What is Vanity Press and What is Not?

I’ve seen it over and over again on writer channels in social media. “If you have to pay for anything it’s a vanity press and avoid them.”  While I whole-heartedly agree you shouldn’t use vanity press, the definition is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Vanity Press prints anything. If you write a book with one eye closed, hopped up on stimulants, and only while running, a vanity press will publish it. They will try to upsell you to editing services, but a pig of a story can’t be edited to quality. They don’t care, though, because any money they make off sales is just gravy, because they make their money off the author.

Vanity Press uses different words, such as partner press, or co-publishing, but make no mistake, their money is from the writer. They often have good advice for positioning, and claim to market (some even do), but their money is made, both through up-front costs, and minimum order demands on the author.

If you submit to a publisher and they say you have to buy 100, or 1000 or 10000 copies, you’re probably at a vanity press. Read some of their books before signing. Are the books well written? Some may be, but most will not be.

Prevail Press, and our peer companies, are not vanity press. We have the same screening process as traditional publishers (and more rigid than some), taking only the best books who traditional publishers SHOULD have picked up. Here’s our process:

There is no charge to submit. See our website for submission guidelines.

We may:

  • Reject the book because it isn’t ready for publication, or it doesn’t meet our guidelines (we will tell you if it’s well-written or not).
  • Reject with conditions. If it needs work but has potential, I’ll tell you what needs to be done and if you follow through, we’ll consider it again.
  • Accept it.

If we accept it, we’re going to have a frank talk about what we can do for you and what we can’t. If you want to proceed, if book design is needed, there will be a small charge for that, typically $300. If you need a cover beyond what we can do, or if you need an editor, I have a few freelancers you can work with or you can use your own resources (I can help with some suggestions). If you have a good book cover, and if it’s already been designed as a book, I’m not going to charge anything. A Prevail Press logo and barcode will be added to the cover and ISBN to the front matter.

If you do pay us for design, the tiny percentage you’re charged (10%), will be deferred until all your costs are recovered (this doesn’t include outside editing or design work). After your costs are recovered, you’ll get 60% of the retail price and we’ll get 10%.  Contrast this with traditional publishers who give you a fraction of that, normally about 25 cents, as opposed to $2+ per book with us.

You have the benefit of a publisher’s brand, a quality assurance, no-hassle publishing, and a lot of extras. You’ll also be part of a network of writers who help promote one another.

You own your copyright, an ISBN is included for each form of the book (Kindle, audio book, paperback), and truthful, trustworthy partner. No hollow promises and no falsehoods.

Self-publishing is for some people, but it isn’t as simple a process as you might think. If you don’t know how to self-publish, come to us first.

Deeply Held Convictions

What constitutes story fodder? Or more importantly, what’s off limits? Anything?

That’s an odd question, but in our polarized society, some topics seem taboo. I would suggest that if it is a strongly held belief that you ache to reveal, then by all means, write it.

In fact, you probably SHOULD write it.

A story digs deeper into the brain than a debate or discussion (see my forthcoming book Creativity Wears Boots to see just how much further).

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Go ahead, you have it in you!

Let me share the wisdom of my daughters. The idea of “Feelings aren’t Facts” is a common conservative argument, and it’s 100% true, but that isn’t all there is to it. My girls informed me that “Feelings are Valid.” They may not be based in right beliefs, but feelings need to be acknowledged.

And they are right. Ben Shapiro may lecture, and Steven Crowder may mock, but they don’t dwell. Martin Luther King Jr. made amazing speeches, but Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird made me burn inside in ways King’s speeches didn’t. I got goosebumps when I heard I have a dream!  but I cried when Scout learned the truth about the world.

I think A Time to Kill was John Grisham’s best book. It was his first, written in long-hand and then transposed, it was raw and—goodness!—actually showed a story (Grisham is the foremost teller of Show don’t Tell stories). It made me angry in the right way.

What’s your story? The horrors of abortion? The refutation of LGBT? The affirmation of them? Are you a Flat Earther? Do you struggle with evolution? Do you think Starbuck’s is of the devil (YES!)?

Write your story.

Yes, you might give thought to who within your immediate family would be offended. I have topics I won’t broach for that reason. For now.

The truest way to power through the expanse of the second act is to believe in your story. To be passionate about your topic and themes.

A quick story: Many years ago, I wrote and mounted a play set during WWII. We almost cancelled a week before production because America had just gone to war and we didn’t want anyone to adversely affected. We decided to go ahead with it nonetheless and deal with any consequences. After opening night, a woman came up to me crying. I thought, “Uh-oh” but instead she told me her husband had been deployed and she couldn’t sleep for fear, and that our play had made her see that God was in control and she wanted to thank me. Let me tell you, there is no greater feeling. For every person you hear from, there are many more who say nothing to you but are changed for reading your story.

You were given your deeply held convictions to share. Sometimes, as Frances Assisi said, “you might use words.”

Write your story, be true to yourself.

Who knows? You might change the world.

No One knows what works

In William Goldman’s (may he rest in piece) great book, Adventures in the ScreenTrade, he makes the most true statement ever:

No one knows what works.

