Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Swinging the Other Way: Vanity Publisher Goes Non-Vanity

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

As I've discussed before on this blog, one of the many changes currently rocking the publishing industry is a general blurring of lines, a mixing and melding of formerly sharply separate categories and functions.

Literary agents, squeezed by a tough publishing market and a growing number of competitors (thanks to the epidemic of mergers and layoffs that has caused large numbers of former publishing house staffers to transition into agenting), are branching out into other fields--consulting, editing, even publishing.

Trade publishers, looking for ways to raise more income to support their core publishing functions, are establishing pay-to-publish divisions: Thomas Nelson with West Bow Press, Harlequin with DellArte Press (nee Harlequin Horizons), Hay House with Balboa Press. (Specialist publisher Osprey Publishing also announced plans to offer pay-to-publish options through AuthorHouse UK--but a search of both Osprey's and AuthorHouses sites turns up no mention of these options, so I wonder if they've been discontinued.)

So is it really so surprising that venerable vanity publisher Vantage Press, which came under new ownership last year, is establishing a trade imprint?

Now, plenty of vanity publishers claim to operate trade or "traditional" imprints, or to provide both fee- and non-fee publishing. Most often, this is a marketing ploy to draw in potential customers, who submit to the publisher in hopes of a traditional publishing contract, and instead are offered publishing for a fee. Or the vanity publisher may present itself to the world as "traditional," inviting submissions from authors who then are told that the budget for non-fee publishing ran out earlier that year, or that the author's book is not quite commercial enough for non-fee publishing. Again, pay-to-play is the only option; the promise of "traditional" publishing is merely bait to set the trap.

This does not appear to be the case with Vantage. From all outward signs, the new imprint, which will be called Vantage Point, will function as a genuine trade publisher. According to information seen by Writer Beware, Vantage Point will work with agents as well as acquiring "selected" Vantage Press titles, will pay small advances ("comparable to small presses"), will provide editing and marketing, and has just inked a distribution agreement with Ingram Publisher Services. Its staff includes a number of industry veterans, including Editorial Director Joseph Pittman, who has held editorial positions at a several publishers, including Berkley and Bantam. Vantage Point will launch with eight titles in Spring 2011.

Will Vantage Point succeed? The quality of its list is still unknown, of course, but it certainly seems to have many of the other pieces in place--including, presumably, the financial cushion provided by the profitability of the pay-to-publish business (Vantage Press's fees range from $5,000 to $25,000). This is an advantage (pardon the pun) not possessed by a small publisher starting from scratch, or even by a larger publisher looking to expand.

Ironic, no? Especially as a parallel to trade publishers' efforts to bulk up their bottom lines by venturing into fee-based publishing. It's definitely a mixed-up world.

17 comments:

Editor said...

Victoria,

I reviewed Vantage Press and their services a while back this year, and I've certainly changed my view of them. I've also being following David Lamb since he took over at Vantage, and I do think this is a genuine move into mainstream publishing with standard 'small press' contracts. A little like what Peter Honsberger attempted to do at Cold Tree Publishing a few years ago.

Maggie Dana said...

I wouldn't want to be a new author coming into this business right now. So many confusing options and an avalanche of conflicting advice. It was much easier in 1980 when I got started and the word 'publish' had one meaning.

Victoria ... thank you, as always, for separating the wheat from the chaff and steering authors clear of the rocks.

OK ... that's enough mangled metaphors for one day.

error7zero said...

Vantage still carries a stigma. As far as vanity presses go, potential submitters should read Fisher's Ten Percent Of Nothing before writing that check.

Editor said...

For the record, this is the book (Ten per cent of nothing - Fisher) cited by error7zero.

http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Percent-Nothing-Literary-Agent/dp/0809325756

"Vantage still carries a stigma"

And that may be the case. But have you actually looked at what they are doing now. What I mean is; is it 'your' perceived stigma, or the general stigma of vanity publishing.

As Victoria has pointed out - this is a changing business - almost by the month, and tagging on labels to mainstream publishers or publishing services of any kind is very easy and convenient, but, at times, wide of the mark.

Jeannie said...

Well, that's certainly different. It'll be interesting to see how it all develops.

Thanks, Victoria!

TLH said...

The simple fact is that most consumers don't look at who published a book if they pick it up off the shelf. If the publisher is actually marketing the book and making it visible to the public, they're not going to see "Vantage Point" on the side and put it back down. They won't even know what that means.

Yes, the "big" houses carry a lot of reliability. But there are enough small houses that if it's an unfamiliar name your average customer won't blink. It's just other writers/publishers/agents that perceive any "stigma."

And who cares about those guys anyway? They aren't dropping $15 on the book... ;)

David Lamb said...

Victoria –

Many thanks for the evenhanded post, and also for putting our Vantage Point initiative in the context of how things are changing in the publishing continuum.

We certainly are in earnest about making Vantage Point successful on its own. The Spring/Summer 2011 list of eight titles is largely composed of titles that have been ‘promoted from within' – including a novel that a copyeditor’s enthusiasm brought to the fore. But the Fall 2011 list that Joe Pittman’s putting the finishing touches on consists mainly of titles acquired from agents, albeit for quite small advances. Going forward we hope to stabilize at a mix of acquired and promoted titles, with about ten books a season. Based on initial reaction from the Ingram Publisher Services sales force, we’ll probably be at print runs of 3,000 to 5,000 for our first eight titles.

