Vanity Publishing & Austin Macauley

A short journey to the sewer

We’re always on the side of the book. We’re always on the side of the writer.

With books, we want them to be as good as they can be – written well, edited well, pressing clients to be as wonderful as they can – and if you have the guts and determination to pick up a pen and write a book, we’re on your side.

And that’s why we are firmly, emphatically, viscerally opposed to vanity publishing in all its forms. This is a story, yes, about Austin Macauley, but it is also a story about a whole raft of other vanity presses too. Snakes, worms and weasels, every one.

Why such strong language?

Because vanity publishers take vast sums of money from authors to publish their books. This is in contrast to how to best practice in both traditional publishing (where publishers pay you), and modern ebook-led self-publishing where it costs nothing to upload your book to retailers like Amazon, and where per book royalties are excellent. So if you want to know more about what to avoid – and about Austin Macauley Publishers specifically – then read on.

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What is Vanity Publishing?

Vanity publishing is where authors pay for their book to be ‘published’ and where ownership of the book passes to the publisher as part of the contract.

Vanity publishers never call themselves by that name. They’ll say they offer ‘partnership publishing’ or ‘hybrid publishing’ or say they offer a ‘contributory contract’ or anything else of that sort. But if any publisher:

  1. Asks you for money
  2. Ends up owning the rights to your book

you should regard them as a vanity publisher.

That’s if you’re polite, and inclined to be generous.

Quite frankly, we prefer to think of them as thieves and fraudsters.

To be clear: they are not breaking the law. But whether some narrow legal test of fraud is or is not met misses the ethical heart of the issue.The fact is that these publishers are offering writers a contract which they basically know will not meet the legitimate dreams and aspirations of those writers.

What vanity publishing looks like

We’ve spoken to one writer who was offered a ‘contributory contract’ from one vanity publisher (not Austin Macauley), requesting from her a staggering £7,000 to publish her poems.

This lady was dying of cancer, and she wanted to earn a little something for the son she’d leave behind. Thankfully, she called us first, and asked for our advice.

What we told her was this:

  • There is not meaningfully any market for poetry, and certainly not of the (sincere, but quite home-spun) verses she’d written.
  • She would never see that £7,000 again
  • Sales would be modest in the extreme. Aside from any sales she made to friends and family, her sales would quite likely be zero, nothing, nix, nada.
  • She almost certainly would get a nicely produced book to hold in her hands
  • She would not find that book being sold in bookshops
  • Yes, the book would be available on Amazon, but so are 5,000,000 other titles. Uploading a book to Amazon is easy. Selling it once it’s there – that’s hard.
  • She would not, meaningfully, get any marketing support from the publisher once the book had actually been produced.
  • In effect, she’d be paying £7,000 to have her book printed & the rights owned by somebody else. You could easily spend no more than £1,000 for a book of that length, print as many copies as you wanted, work with lovely, truthful, well-intentioned people, and still retain all the rights to the book.

Naturally, she did not use that publisher to ‘publish’ her work. Instead, she went to a reputable local printer and, for a modest sum, got the thing printed up for local distribution. She told me that she wanted everyone who came to her funeral to get a copy.

And look, there’s something good here and something awful.

The good thing is that a dying woman made a book that she wanted to create. That spoke her thoughts to those she cared about.

There is nothing at all of vanity in that impulse. In that sense, the term ‘vanity publishing’ is a total misnomer. I’ve seen a lot of people snared by vanity publishers, and in not one single case was vanity the issue. On the contrary, it’s naivete, hope, and nothing else.

So that’s the good thing. A dying woman wrote and distributed some verses.

And here’s the bad thing: someone wanted to steal £7,000 from her. Sick, dying, and not at all wealthy.

Did I say bad?

I meant awful.

The thing about vanity publishers is they don’t really publish at all. They get books designed & printed. You can do that too, just google “typesetting”, “cover design” and “book printers” and you’ll have everything you need.

Or use an ethical outfit like Matador, or Lulu, or CreateSpace, or IngramSpark, or Completely Novel, and you’ll get a fair service at a fair price. (What each of those outfits offers is different, so you can’t just compare prices – it’s more complex than that.)

So if you just want to pay something to produce 10 books (or 100, or 1,000), you need to work with a company like one of those guys. Or source your own design / copyediting / cover design, etc. It’s not hard, and it can be very rewarding.

vanity presses the alternatives

What are the alternatives to Vanity Publishing?

A word about traditional publishing and modern self-publishing

[This section talks about the alternatives very swiftly. If you need more help, go to our main publishing advice page that gives you a load more detail in a very helpful format.]

Traditional publishing

Or you can publish in the traditional way with a regular publisher.

The advantages of that route:

  • you get paid, upfront plus (potentially) royalties as well
  • you get a real publisher working hard to market your book
  • you will be sold in bookstores and have the pride of having done a hard thing well.

There’s also one obvious disadvantage:

  • It’s very hard to get accepted by a traditional publisher – the rate of success is probably 1 in 1000 submissions (or even worse)

If your work IS of that quality, you probably need a literary agent. Details on how to do that can be found here.

Self-publishing

If you don’t want to go that route – too hard? too slow? you don’t want to lose control of your book? – then modern self-publishing is also an excellent answer.

Modern self-publishing involves selling your book via Amazon and/or the other e-tailers such as Apple.

