Most of the author solution services I review here are companies I have been familiar with over the past three to four years since I began my research on fee-charging publishing services in the industry. Though, I have known some companies a great deal longer.
“Even at the age of fifteen, I was already very familiar with those vanity publishing ads in the Sunday newspapers. I remember writing off to Vantage Press for their brochure — getting it a few days later in the post and spending many nights in bed browsing through it and dreaming away about my future life as a novelist. Around then, I started buying the Writers & Artists Yearbook and other books on writing and publishing. I came across writers like Peter Finch who dared to write about self-publishing at a time when it was frowned upon by the literary establishment.”
From Vanity & the Typewriter by Mick Rooney
I first came across Vantage Press when I was fifteen years of age. That was twenty-seven years ago. Even now, Vantage Press, based in New York since its foundation in 1949 as a publisher, is still considered the grandfather of vanity publishers. For traditional publishing purists, that may still be the perception. Prior to the past few weeks, the last time I took a close look at Vantage Press was last summer. By December, David Lamb, a former investment banker, had bought Vantage Press.
Lamb saw Vantage Press as an independent publishing house with a reputable sixty-year history in paid-publishing services. He was unwilling to see the company under his stewardship adopt the (POD) print on demand model of publishing like many of its ‘internet’ competitors. Lamb believes the Vantage Press brand name operates at the quality end of paid-publishing, offering services underlined with integrity and transparency, and without the need to compromise and see the company slide into the lower end of the market.
“For all these professional services, our fees are considered fair and reasonable, as evidenced by the fact that we publish hundreds of new books each year. But, please be realistic: most books by new authors do not sell well, and most authors do not recoup the publishing fee.
…we do not ‘print-on-demand’. This is critical for the commercial availability of your book, since most booksellers refuse to stock print-on-demand titles.”
It is easy for any publisher to bandy around the fact that they have been in business for sixty-one years—moreover when your competitors have only emerged over the past ten years or less. On face value, Vantage Press appears to present arguments which fly in the face of ‘publish your book for $200’ deals, and instead, present services costing between $5000 and $25,000. Where Vantage Press differ from some of the competition is that they provide thorough and professional copy editing as well as typesetting and interior layout on all their published books.
Over its sixty year history, Vantage Press has published more than 20,000 books by more than 15,000 authors. Some of their most successful titles include Alice McDermott’s 1982 novel, A Bigamist’s Daughter, which was eventually acquired by Random House. McDermott was actually a clerk typist with Vantage Press and later went on to became a Pulitzer Prize nominee more than once and the book sold over 100,000 copies with Vantage Press.
Vantage Press was one of the early publishing advocates of direct marking selling as far back as the 1950’s and it has remained a feature of its approach since the foundation of the company. Today, its direct marketing program is also combined with internet marketing for all titles.
What I do particularly like about Vantage Press is the fact that they are forthright about the perils and disadvantages of self-publishing and fee-charging publishers and do not engage in overplaying their services or portraying self-publishing as the only game in town. Not only that, but Vantage Press is willing to draw direct attention to their own controversy and shortcomings of the past.
[In May, 2010, the accredited rating was upgraded to A+]
“A lawsuit stemming from 1971 accused Vantage of inadequate marketing; the suit was settled in 1990 after a judgment against Vantage and its then-owners, and the company clarified its marketing promises after that. That Vantage amended its ways can be seen in its current “A-“ Better Business Bureau rating, showing complaints from only two out of thousands of clients over the last five years.”
Some of the advice offered by Vantage Press goes to the very heart of criticism of so-called ‘self-publishing companies’ and their blunt candour is refreshing.
“…Print-on-demand publishers manufacture each copy to order – but they won’t tell you that not having physical inventory inhibits many stores from even ordering. This is an often overlooked but critical difference that sets Vantage apart. Every Vantage title can be stocked by booksellers because we agree to accept returns – print-on-demand ‘publishers’ often make their authors pay hundreds of dollars more to comply with what is simply the custom of the book industry.”
“A word of caution about financial returns. No one can predict how a book will sell and, consequently, how much of your fee you are likely to regain by publishing your work with us. Some authors have received satisfactory returns. Others, however, did not find the market receptive and their financial rewards have been negligible.”
“Sales of Vantage Press books vary widely. Some books sell a few hundred copies or less; some, a few thousand copies; a handful have sold even more. By its very nature, book publishing is an unpredictable business, and the author who pays to publish his or her work should weigh the risks involved.”
To be fair to other author solutions services, many would not be selling publishing packages in the $5000 – $25000 bracket, and I am sure with what Vantage Press offer at their lowest entry level–many of the basic services are already built into the $5000+. Unlike other competitors Vantage Press will not provide a detailed quote and breakdown on service fees until they have received the author’s manuscript for review (submission page). They are also candid enough to concede that many manuscripts submitted to them are published, but the physical book is of high quality, professionally edited and designed, conceding suitability and success in the book market to the quality of content the author can produce.
