Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WestBow Press

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Thomas Nelson has launched a subsidy publisher, WestBow Press. I don’t have enough information to do a complete analysis of this new kid on the block and compare it to the subsidy publishers that came before it. WestBow Press is similar to other companies that sit between true self-publishing companies like Lightning Source and BookSurge and traditional publishers. The way these companies work it that the author provides some amount of money and the company provides workers and services. The author takes on all or most of the risk in publishing the book, or the publisher charges high prices for the book so that the profits on the few successful books will make up for the losses on the rest. There is a broad spectrum across which subsidy publishers are distributed when we consider every company between BookSurge and PublishAmerica. Some place more risk on the author, some less. I don’t have enough information to know where WestBow Press fits on this spectrum.

Most of these companies offer add-on features to the basic package. Typically, these are things like postcards, bookmarks, etc. that the author can hand out. WestBow Press is no exception. My opinion in the past has been that most of this stuff is just window dressing that won’t actually help the self-published author where she needs it most. On the high end of WestBow Press’ subsidy publishing packages, they have what they call Video Plus+. It provides everything that the Online Platform package does plus a Book Trailer, but in parenthesis it says, “No Voice Over.” Apparently, the additional $2,500 isn’t enough to pay for voice actors and someone to write the script. That’s understandable, but a Book Trailer without a voice over is pretty useless, in my opinion.

But it doesn’t stop there. WestBow Press has three additional “specialty publishing packages.” If you are satisfied with what $999 to $6,499 will get you, you can pay $10,000, $14,000 or $20,000 (less a dollar on each) to get even more. Basically, what it gets you is more “free” books, feature advertising in the WestBow Press catalog and line editing of 30,000 words (1/3 of a novel). I’m just going to call this their Vanity Press Packages. It’s still short of what you would get if you had a traditional publishing contract with Thomas Nelson, but its getting close to what I would call a true Vanity Press setup.

“Love” the windshield flyer creation feature. I can just see me going out and putting flyers on people’s windshields. Maybe I’ll head out to Nashville and stick a bunch of flyers on the cars in the Thomas Nelson parking lot.

Until I see otherwise, it seems to me that WestBow Press is just another subsidy company, but with a vanity press feature. Like all the rest, it is missing the one thing that the self-publishing side of the publishing industry needs more than anything else. If self-publishing is the wave of the future, it needs good quality editing. Line editing of 30,000 words is a start, but that’s about all it is. Even if we’re talking about a non-fiction book that is no more than 30,000 words long, line editing isn’t going to significantly improve most self-published books. They need more—much more.

The Genre Problem

Genre’s are a big problem, in my opinion. For authors, there’s the problem of determining which genre their work fits in, but that isn’t the problem I’m talking about. Genre’s are supposed to make it easier for readers to find the kind of books they enjoy. It’s a noble goal, but as I glanced at a book review posted on a blog the other day I saw the words “World War II fiction.” My eyes glazed over and I clicked away, thinking that I wasn’t interested, but as I did I realized that I didn’t know if I would enjoy the book or not. Mention World War II and I get images of slaughtered Jews, green shirted soldiers and Sherman tanks in my head. I see fiery red explosions in a night sky, thanks to the movies I’m sure. I see red armbands with swastikas. And at the moment, I’m not looking to read about that stuff. The same is true of Westerns. I see cowboys on horses. I see bandits holding up a stagecoach. I’m not sure that I want to read about that either.

But here’s the thing. I’ve enjoyed some World War II stories. I’ve enjoyed some Westerns. However, having enjoyed some doesn’t mean I’m going to pick up the next thing that comes along in that genre. In fact, as I said before, my eyes glaze over at the mention of them. The name of the genre tells us nothing. Even with genres like Mystery, Suspense and Thriller, which are more helpful, we don’t really know what the book is about until we pick it up.

To further demonstrate the problem, let’s consider two books. Both are World War II novels, so they would be on the same shelf in the bookstore. The first is about a British spy who falls in love with a German intelligence officer. The second is about a Jewish man who is trying to free his family from a concentration camp. They fall into the same genre, but they are two very different stories. Now, let’s move back in time a bit and go out west to the American frontier. Here we have another story. This one is about a man whose family has been kidnapped by Indian and he is trying to rescue them. Of the three stories, which two are the more similar? The first two or the second two? The second two, of course, but in a bookstore you will find these two books in different aisles, while the first two may be sitting right next to each other.

Readers don’t really make their book buying choices based on genre. They want to know what they can expect as they read the book. The genre doesn’t always tell us that. Even within the Romance genre, which is the strictest of all, there is great variation in what the book is about.