Desperate to Dance

A latecomer to the Wrath of Snark asks:

What does Miss Snark think about query and cover letters that mention prior publications (whether this submission or previous works) through noncommercial presses (Dorrance, Rutledge, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, XLibris, and many, many others) or that were self-published? Are you:

* Hostile?
* Indifferent?
* Dismissive?
* Saddened at the waste?
* So uninterested that you doodle a picture of Mr Clooney on the envelope instead of reading the submission?
* Impressed only if they note x (for your value of x) sales?
* Snarky at the impertinence of this inquiry?

Let's distinguish the cast by category: Dorrance is a subsidy house; Rutledge I've never heard of (not to be confused with the reputable Rutledge Hill Press, part of Nelson Publishing); and AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and XLibris are snake oil publishers who prey on people's desire to be published.

Subsidy means they take your money, and give you a certain number of books. They're usually not all that glamorous a product, but they're books. Subsidy publishers do NOT tell you that your book will be part of the publishing buffet table in the marketplace. That particular come-on is what distinguishes those PODmills, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and XLibris.

If an author queries me and tells me they are "published" by one of the POD mills, I make two immediate judgments: they're clueless and they're impatient. They're going to have to write REALLY well to get over those hurdles.

Not everyone agrees with me. And I've found one exception to that general principal. I read Jamie Baud's Envy the Rain (CafePress) on the recommendation of PODDYmouth, and it was good. I could see why it hadn't been picked up for publication, but he's a writer I'll keep my eye on. His blog is on my blogroll and I read him oftenTheKnownUniverse

If you query and say.."yea, I learned a lot, I did a book with -fill in the blank POD press- and now I see why you've been so hard on them" then I will be less hostile. But, if you query and you think it's a serious publishing credential, no dice.

It's not serious because there is no review process. And I don't mean a review in the New York Times Book Review. I mean, these places will publish anything. You pay your money, you get a book. Regardless of quality. They'd publish every single book that went through the Snarkometer this week, and even the people who WROTE those pages mostly agreed with my comments about things that needed to be changed.

Agents aren't trying to keep you away from the gravy train of publishing, nor are publishers. There are a LOT of good small publishers that don't pay a lot, but publish really good work. Akashic Press, Softskull Press, UglyTown, Contemporary Press, HardCase Crime. They take unagented work, some of them, and from agents too. But they don't take crap. POD mills do. Crap is the rule not the exception at those places, and if you don't believe me, go read 100 novels on their list and come back and show me I'm wrong.

There are exceptions. Not many.

So, to answer you directly:
Saddened at the waste-no

So uninterested that you doodle a picture of Mr Clooney on the envelope instead of reading the submission? --don't even say his name in the same sentence as "uninterested"-so, no.

Impressed only if they note x (for your value of x) sales?- no, and $no. How many books your mom and Aunt Suzie bought aren't gonna make me love you.

Snarky at the impertinence of this inquiry?
Most people who don't know this are just clueless, not stupid. They'll learn. It's gonna be hard on them but they will. So, no to categorizing them as impertinent. Impertinent is writing BACK and telling me I'm a nitwit. For that however, there are revenge elves at the ready.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark:

What are your thoughts on Booklocker.com?

They offer POD publishing and boast a >90% rejection rate of manuscript submissions.

Authors retain all rights, and if another, better offer comes along (i.e. traditional "real" publisher), a simple email will terminate the contract with Booklocker.

Angela Hoy really seems to want to succeed. She's not a vanity press or a scam artist.

I would venture to guess that her taste is as subjective as the next person's.

And no, I'm not touting my book. It's got some great reviews on Amazon, but I'd like to rip the whole thing apart and start over.

Actually, I'd really rather concentrate on my novel, which is where my heart is, anyway.

Just wondering, since Booklocker never seems to come up when folks start discussing "non-traditional" publishing routes.

You rock, BTW. I went into some serious withdrawal while you were on vacation. Not sure what that says about me...

Anonymous said...

ARGH!! That should read,

Angela Hoy really seems to want AUTHORS to succeed.

Anonymous said...

On another thread, Miss Snark, you noted that some authors with a good platforms, i.e., they do a lot of workshops and the like can sell more books on their own when they make these appearances than with a traditional publisher.

