Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Should We Shun Subsidy-Published Authors?

Last week I wrote about how the meaning of self-publisher has drifted to include authors whose books are published by subsidy publishers. Those are companies like Trafford, iUniverse / AuthorHouse, Outskirts Press, Bookstand Publishing, Infinity Publishing, and many, many others that charge authors a fee to publish their books. Most offer authors a choice of packages that include layout, cover design, editing, marketing, distribution, etc. The company provides the ISBN number, hence the company is the publisher. The author retains copyright to the work.I participate in several online discussion groups made up of authors, many of who—like me—have started their own businesses to publish their books. I've noticed that most of them are very critical of books published by subsidy publishers.

Specifically, they say:

  • Many of the books are badly written.

  • Editing is poor or nonexistent.

  • Layout is badly done.

  • Covers are amateurish.

  • No reputable reviewer will review them.

  • Bookstores won't carry them.

  • Librarians view them negatively.

Furthermore, they argue that subsidy publishing companies rip off authors by making false promises about how well their books will be promoted and how many copies they are likely to sell. The common belief is that these authors are so gullible and ill-informed that they unwittingly sign on with predatory companies and later regret their choices. True self-publishers—or independent publishers as some of us now call ourselves—don't want to be lumped into the same category as subsidy-published authors.

How true are these criticisms? And should we take care to distinguish between authors this way? As I've said before, I think setting up a hierarchy among ourselves is divisive. As authors whose publishers don't fit the traditional model, I think it is to our disadvantage to separate ourselves out into better and worse categories based on the publishing model we've chosen.

And I think it is insulting to authors who have chosen to use a subsidy publisher to assume they are all naïve, that their books are badly written, and/or that they regret their choice. Maybe some were deceived and have regrets, but others are happy with their choice. For example, Laurie Pooler Pelayo wrote the following comment on last week's post:
I think 'subsidy' publishing is simply an alternate way for people who wish to self-publish (in the traditional sense) but cannot afford to retain 500 copies in their basement, or to have to apply for a business license as a 'business' to get their book out. I could not afford to self-publish in the traditional sense, I did consider it at one point. I just didn’t have the overhead. So what I did was select I guess what is called a 'subsidy' publisher to print my book.… So if 'subsidy,' the dirty word on the street, is what my chosen path is, so be it. I am not offended. My POD/subsidy company (whatever one wants to call it) uses the term 'author originated work.' I think I like that term better." 

Personally, I think whatever way people want to publish is fine and the choice belongs to the author. It's interesting (and unfortunate) that with all the bias against authors who don't go with big traditional publishers, we denigrate the work of entire groups of these authors based on the business model of their publisher. That is prejudice and it's beneath us.

I'm not saying that all books are equal or that we shouldn't care about quality. I'm saying judge the book by the book, not by its publishing model. Let's give subsidy-published authors the equal opportunity we all want to have their work considered on a level playing field. Then let the marketplace decide.

What's your experience with subsidy publishing?: I've set up a short survey to find out how authors who have used subsidy publishers feel about their experience. How has it worked out for you? Are you satisfied? Dissatisfied? Would you do it again? Please click here to complete the survey to help tell the truth about subsidy publishing. I'll publish the results in a later blog. Thanks.


  1. But how do we judge books by the book, before purchasing the book? Excerpts?

  2. To add to my above comment on reason authors don't make much money in non-traditional methods:For me, I'm publishing my paper back of the first book with Dog Ear in a month, and my total cost per book will be $4.52 ($1.28 base + $0.02 per page). Selling price is $14.95 Retail, $8.99 through Amazon and several other distributors who I have worked out a special price agreement with.At minimum, I'll make $4.47 off each book as profit. Try that kind of "Royalty" with a traditional publisher! So I don't understand why I would to give up my rights to my work, and loose money just so my book can be printed by some big excuse for a company that could care less about me, and care all about themselves.So it may be true that most self-published authors don't make as much money as one who publish through a traditional press, but its not because of the cost of the book or you getting cheated in royalties, its a matter of # of books sold.