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Opinion: Paying For Author Services Does Not Equate To Vanity Publishing

Opinion: Paying for Author Services Does Not Equate to Vanity Publishing

photo of Boni Wagner-Stafford

In response to a continuing misapprehension in certain quarters that paying for author services means a self-published author is vanity published, Boni Wagner-Stafford  of Ingenium Books makes the case for effective deployment of paid services as essential for serious authorpreneurs and explains why it's not a black and white situation.

I participate in a number of indie author forums on Facebook. In some I’m a lurker, in others I will poke my digital head up once in awhile if I feel I have something to learn, or less often, to contribute. Recently someone posted a question (no, not on the ALLi page) ‘on behalf of a friend’ who had just been offered a ‘publishing contract’ and would need to pay a sum on

Recently someone posted a question (no, not on the ALLi page) ‘on behalf of a friend’ who had just been offered a ‘publishing contract’ and would need to pay a sum on execution of said contract. The question was, “Should he do it?”

It wasn’t clear but I assumed the contract in question was for assisted self-publishing. The comments, nearly one hundred of them, raged on about whether an indie author should EVER pay ANY money related to the publishing of his/her book.

All comments except mine were a resounding ‘no’.

Let me explain.

people choosing which path to take at fork in road

The road less travelled?

Why My Advice Went Against the Flow

Full disclosure: I’ve just launched a hybrid/indie publishing company called Ingenium Books. We help non-fiction self-publishing indie authors centralize all those little and not-so-little tasks every indie author needs help with:

  • ghostwriting
  • a range of editing services
  • proofreading
  • cover design
  • formatting
  • liaison with distributors

Our contracts are clear that authors retain copyright, worldwide distribution rights, and full control. We are paid for our services, yes, but not by taking a cut of royalties. I bristle at the suggestion we are a vanity publisher.

Many commenters on this Facebook trail reiterated the tenet of Yog’s law, coined by James D Macdonald, that “money should flow to the author”. Who can argue with that? Many of us feed, clothe and house our families on the backs of our writing and publishing pursuits. Having money flow to the author ensures our families don’t starve.

What I disagree with is taking Yog’s law at face value and adopting a black and white view that the self-published author should never pay for anything. There’s a veritable rainbow on the spectrum between black and white.

McDonald himself admits that when you’re talking about self-publishing, staying true to Yog’s Law requires an attitude sleight-of-hand:

  • When you write, you’re the author and money flows to you.
  • When you begin to engage in the publisher’s activity of editing, proofreading, cover design and formatting, etcetera, you don the proverbial publisher’s hat and pay for the services needed to ensure a professional product with the best possible chances of selling.

With these two hats, you can stay true to dear old Yog. However, you know and I know that hat is sitting on the same sun-bleached grey-blonde head.

Setting the Self-publishing Record Straight

The problem I had with these responses was that these authors (at least they were people in a Facebook group for authors) still held beliefs around self-publishing that seem out of date, out of touch, or downright wacky.

I mean, who would write and self-publish a book without paying anyone else for services to help ensure the book is the best it can be? Pay an editor? Nope, that means vanity. Pay a proofreader? Nope, vanity. Cover designer, formatter? Nope, vanity.

I don’t really care whether you need the mental gymnastics to justify self-publishing to yourself or others, or whether you accept that the publishing landscape has well and truly changed.

I do care that every indie author understands that being in control also means choice:

  • You get to choose whether you query agents and traditional publishers.
  • You get to choose whether you accept that traditional publisher’s contract, with its paltry advance and minimal share of royalties.
  • You get to choose whether and how you self-publish, who you hire to edit your work, design your cover, and how much you spend on which marketing activities.
  • And you get to choose whether you hire any help at all, in which case you risk publishing the kind of schlock that gives all self-publishing a bad rap.

To the person asking whether his friend should accept a publishing contract that involves payment of a sum of cash up front?

I say read the fine print, assess the services you’re paying for, and make your own decision with your head held high.

OVER TO YOU How do you explain to doubters that your professionally self-published book is not a work of vanity?

Why paying for #selfpub services doesn't make you vanity-published - from @IngeniumBooks Click To Tweet





This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Of course, professional indie authors must pay for the team that the traditional publisher assembles. There’s a difference between those expenses and out and out scams, though–such as xLibris’ offer, for a sum of thousands, to send the author’s book to a choice of 5 bookstores around the country (presumably to see it stocked there). A) this isn’t how bookstore ordering works B) having one’s book stocked in 5 stores is going to do little to nothing for sales, and is nothing the author can’t accomplish for himself.

    Your point is well taken, although I cringed a bit at the one that to me exposes a bias against trad publishing. The advance isn’t always meager, first of all–many authors live off their advances long before they become blockbusters. And while publishers take a large share of the list price, they do so for a good reason–they are giving something in return for that portion.

    Whether the author feels the trade-off is a beneficial one for them is a personal decision. But deciding in favor of trad is as valid a choice as deciding in favor of indie.

  2. I agree that the sort of service you mention doesn’t equate to vanity publishing. The line, however, is a fine one and it is difficult, often, for tyros to tell the difference. Especially the very people who would benefit from the services you list.

    I notice you don’t mention printing or marketing among those services. This is a significant difference from vanity publishers who will grab onto both of those. The printing will be pricey and the marketing non-existent.

    You aren’t, actually, a publisher. Would you agree with that? More ‘authorial services’? Of course, the beastly vanity publishers will soon catch on to that distinction and label themselves accordingly. There will remain sharks in the self-publishing pool. Writers must inform themselves. Your piece here may help them to do that.

  3. I agree with you completely. Being an author is one thing, but as an Indie we are far more. A professional publishing house doesn’t simply have one person do every job, the result would be poor, at best. No, they engage experts in each of the different fields associated with publishing and marketing a book. In my opinion, an author should work from their own personal strengths.I do many things myself, but for example I had a go at cover design in the early days and I have to tell you, it wasn’t a pretty sight. I do not work hard on writing a book, only to let the project down with a bad cover. I have a cover designer and this is my choice as an independent publisher on behalf of my independant writer self (See, I even have different offices in my mind) Vanity publishing is something very different.

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