2.18.2006

Avoiding the Dark Side

Dear Miss Snark, I was wondering if perhaps you would know the answer to my question. I'm looking to apply for a assistant position with a small publisher. My question is, how do I know if they're really a vanity press?

I'm not an author, so I'm not submitting anything so I won't find out if they charge fees. Their website (and 2 sister imprints) looks on the up-and-up. Ethically it would bother me if I went to work for a vanity press, but is there any way to find that out before hand?


The best way to do that is pretend you ARE an author. Look at the website. Read the submission guidelines.

Is there a lot of talk about what they DON'T take? Good sign.

Is there a lot of talk about how competitive submissions are? Good sign.

Is there mention of the fact that they don't take over the transom or unagented submissions? Good sign.

Are there specific but standard QUERY guidelines? No publisher who is legitimate as far as I know, will take full manuscripts on the first go round.

Does the website try to sell the prospective author on the publisher? Most small publishers would rather have LESS than more in their query stack so the tone of the guidelines tends less toward the Amway pitch and more toward the Snark view of the world.

Look for the books in the bookstore, and at the library. Bookstores and libraries don't as a rule carry books published by vanity presses.

Do a google search. If it's a vanity press you'll be able to tell because there won't be any independent reviews. If you need to tune your eye for this, do a google search on some very good and legitimate smaller houses:

Ig Publishing

MacAdam/Cage

Akashic Books

SoftSkull Press

Bleak House

Stonebridge.

You will fast see that despite being small, they have nimble pr folks who get the word out about books, have a pretty clear publishing identity and their books are for sale in stores, and have distribution.

56 comments:

litagent said...

Actually, there are some small presses (and, believe it or not, editors at larger houses) who ONLY want to see full mss., no partials, no synopses, no outlines. Melville House Books comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

litigent said, "Actually, there are some small presses (and, believe it or not, editors at larger houses) who ONLY want to see full mss., no partials, no synopses, no outlines...."

It makes me think they're suspicious the author hasn't completed the MS, so will only read the first chapter or three before making a decision, but want to be confident if they still like it at that point, there is more to read. Maybe these editors and presses have gotten burnt by committing to publishing something that wasn't fully baked.

Gina Holmes said...

Cool blog, glad I happened upon it.

Anonymous said...

If your seeking a job at Publish America in Maryland....run, just run for the hills.

Harry Connolly said...

Google on the name of the publisher plus the word "scam." See how many people claim to have been scammed by them, how reputable those claims are and what response they earned.

Anonymous said...

I just checked out authorhouse.com and the books they highlight on their site are, to be polite, pieces of jet-refuse. Really, it's sad. I suppose they are answering a need for some people to "feel" published. One look at their stuff, and you'll know.

Anders said...

Baen, a very successful science fiction publisher, only takes the full MS upfront.

Anonymous said...

...tends less toward the Amway pitch and more toward the Snark view of the world.

My God, there's a scene I'd love to see: an Amway person pitching Ms. Snark. (Under false pretenses, of course.) The only question is, would the stiletto heels seek instant death, or prefer a slow, agonizing one?

BuffySquirrel said...

A friend of mine suggests this as a litmus test: look at the home page of the publishers' website. Is it aimed at readers, or at writers? Readers good, writers bad...

Dhewco said...

Mundania..a small press...accepts only full ms.

Anonymous said...

"No publisher who is legitimate as far as I know, will take full manuscripts on the first go round..."

Two publishers have asked to see the full ms on the strength of my query letter... one is a small but reputable niche publisher and the other is [was - they sold the imprint] Kensington.

PressPress said...

There's all sorts of publishers. We're the smallest publisher in the known universe and only publish poetry so people seem to think we MUST be a vanity press. Stuff is rejected everyday and people get really miffed. They don't read the guidelines on the site, they send general 'dear editor' submissions and are difficult and wonder why we don't want anything to do with them. They can't believe that we won't take their money. Even so we wouldn't seem like a press using the lovely Miss Snark's criteria.

Kate R said...

completely, as in 110 percent, off topic.

