September 2, 2014

Writers—Beware of Subsidy Publishers, Vanity Publishers, and Poetry Websites—A Personal Experience Account

I have published a children’s book entitled The Old Blue Whale with a subsidy press which came out in March of this year and I wanted to share my experience in hopes that you will not make the same mistake I made.

I am a schoolteacher, and I don’t think that I consciously set out to write a book. I have always enjoyed writing, but I was always pressed for time. After teaching my students about whales, my story just started coming together. Then I began to think about the possibility of a real children’s book. I developed a vocabulary, a glossary, a true facts section for whales, an activity page, and lastly an original poem that I had written previously that matched the story’s theme. I felt that it was developing into a viable book, and I began to let colleagues read it. Everyone loved my book. I read it to some classes at school and got great responses. Then teachers began to suggest publishing. I sent the manuscript to some large publishing houses. I got every last letter back unopened. I soon discovered that large publishers did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. I knew of no other publishing houses.

Then someone mentioned publishing from the Internet. I was totally unprepared for this experience, but by this time I believed in my book and wanted to publish it so I started to look.

The first subsidy publishers that I discovered on the Internet were Authorhouse, IUniverse, XLibris, and Dog Ear Publishing. I had never heard of “subsidy publishing” or “vanity publishing”, and these sites are also very careful not to explain the true differences between themselves and traditional publishers. They attempt to hook an unsuspecting new author by promoting their “generous” royalties, stating how little money you make with traditional publishers, “owning your copyright” as compared to signing it over to a company, “owning your book”, stating that you will have your own “design consultant”, and anything else that will make it sound wonderful. They stress that because you are in control of everything, you will make more money.

My call to the POD press I selected was answered by a voice saying “stay on the line” and a “representative”, (notice carefully this person is not identified as a salesperson), will answer.” Your new “representative” asks you a series of questions, and works to put you at ease about their services. The “representatives” are actually commissioned salespeople, and once your contract is signed you are forgotten. Your representative doesn’t want to be bothered with you any longer, because your signature is on that contract. Your representative is on to the next “patsy”.

One of their biggest lies is about online booksellers. They make you believe that the book will be on dozens of sites. The truth: My book appears on Amazon, Borders (these two companies are one now), Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Ingram distributors, and a few others. Just recently on Amazon I discovered that other booksellers have placed links to their sites to sell my book at a discount. Someone is actually offering a used copy for a greater discount.

The sites on which my book do not appear is just as serious. My book is not listed on Books in Print. I feel that it would help me if the book was listed in their database. It is not listed on the American Library Association. I certainly think that my book should be listed there.

My personal opinion is that I am wasting time if I wait for someone online to order my book. The chance of someone ordering a book from an author they have never heard of is slim to none. I am in hopes that I can change that. To better my chances, I enrolled my book in their Search Inside program. I have to send them a book which I will do shortly. I have already been “skinned” so what’s a little more.

The company I selected had these issues with these items:
They offer copyediting, for a greatly inflated price. I passed on that one because as a teacher, I felt that I could correct my errors. I quickly discovered that correcting your own work is not an easy task, and I paid a minimum $25 correction fee, plus $2 for each correction of any type, and a $15 charge for each galley (the book) on CD. As a newcomer to the writing world I had to do this twice, and this came to about an additional $100.

The “design team”. When your complete book is submitted on Microsoft word, your “design team” arranges a teleconference time for you. When you submit the manuscript, you have already indicted where new pages begin, where picture are placed, and where your book sections are placed. Your “design session” is simply a question-answer conversation where you as author must make all the decisions. If you ask for guidance they just put it right back in your lap with, “Well, it’s your book. How do you want it? So the result was that I designed everything myself, except the font choice. I did prod them to tell me their idea for a suitable font.
To the printer. Four months after submitting the manuscript, the book went to the printer at Lightning Source. Immediately there was a problem. I waited and waited and then I started calling the support service. I discovered that there was a problem with the casewrap. The book would not wrap correctly, so it was returned to correct the problem. When the book was returned to the printer, it went on the bottom of the stack to begin its wait all over again. I received my ‘complimentary copy’, reviewed it, and returned it with approval to print the 1st 100 copies. On March 3rd the books arrived, 5 months after submission of the manuscript.

