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How Can You Know If a Royalty Publisher is Legit?

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The below post is from our October, 2014 Free Resource newsletter:

These days in the publishing industry, it’s difficult to discern the true meaning of the words used by some publishers.

First let’s understand what a subsidy publisher is as opposed to a traditional publisher.

Subsidy Publisher vs Traditional Publisher

A subsidy publisher is one whose business model requires the author to underwrite the cost of publishing. Most often, the services are overpriced and convoluted so understanding how much you are paying for each service is nearly impossible. However, the upside to working with a credible and reputable subsidy publisher is that you retain all the rights to your book, receive the profits from the sales, retain final decisions for editorial and creative work done to your manuscript, and at the same time also receive sound advice on how to produce and market a quality product.

A traditional publisher is one who pays all costs of production and all, some or none of the publicity and promotion costs. But the fact that they underwrite the production costs also gives them all editorial and creative rights, and the profits from the sales while paying you just a small royalty.

Don’t Get Duped by Impostor or Poser Subsidy Publishers

Snake Oil Promotions -- authors, don't get duped

The growth of subsidy publishers who try to sound like traditional publishers has skyrocketed over the last 20 years, and some have grown brazen enough to tell authors they are traditionally published authors when nothing could be further from the truth. For the purpose of clarifying the true definitions of the terms used in our industry, we’ll call those subsidy publishers who try to sound like traditional publishers “Posers” or “Impostors”.

Below you’ll find the true definitions for twelve vital terms. Knowing this information will keep you from being taken advantage of and, hopefully, enable you to discern which publishers are worth pursuing and which ones to avoid.

