Friday, September 28, 2012

Another weird pay-to-publish company

(Before we get into the details, you should know that the impressive award shown above is provided by a company that makes its money by selling award trophies and plaques. I previously wrote about Outskirts Press promoting its dubious vanity honor. BTW, if you know how to use a PC, you can get the IMAGE of a vanity award for your website or blog without actually having to pay for one.)


Folks, it's getting hard to keep track of all the new businesses that charge writers to publish their books. Recently, Harlequin Horizons/DellArte Press,  Balboa PressPalibrio, Esquire Publications and Abbott Press jumped into the increasingly crowded pool. The number of companies producing and distributing e-books seems to grow every couple of days.

Writers have yet another option: Light Messages. The name is woo-woo and vague. It could be appropriate for a skywriting company or a company that projects advertising on walls, or maybe a laser engraving business, or someone who sells sermons or teaches semaphore operation. I have no idea what the name is supposed to mean, or what it has to do with writing or books --  but I suppose "Amazon" doesn't  imply books, either. When I was a Cub Scout, I learned to send Morse Code communications with a flashlight. They were real light messages. I got an email from the company explaining that "Good books contain Light." OK, but many good books also contain dark.

I have no proof, but perhaps the company hopes that people will confuse it with on-demand printer Lightning Source, just as the operators of Kennedy Fried Chicken make money selling food to people who confuse it with Kentucky Fried Chicken.


Anyway, here's the press release with (of course) my cynical comments:

Publishing House Offers Innovative Solution for Independent Authors

Light Messages has introduced the new "Partnership Publishing" model, an innovative solution for independent authors who are seeking publication.

Partnership publishing offers an innovative solution for independent authors. [Actually, it's for dependent authors.]

Durham, NC (Vocus/PRWEB) February 01, 2011: Light Messages has introduced the new "Partnership Publishing" model, an innovative solution for independent authors seeking publication.

Partnership Publishing enables authors to reach worldwide markets inexpensively [or expensively] by sharing the sales profits [which may never come]. This differs from traditional publishers who only print [should be "print only"] books they believe will generate large profits of which they take the lion's share.

Until now, the only other option apart from traditional publishing was what has become known as vanity publishing, or self publishing. [Er, ah, vanity publishing is NOT the same thing as self publishing.] This option not only carries a stigma [I don't think Mark Twain was stigmatized by self-publishing. Nor am I.] but it also gets expensive because the printer/publisher earns an up-front profit from the author who must then sell the books. [Authors don't have to sell books. Booksellers sell books.]

Through Partnership Publishing from Light Messages, the publisher will print the books, provide an ISBN, list the books in all major catalogs, and distribute the books through major book sellers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Light Messages, and "brick and mortar" bookstores. [Just like about 100 competing companies.]

Authors help lower the publisher's cost by following a simple guide to do as much of the preparation work as they can or wish to do. In return, authors retain the full rights of the book after the first year [what about during the first year?] and receive half the profits from all sales of their books. [I wonder how the profits are calculated. With Hollywood-style math, there may be no profits, even if lots of books are sold.]

"Partnership publishing removes the stigma and cost of vanity publishing, while freeing authors to write what they want instead of what the industry says they must write," says Wally Turnbull, author and Light Messages co-founder. "This is the most fair and easy solution available to independent authors today." [If an author pays Wally for publishing, the author is NOT independent.]

The secret to Light Message's low-cost solution for authors lies in the print-on-demand options. [WOW! That's a great idea. It's a good thing that Lulu, CreateSpace, Infinity, AuthorHouse,  Outskirts, Xlibris, Random House and the Yale University Press don't know about the print-on-demand secret. Oh.]  By using print-on-demand, Turnbull says, authors no longer need to tie up money and space in storing thousands of copies of books they then need to sell themselves. [That has not been an issue for about ten years.]

While still in its infancy [BULLSHIT!] , the concept is catching on quickly. [It took Light Messages a long time to catch on.] Some of the recently published featured titles from Light Messages include 'Harry Loves Carrots,' by Laura Baldwin, 'Peace Seekers,' by Jim Abrahamson, and "The True Story of Cinderella and How She Really Became a Princess,' by Deborah Hining. [An interesting mix of single quote marks and double quotes. Doesn't the publisher have a copyeditor?]

