Get Hooked On Writing!

Issue # 14 Monday, August 31, 1998

This Week's Author: Amy Holman

Amy Holman, author

Amy Holman has worked for 13 years on behalf of poets and fiction writers, educating them about the fair practices of publishing and how to be detectives and get their work published. She is co-founder of the Publishing Seminars, writes the online column, Amy Holman's Literary Report and directs the Literary Horizons program all at Poets & Writers, Inc. (, a nonprofit literary organization in New York City.

Amy is also a poet with forthcoming works in Zone 3 and Metropolitan Review. She is currently writing a novel and has two published chapter books, Tissue and Bone and The Cathedral of My Head (1997, 1998 Linear Arts Books).

Literary Horizons is prepared to offer online publishing seminars in the late fall of 1998 and those interested can email Amy Holman at

Check out Issue #9 - Published at Last to read an author's first-hand experience with investing in self-publishing.



Dead End

By nature, writers are intuitive travelers, except their journey is towards publication. Once in a while what appears to be a shortcut is, in fact, a winding dead end. Vanity/Subsidy press represents a dead end in publishing. Many writers who fall for this con are honestly trying to get their poetry and fiction published and distributed, rather than have a product merely representing success. Vanity may seem like a unfair moniker, but the rush to publication often tramples quality and reveals a writer's vanity.

The name was applied to this kind of operation by professionals in the legitimate publishing business a long time ago. Even an episode of "The Waltons" dealt with John Boy's excessive pride over his unrevised novel being accepted by a vanity press. "Subsidy" is the name vanity presses prefer, referring to the author's contribution of money to publication costs. While some subsidized, or cooperative publishing, is fair and legitimate, vanity/subsidy press publishing is not.

Legitimate publishing accepts work based on its merit, prints it up in some form, pays the author, advertises and publicizes the finished product, and distributes it through the normal magazine and book channels of stores and libraries. Fair, subsidized publishing does all of the above while also requiring a contribution of funds to the production costs of the book, or the time and ideas of the author to the production of all books of the season. The presses accept the work because they like it and they advertise and distribute the books when they are printed. The author get royalties and some copies of the books.

Vanity/subsidy presses do not accept your work based on its merit, nor do they pay, advertize, publicize, or distribute. They accept everything, expecting writers to be willing to pay because they are glad to be chosen. The amount is around $1,500, enough to produce a small print run of books with attractive covers and readable type. However, the press instead prints a large print run of books with no cover design–just the title and author's name on a color–and basic typeset. The author is given an outstanding 40% royalty on the sale of the books, which are said to be distributed through supermarkets and airports. Even the paperback romances and mysteries, and certainly the Oprah Winfrey selection paperbacks, sold at these locations have art covers. The vanity/subsidy books won't sell.

If a press asks you to contribute money to the costs, yet offers a payment of only two copies of your book, no royalties, shift into reverse and back out. Even if they say that you get the same discount on buying more copies that the bookstores get, you should be making money off the sale of your books. Royalties serve that function, giving you a fixed rate and percentage on each book. If a press says that you do not need to contribute to the costs of printing or production, but after accepting your manuscript for publication, require you to get 100 prepaid orders before they will actually make it a book, make a U-turn. In this way, money is contributed, whether by others or by the author.

Publishing is a basic business deal in which you provide the work that they will sell and you receive something in return. The publishers choose based on their tastes and what they believe will sell. If you want to get to the other side of town with your book and find that you've driven into a dead end, don't despair. Back out and continue driving.

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Text © 1998, Amy Holman.
Editor: Heather Chwastiak.
Production: Erin Grainger.
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