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S&S: A Few Questions and Thoughts

Okay, we need to talk about this Simon & Schuster (S&S) news. So, grab your coffee – and your rage – and come sit by me. Because I have thoughts AND questions.

Now, I realize that self-publishing in a valuable endeavor for some people. Hell, I self-pubbed a book of poetry, because I wanted to do it. I had no grand expectations of being on Oprah. I did not expect to turn into Neruda or Plath overnight. I did it, because I wanted to – not because I thought I’d take the publishing world by storm. I had certain (reasonable) expectations.

I know several authors for whom self-publishing is the right choice. They’ve carefully considered their options and jumped in with goals, expectations, and eyes wide open. These are writers who are SMART. They hired editors, people to design their covers, and beta readers out the wazoo. In short, they’re not tossing out grammatically horrendous, typo ridden nonsense, and then imploding when someone decides to play SNAKE with them. (That will always make me laugh. I am not sorry.) In fact, Denise and Trisha? They’re awesome. I’ve had the pleasure of beta reading for Trisha, and I will read her books as often as she writes them. For her, the decision to self-pub was the RIGHT one. To each, her own.

Now, S&S (through a service called Archway Publishing.) has decided to offer self-publishing packages. You pay them a certain amount of money, and they publish your book. Years ago, we would’ve called this a vanity press. With the currently publishing landscape in transition, I’m not entirely sure WHAT to call it. But it feels kind of shady.

Let’s discuss that. For fiction, the cheapest package cost $1,999. Okay, let’s assume that I’ve got two grand kicking around under my mattress. Let’s assume I have a manuscript that is a) ready and b) I don’t want to light on fire. (Hide the matches.) What is the PURPOSE of this package? Well, apparently, it’s for a writer to “share a book with family and friends.”

Um, guys? If I wanted to entertain my family and friends with my words, I’d just print something out at Kinko’s. I remember doing that — IN HIGH SCHOOL. It was called a zine. Or, hell, I’d pull a Little Women and resurrect the Pickwick Club in the attic and all of you would be forced to act out my stories. *ahem* The package seems to include quite a bit (see below), but does it really?

I…have questions. What the heck is editorial assessment? Is that the same thing as editorial service? Nope. “The Editorial Assessment is not a replacement for our editorial services. Rather, it is a preliminary diagnostic tool, examining sections of the manuscript in detail to pinpoint areas in need of improvement.  Reviewers offer examples of items that could be strengthened and give critique and commentary across a range of topics.” So, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, but they won’t help you fix it. I don’t know about you, but that’s what a good beta reader does. “Hey, you screwed up over here!” Or “this needs more sex!” “Why is your character speaking in German? He’s not German.” So, that’s not exactly what someone might expect it to be.

For someone who understands publishing, or who has friends to pose questions to, you’d be well aware of the difference between editorial assessment and editorial service. But what about Sally Whatshername, who knows NOTHING about publishing? Picture her, a bright young thing, with a newly polished manuscript and a dream. She sees assessment and thinks differently. She thinks, “Hey, if I fork off $2,000 dollars, S&S will publish my manuscript!”

And then she does, without understanding what goes into a successfully self-publishing career. She has no idea how to cultivate an audience base, or market, or make connections. She is that person on Twitter who goes, “BUY MY BOOK! LOOK WHO PUBLISHED IT!” And it doesn’t have quite the same impact as one might’ve hoped. Because the publisher’s name doesn’t quite mean the same thing, does it? Because once you can buy something, the value of it tends to change.

Next up, I have concerns about the “classic author support.” What’s classic about it, exactly? Is it vintage? Timeless? I’m not really certain of the diction there, but let’s assume this is a person who helps you. Indeed, the website describes it as series of people who will function as your “point of contact” to assist you during the publishing process. So, essentially, a set of publishing guidance counselors. Even after reading the description, I’m really not sure how that person supports you. Do they take your phone calls at 1:00 am, when you can no longer remember what an adverb is? Buy you a drink when you are CONVINCED that everything you’ve written is total shit? Probably not. (Your agent would though, if he/she is a good one. For prime examples, see Brooks Sherman and Janet Reid.) This point of contact changes, depending on the phase of the project, which means you will have to form quick relationships with anonymous strangers in order to complete your project. How acquainted could these people BE with your project? The time frame, from signing with the S&S service to completion is…I don’t actually know. I couldn’t find the answer to that question on their website. I would be curious to know what the turnaround time is, because those in the publishing world are well-aware of the length of time it takes to Bibbity Bobbity Boo a manuscript into a proper book. There are a lot of man hours and hard work that go into it. Things that cannot be properly accomplished in a month.

This seems like a way for a traditional publisher to cash in on the changing landscape of the publishing world. In theory, that isn’t a bad business practice. Adapt or die, as Darwin says. But this isn’t about developing a longer beak to snatch a worm. This is about making art, making literature, and publishing thoughts. There’s something to be said about adapting in a smart, reasonable fashion. Right now, a good editorial assessment might cost you $2,000 alone. A writer might be better off spending the cash on that, making the book as good as it can possibly be, and then going from there. Find an agent. Self-publish on Amazon. You get what you pay for, and while I balked at spending that amount of money for a publishing package, I’m betting that what you actually GET isn’t going to be what you’re hoping for. If fame and fortune and success all came cheap, or was available at Costco, we’d all be rich, pant-less, and frolicking the Caribbean instead of working and eating ramen noodles.

  1. November 27, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Well done, Ali. Thanks for the informative review. I saw the S&S stuff and was immediately skeptical. They definitely need to have better information regarding their services.

  2. November 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I totally agree with your questions (and thanks for the shout out). I pay around $2000 for developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing for each of my books, and that’s not taking into consideration cover design, formatting, or any of the many marketing options that don’t include making your Twitter friends throw darts at your username. What I’m saying is, there’s no way $2K is going to buy you everything they’re claiming – not if it’s QUALITY – which, in the end, is what every author (self-pubbed or otherwise) should be shooting for.

    Oh, and btw? AFTER you pay them the $2k, they’ll still take royalties. An obscene percentage, from what I’m seeing kicked around the interwebs. My advice? Be vewwy vewwy careful. Don’t pay someone else to do what you can do better (more credibly) yourself.

  3. Heidi
    November 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    So very well said. I completely agree. This is madness.

  4. November 28, 2012 at 5:32 am

    CreateSpace does it for an infinitesimal fee. This new move by the Biggies is just chasing after authors who are not willing to hang around for aeons waiting for the agent/editor/publisher to produce the actual book.
    Firms like Simon and Schuster have just noticed where the crowd is running to.

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