Friday, January 29, 2010

Brent and Michael debate (sort of)

On January 25, Brent Sampson (left, above), the often-inept boss of often-inept vanity publisher Outskirts Press, blogged about what he perceives to be the difference between “self publishing” and a “self publishing company.”

Many people assume that pay-to-publish companies like Outskirts describe their businesses as "self-publishing" in order to cash-in on a term that is exciting, modern, glamorous, revolutionary, hip, cool, in vogue, a buzzword, etc.

  • Brent denies that. Instead, he indicates that "self-publishing" has negative implications and is used almost as a warning, to let would-be authors know that the "self-publishing companies" won't do all that is required to make a book a success, and that authors are largely responsible for their book's success or failure.
  • Michael thinks Brent is not being honest, and that he uses the "self-publishing" term to attract customers -- not to warn them.
Here's what Brent said, with Michael's comments in red:

I would like to address a point of contention and misunderstanding facing the author-supported self-publishing industry today, and that is the chasm between “self-publishing” and “self-publishing companies” or what some call ”vanity” publishing. Authors who have traditionally published books or independently published their own books by doing all the work themselves often denounce “self-publishing companies” as either “vanity” publishers if they’re being nice, or “scams” if they’re feeling particularly hostile. [It's more likely that they're trying to warn people.] Neither term is accurate; although I can appreciate their point of view–they’ve worked hard to accomplish something that self-publishing companies make relatively easy, so you can’t blame them for being mad.

While we critics are upset, we are not yet foaming-at-the-mouth like mad dogs. Except for a small book business that's owned by a self-publishing author, there's no such thing as a "self-publishing company." The words just don't make sense the way you and your competitors like Author Solutions use them.

A person can be self-educated, but only if she educated herself. And just as it's impossible for someone else to self-educate you, self-immolate you, self-medicate you, self-express  you or self-anything-else  you... no other person or company can self-publish you. The words just don't make sense. If others do it to you or for you, you're not doing it yourSELF.

  • Vanity publishing and self-publishing are as different as murder is from suicide, as different as adoption is from conceiving and giving birth, as different as buying a term paper is from researching and writing one, as different as buying a house is from designing and building one, or paying for a bus ride vs. learning how to drive and driving yourself, or buying a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish vs. catching and cooking a fish.
Publishing is a business where the end-product is a collection of words, and people in the business should use words properly. Brent, I don't expect you to refer to your company as a vanity publisher or even a pay-to-publish company, but you could legitimately call it an author services company. No way in hell is it a self-publishing company.

Ultimately, much of the confusion [REAL self-publishers aren't confused, but your customers are.] comes down to semantics, and a misunderstanding [No Brent, it's not misunderstanding, it's DELIBERATE MISUSE of language.]  of what differentiates “self-publishing” from a “self-publishing company.” I imagine  “self-publishing companies” may use the term “self-publishing” in their marketing efforts, not to anger independent self-publishers, but rather to SET THE EXPECTATIONS of their own authors.

Oh, come on, Brent. This is the place for facts, not what you imagine may be happening. Be honest. Tell the world why YOUR company uses the term.

If you are really using the term "self-publishing" to reduce the expectations of potential customers, the term belongs in the fine print of contracts -- not in the headlines of ads.

You know damn well that you use the term to attract customers -- NOT to warn them.

By labeling services as “self-publishing” there is an attempt to make it clear to the authors who use such services that their success rests largely on their own shoulders, [Get real. The term is used to glamorize sleazy businesses by deceiving potential customers.]  just as it does for authors who independently self-publish. [NO. Your customers are less likely to succeed compared to skilled and knowledgable real self-publishers because your books are often poorly edited and poorly promoted -- and I have email from your customers and actual Outskirts books and press releases to prove it.] The difference is that with self-publishing companies, instead of incurring the time and effort of establishing a DBA [It took me less than five minutes and cost me just $8, and my DBA is valid for life!] and or LLC or C-Corp or S-Corp or sole-proprietorship with the state [NONE of that is necessary for self-publishing] , reviewing cover designers [Yes of course -- that's how to get a good-looking cover.] , seeking interior formatters [Not difficult.] , getting bids from printers [Not necessary.] , acquiring ISBNs [Very easy.] , dealing with Ingram [Not necessary.] , dealing with fulfillment [Not necessary.], dealing with returns [Not necessary.], dealing with accounts receivables [Not necessary.] , dealing with taxes, [Paying income tax is no different with self-publishing or vanity publishing. You deduct the costs of doing business, and pay tax on the net income.] etc., etc., etc.  [No etceteras.] , the author is incurring a service charge and having all those details taken care of for them. [Oops. "Author" is a single noun. "Them" does not agree with it. Brent, you were an English major in college, weren't you? But, more importantly, Outskirts Press does not take care of all of the details, because with Outskirts Press, editing is an option, not a basic part of the publishing packages.]  It’s not right for everyone, but it is right for a lot of people. [Crappy books are not right for any people.]

There are [Should be "is."] a growing number of companies in the “self publishing” industry. [Sure -- it's the scam du jour.]  And why not? As the traditional publishing industry continues to struggle, the self-publishing industry is growing at a steady pace and is earning more respectability daily. [Self-publishing, yes; vanity publishing, no.] The internet has made it possible for anyone to sell a book globally (on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble) and has also improved the book marketing reach of authors who leverage popular sites like YouTube and twitter. [Actually, it's "Twitter."]

