What is Vanity Publishing?

Trad Publishing

Once upon a time, the publishing business was straightforward. You wrote a book, and you tried to find a publisher who was interested in it, or maybe you’d look for an agent who would find a publisher for you. Either way, your main work is done – you can hand over the manuscript to the publisher, who would then invest in it by way of editing, typesetting, proofreading, marketing and printing.

If you couldn’t find a publisher you would keep trying, or write another book and try with that one. Or you would give up trying.

Vanity Publishing

One alternative, if you have enough money, is to pay a publisher to publish your book for you. This sounds good in principle – pay a fee, hand over the manuscript and they will edit, format, proofread, commission a cover and publish the book.

The trouble is, this method can prove very expensive. After all, the company is making the bulk of its money from the author, not from book sales. So there are many horror stories about huge costs for very little return.

If you’re publishing your memoirs for your family, and have the money to spare but not the time or inclination to pick your way through self publishing, then this might be a reasonable solution. Just be aware of the implications.

If you intend to write a series of books, or want to learn the publishing business for yourself, then steer well clear of vanity publishers – on top of paying over the odds for work done, when you reach the point when you want to take control for yourself you could find it difficult to claim rights back.

So what should you be aware of? How can you recognise a vanity publisher? One view is that anyone who asks for money to publish your book should be avoided, but if you’re indie publishing that becomes a grey area (see service providers below).

Try googling the company name with “reviews”. See what other authors have said about them. Did they offer value for money? Are authors pleased with their service? Or do they feel they’ve paid out a lot of money for very little?

Ask around. Can you find another author published by that company? Can you find their books in bookshops? What are the reviews like for books published by them?

Did you find the company or did they find you? Anyone contacting you and offering to publish your work before they’ve seen it should be treated with suspicion. Do they care about the quality of your writing, or do they just want to part you from your money?

Indie Publishing

There’s a third route – indie authors are publishing their own work, but treat writing as a serious business. They invest in editing, formatting, proofreading, cover design, marketing, and do all the things that a trad publisher would be expected to do, but as they’re publishing their own work they keep all the profit instead of having to split it.

It is important, however, to recognise that if you’re putting out material that you want people to buy, you need to ensure it’s as good a quality as possible – this does mean paying out for editors, and having your work thoroughly proofread. While it’s possible to skip these steps, and a few people might manage this successfully without paying for services, the majority risk end up putting out a piece of work that is of low quality, damaging their reputation as an author and lowering the public’s expectations of books from outside the big publishing houses.

Service Providers

Some companies offer a selection of services, such as editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, to help you with your book. Like vanity publishers these make their money from the author, but unlike vanity publishers they don’t continue to make money through book sales, and don’t hold any rights over your material.

Here the main issue is of quality and value for money. What control do you have over the services? Are you handing your book over to an unknown editor, or are you in direct contact with whoever is working on your book? Editors can work very differently; while it can be reassuring to have a company overseeing a group of editors, you might feel detached from the work and prefer to find an editor you get on with, and can build up a working relationship with.

If you’re a member of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) then you have an excellent source of advice there, and can check for partner members, who have been vetted.

What’s a fronted adverbial?

With many people having to support their children’s learning through homeschooling, I’m seeing many cries of “what’s a fronted adverbial, anyway?” There seems to be an underlying feeling of “If I don’t know what it is, why are they expecting my child to know?”

The simple answer is that it’s far easier to learn about something if you can name it. Can you imagine the problems with learning about that type of question where you don’t expect an answer but you’re asking it for the sake of moving an argument on, if you can’t refer to it as a rhetorical question?

Whether you remember, years down the line, what it’s called, or whether they start calling it something different, doesn’t really matter. The point is whether at the time of learning you can understand what you’re being asked to do if you’re asked to make your sentences more interesting by using fronted adverbials.

We do the same in fiction writing generally. We talk about point of view, or POV. We talk about 1st person or 3rd person. We discuss omniscient versus limited. We throw around terms like protagonist, antagonist, adverbs, imagery.

And it will be the same in any other activity that you look into – each has its specific terms, and use of those terms is a big step towards understanding what they are and how to use them. Naming something gives you power over it. It grants the ability to discuss it and focus on it.

So that fronted adverbial? It just means that instead of starting a sentence with the subject (John kicked the ball), you start with a word or phrase that describes the action that follows.

So you might get:

Early in the morning, John kicked the ball.

Angrily, John kicked the ball.

Unaware that it was directly in front of a glass window, John kicked the ball.

In this way, you can vary sentence structure. You wouldn’t want every sentence to start that way, but it’s one of many techniques available, and the more a child has at their disposal, the more interesting they can make their writing. It’s far easier for a teacher to teach the children the name of the structure, and then encourage them to use it, than to try to refer to it without a name.