The promotions department . The promotions department is fraught with problems. They promote press releases. They did write a very creative press release. I was required to write the release and a bio, and they did polish it up well. I think that part of the problem is that they did not have a particular person to address these releases to, and I am just now discovering how many were thrown out by the media that received them. Also, all releases are sent at one time. The author who must follow up on them cannot do so in a timely manner. The amount (500 releases) would take a full year for adequate follow-up (beginning authors have to work), and by then the media has forgotten you, if they ever paid attention the first time. The company tries to convince you to buy their press release promotion by stressing that the media can send for a free book. You, the unsuspecting new author, does not know that the media receives a glut of these daily. Their promotions are extremely overpriced.

Their promotion people are incompetent. My name and sometimes even the title of my book were misspelled on websites. When I complained, they stated they would fix the problem. Nothing was done and I complained again. Still nothing was done. I finally searched around on some of the sites and managed to fix part of the problems.

Other subsidy publishers are not the answer. For example, another very old subsidy publisher wants a person to submit their manuscript, and they will make the author a proposal. If a deal is struck, they want the author to sign over their book rights for two years. They will almost surely run the total book publishing cost up to around $3000. Yet unsuspecting people get caught in their web everyday. I visited another one day, and quickly decided they were not for me. I never found any prices listed. I searched their whole site. I couldn’t see any reason to investigate further. By this time I was a little wiser. All subsidy and or vanity publishers are going to be some version of each other. The name will be different, but the company goals will be the same. Make money off the author, not the sale of books. Don’t waste your time, and especially your hard-earned money on them. When you have to spend so much for publishing costs then you are locked into charging the consumer more for your book than you might feel is appropriate.

I want to say one positive statement about my experience. My book did come out looking very attractive. It is a quality paperback book. The cover is done in a spray laminate that looks great. The book folds out smoothly and all the text is readily visible. There is no text too near the binding. But I don’t know if I could make the book a large success. I think that the publishing and printing expense is part of the total problem.

What is the answer if you cannot contract with a traditional publisher right away? First, don’t despair and throw up your hands and quit. Who is better to believe in your work than you? Try your book out on people you have faith in and can value their opinion. If you believe your book is publishable, truly self publish your book. There are many companies servicing self publishers out there on the web. From my internet research I truly believe that self owned by Ron Pramschufer, is the best way to go. His prices are clearly listed. He assists you step by step, again being open about the charges for each step. His site provides links to Bowker (for your ISBN numbers) and for copyrighting your book. His people are easily accessible by phone (a human voice!!) and by e-mail. I spoke to the book coach by phone, and he knew that I was not yet a customer. He advised me to the best of his ability, and did not rush to get me off the phone. I will publish my sequel to my children’s book with self

In closing I would like to warn unsuspecting people to beware of websites that offer poetry contests. They are only concerned with making money. Everyone wins an Editor’s Choice Award. Imagine my surprise when I saw one hanging up in daughter’s house. It is just a piece of paper, thin paper at that. From then on they bombard your mailbox. They want to put your poem in their poetry anthologies. They are certain you will buy a book to see your poem in print. Then they offer you a page for your short bio. Naturally, this cost more money. They want you to attend very expensive conferences at which you read your poem in person, buy an expensive commemorative silver bowl engraved with your name, and buy a membership to their society. I experienced this with Fortunately I caught on very quickly, and now I throw all their mail in the trash.
Human nature gives us the desire to be heard. For some of us that desire expresses itself with the written word. If you have been caught by one of these companies, don’t dwell on the situation. Just move on and make better choices the next time.

