One of two covers for this week's edition of Publishers Weekly features SterlingHouse Publisher and a number of its writers--just in time for Book Expo America. Over the SterlingHouse logo and seven author photos floats the cover caption "Hot New Authors."
If you're a Writer Beware regular, you may know that SterlingHouse is one of a number of publishers included on our Thumbs Down Publisher List. Why? Because SterlingHouse's contracts require writers to buy bulk quantities of their own finished books (550 books is a typical number, for a total cost of just under $7,000)--a fact that is not revealed anywhere on SterlingHouse's several websites. Recently, SterlingHouse added an interesting twist to its vanity-style contracts by offering some writers a small advance ($250 to $500, in contracts Writer Beware has seen). The buyback clause is still included, so writers still wind up considerably out of pocket--but now they can in honesty (well, half-honesty) say that they signed with an "advance-paying publisher."
What's a vanity publisher doing on the cover of PW? Well, PW's cover is advertising, and anyone who's willing to incur the fee can buy it. A more relevant question might be why a vanity publisher is willing to cut into its profit by paying premium advertising rates.
Oh, but SterlingHouse isn't paying. Its authors are.
It's all part of SterlingHouse's annual attendance at BEA. SterlingHouse will have a booth at the fair, with its own staff, video crew, podcasts, and other special events, and authors are eligible to participate at several different levels (Writer Beware has seen a copy of the participation offers, which were sent to SterlingHouse authors last fall).
At $9,500, the "Premier" package is the richest. It includes not just the PW cover spot, but (among other items) passes to BEA, an author signing in the SterlingHouse booth, 150 copies of the author's book, a poster and tabletop display, a podcast, sitting/storage space in SterlingHouse's booth, and an invitation to SterlingHouse's Annual Beer and Pretzel Celebration. (For $9,500, I'd expect champagne and cake, but that's just me.) Nine Premier slots are available.
Can't afford $9,500? Authors interested in a somewhat lower-priced package can spring for the "Spotlight"--just $8,250, including a spot on PW's inside cover ("no less than 1/8 page"), BEA passes, free books, a signing in the SterlingHouse booth, assorted extras, and, of course, the beer and pretzel party. The Spotlight has just six slots.
But there's more. Authors really looking to economize can choose "Special Level One" or "Special Level Two" ($4,650 and $2,995, respectively), which don't involve PW but do include a signing, a BEA pass, and free books (and, yes, beer and pretzels). Up to 40 spots are available for Levels One and Two; however, since signings are in the BEA autographing booth, rather than the SterlingHouse booth, not all those slots are guaranteed.
So how much money will SterlingHouse make on author BEA attendance? There are seven authors on PW's cover, so that's a cool $66,500 from the Premier package. I haven't seen PW's inside cover, so I don't know how many authors opted for the Spotlight package--but assuming a similar level of participation (4 slots out of 6), that's another $33,000. As for Special Levels One and Two, a search of the BEA Autographing Area schedule turns up 12 SterlingHouse authors. Let's assume the lower level of participation. That's at least another $35,940.
Gross total: $135,440. Granted, there are costs associated with all of this--the PW cover, the SterlingHouse booth, the autographing slots, the BEA passes, etc. But I don't think it's much of a stretch to surmise that SterlingHouse is realizing a tidy profit. And don't forget that all these authors have already paid several thousand dollars each for publication.
Of course, SterlingHouse authors don't have to pony up for any of these BEA packages if they don't want to. If they have a ticket to the show, they can even stop by and visit SterlingHouse's booth. But if they do, they shouldn't count on sitting down ("...we will not have any author storage room or sitting space for authors who are not participating at the Premier or Spotlight level"), or on being included in any of the video footage SterlingHouse is organizing ("...footage will be used to promote SterlingHouse and authors participating in [sic] at the level of Premier, Spotlight and Special levels"), or on making contact with any of the "regional sales force, foreign and domestic reps and distributors" with whom SterlingHouse staff will be meeting (that's for participating authors only). As for face time with their publisher...sorry. "Due to the amount of appointments scheduled for Cynthia Sterling, she will be unable to meet personally with authors who are not participating at the Premier, Spotlight or Special levels."
The beer and pretzel celebration is right out, as well.