I have complicated feelings about self-publishing, but this is not about that. If you feel self-publishing is the best alternative for you to put your work into the world, it is really quite easy to do and it gets easier every day.
That’s why when I see something like this new publishing venture, called Archway Publishing from Simon & Schuster, I get angry. I get angry because I understand that publishing is evolving and trying to find ways to remain sustainable but I hate to think such sustenance must now come from writers.
Writing is devalued all the time. What writers are paid these days is a joke and that’s when writers get paid. More often than not, in the financial food chain of publishing, writers are the last to get paid. Designers get paid. Web host providers get paid. Printers get paid. Writers are, somehow, disposable. We’ve brought this on ourselves in some ways, by being willing to work for free, indefinitely, and there aren’t enough writers who would take a stand and say, no, you need to pay us for our work, for this to change. Some writer, somewhere, is always going to want to be published more than they want to have their work respected enough to be compensated. I write for free with no regrets so I get it. You know, we’re all part of the problem. And I also think that there is non-monetary recompense like visibility and platform that makes writing for free, under certain circumstances, entirely reasonable.
This is what it is.
But it’s one thing to work for free and it’s another thing entirely to pay someone to publish you. In that scenario, someone is getting over on you, TWICE.
Now, Archway has five tiers of publishing options ranging from $1.999 to $14,999. It’s that 99 that makes it seem reasonable, I guess. Their target client is a writer who wants to publish their own book and doesn’t want to do everything on their own. Fine. These packages are still predatory. Most of the services offered can be obtained, ala carte, for a fraction of the cost.
Now, you may not know this but I run a micropress. It has been a very humbling learning process and I don’t know much but I do know how to get a book printed and get it out in the world in a small way. I wrote about the lessons I’ve learned so far for HTMLGIANT. I’m no expert, but I know just enough to know that you do not need to give someone nearly $15K to put a book in the world, nor do you need to give someone even $2,000.
So let’s look at the most expensive package, The Publicist, which comes with a bunch of nonsense services. Click on these things and you’ll see some sad mumbo jumbo. Like, what the hell is a book stub? Come on.
The package offers this:
COMPLIMENTARY AUTHOR COPY OF YOUR BOOK
When you finish the entire production process and your book goes live, we will send you your first copy complimentary. Imagine the wonderful feeling you will get when you finally hold a copy of your book in your hands or view your very own e-book online.
Someone wrote these words. And you know, it’s just so evil. Because that’s what we want, as writers, to feel the artifact in our hands. It’s a rush, I tell you, to hold a book you wrote, in your hands. So this kind of thing, plays right into that.
The MOST offensive is the DIY audiobook where, and I am not making this up, they send you an audio recorder, you read your book into it, send it back to them and they turn it into an MP3. You can buy your own recorder for like $30. I don’t really know the price of a recorder but it’s not expensive. You don’t even need a recorder, though. You can use any number of programs like GarageBand if you’re on a Mac, or the open source Audacity on any computing platform, and create your very own audio book. So it’s embarrassing that this is being offered as a service. I am embarrassed for the publisher because they wrote that copy and really believe that’s a service that, on it’s own, should cost $899.
The cynicism HURTS.
The package comes with an ISBN number. You can buy one for $125 from Bowker. You can buy 10 for $250. You can buy 1000 for $1000. So.
Book printing costs what it costs but I generally print books for $4-$12 per book, depending on bells and whistles and page numbers and the cost is that high because I print in very limited quantities of 25-200 at a time. The more you print, the more the cost goes down, so you can print hardcover books, paperback books, and you can do all sorts of neat things for a reasonable amount of money, by contacting a printer like McNaughton Gunn (which prints a lot of literary magazines including PANK), Lightning Source, CreateSpace, or literally any of THOUSANDS of printers that consumers can approach directly.
Now you may not know how to do book layout but you can pay someone to do this. You can pay someone to design a cover. You can teach yourself to do it and buy Adobe Creative Suite or do the Adobe Creative Suite membership for $29.99 a month. Whatever you choose, it will still not cost $2-$15K.
You can hire a freelance publicist! The Publicist package offers a “social media publicist” for $4,999. I mean, what? What does that even mean?
“The social media publicist will establish your social media platform across the top social networking sites; then we help you develop and hone your social media presence over time.”
A Twitter account is free. You can set up your own social media platform across networks.
To be clear, I am not saying you don’t need a publicist. Publicists are awesome. They are creative. They are worth every penny they charge. They may well charge more than $5000 but you won’t be getting a bunch of weird copywritten ad speak nonsense. You will be getting clear-eyed advice and direction on publicizing your book and that’s priceless. Look up Lauren Cerand. Look up Kimberly Burns. Look up Jennifer Abel Kovitz. Look up any of the awesome publicists hustling for writers and doing a damn good job of it.
Yes, it is a hassle to have to do this and that and the other thing by taking a few minutes to Google so if you’re rich and you don’t want to be hassled (it’s not much of a hassle, honestly), yes, pay someone a ridiculous amount of money for one-stop shopping.
You don’t need to, though. And the services Archway offers are shamefully overpriced. Most of them aren’t even services. They are imaginary things unsuspecting writers will want to believe are real, like, I don’t know, Santa Claus.
And I must tell you, I believe in publishing. I believe in publishers. It hurts when publishers I admire support ventures like this because it feels like they’re giving up.
We bitch about publishing all the time, often with good reason, but there’s a reason people want to go through the traditional publishing process with publishing houses both large and small. You might get screwed but you aren’t paying for it up front.