Vanity Presses – A Cautionary Tale with Bill Latoria

bill latoriaBack in 2009 I began writing my first novel. I was young(er), inexperienced, and blissfully unaware of what I was doing. It took six months, and hundreds of hours, but I completed my first story, and it was so long it had to be broken down into two volumes. At first, I simply saved my files to a flash drive and tossed it into a safe. I wasn’t super interested in trying to get my story published, and didn’t have the slightest clue how to go about submitting it to a publisher.

Also, I was unaware of all the different types of predatory publishing agencies there were out there, and how quickly they would smell the stink of an ignorant author and pounce like a staving lion on a lame gazelle. Eventually, at the encouragement of my wife, in 2011 I pulled the flash drive out of storage, and began submitting my manuscript to every publisher I could find.

In total, I submitted my book to seven different agencies. Five of which never so much as acknowledged I sent them anything. Don’t get me wrong, I understand. I’m an unknown author submitting an amateur manuscript to a general mailbox that gets flooded by hundreds of stories a day. Getting them to give me a shot would be like winning the lottery in the same hour I got struck by lightning, twice, in the same location. That being said, after a few weeks, two publishing companies replied, both saying they were interested in working with me! (Hold your applause, it only gets worse from here.)

The first company to contact me was more of a book press than an actual publisher. They wanted $2,000USD to print my books, with extra charges for every book I requested from them after the initial $2k was spent. (Only about 200 books…. Which, for you math experts, each book cost me $10) Honestly, had it not been for the second publishing company that contacted me, I probably would have fallen for the deal. I know…. I am ashamed…

vanity pressesThe publisher I ended up signing a contract with was known as Publish America (BOO HISS!) and they were a vanity press. At the time, I had no idea what a vanity press was, or how the scheme worked. I was just ecstatic that a company was interested in making my manuscript into a physical book. (Probably due to my vanity! The label makes more sense now…) Editor’s Note: Bill’s not alone!

Anyway, they cut me a tiny “Signing Bonus” check, created a very generic book cover, and told me that they would get 93% of the money for every book I sold, and that I would receive 7% of every sale, needing to generate over $100 before they would cut me a check. I couldn’t sign the contract fast enough, and for that, I am ashamed.

So the book comes out on Amazon and it’s priced at around $25 USD. Nothing I could do about it, because I signed away my publishing rights to the book (Volume 1 & 2) so they had full legal control. Then the emails started really coming in from the company. “For $XXX amount of money we’ll put your book in front of Hollywood execs!” “Pay $XXX and we’ll bring your book to this major convention!” “For $XXX we will advertise your book to Bollywood!”

You get the idea… and yes, I spent a lot of money thinking they would actually do what they claimed they would. Needless to say, it was only my own promotion of my book, reaching out to book clubs via the internet, and a few local book stores that took pity on me, that generated any sales of my book. When the company offered to convert my books on Amazon to eBook format (For the low price of $129 each… a total of $258) I jumped on it, and my book did sell a few hundred copies. Far from enough to cover the initial cost however.

Fast forward to 2016. 5 Years on Amazon, hundreds of books sold, and I’ve made around $350USD in royalties. 7% was looking worse and worse, but before I did anything about it, the company suddenly changed their name to American Publishing, and said I had to sign a new contract with them because of their re-alignment. So, like the ignorant fool that I was, I signed, not realizing that this contract had no expiration date. Everything else was the same, but the contract was lifetime, and I hate myself a little bit for not noticing it until long after signing it.

A few months later, the company went bankrupt, closed up shop, and disappeared off the face of the Earth. My book is still up on Amazon right now, and occasionally people tell me they’ve bought it, but I haven’t received a royalty payment since 2016, and I’ve had to abandon that series because of it. Sure, I own the Copyright and IP of my story, but it’s a series. Who starts a series at book 3+? No one. So anyone that wants to buy book 3 will buy book 1&2 first, putting more money in the defunct company’s pockets, which I cannot abide.

I know what you’re thinking, why not just rework and re-release the first two books under a new name? You’re vanity pressesright! I could do that! If I did though, and the book did well, the owners of the publishing rights could sue me over it, and technically, the law is on their side. The lawsuit would also cost me a lot of money, and even if I won, it would be a financial burden I don’t want to put on myself, or my family.

So, I wrote a new series and published it myself through Amazon as a self-publisher. After my experience with my first book, working with a publisher makes little sense to me. What can a traditional publisher do for me that I can’t do myself? Shoot, my first books only sold due to my promotion of it, not what the vanity publisher made me pay for. The jury is still out on whether or not it was a good decision, but what I can tell you is that controlling every aspect of my book’s design, publication, and promotion has been empowering, and I’ve never felt I was in the dark about any of it like with my first experience.

I’m not saying to not use a traditional publisher (Although I would encourage you to stay away from vanity publishers like the friggen plague) but if you are going to let them work FOR you (That’s important) I suggest you thoroughly research them before signing anything. Resist your ego, and know more about them than they do about you before signing anything. Google them, look for reviews of their company, get a lawyer to review the contract, and check the BBB! Any red flags, DO NOT SIGN! It’s not worth it.

Don’t make the mistakes I made. Good luck!

For full details on Bill’s experience, watch the video below.

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