Work during lockdowns

How are you doing through this pandemic?

In some ways, it’s an ideal situation for writers – a once-in-a-lifetime experience, reduction in outside distractions, plenty of time to sit and ponder and to get those words down.

In other ways, it’s a nightmare – worry about the country, worry about friends and family, jobs, society… it can all crowd in, blocking out creativity.

I’m lucky. As I work from home, I’ve been able to continue working, and in between times I have my own writing to work on. My writing group has moved to Zoom meetings, and we even managed to finish publishing our third collection of short stories during the first lockdown, although we were unable to hold our usual launch party.

We have enough technology around us to make life easier during lockdown. We don’t have to travel to meetings when we can meet via a computer screen, and there are so many resources available to us if we want to learn something new.

But nothing can really replace the experience of meeting in person, chatting and sharing ideas, and just generally enjoying each other’s company.

Hopefully those days will soon return. In the meantime, stay safe – and if you want to write, then enjoy the opportunity, but if you’re finding it hard, just relax and accept that all things have their cycle and one day this will be nothing more than a story we tell to later generations.

Publishing news

I’m pleased to say that I’ve just helped my writing group publish their third collection of short stories, which is now available from Amazon or from local sellers. That’s three books so far, all featuring stories set locally. Beyond the Beach Huts and A Pinch of Salt all feature Whitstable heavily, while A Different Kind of Kent sets its sights a little wider, covering various corners of the county of Kent.

The stories cover a wide variety of genres, from historical fiction to fantasy, and showcase the talents of the writers, who meet every month to workshop pieces of writing.

Writers of Whitstable's 3 books - A pinch of Salt, A different Kind of Kent and Beyond the Beach Huts

Front matter in a novel

The most important part of your book is the story, but when you’re producing a book for print there are other sections to consider as well. Please note that here I am considering novels only – non-fiction books are a completely different issue.

The front matter is everything that comes before the main story.

This must include:

  • title page
  • imprint page

It may also include any or all of these:

  • half title
  • dedication
  • about the author
  • praise/reviews
  • list of previous works
  • acknowledgements
  • author’s note

Fiction books do not usually include a table of contents.

Some of this content is necessary, while others are optional. And there are conventions as to whether the content appears on a recto (right-hand page) or verso (left-hand page).

The Title page consists of the title, any subtitle, author’s name (but without the word “by”) and maybe the publisher’s name/logo. The title page is always recto.

The imprint page contains information about the publisher, copyright declaration, any other legal declarations, information about the printer, any information about design etc. This is always verso, on the back of the title page.

The half title consists of the title of the book only, usually centred on the page. This dates from when printers would have stacks of books sitting around waiting for their covers, and they would need to be labelled so they could be identified easily! If a half title is included it is the very first page of the book, and therefore recto.

The Other Books section is most often included as a verso page, and this is often a good pair with the half title. This is a good opportunity to provide information such as the order of a series, or to direct your reader to other series you may have written.

The Dedication is usually recto, giving you the opportunity to dedicate your work prominently to someone special or who has played a part in the creation of the book.

The About the Author section may be at the very front of the book, as an alternative to the half-title. Alternatively, you may prefer to put it amongst the end matter.

Praise/reviews often appear before the title page if used. Again, this can provide an alternative to the half title for pairing with the Other Books page.

Author’s Note and Acknowledgements may both be included within front matter or back matter, but if they appear as front matter it is more common to start them on a recto.

All this means there may well be blank pages included in your front matter. This should be considered along with your printer’s requirements – if the printer prints in 16 page signatures, then your page count will made up to the next 16 count with blank pages if necessary. If the choice is between having extra front matter or extra blank pages at the back, I would choose the front matter. If the choice is between extra front matter or fewer pages and therefore lower cost, that might change the decision!

The main content of your book should always start on a recto. Some books follow the convention of starting every chapter on a recto, leaving the previous verso blank if needed, while others will start the chapter on whichever side of the page it falls naturally. Either way, the norm these days is to always start each chapter on a new page, with a large heading partway down and the text itself starting at about the 1/3 mark.

Why not pick up a few books from your bookshelf and take a look at the front matter? That will give you a feel for the standard layouts and content.

Indenting via Styles

To apply an automatic indent to your style, right-click on the style name and select Modify…

Choose Format/Paragraph from the bottom left corner of the dialog box.

In the next dialog box set Indentation Special to First Line and size to 0.5cm (the default of 1.27cm/half an inch is too big and will leave unsightly gaps).

Click on OK.

All styles based on Normal will update to include this, so you might need to modify headings etc to remove the first line indent so they line up properly.

