Should I Pay to Publish?

August 22, 2014 by Donna Fawcett


Pay-for-publishing, like traditional publishing, comes with its own set of pros and cons. Having taught college level creative writing, I have seen the value of both styles of publishing done successfully.

As a point of clarity I do wish to state with emphasis that pay-for-publishing, which incorporates self-publishing and partner publishing, is not to be confused with vanity publishing. While there are those who lump all forms of non-traditional publishing under vanity publishing there is a distinct difference and that difference is found in the integrity of a pay-for-publishing company’s practices.

For sake of argument let’s label vanity publishing as a more dishonest form of publishing. They may start by telling you they are a royalty paying company. They might even pay royalties but then you discover you will have to pay for costs such as editing, mailing, the use of an agent, marketing costs, print costs and the purchasing of your supply of books. They might promise a place in the market and be unable to deliver on that promise. The bottom line for them is a desire to get your money with as little effort on their part as possible and their whole premise is built on a series of half-truths. Many authors who fall for a vanity press’ sales pitch end up with a garage full of poor quality books or an empty bank account and nothing to show for it.

While a partner-publishing company also charges for editing, printing and marketing they will tell you that up front. They, like any other product-driven company will offer you a quality product for a fee—kind of like a running shoe company promises to make you running shoes if you promise to pay for them. They will never sign you up and then hit you with hidden costs. If they are a very good publishing company, they will do what they can to get your product into the market place but will not make promises they don’t intend to keep.

So where is the value in pay-for-publishing? If I can get a book into a traditional publishing company for free, why would I bother to put money out there to publish? Well, having done both, I’m in a good position to answer that question.

When publishing through a traditional company, I didn’t have to put out a dime—until the time came to purchase copies. Having already partner-published, I knew the base price of a book when bought in quantities of 1000, 2000 and 2500. Often, the traditional company tries to make some of their money off the author, and I can’t blame them. They are in business and business requires income to offset the output. Because there were no upfront fees, that meant a higher cost per book for the author. When I did the math, however, I discovered it was more expensive to have a large quantity of my books when purchased through the traditional publisher than it was through partner-publishing. I also had to wait for two years to see my book published. And then there was the marketing. I assumed that the traditional publisher would do all the marketing and I just needed to write. Wrong. That’s like assuming Nike will make the shoes and hope someone else will market them. I discovered that I needed to market just as much for the traditional company as I did when I partner-published. That meant that I spent just as much money to promote my product, while paying more for the product, even though I didn’t have to pay for the process. I did have international distribution, however.

Overall, I learned that there were really good reasons to pay for publishing. I got a better return for my money. I had complete say in what the cover said and looked like. I could recall and re-edit books as I deemed fit. My control over the product was absolute. I decided when the print run ended or if it ended at all, unlike the traditional company run, which lasts approximately two years unless you sell a horde of books right away. Why does that matter? I have a speaking platform. I teach at writing conferences. I sing in churches and give motivational talks to groups. When I am at these events, I sell books and CD’s. I don’t want the print runs to end. I want to have product to provide in these venues. I want the product when I need it, not two years later.

But, you may think, I gain credibility through a traditional company.

Yes, writers do gain credibility as ‘legitimate writers’ but there are other means to gain a reputation as a quality writer. Writing contests and book awards are created to give writers a chance to prove their skill. Often these awards matter in the eyes of the reader and that is the most important credibility we can ask for. Two of my partner-published novels won Best Contemporary Novel awards while the traditional one didn’t even place.

Pay-for-publishing has its place but requires a writer to be diligent in learning their craft. Editing is still a must. I would rather look foolish to one person and have them discover my mistakes than look foolish to all those who read the finished product. It requires a writer to work hard at setting up a marketing strategy.

Pay-for-publishing is not a means to avoid getting edited, or having to market yourself. I have told past students that if they are trying to get out of those two things they should quit writing entirely. Both are tools needed to gain credibility as a writer and to sell their product. Pay-for-publishing provides the author with a way to maintain complete control over their work while providing what the reader is looking for: a good book.

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About this Contributor

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Donna Fawcett is a retired creative writing instructor for Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. She writes in freelance magazine markets and novel markets and has won awards for her novels, Vengeance and Rescued. Donna has also won awards for her short stories, song lyrics and poetry. Learn more at donnafawcett.com.