I can now understand your tendre for Clooney. I'm considering developing one after watching this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fc6XRaDVi1k

Anonymous said...

Thank you Miss Snark! (I asked the question).

I did as you suggested, and they seem to check out. I'll be applying.

Thank you for your time!

Mark said...

Well I just sent a partial to a large NY agency from an over the transom query, so that seems to be a personal thing. The partial went by mail which is an unnecessay expense in my view but that was their rule so I followed it. Vanity presses are obvious in a myriad of ways.

Mark said...

In addition legitimate small presses aren't print on demand only. Many try to make the opposite claim. At its essence this means no books are in print and stocked in stores. That's a big give away. I could name a few but the authors would come here and pile on so I won't.

Alex said...

Try www.clmp.org -- Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

Debra Kemp said...

DOD isn't necessarily a bad thing in publishing. My publisher is a small press utilizing POD techology for the print copies of its titles as well as electronic formatting. They chose not to play the crippling and bankrupting game of distributors like Ingrams.

The way it was explained to me is this happens: One day, Ingrams will order 100 copies of each book (considering Amber Quill Press has nearly 300 paperback titles, the cost outlay would run in the thousands of dollars to have 100x300 books printed and shipped). The next month, Ingrams will return 95% of those titles, all damaged and "unsellable." Naturally the publisher must bear the cost of the lost inventory with the added salt of having to pay the return shipping costs! Then, the following month, Ingrams will come back and request an additional 100 copies of each book, and of course, the following month 95% are returned again. Plus the royalties from the books Ingrams actually sells are often held up for a full year! It's an insane system. And in this day and age of print on demand technology, I don't see why the practice is allowed to continue.

I suspect many small presses feel the same way about the system. Which is a more plausible reason for books not to be in mortar and stone stores than the blanket assumption they might not be legit.

Anonymous said...

Concerning MacAdam/Cage, don't forget the incident where the bratty intern bragged in his blog (I understand he's since removed that entry and replaced it with a hottub photo of someone) about taking home a manuscript to KEEP because he thought it was funny (ie, Rabbitania) and wanted to show it to his friends.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Well, I don't write what MacAdam-Cage publish, but I'd think twice before submitting to them. Who wants to deal with a low level twit? And what about the twits that kept him on?

I admit I don't know what happened in the executive office at MacAdam-Cage, but that he continues to work for them would move them to the bottom of the list of choices.

Don't you wonder if he's the cousin, nephew, black-sheep family member or half near relation to the wife's half uncle? How else ... ?

Anonymous said...

I went to each site in Miss Snark's list and read through the book titles. MacAdam/Cage listed The Time Traveler's Wife which has not only done really well, but it's one of the books I've given as a gift.

Mark said...

If the POD is used the game that is being played is low to no sales. There's no instance of this not being the case.

Anonymous said...

Personally I think the POD model is perfect for research, universities, specialty book, and perhaps books that are out of print and can't be readily obtained (especially if they've been scanned and digitized). But I agree with Mark regarding low or no sales, especially for fiction. I think the marketing aspect is something that should be a serious factor in seeking a publisher.

Lisa Hunter said...

On the topic of interns and slush piles: it's all true. When I was a college freshman, I talked my way into an internship reading slush-pile scripts for a major Broadway theater. I was 17 (though, in fairness, the artistic director assumed I was a senior). I took the job seriously, and even helped one script get a workshop production, but I don't think I was what the aspiring playwrights had in mind when they sent in scripts that had taken them a year or more to write. It made me never, ever, ever want to be in the slush pile.

Anonymous said...

MacAdam/Cage is now at the point where they have enough clout to count as something other than a "Small Press." Here's hoping they don't get gobbled up.

It isn't only small presses that want full mss.; some imprints of large houses have the same policy. DAW books, which has been around forever but is now a subsidiary of Penguin-Putnam, only takes full mss.: no query letters, no partials, just a cover letter and full manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there can be legitimate reasons for choosing a print-on-demand publisher (i.e., AuthorHouse). I chose to use this publication method, but went into it with my eyes open, knowing that all they would do is print the thing.

