Subsidy Publishing

In the past, writers who couldn’t get their books commercially published paid companies to print their manuscripts. These printers came to be known as “vanity presses.” Because they did little if any screening of manuscripts, much less editing or proofreading, these companies (and the books they printed) garnered a reputation for a severe lack of quality.

In recent years, however, many authors—especially those with speaking platforms through which they can sell books directly—have realized that printing their own books has some distinct advantages over commercial publishing. In response, legitimate subsidy publishers have helped these authors get their books in print.

There are still a lot of “scams” out there—companies that appear to be legitimate subsidy publishers but who don’t always deliver on what they promise. Still, if you’re cautious, you can get your book published in a format that looks just like what a commercial publisher would put out (or at least close) . . . for a small (or not-so-small) fee.

There are pros and cons to subsidy publishing:

1.  You make more money per book.
2.  You have more control over the final manuscript.
3.  You don’t have to convince an acquisitions editor and two or three publishing committees to accept your book.
4.  You can get the book published in three to six months instead of two or three years.
5. On rare occasions, a subsidy-published book gets picked up by a commercial publisher.

1.  You have to bear the up-front costs.
2.  You probably won’t get the same level of editing/proofing as with a royalty house.
3.  Most magazine editors won’t review self-published books.
4.  Few bookstores will stock self-published books.
5.  You’re totally responsible for marketing and distribution. (Some houses offers these services—for a fee—but that’s never as effective as what you can do as the author.)
6.  Subsidy-published books are usually not considered professional by people or organizations in the publishing industry, so they won’t help you much if you’re interested in a career as an author.

The content of submissions to secular subsidy publishers is usually not screened (except perhaps to exclude pornography or hate literature). Most Christian subsidy publishers will not accept manuscripts with content that is contrary to generally accepted biblical principles. But other than that, pretty much anyone who’s willing to pay can get published.

There are different types of subsidy publishers for different needs. Some companies offer editing and/or proofreading, professional cover design, a few options for interior layouts, and a variety of marketing plans to choose from . . . all for various fees. Others will simply print whatever you send them, and you can design a cover yourself or choose from a standard template.

Some subsidy publishers require that the author purchase a minimum number of copies (usually in the thousands), which you have to store until you sell. Many, however, now offer “print-on-demand publishing,” which means that the publisher keeps your manuscript in an electronic file, and you can order as few or as many copies as you wish and have them shipped wherever you want (your home or a conference or other place where you plan to be speaking). The cost per book is higher for smaller print runs, but you don’t need near as much storage space for unsold books.

Books printed by a subsidy publisher become the property of the publisher. The publisher will purchase for your book an ISBN (International Standard Book Number—a thirteen-digit number that uniquely identifies the book). This ISBN and the associated barcode will be printed on the back cover of your book along with the publishing company’s imprint/name/logo (which will also appear on the copyright page and title page).

You can purchase copies of your book at the subsidy publisher’s “cost” (which, of course, includes a certain profit for them) and then give the books away or sell them directly. Some subsidy publishers allow the author to set the retail price; others will set the price based on a standard scale. You may sell your books at whatever price you deem appropriate (for example, providing a discount off the retail price).

The publisher pays you a royalty on books sold (other than books you purchase yourself); this is usually paid quarterly.

For a flyer with more details on self-publishing, including a list of reputable subsidy publishers, e-mail me.