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Jeannette Stricklen

Jeannette Stricklen is a special education teacher in a rural area of North Mississippi. She became a teacher later in life after suffering a debilitating auto accident. But tragedy is no stranger to Jeannette. As a young child she almost lost her life to a serious blood disease. The disease helped to foster her love for reading and books. At age 7 the little girl only weighed 40 pounds, and faced learning to walk again. Reading was her main pastime. As a teenager she again suffered a serious illness. She overcame, but severe headaches for many weeks made recovery difficult. After high school Jeannette married. She had a large family. One day she came home from work, and a note on the table announced that he had deserted the family. Years of struggle to raise her family followed. When Jeannette attended college after her accident, she set herself on a path to overcome previous adversities. She graduated 3rd in the college of education. She joined the Golden Key Honor Society and became a lifetime member. She wrote articles for the Student Government. Jeannette won scholarships each year to further her studies. While she was teaching she worked on her master’s degree, again graduating with honors. Jeannette spent the first 8 years of her teaching career in a Catholic School. She participated in many after school activities with her students. She enjoyed helping students write and perform original plays. In 1992, Jeannette entered the public school system, became certified in special education, and has taught in that field for 14 years. One accomplishment that she is very proud of is the completion of a grant for improving reading in her classroom. She will repeat the program this year, again with emphasis on improving the reading ability of her students. The study of sea life through Jeannette’s grant funds lead to her idea for her recently published book, The Old Blue Whale.

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  1. I agree with you about subsidy publishers or those that scam the author in publishing with them . I have been successful with traditional publishers, however I ventured into fiction and wrote novels which I could not get into publishers of my choice. These large publishing houses want name personalities. However I found PublishAmerica who accepted 2 of my novels but in the end all they want is the authors to send in as many names of friends etc so the company can send announcement of their publishing to each friend of the author–that is how they sell their books. In 4 years that they have had my novels, my royalties amounted to $2.00. One of the authors decided to buy one of each of my books. Therefore, I agree better to self publish– which I am now doing running my own company and through amazon I sell average 2-3 monthly. Not bad when I can get full price then.

  2. I appreciate your writing about your personal experience yet sorry to learn how troubling much of it was to you. I would suggest you think about writing articles that would reach out to those who would be interested in purchasing your book. At the end of the writing piece, you can indicate your name, book title, and the burb”Found in your favorite bookstore.” This way buyers will read your article and then hopefully go out and purchase your work.

    Good luck to you,
    Barbara Rubel, MA, BCETS, CBS, CPBC, Author

  3. I have published with Xlibris; A Pained Life, a chronic pain journey
    (note – I do not recommend this company) and I own all rights to my book.
    As with an unknown author who goes with a “legitimate” house, I have to get the word out myself. I use the click for the excerot and book as my signature at many of the email support groups I visit. This has resulted in sales.
    Piers Anthony and other well known authors have used POD because it gives them control over the content of the book and allows for faster turn around time (3 months as opposed to 1 – 2 years)
    Random House has iinvested in Xlibris because it believes POD is the way of the future in publishing.
    POD is not the same as subsidy and I think you need to make this clear to your readers.
    Thank you

  4. Grange (Lady Haig) Rutan says:

    Dear Jeanette,

    I Salute You! And my love for you runs deep!

    Fully believing that the written word is a lost art form and the reatily there are not enough “please” and “thankyous” in this world I have to tell you, of all the articles presented on Publishing Basics…I chose yours. Why? Because you were able to put into words what many of my contemporaries have gone through…and you did it succinctly and with panache, know how and intelligence. I know from whence I speak and your teaching back-ground/history allowed you to venture into your own book with backing and confidence derived from your own history.

    Barbara Rubel is correct and I join her in advising you of getting these comments out to aid and abet writters with a dream.

    After 15 years, my book will be out at Thanksgiving with A Publisher…no matter how long the journey, today, the AUTHOR MUST WORK, must be involved and stay there. It is the journey and you shared it well.

    Please know that I think you are special and thank you for your savvy perspective in today’s game of publishing.

    Stay in there and go for it, you have what it takes.

