Subsidy presses are not always scammers

Miss Snark;
Not sure how I happen to get on these lists, other than the fact that I’ve mentioned on different weblists (there ya go) that I’m a (wannabe) writer. It amazes me that people will send me countless offers to publish my manuscript without even having had a query from me, or even a sample of my writing. I’m not even close to finishing anything, as I mostly do this for fun and when I have the time (what’s that…?). Anyway, just thought you’d want to take a look (because you have so much time of your own). I didn’t see Dorrance on the top 20 worsts, but thought it would be worth a warning or notice. If not, chuck it with the rest of your junk mail and keep on snarking.
Hugs to KY.

This isn't an offer to publish your manuscript, it's an offer to print it.
Dorrance isn't a scam house; they're a vanity press. They'll tell you up front they aren't going to do anything but print your books and a very limited amount of pr.

And truthfully, there's nothing wrong with that. If you want a nice book, go for it. If you want to sell it in stores, have it stocked in libraries or reach readers other than people on your Christmas card list, this isn't the best choice. And they'll tell you that, in fact they do. They're VERY clear about it-and that's the best indication of a non-scammer I can think of.

These guys have been in business since 1920. They're not flim flam artists or scammers. They aren't publishers either, not that the two are always mutually exclusive.

You've got it exactly right when you notice they suck up your email address from writing list serves and websites and message boards. You're exactly the kind of person they want to meet. You've got a manuscript, they've got a printing press.

Scammers over promise and never deliver.
Legitimate subsidy publishers like these guys, don't promise you a trip to the moon then hand you a pogo stick.


Linda Adams said...

Subsidy presses do have their place. If you're on the speaker circuit and have a niche audience, getting a vanity press book to sell at the sessions can be very helpful. Vanity press would also be well suited for family history books.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Subsidy and vanity presses are great for niche publishing. In my secret non-pixie life in the sometimes-musty stacks of research libraries, I run across editions of long out of print books and pamphlets given new life by a caring historian or other interested person. There is usually a limited academic interest in these things. Usually commercial publishers won't republish obscure historical pamphlets and books.

Oh, yes, there are exceptions. During the King Tut craze Smyth's Great Pyramid book, and J. A. Seiss's really strange book on the prophetic significance of the great pyramid both saw republication. Harper published Seiss's book. It was public domain, cheap to republish and rode a craze. But mostly things like that don't make it back into print except through the efforts of POD and vanity publishers.

Also new material of limited interest finds a home there. My non-pixie self has any number of privately printed pamphlets dealing with odd bits of religious history. Do you care that L. T. Cunningham (don't even know who he is, do you?) supported William C. Thurman's views on chronology way back in the 1860's? Well, don't get all huffy! I didn't think you did. But I do. And except for a few journal articles, the little pamphlets on it are privately printed because there are only so many people and pixies out there who care.

One of my acquaintances republishes weird stuff. He uses Lulu. He makes almost no money from it, but he has the satisfaction of having made a difficult to find book or pamphlet available to researchers. I've thought of doing this myself. I've taken a break from Pixie stories and am well into what was supposed to be a journal article on a now obscure 19th Century religious figure. It's turned into much more than an article, and presents material not previously uncovered. (I'm a much better researcher than I am a writer. I admit it.) So, now that this is way too long for an academic journal and too short for a book, what will I do? If I want to put this out to the small community that will be interested I have two alternatives: I can publish it on the World Wide Web (There are several online "journals" that publish similar material and don't care about length) or I can self-publish. I will probably do both.

For this sort of thing vanity and POD publishing is ideal. You pay your money. Your material gets published. Those who want it can have it. The rest of the world won't know it exists.

Ryan Field said...

There are certain differences between self-publishers and subsidy presses that should be researched before making a decision. All this can be googled very easily.

LJCohen said...

Several of the poetry organizations I belong to use lulu as a press to self publish poetry.

Given that poetry is such a niche and limited market, it's just an extension of the labor-of-love concept that most internet poetry zines and boards are anyway.

I don't list these kind of collections as publication credits when I query for my novels, though I'm in several anthologies that have editorial oversight. But my sense is that even niche POD/independently pubbed work is still seen as the ugly stepsister of publication.

I've also used Lulu to print a few private copies of material for family members as gifts. Looks a lot nicer than photocopied and stapled pages. I don't consider *that* a publication of any kind. More like an arts and crafts project. :)

David Isaak said...

Lulu is wonderful for certain kinds of things. We wouldn't have "Atlanta Nights" available to such a wide audience otherwise. (I view it as an important historical document, and a sort of writers' workshop rolled into one.)

I know some people who have done quite well with self-publishing--but only in narrow nonfiction areas, where a very specific audience exists. Beach Volleyball. Obscure bits of Cold-War history. Pet Care for obscure pets. In these cases, readers will tend to seek out the book, and the author may do better financially than if they were published by a house.

But, sadly, none of that applies to fiction. Well, except "Atlanta Nights".

Brady Westwater said...

In my collection of Los Angeles, California and Western history - I have over a hundred books published by Dorrance and many other legit subsidy publishers. They are uniformly well produced, well edited and cover niche areas of history that would otherwise never be published

ysa said...


sha'el! I know who L.T. Cunningham is! And I care! Alas for my academic career, because I once wrote a paper Thurman and though I was being all uber-geek impressive by citing ole L.T.! The problem was, I had found the title in a library in Amman, Jordan and a few years later, I was writing the paper in Texas. They emailed me a scan of the relevent pages, along with the book info for the bibliography.