Submitting your manuscript

I do a lot of work with formatting and proofreading manuscripts for print or ebook, and find the same problems cropping up again and again, so here’s some suggestions to make life easier for yourself and for your formatter:

  1. Don’t get too fancy with your formatting.
    Times New Roman 12pt is straightforward. Paragraphs should be indicated with either automatic indenting or automatic spacing between – this should be done via the Styles function, preferably, as any change that overrides the styles function could cause issues throughout the file. Using tabs or spaces to indent, or leaving blank lines between paragraphs, is not a good idea. If you don’t know how to indent/space automatically, your best option is to leave the text un-indented and let your formatter deal with it.
  2. Be careful with versions.
    Make sure your file versions are clearly labelled, and make sure you are sending the right version to your formatter/proofreader. And don’t keep sending updates once you’ve sent them a file! If they have to start all over again with a new version you’re increasing the time taken and almost certainly increasing the cost involved.
  3. Give any changes and respond to any queries as clearly as you can.
    Gather all corrections together and provide them in a single clear list, with indication as to what is wrong and how it needs to be put right. Text to search on is always useful.

What type of editor do I need?

One important question to establish the answer to early on is what level of editing your work needs. Do you need a developmental editor, who can help you work on the structure of your book? Do you need a copy editor, who will make sure it follows a style guide and reads consistently? Or are you at the final stage, where it’s just a proofread to check for remaining errors?

But another important question is what the editor specialises in. There are many different types of writing – fiction, which subdivides by genre; self-help books; technical books; academic writing, and many more. And each editor will have their strengths and weaknesses and preferred types of project.

Personally, I’m well-versed in issues such as plot development, story arcs, and point of view issues, but show me a list of citations and I’ll struggle. For other editors, who are used to working on highly academic or technical texts, fiction might be their weakness.

Each editor will have their usual language to work in, as well. Believe it or not, there are definite differences between UK English, American English and Australian English, for example, and while some editors might well work competently in more than one variety, others will prefer to work in the one most familiar to them, while some localisms might well be overlooked or misunderstood if your editor is not familiar with them.

So when you’re looking for an editor, remember to check what type of writing they are used to editing, or prefer to edit, and then you’re more likely to find your perfect match.

How can you improve your novel opening?

One effective way to strengthen your own writing is to look at other people’s writing. Read the opening of a novel, or preferably several. How do they introduce the character? What idea do they give you of the character’s wants and needs? What promise do they make in the opening?

Now look at your writing. What do we learn about your character and the world they are in? Do we learn what they are missing in life? What lie are they telling themselves in order to feel happy? What do they think they need?

How does the setting relate to the content? Do we get a real sense of place, or could the events be happening anywhere?

How far does the story progress in the opening? Does anything actually happen, or is it all about introducing your world and the characters?

Years ago, a story might have started with a long preamble, setting the scene and mood. These days, the fashion is far more to start with action, and then cut back a little and fill in background once the reader is engaged.

Likewise, older stories might well use omniscient voice, but more modern stories tend towards close third point of view, so that the reader can really identify with your character and empathise with them.

Get into the habit of active reading – not just reading to enjoy the story, but to pull apart the storycraft and writing. What can you learn from any book that you can carry back to your own work? What pitfalls can you see and therefore avoid?

Creating a table of contents

A table of contents is a quick way to navigate around your document. In an ebook, it can provide links to chapter headings. In a print book, it will list page numbers for quick reference.

Styles are the key to your table of contents – if you consistently style chapter headings with the style Heading 1, then any ebook generator should take those styles and create your linked table of contents automatically.

The bonus is that you can use these styles to help you navigate around your Word document as well, using the Navigation Pane.

As always, there are two elements to working with Styles – apply your style to the text, and modify your style to have the appearance you want.

To apply the style, highlight the chapter heading and on the Home tab, click on the style labelled Heading 1.

To modify the appearance of that style, right-click on the style in the listing and choose Modify…

Use the Format button on the bottom left to access the main formatting dialog boxes.

Changing the appearance of any style in this way will automatically change the appearance of any text that has been marked as that style.

Alternatively, if you’ve already got your heading just as you want it to appear, highlight it, and then right-click on the style in the Styles panel. Choose Update Style Heading 1 to match Selection.

This will both mark the text with that style and set that style to the same appearance as the highlighted text (updating anything else marked with that style to the same appearance).

View the Navigation Pane by ticking the box on the View tab.

This provides a quick way to see and move around the structure of your document. If you’ve used more than one level of Heading (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 etc), then you can see the hierarchy of your layout.

To include a Table of Contents in your printed document, place your cursor where you want it to appear and then on the References tab click on Table of Contents. You can use an automatically generated Table of Contents, or customise it to create your own (for example, you can choose how many levels of heading you want to show – do you want just chapter headings, or do you want subheadings listed as well?).