Saying "No Thanks" to Author Assisted Publishing

Do these publishers advertise the part about “assisting” in the costs? Or, is it just common knowledge? If you’re offered a contract with one of these publishers on the condition that you “help” financially, is it bad form to pass on the offer since the LDS market is so small?

I don’t think any of them advertise that they offer author assisted publishing. If you’re interested, you may need to ask them. In our company, we don’t mention it unless the author has indicated that they might be interested in self-publishing.

No, it is not bad form to say no thanks to this type of offer. You don’t have to accept any offer you don’t like. Here’s the thing–everyone knows you’re going to make a decision based upon what’s best for you. Author assisted publishing is not your best option and should only be considered if all other avenues are closed. Publishers know this. If you want to publish traditionally and you still have options elsewhere, explore them. If you later determine that you’ve exhausted all traditional methods for publishing your book, you can always go back to the publisher who made the offer and see if they’re willing to re-open negotiations.

And don’t worry about intra-industry gossip lessening your chances of being accepted by publisher B if you turn down an assisted offer from publisher A. First, we probably wouldn’t know that you’d taken a pass on the offer because we don’t generally sit around and talk about who turned US down. Second, even if we did know, it wouldn’t be a negative. Depending on who made the offer to you, it might even work in your favor. But I wouldn’t include the fact that you passed on the offer in your query to other publishers. It’s not good form.

"Author Assisted" Publishing

I have a question about the smaller Mormon presses. I believe in years past some of the books Cedar Fort published were “author assisted”, that is the author paid for some of the costs of publication. Do you know if Cedar Fort still does that? And do any of the others–Granite, Spring Creek, etc, do it?

I moved this from the comments trail on another post because I think it’s a good topic for discussion. It comes up every once in awhile and people usually have strong feelings about it.

Yes, Cedar Fort does it. I think Granite does too. Some other smaller presses do it, but aren’t very vocal about it. My company has done it once or twice.

There is a thin line between “author assisted” publishing and vanity press, and it all depends on how the publisher handles it. I’ve blogged about it before here and here.

Subsidy Publishing Pt. 2–"Author Assisted" Publishing Through a Legit Publishing House

Is it a good idea for new authors if it’s a reputable publisher. Also, if a publisher asks for $4000, is it too much? Do you suppose all of that money goes toward the publishing of the book?

Based on the last half of your question, I’m assuming you’re referring to an increasingly common option offered by legitimate publishing houses who will publish a book if the author puts up some of the money. Many houses, agents, editors and authors are appalled by this trend. I know some people in the industry who insist that money flows to the authors, always, period, no exceptions whatsoever. And ideally, this is indeed how it should be. But there are two legitimate reasons for asking an author to share in the risk of publishing—particularly in a small niche market like ours.

But before we get to that, you need to understand that when you publish in a small and limited market, like we do, the per book production price is higher**, the total number of copies you can sell are limited, lifetime of the book is shorter, the avenues to reach the consumer are limited, the cost of marketing to a scattered demographic are higher, and yet, we can only price our book so high because in the consumer’s mind, we are competing with a national market. Therefore, the overall risk is higher, causing us to take a pass on “good” books, and concentrate on the “better” books. (Who decides on the criteria of good vs better books is a whole ‘nother post.) If you write “good” books for this market, you may be called upon to share in the risk.

Without knowing the specifics of your book, the publisher you’re negotiating with, their contract, whether this is a rare practice with them or fairly common, etc., it’s hard for me to say if this is a good idea for you or not. Our company does, on occasion, offer this option, but it’s extremely rare. The only time we do so is when we’d love to accept the book under the traditional publishing process, but 1) Our publishing budget is already committed for the year and it’s a timely topic that we feel needs to be on the bookshelf soon; and/or 2) It’s a midlist/backlist title—meaning we could probably sell a few thousand, but it’s not going to be a money-maker and it will probably not go into a second printing.

