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.

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