    Grange (Lady Haig) Rutan
    non-fiction biography of Al Haig, the chosen pianist of Bebop Titans: Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie (The Bird) Parker

  5. Your experience with Print-on-demand publishers is a sad one, indeed. As an academeician, before retirement, I had six books published by traditional publishers. After retiring and receiving an M.A. in creative writing, I write my first novel and had it published by one of the leading POD publishers. Overall my experience was a good one. However, I purchased all of their professional services at additional costs, only to wind up with several typos. I used their promotional service and believe that the results were zero. It is true that they ignore the problem of how very difficult it s to get a POD book into a chain store and how loathe newspapers and journals are to write reviews of such books. Lastly, the bottom line is that one must be prepared to work hard at promoting one’s own book and will probably never get a return on their investment. Yet everybody I spoke to or corresponded with was author friendly and the book itself was as professional in appearance as any I’ve ever seen. Hugh Rosen, D.S.W. Good luck with your next venture.

  6. About a year ago I reviewed a published novel for a woman who called me for advice. She had published her first book and was reconsidering whether to publish her second through one of the companies you discussed. She told me she paid for editorial services.

    I read her first book and was apalled! Not only were there serious typos, misspellings, and grammatical problems, I noted a couple time anachronisms that made the reading quite confusing. Clearly, her writing left a bit to be desired, but the editing left even more.

    That was an example of an author’s work that needed more and should never have been brought to market without it. But this day of easy and relatively inexpensive production of books is giving that kind of access to those who probably should keep their writing to themselves. There is THAT side to this issue, too!

  7. Jeannette Stricklen says:

    Thanks to all of you for your great comments and suggestions. I am just amazed at the outpouring of caring responses. I am e-mailing each of you individually, but will write more as my burned hand heals.
    Thank you also, Ron. I never expected your book plug. I appreciate it so very much. I am actually at a loss for adequate words. I am working on my sequel that your company will do for me.

  8. I am in the process of writing a book. But I get so much discouraged at the fee that the POD charge. Infact it appears as if they charge more than double what they should charge.

  9. Arthur Rathburn says:

    I am just now starting on the marketing of my fourth book in three years. The first three I used the services of a subsidy publisher. On the first three books I ended up paying the publisher each reporting period because their “admin” costs always exceeded my sales (this is after outragous costs for production). My own “face to face” sales have been quite good. Two of the books I have already broke even on. I fianlly separated from the publisher which has required that all of my books had to be recovered and sent to me, at my expence. These books have now been relabled with new ISBN’s and my publishing company logo, address, etc. (more expence). Chalk it all up to “education” (after a triple masters and a PhD I really didn’t want more education). The bottom line is now when I sell a book I make the money. I may even sell less books, but perhaps I will sell more. I think it is worth the gamble. The only big problem is how to get monsters like Ingrams and Amazon to lower themselves to deal with small (under ten title) publishers. Anyone have some ideas? Thanks for letting me ramble on. Art Come visit me at: or

  10. Pet peeve: any poetry publisher that asks for money for contests. We all know the “national” rip offs where everyone wins, they publish everything in tiny print, and you only ever see it if you buy it for $79.95. But what about the “real” or “legit” publisher and poet associations that hold contests and stay in business that way. The entry fee is only $10 per person. A zillion people enter, only one person “wins”. So bascially all the “losers” have just subsidized the career of the “winner”. To me, that is as much a scam as the $79.95 scam. Maybe more so because these low fee contest are called “real” and academic poets make their bones that way. And really every industry has this — art contests, drawing contests, photo contests. It’s sad. As for the POD learning curve, I’m glad people are speaking up about their experiences. Technology is great for letting us do things easily online — after we’ve learned what there is to be done! is another great option provided you are set up yourself to get your own ISBN, do your own layout to just upload a PDF, etc. There is no upfront cost with them. It’s proved to be an interesting way for us to test books, post full color workbooks for our eclasses and such. But if someone doesn’t know about ISBN, LOC, and doing your own layouts, etc, then it might not be a great option. Anyway, just glad people are sharing their experiences!

  11. I have been self published since 2001, and yes you have to be careful of whom you go with. My first one was published with GreatUnpublished who changed their name and then was bought by Amazon, and I DO NOT recommend them. My last order for books was HORRIBLE!

    I have since switched to STAR PUBLISH whom does a GREAT job, and I won’t ever wonder from them. As long as they are in existance, I won’t even think about going anywhere else. You can find their site at:

    Do your research and publish wisely…

  12. Effie Blake says:

    Getting my book published had been my dream for many years. I finally tried to put my best foot forward this year with a company called Publish America. They are reknown for helping relatively new authors get their books published without any cost to them — they pay you to publish your book.

