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Publishing advice for authors


Articles By Jonathan Clifford

One way for an author to see their book in print is to self-publish, but since that became more acceptable some vanity publishers try to pass themselves off as self-publishers.

Self-Publishing, Misrepresentation

For a book to be genuinely self-published, a name designated by the author as his publishing house must appear on the copyright page of the book as ‘Publisher’ and the book’s ISBN number must be registered by the ISBN Agency to that author as publisher.

All the copies of a self-published book are the property of the author to dispose of as he wishes. If an author does not wish to be involved with the sale and distribution of his book that can very easily be accounted for - when details of a book are sent to the ISBN Agency before publication there is a section on the form for “Distributor (if different from Publisher)”.

On the title page of every book there is a paragraph which, in essence, states “All rights are reserved. No part of this book can be stored on a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by whatever means without the prior permission in writing from the publisher.” I repeat, without the prior permission of The Publisher. Not ‘the author’ who is supposed to have ‘self-published’.

Any company which publishes books under its own name or imprint cannot, by definition, claim to help authors to self-publish.

If the name of the company, not the author, appears in the book as that of the publisher, not only can the author not claim to have self-published his book, but he has lost all control over it. If after the initial publication, someone should wish to produce large type copies (for the poorly-sighted), or take up film or television rights, or reprint it under their own imprint, or wishes to publish a copy in translation, there are (in some cases very lucrative) fees to be discussed and paid. But it is legally 'to The Publisher' that such application must be made and it is legally 'The Publisher' not the author - although he has been led to believe that he has self-published his work - who will benefit.

True self-publishing gives authors much greater control over the production and dissemination of their books.

“But what does it matter?” I hear some of you ask. Where the honest publisher is concerned, not a great deal perhaps. But there have always been so many ‘out there’ whose intention is to relieve the unwary of their money, aided in their intent by being able to refer to themselves in terms that are misleading.

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The Good, The Bad And The Downright Dishonest

I have been asked time after time “How can you tell the honest from the dishonest?”

I have come to the conclusion after over 13 years of investigating such companies that the only way to tell is in the intent of the publisher.

Most vanity publishers make very similar claims and of the 100+ files on such companies that I have, only a small proportion have complaints presently laid against them. In the past I was receiving anything up to 30 complaints a day relating to some dozen companies and when in 1996 Telegraph Newspapers ran details of my campaign to clean up vanity publishing in several articles I received over 700 complaints in under a week - most of them relating to just one company. Fortunately, without exception, those companies no longer exist.

If over a period of time a publisher has been found to be honest in his claims and a man of his word who carries out what he claims he will, there is no problem. However he chooses to refer to himself his reputation is in his work not in any label.

It is those whose claim to be self-publishers is simply a ruse to attract the unwary author and to mask their dishonest intentions who make it necessary to police the way all vanity publishers refer to themselves. In all walks of life, the suspect have always spoilt things for the genuine.

In a climate where there are those determinedly intent on fleecing the unwary author it is impossible to tell simply from their promotional material whether a publisher is genuine or not, other than through a long-term monitoring of each company’s performance.

It is only after at least one full publishing cycle has been completed by the company will it become apparent whether the services claimed to be offered, are genuine or a misrepresentation.

(For details of how to go about self-publishing see a copy of Jonathon Clifford's Advice Pack)

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Mainstream Publishers

A mainstream publisher will publish your manuscript at their own expense. Although there are well over 100,000 books published annually in the UK by mainstream publishers, there are many reasons why such a publisher may not be able to take up your work.

Although you may feel there is a huge market just waiting somewhere 'out there' for the publication of your book, you must face the reality that if your subject is of interest only to a minority - a local landmark, a local personality, Book-Binding for the Amateur, Marble Championships of the 20th Century, your own autobiography - then the corresponding marketing possibilities are equally small. Your book will not be a financially viable proposition for a mainstream publisher.

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A Good Vanity Publisher Will Not...

  • tell you how well written your book is. He will discuss with you the true market potential of what you have written and how you can best present your book to the public. He will explain about such things as the function and use of an ISBN number and bar code, and the need for your book (if it is to go on general sale) to be shelf-friendly in appearance.
  • tell you how much better his services are than his competitors and swamp you with reams of review cuttings of other books he’s published. He will simply tell you what services he offers. Bear in mind that although it is important to send out review copies, they normally do not sell books in any significant numbers. Your publisher should, either himself or through an agent, be sending copies of covers (in the first instance) to book buyers and library suppliers well in advance of your publication date.
  • tell you he offers a 'subsidy' or 'co-partnership' or 'joint-venture' publishing service; or any other term that implies he provides a financial commitment of his own to your book - none do. All vanity publishers are in the business of making money, they are not philanthropic nor will a genuine one try to give you the false impression that he is.
  • tell you that their way is the only way for you to be published and that this or that, author in the past had to pay to see his work in print. They did pay to see their work in print, but not as one of today’s vanity publishers would have you do.
  • tell you that, because your work has been accepted on merit, it is to appear in an anthology, then offer to sell you a copy (which he says you don’t have to buy) at a 'special discount price.' He will give you a fee to publish your poem, or offer you a free copy of the anthology, or both.
  • tell you that their anthology is to appear in libraries, and will be on sale in bookshops, when it is read - almost without exception - only by those who appear in it and their families.
  • (in the UK) tell you that he registers your book with Whitakers and also sends a copy of your book to the British Library and (a list of) various universities, as though this was a service for which you should be grateful. Publishers have to register every book published in the United Kingdom with Whitakers, and also have to send one copy to The British Museum Library and 5 copies to the Copyright Receipt Office in London, which distributes them to the major universities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • offer to publish 'as many copies as the market demands' or 'x number of copies' while you receive only a few 'free' copies. A good vanity publisher will agree to publish a fixed number of copies for you at a fixed price, and will explain to you that once you've had your manuscript typeset and good quality plates made, you can always have more copies if necessary after your first run - have too many as that first run, and your grandchildren will still be trying to get rid of them from your loft 10 years after you’re dead!
  • tell you what a wonderful marketing department he has and that because of their hard work you will recoup your large outlay through its royalties, which are 'higher than anyone else will offer you' and then give you a breakdown of how those royalties work and what they are likely to be. Which paragraph usually makes little sense - even to a highly trained Accountant. A good vanity publisher will make sure you understand that the chances of recovering anything other than a very small part of your initial outlay is very negligible as the marketing possibilities for a book by an unknown author are invariably poor and very seldom amount to much more than a launch and promotional follow-up in your own locality

Reproduced with the kind permission of Johnathon Clifford

Contact information;



Telephone 01329-822218
Outside UK 044 1329-822218#7B96C1

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