He was talking about movies, but it’s true for any story. Twilight made the author rich (why? Who knows?). 50 Shades of Grey, a bad story about bad bondage IN THIS DAY IN AGE, was phenomenally successful. Why?

In the movie trade, thousands of things can go wrong that makes a bad script good or a good script bad.

You may have a crazy concept. You may think it isn’t salable, but if 50 Shades of Grey can be successful in the Me Too era, there isn’t any crazy idea that can work.

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If this guy can go outside with a straight face, you can write your crazy story!

When you begin writing, don’t think about “is it publishable?” Think instead, “how do I make this crazy idea work?”

If you need permission to write that wacky concept, consider it given. Get writing.

In Your Head and Talking Heads

Let’s look at two pace-killers; A character bogging down in his/her own head, and just two people talking.

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Talking Heads… Not the Band

It’s so tempting to get inside the head of your beleaguered character to let us hear what she’s thinking, but therein is the problem: That’s telling, not showing. Consider:

“Tara desperately wanted his masculine arms around her, encompassing her, but what about her fiancé? What would people think? But I want him, I need him, he makes me feel…”

Yuck on two levels:

  1. Telling us isn’t visceral; we don’t feel what Tara is telling us she feels.
  2. People don’t think like that. We only form thought into words when we are formulating thought to tell someone, or when we are constructing an argument (in essence, what we might write down if we were so inclined). Rather, we feel, we imagine. So, to the reader, it doesn’t feel real.

So much better to show Tara’s inner turmoil through her interactions with her fiancé, and whoever “he” is. Does she start arguments? Stay away from her fiancé? Shudder at his touch? All of these are infinitely more interesting than being told what she feels. It also forces action, since there must be two or more people in the scene, and conflict because she herself is conflicted.

Stay out of your character’s heads as much as possible and play out scenes that show us the anguish.

When you do, though, beware the talking heads.

In playwrighting, talking heads refers to scenes where people are just… talking. How boring. Worse when they’re talking about their feelings. Think about the Avengers scene, when Steve and Tony are talking… while they split wood. They take their frustrations out on the logs, culminating with Steve ripping apart a giant log with his bare hands. Best scene in the movie. Of two guys talking. Followed by Tony and Nick Fury just talking while repairing a tractor.

Non-examples are in Star Trek Discovery (if you have seen the last episode but plan to **SPOILER ALERT*** don’t read any further (for my personal opinion of Star Trek Discovery, and more spoilers, see here).

Hundreds if not thousands of drones are ripping apart starships, whittling down shields, and like so many times before, Michael and Spock are just standing there talking… for a long time… about their feelings!  Every second they dither, people are dying, ships are exploding but they keep talking. Now, if something weren’t working and they were talking while fixing it, working their frustration and feelings into the task at hand, I wouldn’t have been yelling at the screen so much (something I do regularly).

This is a particular problem in visual media, but it informs prose, as well. Great dialog that is fast and clever can cover inaction but still, add the element of action to show us what they’re feeling! Go through your story and find scenes of talking heads and lengthy inner monolog and set them in action!

Stories Without Pacing are a Drag

When a beta reader tells you your story is uneven, she means you have a pace problem.

Writing a good story, any story, is traversing a mountain range. When you’re going up a mountain, pace is slow; when you’re going down the mountain pace is fast.

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Don’t be a drag

Beginnings either start in the foothills for a slow build or drop down a cliff for the explosive start. Once your character has reached the inciting incident, the point of no turning back, then you should be immediately plunging down a small mountain. The beginning is over, it’s time to start the middle.

In the middle, each mountain is higher, but plot can slow down. Think of each mountain as being jagged with little peaks and valleys the higher you go.  Once you’re at the top of the last mountain, you plunge down, slipping into the end without even being aware of it.

At the end, even if you pause, you have so much kinetic energy it doesn’t feel like you’ve stopped. Once you’ve reached the conclusion, you’re again in the foothills for a quick wrap up.

How do you control pace?

  • Action – Action should be described in short sentences and short paragraphs with crunchy words.
  • Conflict – Not all conflict is action, yet even if it’s not, it’s fast, short sentences, short paragraphs.
  • Structure – You don’t always want short paragraphs and sentences. Sometimes you set up the fall with longer sentences, longer paragraphs, followed by a choppy sentence in a one-sentence paragraph.
  • Words – An intelligent person uses multi-syllabic words, but the tenser things get, the shorter his words get. The unintelligent use 10-cent words and devolve to grunts.
  • Dialog – Punchy dialog, fast interplay, spare description, interrupting one another all increases the pace.
  • Emotion – Sliding up through the emotional register, bundling up their feelings, tension speeds things up.

But you don’t want your reader exhausted, so sometimes you have to pull back on the pace.

  • Setting Description – Slow the pace by showing the setting.
  • Pondering – Your characters need to think and preserve their energy. They do this in several ways, but pondering, introspection, thinking slows things down.
  • Crisis of Faith – If your character is forced into participating, they may not be fully committed. Losing confidence can slow things down.

If you need to, chart the rise and fall of the scenes and chapters of the book. Where do things slow down and where do they speed up? Does the pace ratchet up? Does it vary?

Can you name some fast-paced books and slow-paced books?