    I am aware that PA has gotten both praise and criticisms. You have to draw your own conclusions, but I am pleased with my results. I’ve also heard that Whitmore Publishing is taking manuscripts right now for authors who they will pay all expenses. I may give them a try in the futute.

    You can contact them at: and Thank you and good luck with your endeavours.

  13. I have to thank you for this article. I am trying to have a first novel published that is geared towards pre-teen girls and I’ve had so many problems locating agents in the Christian market. Your article has helped me to make some better educated decisions.

    Thanks you for taking the time to tell others about your experience.

  14. Wow, finally a site with real honest answers!
    thank you so much for sharing your experiences!
    I too, am in the process of looking for publishing companies and have come to dead ends on all of them, either from the fees or from bad reviews. I just dont know who to trust, but i applaud you for you honesty and wisdom.
    I have written one christian fiction and a christian childrens book, and am in the process of writing a sequel to my adult fiction.
    I’m sorry you had to go through all of that and wish you the best of luck in the future. Thanks again!
    God Bless,

  15. This was interesting to read and find out about publishing. I am interested in getting work published myself and I am glad I came upon this site. Sorry to hear that your first try ended up such a hassle but it’s not to say it didn’t happen for a reason or else how else would the rest of us who’ve read your words here find out about these things that are so important to all of us who love to write. It’s sad but it’s not without reason, thanks so much for coming out and letting us know your struggles. It’s much appreciated, happy writing and with prayers that you will have easier times upon you for helping so many others in their travels with writing.

  16. Can anyone out there offer any assistance as to how I go about the whole copyright procedure, I want to reserve the title for a novel I am in the process of writing …Thanks!!

  17. margie tyrrell says:

    Hello there! I stumbled on your site by coincidence, actually looking for a publisher. (LOL) thank you so much for the warning! I have actually arranged to go with Authorhouse, however I am checking around for the best rates, and quality, of course! so, thank you for your comments, and that of your guests as well!
    many happy endeavors,

  18. Janis Dietz says:

    This is for Alice,from January. I just got on this site and noticed your question about Copyrigtht.I’m sure you have already had this answered,but I mailed my first book to myself.With the postage and sealed enveloped, it qualified for establishing a copyright.

    I find this sight very interesting as I am entering into the self-publishing route as a novice as well. Thanks to all of you! Janis Dietz

  19. Lisa Baptist says:

    This is so sad that after all this time people are still being had by PublishAmerica. They do not publish…they simply print! All of the online “publishers” you find are all the same. If you want your hard earned work to actually make it into a bookstore, then people, listen up and do what other authors have been doing for years. Buy the newst edition of Writer’s Market and find the right publisher and submit the old fashioned way.
    Everyone gripes about how they’ve been had by all these companies online, well I was taken too! What do we really expect when we do a two second search on google!!

  20. Thanks for sharing your experience which I found very useful. Last week, I got a publishing contract on my first manuscript; it came from an American commercial publishing company. I am unable to disclose the name of the publishing company for legal reasons of course. Although I was pleased that they would include my book in their publishing list of titles, I am still a little unsure about lots of clauses contained within the contract as it runs five pages long. However, I’ve been advised to ‘shop around’ a bit more before signing that dotted line. I have no doubt that I would make the right choice in the end. I share the opinion of one other person who responsed here to be commit yourself to marketing your title if you want rewarding results. In my own case, I briefly discussed my book’s theme to a few of my local libraries and some business professionals who in turn showed interest in stocking it when published. They were interested primarily in what inspired me to write it and I explained how it would positively impact on the community (my book is fiction with a message on social interest).

  21. Thanks for sharing your experience which I found very useful. Last week, I got a publishing contract on my first manuscript; it came from an American commercial publishing company. I am unable to disclose the name of the publishing company for legal reasons of course. Although I was pleased that they would include my book in their publishing list of titles, I am still a little unsure about lots of clauses contained within the contract as it runs five pages long. However, I’ve been advised to ‘shop around’ a bit more before signing that dotted line. I have no doubt that I would make the right choice in the end. I share the opinion of one other person who responsed here to commit yourself to marketing your title if you want rewarding results. In my own case, I briefly discussed my book’s theme to a few of my local libraries and some business professionals who in turn showed interest in stocking it when published. They were interested primarily in what inspired me to write it and I explained how it would positively impact on the community (my book is fiction with a message on social interest).

