Plus ça change… When I was a young journalist and book author often invited to speak at writers’ conferences, I observed that people who yearned more than anything on this earth to be Writers with a Capital W were subject to the most astonishing scams. In those days, it was harder to get yourself published. But if you couldn’t persuade a publishing house to take you on, you could pay a vanity press to print up your golden words, which would make you feel entitled to go around calling yourself a Writer. The fee was hefty. There were various fake literary agencies, too. Here a scam, there a scam, everywhere another scam.
But now, when anyone can “publish” by posting whatever they please on Amazon, publishing itself is a kind of scam. And it breeds scamlets like cats breed kittens. The entire book industry is overrun with scams.
At lunch the other day, a dear and talented friend, self-publisher of an urban fantasy that’s been getting good reviews and selling reasonably well, reported that she’d found a place where you could sign up to get free reviews. And hallelujah, sister! You could enter your gilded book in a CONTEST! For a small fee… Reader’s Favorite, said she: one of her friends won first place in his book’s category. So worth it!
ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding…. The old scam alarm went off inside the head. Where had I heard about WRITER’S CONTESTS with BIG PRIZES and PRESTIGE that cost just a few bucks to enter your book? Yeah…that one is old as the hills.
A little snooping around on Google, that treasure chest for cynics, brought up this rumination from Writers Beware, one of my favorite no-bullshit sites. As you might expect from a hustle that’s been around for so many years, there’s now a vast panoply of “contests” that will put you in the running for “awards,” in exchange for fees. Once you’ve won a Reader’s Favorite “award,” you get to spend more money flying to Florida, home of and grist for the mill of the inimitable Carl Hiassen, and you’ll have even more opportunities to spend money on any number of bits and pieces of merchandise.
These profiteering “contests” are only one of many types of grift aimed at wannabe writers. Really, e-book publishing itself is exactly that: a form of vanity press that is free. Back in the Day, my feeling was that if you couldn’t persuade someone else to publish a book, it wasn’t worth publishing. Never in a zillion years would I have paid somebody to publish something I wrote: people paid me to write, not the other way around.
That, you see, is the definition of a professional writer.
Today the landscape has changed — publishing has been “disrupted,” we’re told. But how much it’s changed…well. That still remains to be seen, IMHO.
Out of curiosity, I’ve decided to try self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints. It’s free, after all. In a way.
But it’s not free, because marketing, when you get right down to it, is marketing. Advertising costs money. Navigating the shoals of the intricate and by and large opaque social media platforms requires a professional. Professional social media marketers cost money. If you have half a brain and no real-world publications experience, you will hire an editor to advise on the book’s quality and to copyedit, and you’ll hire a graphic artist to design your cover. Graphic artists cost money. If you’re not very techie and your book contains even slightly more complexity than a table of contents and a few chapter headings, you will need to hire an e-book formatter. E-book formatting costs money. If you wish to publish your book in print, you will need the graphic artist to redesign your cover to accommodate a back cover and spine. Graphic artists cost money…again. And you will need a graphic artist or a template to lay out the interior content. Graphic artists cost money…again. Alternatively, book layout templates cost money. Then you will need to print the thing. Printers cost money.
So it goes, our brave new world of publishing. It is a huge, profitable scam, and Amazon has effectively opened that scam to everyone on earth, by hobbling the gatekeepers and making it seem easy and cheap to go around them.
So I was curious to see if an ordinary Joe or Jane could make money a-publishing on Amazon. The answer? Probably not.
Well. I’m making a few dollars. But certainly not enough to add up to a net profit. Far from enough to break even.
Not for lack of quality: FireRider has five-star reviews. Not for lack of interest: 30 Pounds sold 12 copies in just 15 minutes one evening. Not for lack of popular appeal: pornography of the sort we’re emitting through Camptown Races Press is eternally popular — and, if you believe the sites that claim to list pirated works that you can peruse for a “subscription fee” (w00t! a NEW scam!) — it’s going great guns among those who share stolen copy for free.
So…yeah. If what you want is a hobby, then by all means publish your scribblings on Amazon and Smashwords. But that’s how you need to look at it: as a hobby. If you make some money on it, bully for you. But you probably won’t, and you should absolutely keep that probability foremost in your mind.
And beware the frumious bandersnatch, my friends: the scammer that inhabits the Internet in legions. As Chris Symes says over at Writers Beware, there are a few legitimate services and vendors that truly can help you — and Chris lists them. But most of it? Snake oil.
Watch your back, little wannabe writer…
Image: DepositPhotos © Nicolae