“We believe that you and all other authors have a right to express your ideas in print and present your creative efforts to the public. In that spirit Vantage Press has a policy of offering to publish most manuscripts that are submitted.”
Every book accepted by Vantage Press gets the following offered in their book proposal:
*ISBN/Barcode Allocation (Registered with Vantage Press)
*LCCN (Library Cataloguing Number)
*Professional Copy Edit
*Custom Cover (Author can supply materials if they wish)
*Advance Information sheet to Sellers
*Review copies sent to newspapers, magazines, and broadcast outlets in your local area and nationally, taking into account specialty and internet media.
*Sample copies sent to selected booksellers and libraries
*When practical, a coordination of book signings
*500 Contacts for direct sell list
*Inclusion in Vantage Press trade catalogue
*Online distribution listing (including Books in Print)
*Wholesale warehousing and fulfilment of inventory
*Direct sales marketing from Vantage Press
*Initial offset print run of 400-1000 books
*Free print runs thereafter if required
*100% Returns program offered to booksellers
*Submission of legal copies to National Library
*50 to 100 Author copies supplied
*50% Discount on retail price for any copies bought by author
*40% Royalty on retail book price
*Cancellation of contract allowed after two years (contract is active from the date the book production is completed)
*Paperback or hardback editions
*Option to use Vantage Press just as your printer
Again, Vantage Press is happy to concede that authors should not expect book sales to be at the level of those achieved by a large commercial publisher and Vantage Press sales ‘will be more modest’ with ‘a minority of Vantage titles sell out their first printings’. Vantage Press also stress that there is no obligation or hard sell on the author to purchase copies of their own book.
Vantage Press offer a 40% discount to the trade, take 20% themselves, and the remaining 40% is the author’s royalty. All percentages are based on the retail price of the book. Retail prices of Vantage Press titles are competitive and in line with prices from other books from trade publishers. The following guide is based on an average 200pp book with no internal colour or illustrations:
Paperback (6 x 9) – $11 to $15 approx.
Hardback (6 x 9) – $20 – $25 approx.
I did note trade orders must be 5+ copies to qualify for the 40% discount, or otherwise, 20% for 1 – 4 copies. This is the one area which poses a big disadvantage for retailers. While Vantage Press do offer all retailers 100% returns, a bookseller’s product buyer may be unwilling to purchase 5 copies of an unknown author’s book due to shelf-space restrictions.
Current owner of Vantage Press, David Lamb, has plans to turn the sixty-one-year-old company into a premium trade publisher, only publishing a small number of authors and offering what he describes as a ‘concierge service’ provided by industry professionals. He also plans to launch a new imprint called Vantage Point in 2011 which will select and publish up to a dozen titles per season.
Overall, Vantage Press is not the best fit for an author proficient in design, layout and other book production skills, but for authors looking to publish a niche market book—having tried the traditional route to publishing through agents and commercial publishing houses—Vantage Press may come as a breath of fresh air from the promises and hot air expelled by so many large author solutions services. My only other gripe would be that I found the Vantage Press book covers average to eye-catching, but could do with a little more inspiration, though the Vantage Press catalogue does have quite a high volume of non-fiction and memoirs.
I will not deny I approached my research on Vantage Press based on my perception of them many years ago as an out-and-out vanity press. What I discovered was a company prepared to be refreshingly honest with authors looking at a fee-charging publishing service. They are certainly committed to delivering a physical book product professionally edited and presented to the trade.
What Vantage Press also demonstrates is that you get what you pay for if you enter the paid-publishing field. Some authors may feel that even their minimum charge of $5000+ is exorbitant, but if an author is contracting out the production of their book alone, they must consider the fact that professional book design services to produce a book worthy of being presented to the trade is going to conservatively cost, $500-800 for a cover design, $1000 for proper typesetting and layout, and $2000 for a professional copy editing of an average length novel of 100k words. Factor in an initial short offset print run and many other services required to produce a published book and you can see why so many authors are looking to learn many new skills to carry out some of this work themselves.
Vantage Press is for those authors not sufficient in book production skills and looking to have a book produced to a high physical quality. Ultimately, if an author submits a poorly written manuscript, at best, they are going to end up with a well-edited book of poor content. Even Vantage Press is not going to make a bad book a good one—that responsibility will rightly always lie with the author.
If I were rating vantage press on transparency and honesty alone — we would be looking at a 9 or 10. Vantage Press have genuinely surprised me this time around. Their FAQ page is an honest down-to-earth reflection of what the advantages and disadvantages are for using a fee-charging service. There are a lot of other competitor services who would do well to read through the FAQ page. Indeed, authors alike, even if they are not considering Vantage Press. With exceptional royalties of 40% (on retail price), combined with the high-end fees, this is actually closer to what is offered by Partnership Publishers.
UPDATE: Aug 2011
Vantage Press launch their trade imprint