Independent authors seeking publication may submit manuscripts to Light Messages or contact the publisher for more details. [Can the publisher be contacted with a light message?]


Some analysis:

(ONE) The company says, "Cost is less than you might think but it does depend on book size, number of pages, use of color, binding and so many factors that each book must be quoted separately. As a generic example, a typical 5-1/2" X 8-1/2" book of 200 pages printed in black ink with a full-color paperback cover could retail for $15 to $20 with a production cost of about half that amount. That means a cost of $7.50 to $10. With Lightning Source, the production cost is $3.90 (and that fee includes the cost of shipping the book to a bookseller's customer. CreateSpace charges $3.25. Lulu charges $5.60.

(TWO) The "Title setup and registration" fee is $250. That's more than you could pay to companies such as Outskirts Press and Wasteland Press for a basic book with cover design and page formatting. Unless you pay extra to Light Messages, you have to provide the cover design and page formatting. If you can do that, you can have Lightning Source or CreateSpace print and distribute your book.

(THREE) Page formatting costs 75 cents per page, and cover design costs $95 or $300. The first two prices may be too low to get good work.

(FOUR) The company does not edit manuscripts, "but depending on your subject we may be able to refer to you an independent editor." Or, maybe they'll be able to refer you to a publisher that does provide editing.

(FIVE) "Annual distribution fee" is $25 per title -- a nice markup of the $12 fee the company likely pays to Lightning Source

(SIX) "Web promotion" is included in the setup fee. That could mean that your book is listed on the publisher's website, which seven people will see. Or six. Or none.

(SEVEN) The fee for a "Targeted national press release" is $395 -- which may be fair, a bargain or a ripoff, because no details are specified.

(EIGHT) Light Messages says it "helps you get listed with major bookstores such as, Ingram, and Barnes & Noble, maximizing the reach of your potential sales." Actually, since they presumably have books printed by Lightning Source, they do nothing to get your book listed -- and Ingram is a wholesaler, not a bookstore.

(NINE) All payments must be made by check or through Paypal. Light Messages' first book came out over 11 years ago, but the company still doesn't have a "merchant" account to accept credit cards. Even flea market vendors accept plastic.

(TEN) The company says, "You must grant us sale and distribution rights for two years during which time you will receive half the royalties from sales." Even if you hate the way the book was produced, you're stuck for two years.

(ELEVEN) Light Messages is apparently operated out of the home of Wally Turnbull, and even shares Wally's residential phone number. The company doesn't seem to have a business phone listing, or a toll-free number -- even after more than a decade in business. This does not inspire confidence.

I'm certainly in favor of efficiency, saving money and short commutes. I operated a home-based business for many years -- but that business had its own local and toll-free numbers.

If Light Messages wants to compete with the big guys, it needs to beef-up its image. Image can be more important than reality. Just ask the puny Wizard of Oz. Outskirts Press may operate out of the home of boss Brent Sampson, but Brent pays a few bucks each month to use the address of a UPS store.

(ELEVEN) The website features 25 books -- but not much diversity. A mere 12 authors wrote the 25 books, and eight were written by the company boss or his (presumed) wife.

(TWELVE) About half of the company's books shown on have no reviews. Some listings have no cover illustration or description. A publisher should do better.

(THIRTEEN) I saved the best (i.e., worst) for last. The company says, "You retain full rights to your book after the first year." That seems to imply that authors have no rights or few rights during the first year. No rights presumably means no money. Therefore, if you want promotional efforts such as book reviews to help feed your own bank account, don't do anything until your book is nearly a year old. 

In conclusion, while it's quite possible that Light Messages can produce decent books and market them well, the lack of editing, the peculiar financial aspects of "Partnership Publishing," and high production costs may make author profits impossible. I can't think of any reason to publish with Light Messages.

The "Partnership" premise is certainly dubious, because the cost of participating in the partnership -- with an implied sharing of expenses -- is not less than some publishing packages from other companies that don't want to be your partner.

Just as modern technology enables anyone who can type (or dictate) to become an "author," the same technology allows almost anyone to become a "publisher."

Be careful picking your partners.

(Naval semaphore photo from  

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