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  • Writer's pictureMichael Mills

The rise of vanity publishers

I have been lucky to work with Michael Gallagher, author of "two great Neo-Victorian series" Gooseberry and The Involuntary Medium. In this and the next series of posts we are going to be addressing some of the major issues new authors may come across. From your work in progress to manuscript and to finally to publishing. We hope you find them useful and if you will like us to address a particular topic, please feel free to contact me via any of my social media links above and below or, via the form provided.


Note: The original blogs posts was the brainchild of Michael Gallagher and originally went out on his website in May 2019.


Once upon a time, before the advent of ebooks, there lived a much despised, poor relation to the beloved publisher, and its name was the Vanity Press. Or so many writers believed. But here’s the thing. Unbeknownst to said writers, it provided a valuable service to those who simply wanted to write a book, hold it in their hands, and maybe give it away to their extended families to read—their memoirs, as likely as not, to be recorded for posterity before they died. Given how easy it is to self-publish these days, I would have thought such services a thing of the past. Apparently not, as I discovered when Michael Mills, one of my writing friends on Twitter, contacted me to ask my opinion of an advertisement he’d seen. I’m really delighted that he agreed to discuss the matter with me.


Michael Gallagher: Hi Michael! Care to tell us about yourself? What made you want to write? What are you working on currently?


Michael Mills: Hi Michael! First I would like to say that it is always strange to be talking to another Michael. It makes me feel like I am finally losing the proverbial plot. I digress. I am very new to the world of writing and I am still very much trying to find my footing. I have always enjoyed storytelling and in the past I entertained the idea of getting into game design. This soon developed into an itch to expand of some of the stories I was trying to write for some of my video game ideas.


I think I have always wanted to write because at a very early age I remember my mum always being enthralled in one novel or another and although I wasn’t much of a reader growing up I had always admired her for that. She had a big collection from Stephen King to Barbara Taylor Bradford and many more. However, I think the story telling embers were stocked and fanned aflame by my late grandfather who always has a tale for me. Tall or otherwise.


We would gather around him almost every day and believe it or not he would somehow have a different story. Aside from that, the courage to make the leap came from my lovely wife who has always encouraged me to write. Thankfully I am never short of ideas—good or bad—and I settled on Inheritance: The Sins of a Father (book 1). I am currently working on book 2 and hope to have it completed very soon.


Michael Gallagher: You saw an ad for a vanity publisher, I believe. What made you answer it?


Michael Mills: About halfway through my first book I realised that I really had no idea how to get it published and a little panic set in. I started to google publishers and after seeing that most of the publishers weren’t interested in new authors or weren’t taking any submissions in general, I started to look a little deeper. Somewhere along the line I must have signed up to what I thought were publishers in the traditional sense. At the time I really couldn’t tell the difference. This was when I started getting contacted.


So, what made me answer? I got an email asking if I was still interested in publishing my book. Of course I was and I was rather excited too. I couldn’t believe it. They wanted to arrange a time to speak with me in order to discuss how to proceed.


During the call they immediately told me how much they liked the story and how they would like to get it published and made available all over the world. They made it clear that they were a very big publishing company with offices all over. You can imagine my excitement by this point. I didn’t even think to ask what they liked about the book. After completely buttering me up and prepping me ready for the sale, the inevitable price rudely interrupted my daydreaming and brought me crashing to earth confused and bewildered. “Is this how it’s done?” I thought to myself. They mentioned a figure, 800 of the Queen’s finest (GBP) but, I am in luck, they can do it for a special one-time fee of £500.00. In cases like this I always listen to my wife’s advice and she would have told me to ask for more information to review and get back to them. So, I did just that.


Michael Gallagher: Let’s look at the basic package from one such publisher. For US$899 (quite probably the equivalent of your GBP£800), you get a choice of 8 book cover templates to use, plus 5 interior templates, and you can supply images for the cover as well as an author photo. Your book will be made available to the public in paperback and as an ebook; you’ll get an ebook galley (copy) to proof, and up to 25 corrections can be made if necessary. Your book will be given an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which will be registered with the Books In Print® database. It will be available for purchase worldwide through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and you’ll be able to check book sales and accounting online. Any royalty payments will be made quarterly. You will receive 6 paperback copies, plus 50 promotional business cards, bookmarks, and postcards, in addition to 5 promotional posters.


The thing is, apart from the 6 paperback copies (which, as the author, might set you back about $35) and all the printed bumph, if you know your way around Word, you can do everything else yourself for FREE. And there’s plenty of online help available to get you started.


Michael Mills: Yes, I was lucky enough to have opened a dialogue with the author Eric A Asher who was kind enough to point me in the right direction in regards to self-publishing. Before that the idea seemed like a daunting one and I honestly didn’t think it was something that could be so easily done. I was contacted again by another company flogging the same dead horse and that was when I contacted your good self for more advice. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something.


Michael Gallagher: Something you won’t be missing is a substantial chunk out of your bank balance! I would point out that was just their basic package. They “offer” so much more. Whilst browsing through their website I came across a “Cover Copy Polish”—to make sure the text on your cover (yes! just your cover) appeals to readers—for a whopping GBP£249.00!

I think one of the most daunting things about self-publishing for the first time is that you have only the faintest grasp of the process. Over the next few months, I’m going to try to demystify that. I’ll be looking at how you can do many of the things that vanity publishers do—but on your own…and for free.

Michael Mills, thank you for sharing your experiences this month, and I really hope you will join me in June when I’ll reveal some easy ways to improve a manuscript, whether one’s going the self-publishing route or the traditional one.


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Michael Gallagher

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