilled with just stone tools ...

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited June 2018

    Well, here’s something to start with. Note the reference to writers associated with individual states as well as the large number of literary journals devoted to writers of this region. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/no-there-wasnt-an-advanced-civilization-12-000-years-ago/

    That seems to be dealing with some chap called Hancock. Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is fascinating, though, and I last saw it dated to 15,000 years ago. Whoever did them were astonishingly skilled with just stone tools ...

    Sorry about that! It was a link still on my clipboard. A friend of mine believes in all of Hancock's silly pseudoscience and I was trying to set him straight.

    Here is the correct link (which I also added to the original post) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_literary_regionalism
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Well I know nowt about the chap, and did not read it all. But apart from the hit by a comet theory there's no particular reason an 'advanced' civilisation did not exist in pre-history. 'Advanced' to a certain degree, though.
  • The article addresses the fallacy of "I don't know that it didn't, therefore it did."
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    Well I know nowt about the chap, and did not read it all. But apart from the hit by a comet theory there's no particular reason an 'advanced' civilisation did not exist in pre-history. 'Advanced' to a certain degree, though.
    Maybe not...but there is no evidence for any such thing.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
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