Under no condition do we make this offer on a book that is poorly written. We have our reputation to consider. If your book stinks, you could offer me a million dollars and I wouldn’t take it. (Well… maybe I would take a MILLION dollars, but I certainly wouldn’t sell my reputation as a publisher for only $4,000.)

On the extremely rare occasion when we do make this offer, we pay for all the pre-press and marketing costs and the author pays for the printing costs. We have the author write their check directly to the printer—the author absolutely knows what his/her money is paying for. Then, as we sell the books, we pay the author the standard royalty PLUS we reimburse them for the cost of printing the book. If the book sells through, they get their entire investment back and we pay for all subsequent printings. If the book doesn’t sell, then at some point we give them the remaining copies of their book to sell or give away as they please. At no point does the author ever reimburse us for our share of the expenses.

So if the contract is something like this, and you have the money, and you believe in your book, and you trust the publishing company to market your book the same as the books they’ve fully invested in, and you’ve tried every other publisher in the market, and those other publishers have liked the book but just don’t feel it fits their needs (ie: they’re rejecting it due to causes other than quality of the manuscript) then you might want to consider taking the risk. But if you don’t feel good about it, then definitely do not do it. (Also, just to be safe, have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry read through the contract before signing it.)

Now, as to the $4000 all going toward publishing? Yes, I’m sure it does. “Publishing” refers to everything involved in getting your manuscript onto the bookstore shelf—and that costs much more than $4,000. We budget a MINIMUM of $10,000 per title—and that’s for a small print run. If you mean does the entire $4,000 go toward printing costs, then the answer is still yes. Our smallest print runs are 2,500 and the per book charge in that quantity averages $2.** But if you want to make sure, ask for an itemization of the budget and what the $4,000 will be applied to. If you’re investing in your book, you have every right to know how that investment will be used.

** Price per book is the answer to 90% of the questions concerning the nuts and bolts of publishing in the LDS market. For a price comparison of our per book costs with that of a large national, see this estimate on book pricing from Anna Louise at Live Journal
“…the more books we can print, the cheaper it is to print them. It’s too bad we’re only printing 35,000 copies…because if we were printing 100,000 copies…then instead of paying $.5513 per book for the PP&B [paper, print, binding], we’d be paying $.3944, and that would be with both foiling and embossing on the cover, instead of just a plain matte finish.”

Subsidy Publishing Pt. 1–The True Vanity Press

Can you talk a little about subsidy publishing. Is it a good idea for new authors if it’s a reputable publisher. Also, if a publisher asks for $4000, is it too much? Do you suppose all of that money goes toward the publishing of the book?

Are you asking about a true subsidy press (aka VANITY press), which will print anything—regardless of quality—for a fee, does no editing, very little or no marketing, and is basically just a printer or POD company (like Press America, Author House,, etc.)? Or an author subsidy/assisted publishing program offered by a legitimate publishing house?

Let’s talk about the true subsidy/vanity press first. I rarely recommend using these types of programs for the reasons stated in their description above. They will “publish” anything that arrives with the appropriate payment. They rarely do any editing. They do no design, or they only do stock design. Most of the time they take the files you send and print them as is, warts and all. For this reason, most distributors and bookstores won’t touch these titles with a 10 foot pole. (Also because it is assumed the reason you had to go vanity is that the quality of your manuscript is seriously lacking.)

But let’s say you’ve had your book professionally edited, designed and typeset, and it is now virtually wartless. It’s still not a good idea. Your price per book will be too high to give you the needed profit margin to allow the book to be sold in a traditional bookstore.

The only time this option is a good idea is if your book speaks to a very small niche market, you want to print in quantities of 100 or less at a time, you have direct access to the consumer, and you don’t need to sell through a bookstore—for example, if you’re a public speaker in a tightly focused market, and you sell your books after your speaking engagements.

And is the $4,000 too much? It depends on how many copies you are getting, but probably, yes, it is way too much. If you do decide to go this route, I recommend They are a true POD press and only make money when you buy/sell the book. But read all the fine print very carefully.