Publishing through a "vanity" publisher

When it comes to getting a book published there are three typical ways of doing it: finding a traditional publisher (which is hard to do unless your famous), 100% self-publishing (where you literally do everything yourself), or going through what others deem "vanity" publishers (someone who will publish your book for a fee). Today, I'm not going to talk about the pros and cons of each style or debate which method is best. Instead, I'm going to walk you through a detailed timeline of how working with my publisher, Newman Springs Publishing, which would fall into the vanity publisher category for this purpose, led to my first book in The Ascension Legacy series to reach the market.

This is not a condemnation of their company or services nor is it exactly a promotion of them. I will say that I elected to continue to do business with them for the publication and release of Books 2 and 3 in The Ascension Legacy series which should tell you my general opinion of them and their services.

But this post isn't about that. It is about what authors actually go through to get their books published. The time. The financial investment. The frustrations. The joy. The anticipation. The excitement. And yes, even the heartbreak.

Now, with The Ascension Legacy, despite the idea and inspiration having been determined years ago, I didn't get serious about writing it until 2012. In fact, it was June 8, 2012, that I started writing my first chapter with a serious intent on creating an epic series of books that told a grand story.

It would take me more than 6 years to finish that story with the last chapter of the last book not starting to take shape until October 4, 2018. By that time I had written over 90 chapters that spanned 6 books that contained more than 350,000 words.

It had been a labor of love that spanned not just hours or days but years but in 2018 I was finished writing and decided it was time to look into the possibility of getting it published.

Of course, during the 6 years of creating The Ascension Legacy series I also spent time researching what it took to become a published author. I knew that I would have to submit a number of queries to literary agents and publishers, most of which would be rejected. I knew the odds of landing an agent would be slim for a first-time author like myself. I knew the odds were against me from the outset but I was determined to try.

By late 2016 I had finished Book 1, done a lot of editing and formatting to make the content consistent with the various submission guidelines I had found. I had sent it to multiple beta readers who scoured the book for mistakes and helped me to correct things that needed correcting. From 2016 through 2018, when I finished writing the last book, I continued to refine, edit, and massage each of the earlier books while working on the next ones. My research had suggested that it was best to submit a completed series and not a partial one so I waited until all of the books were finished.

By early 2019 I was submitting query letters, examples of Book 1, and series synopsis letters to dozens of literary agents. I was researching agents on multiple websites and submitting things day after day. I was casting my net as wide as I could in the hope that I might find an agent willing to take a chance on me with my work.

The problem was that being a first time author, I had no idea what those query and synopsis letters should look like or contain. I had found some templates online and tried my best to put the information about me and my books into them but I was an aspiring author, not a marketer, and every submission was quickly rejected.

Somewhere along the way, I had reached out to Newman Springs Publishing. Thanks to the interaction between Google and Facebook, I think my social media was showing me things based on my searches and most likely that put me and them together. The details of how that connection was first established are a bit hazy, I had some other things going on back then.

Regardless of how or who initiated contact, I remember in April I was driving back from Austin, I had been there to discuss some things with some state lawmakers regarding special needs people and increasing their protection and rights when being assisted by caregivers that get paid through state funding. It was during this drive that I got a call from a strange number. As I was driving, I didn't answer it and let it go to voicemail. I later stopped in Waco to grab something from a store and took the opportunity in the parking lot to listen to my voicemail. It was a man from Newman Springs calling to talk to me about my book.

I was excited beyond belief. I don't even think excited accurately conveys my level of absolute ecstasy.

I returned home, listen to the voicemail a few more times, and decided NOT to call the man back right away. Some might consider that crazy but I wanted to take some time to research Newman Springs Publishing. If I was going to have a discussion with this man then I wanted to know more about who he represented first.

It was a couple days later that I actually first spoke with the man from the voicemail. He talked about who Newman Springs was as a company and asked me several questions about myself and my book. He was excited to hear that it was a completed series and not one still in development. By the end of the call, he promised to send me an email with some additional information and that was that.

The email arrived a few days later. It was everything I was told to expect. Nothing extra. Nothing missing. It was exactly as stated. I weighed my options, considered the cost, and discussed things with my wife. In the end, we decided it was worth a shot. The contract included a clause that would allow for a discount in service fees if I used them for multiple books, which was perfect considering I had 6 books written in the series that I wanted published.

I signed the contract and was assigned a project manager from Newman Springs who would act as the liaison between me and their team. I would talk to him and he would be the go between for our two groups. Under the terms of the contract, Newman Springs would provide basic editing services to help ensure spelling and punctuation were correct, formatting of the edited content for both a printed book as well as an ebook, the creation of cover art based on my desired look and feel, a set number of printed preview copies for me to review and sign-off on before the book was released to market, a press release to help promote the book when I agreed it was ready for release, and quarterly sales reports and royalty payments provided my sales for that quarter exceeded a set dollar limit.