My reasons were:
1) I wanted the book to be affordable for the average independent researcher. If I had self-published, or published with a major house, a 400+ page scholarly index would cost the end buyer $40-$50. With print on demand, it only costs $21.00 for the paperback, and $6 for the ebook.

2) I wanted it published soon, without the lengthy wait to get on the list of a major publisher.

3) I wanted total control of the manuscript, which I had with POD.

Because I have marketed the book in its appropriate marketplace, i.e., to libraries, genealogists, and academics, sales have been quite good and the book is established as the authority in the field (it's the only book that does what it does).

Like I said, you have to go into it with your eyes open.

Mark said...

The reasons are the book won't sell. For certain specialized nonfiction, class notes, marketing-business materials, poetry and so forth. I don't include family histories since they can be popular in some cases depending on the scope of the family and events involved with. The price scheme you cite seems opposite from what I've seen. They charge by the page, so the $30 trade paperback is common for 300 plus pages. $21 is more common for far fewer.

Even more troubling is the material will be discredited because it comes from a vanity press. Editor & Publisher just had a piece on this. An academic press is much better.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

We've drifted off topic a bit, but that's ok with me. I can't speak for dear Snarkie, but I'm interested in vanity presses and POD publishing. I'd never self-publish my novel(s). I want to sell my books to a reputable publisher.

But, I have one of the world's best privately owned pre-millennial pamphlet collections. There is a limited demand for this material among researchers. The pamphlets are often very expensive as originals. I would love to see an affordable republication in book form of some of the key pamphlets. For this, I am considering self-publishing. I'm sure there isn't enough demand to make republishing attractive to a mainstream scholarly press. Even if there were, the cost to researchers would be horrific. (Price the reprint series of Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley. About 2000 UK pounds or 3100 US dollars for the set.)

My trouble has been finding someone who puts out a product I would be proud of and that would still be affordable.

This is a labour of scholarly love. The demand would be small. So, it's only a dream, but it's a dream I keep pursuing.

Mark said...

I'd say Lulu them.

Pepper Espinoza said...

If you do want to go the self-publishing route, do REAL self-publishing. Don't go to Author House or IUniverse or Xlibris...if they're not outright scams, they're pretty damned close.

Lulu is a good choice for some. I've used it to print some poetry, and the price was very good while the product was high quality.

But you could also research and go down to the local printers. You'd be in complete control in every way, you wouldn't have to shell out money to a third party, and you'd be assured of the quality.

Bleak House Books said...

We just wanted to thank the venerable Miss Snark for including us on her list of reputable small presses (and in such good company!). We work very hard to put out quality fiction, and we love what we do.

And she's right on (at least as far as we're concerned) when it comes to queries vs. full mss. Less is more, for us. We'll ask you for more if we're interested, but we won't be interested if your package contains more than a letter.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Snarkie is venerable? Doesn't that make her really old or something?

Snarkie is ageless, isn't she?

For shame!

Certain Sinclair said...

To be a true Snarkling you must sign your name to all snarky comments. Otherwise it's called sniping and that's just low class.

7/18/2005

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Ok, so I picked on Bleak House in the previous post. Now I feel guilty. You notice they're the only ones to thank Miss Snark? I noticed.

So, calling Snarkie "Venerable" aside, I say, "Good boy!" or "Good girl!" as the case may be.

If I wrote mysteries, I'd submit to them with confidence that I was dealing with someone almost as civilized as Pixies.

It's nice to be impressed.

Bernita said...

Perhaps they're the only one who happen to be blogging their name; perhaps the others have thanked her privately...yanno (TM).

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark and AgentC:

Where art thou?

Sandra Ruttan said...

"Are there specific but standard QUERY guidelines? No publisher who is legitimate as far as I know, will take full manuscripts on the first go round."

NeWest Press in Canada takes full manuscripts right off, no queries, as does Ravenstone.

And actually I believe Dundurn is the same on that, so that is actually extremely common up here with the smaller independents.

Also, Mundania in the US. And they're even recommended by P&E, so they've either paid the P&E suck-up fee, or they're legit.

But I don't think you can use asking for the whole ms straight off as a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Anonymous said...

