Recently I blogged about IndieReader, an online bookstore/distributor that is attempting to raise the visibility of self-published books and authors. In the process of researching that post, I discovered Publetariat Vault, which is also attempting to bring attention to self-published books--though in quite a different way.
The Vault is a project of Publetariat, an online community for self-published and small-press authors founded by self-publishing evangelist April Hamilton. Sporting the same revolution-referencing socialist realist graphics and wordplay as its parent site, the Vault is designed to promote successful self-published books to commercial publishers and film producers. From its Welcome page:
The Publetariat Vault provides a groundbreaking service: the opportunity to get your indie book in front of the publishers and producers who are seeking proven books for low-risk acquisitions. If you've ever thought that if publishers or producers only knew how much readers like your book, or how well it's selling, or what a great job you're doing to promote both it and yourself, they'd sit up and take notice, then the Vault was made for you.
The Vault, which opened for listings last month (here's the official press release), will provide a searchable database of self-published books whose rights are available for acquisition (here's the search form). Each book will have its own page, which will include info about the book and author, publication data, reviews and publicity, relevant links, and actual sales figures (a sample listing can be seen here). To seed the site, the Vault is offering its first 300 listings free for the first 90 days after it opens for publisher searches--which, to offer users some depth of content, it won't do until the 300 listings are in place. Thereafter, the rate for each listing will be $10 per 30 days. If a sale results from a listing, the Vault reserves the right to report the sale, but takes no percentage or commission. (These and many more details can be found at the Vault's extensive FAQ.)
The Vault is based on the familiar concept of the manuscript display website, which once was widely touted as the new paradigm for manuscript submission. While display sites seem to work reasonably well for screenplays, they haven’t historically proved very effective for book manuscripts, and most of the dozens of book-focused display sites that sprang up during the late 1990's are now gone and forgotten (except by wonks like me). I'm also not quite convinced by the logic in the Vault's press release--that publishers and producers "would prefer to acquire the rights before a book breaks through, when it's trending positively but not yet on competitors' radar." Still, with its focus on self-published books that are actually selling, and its all-in-one-place functionality, the Vault offers a unique twist on the display site concept. Together with the fact that no one else (as far as I'm aware) is doing anything similar, this may make the Vault more attractive to professional users than the display sites of old--especially since it's becoming increasingly fashionable for publishing people to profess enthusiasm about the potential of self-publishing.
Of course, the Vault's success depends on several things.
- Can it attract reputable professional users? This has been an area in which book manuscript display sites have fallen short--not just in their failure to persuade agents and publishers to visit online slush piles, but, often, in their inability to recognize and bar disreputable users.
I asked April Hamilton what she's doing to publicize the Vault. She tells me that she's been networking, both on her own and at conferences, and that she has lined up news coverage once the Vault opens for searches. Her efforts, she says, have resulted in expressions of interest from several publishers and agents--though she asked me not to print the names, since she feels that to identify them at this point "risks alienating those potential searchers since they're not officially registered and my publication of such a list could be construed as using those industry names to promote a service they have not yet endorsed."
As to the issue of disreputable users, she feels that the Vault is an open marketplace, and it’s authors’ responsibility to research any contacts they receive as a result of a listing, just as they research the agents and publishers they query. But authors are often very poor at research, especially where their hopes and dreams are involved--plus, many writers who use the Vault may assume that publishers' and producers' membership is an endorsement of their legitimacy. In light of that, it seems to me that the Vault--like any listing service or display site--does have a responsibility to make sure that its professional users really are professional.
- Can it ensure accurate sales reporting by authors? One of things that makes the Vault unique, and potentially attractive to publishers and producers, is members’ disclosure of actual sales figures. But how good are authors' records? How tempted may they be to tweak their figures to make themselves look better? If publishers and producers find they can’t rely on the information in the Vault’s listings--and they may feel that’s the case if even one or two authors are found to be less than honest or accurate--they won’t come back.
- Are reported sales numbers actually worthy of notice? Per the Vault's FAQ, anyone can join, as long as they’re the rights owner. Hamilton tells me that some of the listings she's received so far show impressive sales stats, including one author who has sold over 1,200 copies just in the past three months. But such figures are the exception in self-publishing, and if the Vault becomes clogged with writers who think that selling 400 copies over the course of a year makes them commercially viable--i.e., if most searches are going to throw up large numbers of listings that are of no interest to professionals--publishers and producers may stay away.
Can the Vault surmount these issues? We'll have to wait and see. As with any brand-new service, authors should consider carefully and be sure to read the fine print. But all in all, it’s an interesting and, I think, innovative experiment--though certainly, there's a very complex irony at work in the tension between the criticism self-pubbed authors so often level at commercial publishing, and a website that's designed to feed them into that very system.
In the meantime, Hamilton finds herself caught up in the same cycle of doubt that has caused so many people to react negatively to IndieReader.
"So on the one hand I have the searchers, looking forward to trying the service but unlikely to use it unless it's filled with good listings," she says. "On the other hand I have authors withholding their listings until they are convinced searchers will use the service. I anticipated this issue, and that's why I've made the first 300 listings totally cost- and risk-free to authors for 90 days, but...the word on the street is that while the Vault may eventually turn out to be a good thing, authors should maintain a wait-and-see attitude until some success stories are forthcoming. Few listings = no searches = no success stories."