This was in May of 2019. It had been around 6 months since the completion of the last book in the series. For some, it may look like I abandoned the traditional route too soon but to me, I knew the odds were not in my favor and a vanity publisher would be a likely route given my lack of writing credentials and training. But no matter how anyone wants to look at it, I was on my way to being published.

My "publishing director" at Newman Springs had my rough draft of Book 1 and all there was to do was wait for the first round of edits to come back from their editors for my review. Of course, during this time I was making monthly payments for the various services they were performing as part of the publishing package.

And this was our first obstacle.

Thanks to a kink in my financial planning, there was an issue with my June payment. The issue wasn't revealed to me immediately but when I was made aware of it I took care it that same day to get things back on track. What I didn't know is that one incident would create an ongoing cycle of issues that was never brought to my attention until much later, like many months later.

At first, things seemed to be going well. We went through a few rounds of editing. My publishing director would send me a pdf from their people and I would send back my input. I was surprised that for as much as their professional editors found that they missed a fair amount too. But eventually, I thought we had found and fixed most things and approved the changes, signaling that I thought the book was ready to move to the next phase; typesetting, i.e. formatting.

This was around late June, about 2 months since starting this adventure.

Much like the editing, this involved some back and forth as their representative sent things to me for review, I'd send back feedback, they'd make the changes, and the cycle would repeat. And again, much like the editing, this process went on for about 2 months or so with the final formatting approval being issued in late August of 2019. and with that approval, we were set for cover art.

This is where things deviated a little bit though, but by my own decision. Having a friend that is a digital artist, I had consulted him about concepts for my cover art to get his artistic impression. Did my concept make sense? Was it too busy? If given the chance, what would his concept be? Things like that. Well, apparently my concept wasn't too bad because he replied a few hours later with an excellent mock-up that went on to be the foundation for the actual cover art. This meant that instead of Newman Springs having to create a concept for me, they only had to tweak the art I provided them to fit their format and printing standards.

And this is where we hit our second hiccup.

By this time it was early November 2019 and what should have been near the end of my publishing journey for this book turned out to be only halfway.

I had failed to notice during the typesetting portion of the project that the adjusted layout was attempting to squeeze 65,000+ words into less than 200 pages. It was only when I got the final cover art and adjusted layout that they planned to send to the printer for my preview copies that I noticed the unexpected size. When I had done the formatting on my rough draft in accordance to the main standards I found in my research, the page count was roughly 500 pages. To go from 500 pages to less than 200 represented a significant change and one I was not comfortable with.

After talking with my publishing director, we agreed to a happy compromise but this meant backing up to re-do typesetting which when finished would mean updates to the cover art. Where we had hoped for a late Q4 release was quickly becoming impossible, mainly to my inexperience with the process and having to learn the many different things I needed to be concerned with on the fly. In the beginning, I had expected them to be the professionals to do it all without requiring me to micromanage the project but the steady flow of missed corrections, format changes that significantly impacted the book's design without my proper understanding upfront, delays in billing issues, etc., had caused a number of delays and setbacks.

I was a little disappointed with Newman Springs for some of the issues, like the lack of feedback and notification of billing issues that land squarely on their shoulders, but I also understand that some of the issues and delays were of my own hand, like requiring them to go back to typesetting and cover design to satisfy my requirements once I had realized their initial format was not to my liking.

It was near Christmas, the 20th to be precise, before I was satisfied with the new layout and updated cover art. Now the book was ready to be sent to the printers for my preview copies to be made. Unfortunately, December is the busiest time of the year for the printers which meant that instead of this step taking 4-6 weeks before I would have my copies that I was looking at closer to 8-10 weeks. This was an understandable delay but that did not ease the anxiety I felt having to wait so long to see my finished work in actual book form.

And then came another hiccup.

It was now early February. I had a habit of checking my author's page on the Newman Springs website on occasion, just to keep tabs on what information was posted there. On this occasion, I noticed that it listed my profile as being "On Hold". I checked my bank statements and could see that clearly payments had been made each month as expected so the "On Hold" status caught me much by surprise. There had been no contact via email, telephone, or even snail mail from Newman Springs to suggest there was an issue of any kind.

I spent the next week scouring reports from Newman Springs and my bank to see if I could understand what the issue was. My publishing director was silent on the issue and failed to provide any feedback despite my phone calls and emails seeking assistance in understanding the problem. After failing to find the gap, I called the Newman Springs accounting department and it was then that the truth was revealed.