You will make a majority of your sales – perhaps over 90% of them – via ebooks, but it’s perfectly possible to create and sell print-books as well. They’ll be of good quality and will be available to readers all over the world.

The advantages of self-publishing include:

  • Royalties are superb: Amazon pays 70% royalties on ebook sales, whereas traditional publishers will pay just 17.5% (or less, if you inlcude the amount you’ll owe your agent.)
  • It’s easy
  • It’s fast
  • You reach readers right across the globe

The disadvantages include:

  • you have to handle the various bits and pieces yourself: cover design, ebook formatting. Most people will just outsource those tasks, but you still need to find the right people for the job.
  • Because of those tasks, you are likely to pay something to get our book published – but $1500 / £1000 would be a perfectly reasonable  budget for most.
  • You have to market your book. Amazon is a platform; it’s not going to market on your behalf unless you have some prove sales potential already.
  • There is still a difference in kudos between self-publishing and the traditional sort. That doesn’t really make sense to us. (Who do you admire more: someone who sold $100,000 worth of self-published books on Amazon? Or someone who got a £1000 book deal from some remote bit of Penguin Random House?) But still: it matters to some people.

If you want to find out more about how to self-publish your work, you can find out with our (characteristically comprehensive) guide here.

Austin Macauley, vanity press

Austin Macauley – a close-up look at one vanity publisher

Hold your nose, folks. We’re heading down . . .

This post grew (as you may have guessed) out of an encounter with Austin Macauley, a vanity publisher. Or rather: multiple encounters, all of them negative.

We heard about authors feeling cheated.

We heard about authors being threatened with legal action if they spoke out about their experience.

We heard about authors going to court against the firm.

We heard about a prominent blogger – a person of integrity and intelligence – being threatened with legal action for speaking out about these things.

So we thought we’d look into it . . . and we did not love what we saw.

In this updated post, we take another look at Austin Macuauley – but please remember that ALL vanity publishers operate in much the same way. What we say about this firm could, mutatis mutandis, be said about all its snakelike brethren. Indeed, we DO say it about all those firms.

Oh, and to be crystal clear: we do not believe that Austin Macauley is engaged in illegal activity. In our opinion, what they do is totally unethical and close to cheating, but some bad things are within the law; vanity publishing very much included. (Alas.)

Okie-doke. So-

If you Google “Austin Macauley”, as I just did, you may find this:

Austin Macauley, advertisement

Screengrab taken 23.4.2018

And – huh?

A publisher who advertises?

Go and Google Penguin Random House. Or HarperCollins. Or Simon & Schuster. Those guys don’t advertise.

Why not? Because their business model works like this:

Find great books. Publish them well. Make money.

No part of that relies on advertising to authors and luring them in. (So how do they get those great books? They pay for them. And authors and literary agents bring them all their best stuff.)

But the Austin Macauley model works like this:

Find authors willing to part with cash. Part them from their cash. Deliver some kind of book. That’s it.

The book doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to actually sell. AM doesn’t even actually have to try to do all the things that real publishers do to make sales. Of course not! They’ve already made money. From you!

Bu I get ahead of myself.

Here’s what they say on their website home page (text copied 24 April 2018)

We pride ourselves on our hybrid publishing model, a progressively more popular means by which both new and previously published authors can establish themselves in the increasingly competitive world of books.

This is horseshit.

Here’s that same bit of text with my explanations in brackets:

We pride ourselves on our hybrid publishing model [we take money from authors which no reputable publisher does. Deep in our snakelike hearts, we know that this is a horrible way to make a living, but we may as well make a virtue of it and pretend it’s normal.]
a progressively more popular means [Rubbish. Traditional publishing is great. Self-publishing is great and has zoomed up in the world. Vanity publishing is used only by those who don’t know any better. It’s “popular” largely with those people who don’t know better and who are taken in by flashily effective advertising.]

by which both new and previously published authors can establish themselves in the increasingly competitive world of books [Double-rubbish. You want to know if Austin Macauley establishes writers in the the world of books? OK. So do this. Go to the biggest bookstore near you. See if you can find a book by an Austin Macauley author. Browse the shelves. Ask a checkout clerk. Seek specific titles by name. You will find almost none, and most likely none at all. And if I’m wrong, I’ll give you a dollar and a kiss for every one you find.]

Indeed, let’s take the partnership / hyrbid / vanity agreements that Austin Macauley and its peers offers. We’d want to ask:

  • What is the median cost to the author of these partnership agreements?
  • Partnership implies some joint sharing of risks and rewards, so do these firms contribute a sum broadly equivalent to that contributed by your authors?
  • What are the median sales of partnership titles? Note that ordinary averages (means) can be distorted by one or two high-selling titles, so a median figure would be helpful. This is a crucial question, and you should not part with a single penny before getting an answer.
  • What, loosely, is the median financial outcome for partnership authors? Do they recover their contributions via royalties? Do they generally make a profit, and how much? And if they make a loss, what is the average magnitude of that loss?

I hope it’s obvious why these questions are important.

Austin Macauley Publishers operates within the law insofar as it prints books, makes those books available on Amazon, available for order by bookshops (not the same as saying that these books are likely to be stocked in bookshops). It makes modest efforts to secure publicity for its books and authors.

All that does not amount to a good deal. It amounts to a right royal stinker of a deal.

Avoid Austin Macauley. Avoid its peers. And may they, one day, all bite the dust!

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