Very soon, traditional and bestselling authors with established names (Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, etc.) will realize they no longer need traditional publishers and will turn to “self publishing companies” [Which do not exist.] for a greater stake of the profits. [While Stephen and Stephanie may turn to self-publishing, it seems highly unlikely that they will use a company like Outskirts Press. If they want more money, they may follow the pattern of Hollywood stars who formed their own movie production and distribution companies.]

“Self-publishing companies” [Which do not exist.] are service companies [Correct -- so call them author service companies.] who [Should be "which."] provide valuable (and convenient) services to writers for a fee. This is no different from any other service industry. For example, I can either choose to do my own taxes, or I can pay H&R Block to do them for me. [But H. & R. Block doesn't call their operation a self-tax-preparation company!] I can either build my own house, or I can buy one that has been built by professionals, so I’m confident it won’t fall apart. [What about vanity books that  fall apart, or have blobs of glue on the first and last pages, or misaligned pages, or defective formatting, or no fact-checking or editing?]  I can either milk my own cow, or I can go to 7-11 and buy a gallon of milk that is ready to drink. Are people surprised that 7-11 charges money for milk? Do they get upset that 7-11 charges more money for a gallon of milk than King Soopers does? Rational people realize that convenience costs money and that industry know-how costs money. [Some Outskirts books indicate that your company has inadequate know-how.] To suggest that a company cannot help you self-publish  [There's nothing wrong with helping someone to self-publish, but Outskirts customers are NOT self-publishing. If Outskirts is the publisher, its authors are NOT self-publishing. If the ISBN and logo on a book indicate that Outskirts is the publisher, the author is NOT the publisher and self-publishing did NOT occur.] is like saying H&R Block cannot help you do your personal taxes. [But H. & R. Block doesn't call their operation a self-tax-preparation company! Quicken's TurboTax is for people who want to do self-preparation of their income taxes.]

Do I really want to spend my valuable time doing taxes, building a house or milking a cow–all of which first requires me to LEARN how to properly do all those things? Or would I rather calculate my own hourly rate and determine that it is more cost-effective to pay an expert to do it for me so I can spend my time doing things that are more important to me–like going to work and spending time with my family? [Brent, some people actually like to learn. Some people actually like the work involved in self-publishing. It's certainly more fun than doing taxes or milking cows.] Self-publishing companies don’t do anything that someone who is very motivated cannot do themselves with a lot of industry knowledge, effort, resources, time, and money. [It's not a lot of money. It can be done for $600-$1200.]  But much like doing taxes, building a house, and yes, even milking a cow, what seems easy at first is actually more complicated than you might expect — I would imagine. [IMAGINE? Brent, when you are discussing something important, you should not be imagining. This is not the time to imagine what the other side thinks or does. You could ask what it's like to self-publish, read a book about it, or even try it yourself. You've been complaining about how difficult it is to self-publish, but it's very obvious that you don't really know what it's like. All you do is imagine. That's not good enough to make a convincing argument.] Personally, I don’t do my own taxes, build my own homes, OR milk cows for my own milk. [Maybe you should try it, Brent. You might find that you enjoy it. You might get a house you like better, and milk you like better.] Like most people, I pay professionals to do all those things for me.

For those authors out there who have already invested their time and energy on the steep learning curve [It's not very steep. It can be learned in a few days to a few weeks.]  that is “self-publishing,” naturally they don’t see the benefit of using a ”self-publishing company.” [Which does not exist.]  But most people have better things to do, or at least, their interests lie elsewhere — most people just want to be published authors,  [Most people who want to be published authors, want to have good books, and your company turns out some terrible books -- including one you wrote.] not publishers. [If most people don't want to be publishers, why do you advertise "Self-Publish Your Work. Self-Publish from $199?" It sure seems like you are soliciting business from people who do want to be publishers. And why are you heading your ads with the phrase that you said lets writers know that they'll have to do a lot of work. If you've being truthful about your use of the term, then your advertising is very wrong. It's like putting the cancer warning in big type on the top of a cigarette ad.]

You know what they say about the lawyer who represents himself, or the doctor who has herself as a patient, right? The same could be said for most authors. Sure, there are exceptions, but the services of “self publishing companies” are intended for the majority of writers, entrepreneurs and professionals out there who would find value in having a published book, but also value their time enough to let the professionals do it for them. [Tragically, a huge number of the books published by Outskirts and its competitors are terribly produced and inadequately promoted by "professionals" who don't seem to care about the quality of their work, and don't respond to customers' questions and complaints.] And there’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is wanting desperately to be published and not doing anything about it — out of fear of failure or fear of someone else telling you that you made ”a wrong choice.” The only truly wrong choice is not doing anything. As Wayne Gretzky says, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” [And you may miss 100% of the money paid to a vanity publisher.]


  1. Michael, it wasn't much of contest, but you won.

    Brent's revisionist history of the use of the "self-publishing" term by vanity publishers is blatant bullshit.

    You kicked his ass and revealed, once again, that Brent is either an ignorant fool or a deliberate liar -- and neither is good for a publisher.

  2. There's something very wrong when someone who majored in English in college and now publishes books, has such fundamental problems using and understanding the English language.

    Brent should go back to school and pay attention a little bit more than he did the first time.

  3. This the greatest post I've read about Outskirts.

    It doesn't surprise me that Brent has problems with the English language. Most English majors are literature lovers. Most of them don't like the linguistic (spelling, grammar) part of the language.

    I learned this as Spanish and French tutor. One third of the students I tutored were English majors. It surprised me that English majors would have trouble with another language, but learning another language requires an analytical mind, something literature lovers don't really have.

  4. Please stop picking on my son. He's really a good boy and means no harm to anybody. You're making him miserable and I can't stand to see a grown man cry.