30 July 2003

Continuing from the wee hours of this morning:

Myth 5: Since Publisher X isn't asking for a lot of money up front, I am doing self-publishing. Deep Throat was right: follow the money. The key isn't whether the author must write a large check detailed for printing costs to the publisher/printer before delivery of any of the goods; the key is whether the author is in a capital inflow or capital inflow position at the moment the books come off the press, and who owns those books. A decision matrix would look like this:

Ownership of books as they come off the press: Author owns Publisher owns
Guaranteed capital flow on publishing date is away from author Self publishing Vanity publishing
… is toward the author Gift Commercial publishing

The key issue here is not the author's hopes and dreams for bestsellerdom, but the cold hard figures that go into account books on the date of publication. Leaving aside for the moment the author's contribution of intellectual property—which, in the end, is the whole point of the exercise of publishing, but not really relevant at the moment—if the author has to pay for marketing; for cover design; for a specified number of copies; or for whatever, the net capital flow is away from the author. Similarly, if the author must provide any value other than the intellectual property represented by the manuscript, such as a list of 300 persons who might be willing to buy the book, the net capital flow is away from the author.

Given the rarity of true gifts in the business world, that lower-left box is not something to pay attention to right now. But that top line is, regardless of the ignorant propaganda coming from what I believe is one specific source that was swallowed whole by PC Magazine ("Self-publishing has gained respectability in the past few years (we don't say vanity publishing any more)…" (emphasis added)), the Washington Post (sorry, the article is about to move into the paid archives), the Chicago Tribune (ditto), and the Boston Globe. Those four publications bear a considerable portion of shame for being conned when they should have known better, or at least done some fact-checking. No, not just shame; moral responsibility for people who will be victimized on the basis of the inaccurate information now clothed in their credibility.