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

In response to a continuing misapprehension in certain quarters that paying for author services means a self-published author is engaging in vanity publishing, I’d like to make the case for effective deployment of paid services as essential for serious authorpreneurs. While I’m at it, I’ll explain 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 FB 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 100 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’. All comments except mine suggested this would be nothing short of vanity publishing. 

Let me explain.

Why My Advice Went Against the Flow

Full disclosure: I’m co-founder of 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 this approach means we engage in vanity publishing. 

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.

Yog’s Law and Vanity Publishing

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, or else they are vanity publishing. 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?

Originally published on the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) advice blog. Ingenium Books is a proud Partner Member of ALLi.

About the Author Boni Wagner-Stafford

Boni is co-founder of Ingenium Books and an author, editor, and ghostwriter. She also manages communications and media for the Alliance of Independent Authors. As an award-winning former Canadian television reporter, news anchor, producer, and talk show host, working under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray, Boni covered politics, government, the economy, health, First Nations, and crime. She won several Canadian Association of Broadcaster (CAB) awards and a Jack Webster Award for best documentary. Boni also held senior management roles in government, leading teams responsible for editorial, issues management, media relations, strategic communications planning. Boni is co-author of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Start, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.

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