Term Poser/Impostor Traditional
Publishing Contract Document – Agreement between 2 people Combined with traditional it has a completely different meaning.
Pub Board A sales staff that usally includes the publisher who agree to publish authors who pay. Representatives from different departments meet typically once a month to twice a year to determine what they will publish: company executives, presidents, vice presidents, sales and marketing folks, and editorial representatives. The acquisitions editor pitches the book to see if the consensus is positive and a contract can be offered.
Acceptance  They accept anyone, but make it sound like you are special. You are accepted because you are willing to pay for the publisher to produce your book. One “Christian Publisher” congratulates their authors on being traditionally published and that is a LIE. You are accepted because the publisher believes in your work and that they will make a profit on the manuscript you produce. As a result, they are willing to take a risk on you. You are hired as a sub-contractor and will be paid on the job you perform.
Acquisitions Editor A salesperson representing a publisher who charges for their services but tries to make it sound like they are a traditional publisher. Has the authority to acquire authors with manuscripts their publishing house will offer a publishing contract to.
Advance None offered. An advance is money paid before the book is published and is against the royalties to be earned. You have not actually earned that money until your product “sells through” and is not returned.
Royalties 50-75% of the NET, but the net means they have deducted the cost to print your book and that figure is typically inflated and inappropriate since author has already paid to be published. They should receive all profits not a percentage. Royalties are generally 5-25% of the NET, and the net is not reduced by the printing cost. Most secular publishers pay their royalty on the Retail Price.
Marketing Package vs. Publicist Sales copy describing this package sways you into thinking the publisher has a publicist working for you to promote your book. This is a LIE. In reality this is an inflated package that includes a poorly written press release that is posted on a Christian media website. No personal contact, books sent, follow up, or reporting on outlets who picked up the story. Traditional publishers typically have an in-house (or outsourced) publicist who writes your press kit and promotes your book to radio/TV/print media outlets through a contact list through which relationships have been developed over many years by the publisher/publicist. Publicist sends out books (at the publisher’s expense) to media and then follows up to schedule interviews. Not all titles are provided this service.
Distribution Distribution is a flyer or catalog. It might be a booth at an industry event. But “distributing” your book does not mean it will be on traditional bookstore shelves. There are really only a couple of distribution companies including: Ingram, Spring Arbor, Anchor and STL Distributors. Distribution companies are a third party entity “middle man” that provides the transition from publisher to bookstores. Traditional publishers can’t guarantee your book will be in regular bookstores either, but bookstore owners and chains have built a trust of the professionalism and quality of their product and so will tend to place books out of these distribution catalogs if they trust the publishing company.
ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) BEA (Book Expo America) Placement You pay $399 or WAY more to have your book, along with hundreds of other books, “displayed” at a convention for bookstore buyers. For large sums you can attend and do a book signing where you pay for and give away 25-150 copies of your book. You can even pay for large banners and placement in the booth so you feel like a big-named author. The likelihood of any bookstore placing an order for your book or reviewing the free copy you give them and then placing an order is low. The bottom line for these types of trade shows is the publisher is getting lots of advertising for their services and the authors are underwriting the cost of the booth and all the advertising. The publisher pays for their own booth, all the advertising, scheduling their authors for media interviews. They have sales staff in the booth that have relationships with buyers and sell the publisher’s books to bookstores for resale. Authors do not pay for the free books that are used as publicity at these events. The author does not pay a fee to attend, sign, or have their books displayed but likely pays their travel/hotel/meal expenses. Some “A”-list authors do not pay expenses. But that’s the top authors and is not as common any more as traditional publishers must cut expenses. Some traditional publishers have discontinued participation in some of the events as well with the advent of internet sales.
Website Many poser publishers include an author’s website in their package, which is no more than a 2-dimensional static landing page, or worst case just a page on their online bookstore showing the cover and description and the option to buy a copy. It’s often an “option” or “bonus” but doesn’t look professional. A true author’s website is multiple pages and dynamic and interactive. Traditional publishers expect authors to have their own website to promote their books, but also include their front list and back list on their company website.
Publisher’s Catalog Printed or digital full color catalog that gives a description, cover image, and ISBN and retail price. Some publishers claim they are mailed out to 4-6,000 Christian stores. There aren’t even close to 4,000 Christian stores in existence anymore. It’s way less than 2,000. Bookstores know these publishers will publish virtually anyone who pays them so these catalogs have no credibility with bookstore buyers. They are most often relegated to the circular file and not taken seriously by buyers. The publisher promotes their lineup of books for the year along with their backlist and sends the catalog out to bookstores across the country, as well as directly to head buyers for chain stores whom they have relationship with. These catalogs are used by sales staff who “hand sell” your book to buyers. These catalogs are also sent out in advance of book releases by months. Christmas books are pre-sold to buyers Jun-Aug with releases in Aug and Sep.
Lifetime Book Return Service Oftentimes these publishers charge $800 for your book to be listed as returnable and for you to avoid having royalties and printing costs deducted from your earnings in the event of a return. POD publishers have very low return rates which make this type of charge excessive. The returns pricing is often excused away for retailer shipping charges. This is not an accurate way of doing business. Traditional publishers reduce the royalty paid to the author based on returns. Because publishers often sell to big box stores and resellers at large quantities, returns can easily eat up royalties in the future. But there is no charge to authors. Unless a special has been arranged, retailers pay the shipping of both purchasing product and returning it. So to keep costs low on returns, the retailer tears off the front cover and throws away the rest of the book.

This resource has been provided by Redemption Press ( Our mission is to empower Christian authors to find their voice and connect with their audience. Sign up now to have this valuable monthly resource delivered free to your email inbox.

We invite you to explore our a la carte services designed to maximize your value as an author — we believe you should only pay for what you NEED and nothing more.

We’d love to have you visit us at our offices in Enumclaw, WA, give us a call toll free at 844-2REDEEM (844-273-3336), or chat with us online.

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Meet the Publisher

I've been around Christian publishing since 1987 when I helped our ministry self-publish an important resource for Vietnam veterans and their families. That book went on to be picked up by a royalty publisher and has since sold over 250,000 copies with a million in print.

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