The Spice Must Flow (To You)

Hi {name}!

I see your an independent producer of {music/podcasts/stories}. I spotted you’re totally rad tweets and thot I’d reach out too u and offer my ass instance. I’m a {promotor/publisher} who specializes in helping suckers like you sell your shit to gullible people. For just $100 I’ll print ten copies fo your book so you can sell them at ur local sticks, yarn, and hot glue craft fair. You DT make money?

-Dude with sketchy address in Croatia, or India, or New York City

I know it isn’t Thursday, but I’m going to take this week’s Finance Friday to throw some simple truths at you:

  1. The world is full of scammers who are lined up to take your money and give you a jar of air in return, if you supply the jar.
  2. “Money should flow toward the author.”

“Money should flow toward the author” is a phrase coined by James D. Macdonald (official site) to describe in the simplest of terms how the publishing business should work. Unfortunately, new authors who are eager to get published forget that rule and fall for any number of scams.

I first saw one of these scams when I was about 19 years old. My dreams of being an author hadn’t yet coalesced into actionable plans, but I knew that I liked talking literature with just about anyone. One day, the cook at the camp where I worked pulled me aside and proudly showed me the hardcover book from the publisher which had published one of her poems. I don’t recall the poem, except that it was a perfectly fine bit of writing, but I do remember where the poem was printed: Right there on the first page of the collection. And I recall another detail: She had to pay to get a copy of the book.

And thus I had my first exposure to on-demand printing and vanity publishing.

I just had to retype this paragraph several times, because the simple fact is that these bastards who convince people that they have been “selected for publishing” and “chosen as the first poem!” when in fact their poem has just been cycled to the beginning of the file before their copy was printed are dancing the fine line between consensual vanity publishing and running a scam. I didn’t tell the cook any of this, because she was so happy to see her poem in print that I didn’t want to upset her, but frankly that book made me angry.

If you know that you are self publishing or using a vanity press to stroke you own ego, go right ahead and pay for printing. I’ve got several copies of every book that I’ve written on the shelf in my junk guest room. It’s kind of cool to look over to that shelf and see the tangible product of my hours of effort over the keyboard. Certainly more rewarding than looking at the cluttered mess of the Writing folder on my computer.

But I know that I bought the first copy out of vanity. And because the craft of designing the cover and interior layout is as much a part of the creative process for me as writing the novel. And I sell them at conventions for 3x my printing cost, so even after paying for the table I at least break even on buying print copies of my books.

In the coming months I’ll post a lot about what you should spend money on if you are an independent author, because there are many valuable services you can buy to improve your work and save yourself time, but you must remember this: A kiss is still a kiss Money flows to the author!

Thanks to the ever-awesome Neil Gaiman for introducing me to Yog’s Law a few years ago.