"Dear Miss Snark and AgentC:
Where art thou?"

I suspect they're doing the stuff that pays the bills... or giving the obsessive-compulsive Snarklings a break to dry out and actually do some REAL writing... heh, heh...

C.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing about our snarkettes. I just happen to return and the place is deserted. Go figure!

Dave Kuzminski said...

"P&E suck-up fee"?

Preditors & Editors accepts no paid advertising. It accepts no subsidies or other funding from any public, private, or government institution. In other words, there is no way to buy a favorable recommendation from P&E other than earning it through quality products and fair dealings with writers and the buying public.

Anonymous said...

Preditors & Editors accepts no paid advertising.

Is this what you've done to Miss Snark?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Excellent! My baiting went so far as to double-validate my point that there ARE legitimate publishers that take the whole manuscript upfront.

Debra Kemp said...

Mundania is legit!

Bernita said...

Anon "C"
Why, then, are you here?

Daphne Major said...

Arrrgh. Even Elektra's Crap-o-meter is dead....Now I have no excuse not to keep editing my WIP.

Stop by Wordsicle.blogspot.com if you're interested in an online writer's circle...

Dave Kuzminski said...

I'm not certain I understand what you mean by what we've "done to Miss Snark." I believe P&E has her listed in the Related section since blogs still aren't a category yet in P&E.

Anonymous said...

In reference to the mention of The Time Travelers Wife being a great book & gift - Blah, I could not get through the first 20 pages, bummer. A real bummer & let down.

Anon

Anonymous said...

A different anonymous said: "In reference to the mention of The Time Travelers Wife being a great book & gift - Blah, I could not get through the first 20 pages, bummer. A real bummer & let down."

I admit to it being slow to get into, but I found the characters so real and the story so gripping that once I got past that slow beginning I hated putting the book down. I'm sorry you couldn't get past it. It's one of my favorite books.

Cheryl Mills said...

I highly recommend forcing yourself past the beginning of TTTW. It's a delightful novel.

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymous here....well hmmm. How far into it did you read to get hooked? I tried, really I did. Everything was so perfect - read good reviews, nice cover etc....then blah. Maybe I'll have to go try it again, but darn I think I sold it on Ebay for peanuts...

Anon

Anonymous said...

"Anon "C"
Why, then, are you here?"

Bernita, I'd like to assume that your question is rhetorical, but I'll respond anyway:
"My name is C and I'm an obsessive-compulsive Snarkling..."

C.

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymous said: "How far into it did you read to get hooked? I tried, really I did. Everything was so perfect - read good reviews, nice cover etc....then blah. Maybe I'll have to go try it again, but darn I think I sold it on Ebay for peanuts..."

It's been a while for me, but I believe I had to get past the first fifty pages or so. What kept me reading was I loved how the characters were drawn. Despite the plot being logically unbelievable, I wanted to believe it. So I was willing to suspend my skepticism. Glad I did, and glad I stuck with it.

Shadow said...

Dave K.: Chill, dude. I read the line "P&E suck up fee" as totally tongue in cheek. P&E, along with Ann and Victoria (A&V?) are clearly the anti-scammer go-to parties; the white hats protecting us from the powers of evil; and wicked fun to read, to boot.

Lady M said...

As to the book The Time Traveller's Wife...

It's one of those "LITERARY BOOKS" with a semi-quasi sci-fi/Fantasy bent to it.

A love story, sad, good.

It is written in a very dry, slow style. Hemmingway comes to mind when I read it. Very subtle, very insidious, very methodical...

But a good read, after it is done.

You do kind of have to plow through it and force yourself to read it. But once done, you'll not regret reading it.

Lady M

Lady M said...

I know that this might sound strange but the one thing I did notice about BLEAKHOUSE BOOKS is that they have only published male authors.

I wonder if there is a reason for this? Or they just haven't gotten any good writers that happen to be female?

Dave Kuzminski said...

Shadow, I read it as tongue in cheek, too, but it still had to be addressed lest some scam start quoting it and this site as an unrefuted source. My question on the other statement was that I truly didn't get the context in which it was meant.