  22. Wow! I’m sorry for those authors who have fell prey to these companies. You all have just probably saved me from becoming a statistic. I’ve been speaking with a “publishing consultant” from Xlibris for weeks. After sharing my vision with this company, I now find myself screening their calls. However, the major publishers I’ve attempted to contact still have not showed much interest. That would be fine if they actually read my material. I have a completed narrative-non fiction story about my life and times, growing up in Baltimore City. It’s a powerful story with a positive and spiritual message. I’m working with a professor at Morgan State, I’ve spoken with agent Marc Gerald (50 Cent and Ed Bagley Jr.) and I’m working with affiliates of Reggie Williams ans Carmello Anthony (played basketball with both). Still, I’ve struggled to get someone to take the time to read my story. Mr. Gerald (L.A.) said they were not signing any new authors at the time. I wish he would have at least read the story before telling me this. I know my story has big potential. I have several contacts, but none are too familiar with the world of book publishing. I’m stuck, using God to find my way. I guess He led me to you’ll. Good luck and God Bless! Thanks for the insight.

  23. Thanks so much for an extremely well written article. You have very clearly pointed out the pitfalls which await the unwary first-time writer venturing into POD publishing …. and you’ve done so without venom or back stabbing. Which gives your advice great credibility with me. I am researching various POD’s, trying to clearly formulate a plan and decide if that route is the way for me at this point. I have heard good reports about one or two of these publishers …. and I follow up on any hint I am given…. So will be checking out your recommended “self …

    In reponse to Odell, I also had a bad experience with XLibris. I ordered their brochure and being a neophyte, carelessly included my phone number in that online request. What a mistake! I was inundated with phone calls, while there was no brochure forthcoming. Until I lost my temper and told them to either send the brochure or please stop harassing me. I got the brochure Nicely printed and informative. But by that time I was irritated. The harassment picked up again. I politely requested them to pull my name from their call list since my book wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to discuss it before I had a complete manuscript. They ignored me and kept calling.

    This nonsense ended with the last call. I announced that I was leaving for Bhutan in a week, would not be back for 6 months and had sold my book to a wonderful new publishing company in Mauritius. That ended the calls.

    The next confrontation ( ongoing) was with Wheatmark. Same scenario …. except this time I had the presence of mind not to include my telephone number. I requested a brochure online. Then I received a letter asking that I “confirm” my request …. buried in teeny weeny letters was the note that by clicking onto that link I was agreeding to an ONLINE brochure and all relevant information. I fired off a furious letter and said to either send me their brochure or remove me from their mailing list. I received another lovely brochure. A beautiful thing! Only problem was that buried in the charts and quotes was a discreet double page of “extras” …. in order to apply for basic proofreading, I was required to order another level of editing services. I calculated $5000 worth of so called basics, before I’d get those five “complimentary” copies. Another tip-off was a ( mercifully optional) $250 charge for 1000 business cards!!!!!!!! …….

    I am amazed that so many people, with the resources of the Internet staring at them, jump into these POD agreements …. Just type in the name of the POD and add the word “scam” … you will pull up an amazing amount of information.

    Thanks again …. for your excellent first person article. You made my day. Or my night, actually since it’s 2 AM and I’m still researching ….

  24. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I’m a 38 year old mother of 4 children and have been dreaming of seeing my books published for 2 years now. I’ve been writing for 10 of those years but it’s only till now that I feel confident enough to start my journey to go all the way and try to find a publisher. I’m praying for good advice and direction, so your words of expericence are really going to help me out in this process.

  25. Fariba Heidari says:

    I only wish I could see this before (09/26/2009) I signed “Author and Dog Ear Publishing Contract”!
    So, I did not have to File a Lawsuit for Copyright Infringement and Fraud.

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