But I’m also very mindful that we can’t mislead authors into submitting to Vantage believing they’ll get promoted to Point. We don’t plan on mentioning Point in our Vantage marketing materials, and I don’t think there’s a chance of confusion within the traditional publishing industry. Certainly we see the addition of Point as enhancing the company overall, but I’m grateful for the chance here to be clear that we don’t view Point as an inducement for Vantage authors. Not that it isn’t working that way for other publishers who have spawned self-publishing ventures – we’ve lost authors to both Westbow and Balboa because of the perception that the commercial parent might pick up the book. But we want to keep expectations in check for our Vantage authors.

Thanks again for a well-considered post!

David Lamb
President, Vantage Press, Inc.
dlamb [at] vantagepress.com

Mad Scientist Matt said...

(Checks calendar)

No, still about half a year from April Fools' Day...

Of all the changes in the publishing industry, this is probably the most unexpected news I could think of short of a PublishAmerica book making the New York Times bestseller list. I guess everyone's diversifying these days, but I never thought I'd see this sort of move.

behlerblog.com said...

David, I wish you all the luck in the world. This is, as you know, a tough business. However, I'm surprised at your publishing ten books per season. That's a lot for a new press. We're a small house and there's no way we could crank out ten books per season. Do you have that large of a staff - a good, experienced staff - to produce that many quality books?

Also, I can't help but wonder (because I'm cynical and have no soul) if your vanity side is now going to be the funding workhorse for your mainstream side. My reasons are this; your company has never had to worry about the sales side because that falls to the author. Obviously you have a very good partner with IPS, but...well...I've seen it before. I mean, this is why mainstream publishers add a vanity imprint - they act as the bankroll for the trade side.

Again, I wish you the best of everything, but as one who came up the hard way, I have a wait and see attitude. I look forward to seeing your books in the store so you can prove me wrong. And I do love being proved wrong.

Victoria Strauss said...

David, thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I appreciate the additional info. I'm also glad to know that you'll be maintaining a separation between Vantage Point and Vantage Press, and not using the trade imprint as an inducement for writers to approach the pay-to-publish side.

That raises the question, though: will authors whom Vantage Point rejects be referred to Vantage Press?

David Lamb said...

Good questions all. Lynn (Behlerblog), you’re right, ten books a season is a pretty steep ramp, but we’re getting excellent books for a general list and do want to make an impact. And we do have IPS supporting us. Another boon for us is that we can leverage administration, production, and publicity over our existing business, and we’ve added trade publishing professionals over the last year so that we’re up to speed there. We’ll probably look to add a senior publicist early next year and if all goes well a director of marketing next year as well.

Obviously, the profitability of the vanity side supports this new activity. This may be quixotic, but I hope it works the other way as well: that the trade presence of Vantage Point raises our game and helps us sell more of our Vantage Press books. We’re definitely doing a better job designing and publicizing these books, and being at IPS gives us total market presence and the fastest order fulfillment. Since transitioning to IPS in July our Vantage Press book sales have picked up.

And Victoria, as we curate for Vantage Point, we probably won’t alert authors submitting to Vantage Press about their potential selection until Joe’s sure he wants the book for Point. The opportunity should remain invisible to them as submitters. On the other hand, as we talk to agents about potential Point acquisitions, we do want Vantage Press to be seen as a high quality self-publishing home for their authors whom they can’t place in the trade but who are not right for Point either.

William Taylor said...

Thank you for posting this article. I think it is a good idea for Vantage Press to make the move into the traditional publishing arena. It gives more options to the company and the more options for success the greater the probability of success. I am wondering if there is to be a move to electronic books, e-books or if there already is a movement on that front.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to your rules that literary agents must not edit or serve as publishers? Your advice is worthless. Since your cronies are now doing the forbidden activities, you have decided that it is OK. Very hypocritical and dishonest. : Tracy Ingram

Frances Grimble said...

TLH,

The stigma is widely perceived by prestigious review publications and by bookstore buyers, who have long associated Vantage with subsidy press books. That is, by the people who help to determine whether consumers ever see the books by whether they review or stock them. This stigma is likely to harm Vantage's trade books in the marketplace.

Marion Gropen said...

It is true that any well known subsidy press' imprint puts the books bearing it at a disadvantage when it comes to getting through the gatekeepers to get review attention, or shelf space in bookstores and libraries.

Because of that, I suspect that the new Vantage Point books will need to be absolutely fabulous and over the top wonderful on every dimension for the first few lists.

I wish all involved good luck. I suspect that they may need it a little more than the normal debut press does.

Jaron said...

A great move...if done about 5 years ago...How do agents and/or authors contact Vantage Point?

I worked for a publishing company is a direct competitor to Hay House, they talked about establishing a self publishing department, it never happened...

So those who were laid off, or left, formed AuthorAgency.com to empower authors!

William Wells said...

My first novel, Hope's Road, will be published in April, 2012, by Vantage Point. Joe Pittman, editorial director, has been great to work with. I was referred to him, without an agent, by an editor I work with who knows Joe. I have nothing but praise for Vantage Point for taking a chance on a first novel, paying attention to an un-agented Ms, wanting a literary novel, and, not least of all, for starting a new trade book venture in today's depressed publishing market that will give new writers a chance to build an audience if the work is good enough. Now I'm working on a second novel for VP under contract terms for the first which are favorable for both parties. I have many years experience in journalism and in owning a custom publishing company, so I know ethical and smart people when I run across them.