Remember I said I had a snafu back in June of 2019. Well, when I made the payment in June to correct the original issue, it was agreed between the accounting department and me that the draft date for the payments would be adjusted to better fit a schedule that would guarantee no issues. What they didn't tell me (or do on their end, there is no clear answer what should have been done at this stage) is that their system would still list my due date as the original date and not the updated draft date. This means that each month there was a period of multiple days that my account would slip into this "On Hold" status where all work on my project was suspended and then when their auto-draft kicked in on the new day the account would be "active" again and work would resume.

Who knows how much time could have been saved in the process if either the due date in their system was updated to reflect the new draft date they suggested to me or if the impact of moving the draft date had been better explained and understood. Either way, I owed one last payment in Feb and I had the accounting department immediately draft to close the debt and resume work. It seems the "On Hold" status was causing my shipment from the printer to be held until paid. By paying the late fees that I had no idea were late, the printers could release the books and they would be at my doorstep a few days later.

By late Feb (and by late I mean the 26th), I had the preview copies in my hand. It was the first time I had seen my completed work as an actual book. At first sight, I was in awe. But I still had the task of reviewing the book to make sure it was to my liking. At one point, the team had sent me a pdf that was missing half a chapter. I mean, it was cut off in mid-word. They didn't just chop off a paragraph or something, they deleted half a chapter in mid-sentence and nobody there noticed it. With that still in my mind, I knew I wanted to review the actual book to make sure that it had not suffered some similar freak issue.

For days I sat in my office at my desk scrutinizing every line, every word, every letter. I wanted to make sure the book was perfect, or at least as perfect as I could. What I ended up finding is that there were some major errors that had still managed to slip through the cracks. I sent back a list of 55 changes/corrections that would be needed before the book could be released.

And now was the last problem.

My publishing director had already demonstrated a lack of communication during the whole billing snafu in Feb. It would seem his failing communication skills would continue at this time. He never responded to acknowledge the list of changes that I had submitted. I emailed him a few times over the course of the next week or so with nothing. I ended up having to seek out someone else at the company to spur him into communicating with me. Some may call that a bit excessive but I was not happy with the fact that he had stopped talking with me now that my bill had been paid in full but they had not satisfied their terms of the contract yet.

Eventually, the method worked, excessive or not, and I knew things were being worked on again. This was early March. By early April, they had made most of the necessary changes. The latest version of the book only contained one error, an apostrophe where it didn't belong. The typesetters made the changes but the editors didn't proof anything and in the process an error had been introduced into the manuscript. I pointed out the issue on April 1st.

More than a month later, on May 8, I had to again seek out escalation because there was absolutely no contact from my publishing director regarding this single change. I was eventually connected with his supervisor who was sympathetic to my issue and assigned me a new publishing director who jumped in to fix the issue.

By mid-June I had received new copies of the book from the printer and to my relief, they looked ready to go. I gave my approval for the project to finally move into retail and within the next 2 weeks my paperback book started popping up for sale on various retail websites. it would take roughly another 6 weeks before the ebook version was available and another couple of weeks after that before the press release was put out.

All in all, what was touted as a 9 month process took me roughly 15 months to complete. Sure, some of the delays were of my own making so don't read too much into that timeline as being 100% Newman Springs fault. There are things they could have done better that might have sped up the timeline but by that same measure there are things I could have done better to reduce the amount of redundancy that occurred over that same period of time.

By comparison, when I used Newman Springs to publish Book 2 in the series it took considerable less time. I knew more about how the process worked, what to look for, and how to better manage the project as a whole. And my project manager/publishing director that finished Book 1 with me followed me to Book 2 (and now Book 3) which helped keep things moving because she and I know better how to communicate with each other and what our expectations are which helps prevent the gaps and issues I experienced with the first fella.

Is my experience typical? I don't know. Is a vanity publisher better or worse than going 100% self-published? I can't say. What I can say is that publishers like Newman Springs offer services to writers as a package that they would otherwise have to find independently. I would have easily spent equal or more money had I tried to find someone to do all of the work they did as part of this project. I have read books that were 100% self-published. Some were great that showed real work and effort had gone into making them the best they could be while others looked like editing was barely an afterthought. 100% self-publishing is still the wild west of publishing where things with few standards apply whereas using a group like Newman Springs helps authors at least find some semblance of professionalism in the final product. Newman Springs and their process worked for me to the extent I wanted. Are other similar publishers better or worse? I can't say since I haven't worked with them. This was just my experience with one publisher. You want to compare experiences? Drop me a DM on one of my social media accounts and we can compare. Hopefully your experience was at least as good, if not better, than mine.

Happy writing!

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