Kevin Trudeau's self-published snake oil book about alternative medicine is second only to the Half Blood Prince in sales over the past few weeks. No. 1 on the Times list. Three million copies sold. Of course, Trudeau is an established infomercial charlatan who decided to write a book primarily because the FTC barred him from selling via infomercials. But books have 1st Ammendment protection.

On a more humble scale, self-published books can fill a special interest niche. There is an iuniverse book that is a two volume history about the region in Russia from which my family emigrated. This is a serious work of scholarship, a labor of love, for which I gladly forked over my rubles.

In a slightly different area, my child's music teacher who is also a serious composer (receives grants, people pay to see his stuff, etc.), self-published the cds he sells online and at performances. The market for serious composition being even more limited than that for poetry.

Otherwise, Miss Snark, you're right on the money and you didn't even mention Publish America, which masquerades as a traditional publisher.

Miss Snark said...

Your composer friend might consider American Composers Forum in St. Paul (innova.mu) for his music if he’s getting tired of doing it all himself. They are what I think the model for small run publishing is going to be soon: they charge you a fee, recoup the costs of production and after that, all the income is yours. They have major distribution, and standing library orders. They’re supported by the McKnight Foundation. I’ve worked with them on several projects.

And you’re right about the niche publishing of course. For small labors of love, POD is the technology to use. I think there are better companies than the ones mentioned in the original post in terms of design, layout, better business practices.

When you published your book with POD though, you weren’t thinking of getting it into Barnes and Noble and onto the Times bestseller list because it was clear agents/editors/everyone was just missing how fabulous you were. You understood the market and published accordingly. That’s smart.

Anonymous said...

To be perfectly honest, when I made the decision to write/self-publish my book, I knew absolutely nothing about agents. I did my research on self-publishing via POD and decided that I liked the idea of retaining my rights. I knew I could market the book myself, especially via the Internet. And I already had an audience because of an Ezine I had started publishing prior to the release of the book (a small audience, but an audience nonetheless).

When an agent approached me after having read my POD, asking if I was interested in representation, I was flabbergasted. I was also naive, starry-eyed, and completely without the knowledge I needed prior to signing with an agent.

Yes, the agent was legimate. No, the agent never sold my book. Yes, it's all over now.

A painful experience, to be sure.

But I'm a changed woman. I know exactly what to look for in an agent, and I know how to research. It's been a long road, to say the least.

Miss Snark said...

When things happen that exceed your expectations, it's great fun. The problem with most of the well known ScamPOD houses is that they set unrealistic expectations for people. The subliminal message is "you can be successful with us". From a sales standpoint, it's brilliant. I don't notice any of those houses going chapter 11. For the authors it's a different story. I've never heard anyone say they'd go with those houses a second time. They might use POD, but never with the ScumSuckers. I think their business model is predicated on everyone beliveing they have ONE book in them...no need to strive for returning clients.

Anonymous said...

The composer in question uses lulu.com.

Anonymous said...

I agree, and it's the "you can be successful with us" that woos the wanna-be authors.

If a writer fully understands that ALL marketing for the book will fall upon his shoulders, then a reputable POD company is a good move. If anything, it takes the burden of owning the ISBN number off of the writer (I did not want those order fulfillments coming to me, I assure you).

W. S. Cross said...

Those are interesting small presses, though UglyTown publishes only crime, Akashic is not accepting anything new, and Hard Case Crime is pretty self-explanatory. That leaves Contemporary Press. Slim pickings if one is looking to publish something that's neither crime nor "edgy" like Soft Skull is seeking.

I'm not disputing what you say about POD publishing, just that the chasm between commercial presses and everything else seems to be widening.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people think they're going to be the next Blair Witch Project or its equivalent (only in a book, not on a moive) and be discovered and make a lot of cash. The thing they don't realise is, Blair Witch Project was low-budget and, no matter your opinion, unique and reasonably well put together.

There is no equivalent in writing because you don't require a lot of money invested in each word to write a great novel. So it's easier to sell a great novel made by a starving student than a great movie directed by a starving student.

I know, I know, no one else has made the comparison, but I've heard people say POD might work because Blair Witch Project and other indie films (is that the right term?) worked.

Wow, what I wrote is so unfocused it probably doesn't even explain what I mean. Damn tiredness.