Imagine my chagrin when I got dinged by my prof for that reference! Apparently referencing a really obscure work that's not readily available to the general public (hence, making the reference irrelevent because no-one can find it) is just not done.

In an effort to return to on-topic-land (Hi Miss Snark and KY! Filet mignon anyone?) I have used this lesson in my fledgling novel writing career. No matter how good an idea is, if it is too obscure or too unreachable to the general audience, no agent in her right mind is going to use it. Unless, of course, she has a wobbly table that needs something stuffed under the leg and your ms just happens to fit perfectly.

But that's not exactly a pub credit.

(Note to Miss Snark and Co: sorry if you got this twice! I am not sure if it went the first time.)

jmnlman said...

ysa, Obscure material not done? You're professor wood hate my professors.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, my! Someone who actually knows who William C. Thurman was!! How exciting! Donald Durnbaugh, a Brethren historian and all around good guy and nice man, presented a paper on Thurman that was printed in Brethren Life and Thought, an academic journal. As I recall it was in a Fall/Winter 2000 double issue. (I'm too lazy to go get it off the shelf and check, sorry.) It's very well done and the best research on Thurman I've seen.

Say ... do you remember the L. T. Cunningham source you got dinged for? I gotta say I don't ding people for obscure references. Original research often depends on the obscure. Those things that add to the sum of historical knowledge often start out as obscure. Take for instance a W.J.M. whose articles appear in various Advent, Universalist, Lutheran and other 19th Century periodicals. No one knows who this really is, except I think I do now, based on a really obscure reference. Obscure is good.

I ding people for suggesting guesses as fact! (If that rude guy with a beard that thought Christ would come in 1873, 1874, or maybe 1881 or 1896 really was a prospector in Australia, prove it! And I'm tellin' ya right now, I know who first said that and on what basis. You won't be able to prove it! Ya hear?… That's pixie-goatherd-cowgirl talk and probably not usual in academic circles, but it works.) Suggesting surmises as fact irritates the devil out of this small pixie. I grow hunt teeth and bite for that; it draws blood. I also scowl, and my scowl turns the blood of researchers into ice water. Hey, I'm really nice otherwise. I'm allowed to bite for this one thing!

If something is really obscure, I usually tell where it's found. There are some pamphlets and periodicals that are very rare, sometime so rare they exist in only one known copy. (Ever try and trace down the references in Peters' Theocratic Kingdom? I'd love to locate some of that stuff. It just doesn't exist.) I always check at worldcat.org for locations. If I think access will be an issue I give the location in a footnote, phrasing it something like:

"Dingle, Jones E: I Wrote This in a Snit and Published it to Tweak Your Nose, John Whiston and Sons, London, 1723, page 9. The copy I consulted is in the Jenks Memorial Collection."

See? That works. And it stops the nice "pretty please" emails asking where I found the thing, and it stops the will I please make a photocopy for them emails. It also addresses in advance any issues that might arise during peer review.

And, to get back on topic, POD and Lulu are nice for all the things listed so far.

Oh and to to Bradley! I like cowboys too! But my collection of Western History is quite small. Do you know who Loduska Mulkins Kimball was? And about the Vallicetos stage station? And about the Cyrus Batey Kimball's (aka kimble) murder? We're talking family here! Loduska was my umm oh heck great great great or something like that gramma.

I think I'm giving away too many pixie secrets with this post. You'll never hunt me down! We pixies know how to become invisible!

Dave Kuzminski said...

I have to disagree about subsidy publishers. Essentially, they're vanity publishers who claim they're putting forth some of the money to publish an author's work. In reality, the cost to print the book and do what they claim to do is significantly less than the reduced amount the author pays. So, in effect, they're lying about how much they invest so that the author pays less.

If you want a good looking book for family use or a very limited distribution, I recommend checking with local printers first. Ask if they can print and bind books. Get a price quote and look at one or more samples of their work. Odds are the samples will be just as good and the price will be less. If that means you have to get your own cover produced, then check out local artists. There's bound to be one whose style you like and is willing to do the job for a fee that, totaled to the printing cost, will still come in less than a subsidy publisher's price. Or you can go with something like Lulu or Kinko's if you need very few copies.

Twill said...

Dave -

I think you are confused by getting the wrong direction on the subsidy. The writer is subsidizing the publication. The publisher is not subsidizing the writer.

Marion Gropen said...

I wouldn't ask a local print shop to print your book. You'll get better results for less money by sending it to someone like Fidlar-Doubleday or Lightning Source.

In fact, most subsidy presses actually print their books at LSI. You, an individual, can use a POD printer, too. Just get the file formatted properly (and I understand that can be done by an amateur), and shove it off to the printer.

NB: subsidy presses like to call themselves POD publishers. This is NOT the same as a POD printer.

And, if you are considering self-publishing, you should definitely do some research FIRST. Publishing is very complicated, no matter how easy it looks from the outside.

I spend most of my professional life untangling messes for small and independent presses (not usually self-publishers) who have problems that they didn't see coming. And many of them have been in the business for years before starting their own company.

With so many hidden mistakes to make, you don't want to make mistakes that you can avoid easily.