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Jonathan Adam Marcantoni

Jonathan Marcantoni is Editor in Chief for Aignos Publishing, a new bi-lingual independent press specializing in experimental and innovative literature. He is the co-author of COMMUNION with author/playwrite Jean Blasiar, which was published in October 2011 from Savant Books and Publications. His new novel, TRAVELER'S REST, is now available on and through the publisher at He lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and three children, where he is currently working on his next novel.

A Note From Jonathan Adam Marcantoni

An excerpt from one of my blogs about the different types of presses and what a writer can expect from each experience. If you enjoy this, visit for more:

martes, 27 de diciembre de 2011

Vanity vs. Independent vs. Mass Market publishers

Before I go into the details on the three main types of book publishing, I want to say that what I present is a combination of my experience with all three, my opinions of all three based on research, and also the opinions of others that I have heard or read about. I hope this entry helps writers, new and old, decide which of the three best suits them. I do want to also point out that I do believe all three are legitimate ways of getting a book published. All three require a great deal of work and dedication in order to be successful, but in the end I feel there is more legitimacy as an artist in two of them rather than the third.

1. Mass Market-- These are the big dogs, the houses like Penguin, Bantam Books, Santillana (in Latin America), Seix Barral (in Spain) and Random House, that publish mainstream books of various genres. These publishers offer a wide variety of works, from popular fiction and non-fiction to classics and translations of international bestsellers. These companies spend millions on marketing and distribution, are highly versatile, have great clout in the literary world, and if you are published by them, then your book and name has legitimacy with any literary magazine, literary contest, book festival, literary award, etc. These companies do not typically accept new authors, unless that author has somehow acquired an agent (which is a whole other, even more headache inducing process that I'll write about in a future blog). These publishers also generally do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, in other words, unless you have an agent who can garner interest from the publisher to request reading a few chapters from your book, then they won't read it. If you happen to come across a mass market publisher who will read an unsolicited manuscript, you better follow their guidelines to the 'T' because the first flaw they find will send that manuscript into the trash pile. These companies will often pay advances, rather large advances at that, and you will need it, because if your contract stipulates that you will receive a royalty from sales, you won't see that royalty for quite a while. The reason being is that the time between your book being accepted by these publishers and the time when the book is actually released will be roughly two to three years. So that $50,000 advance doesn't look so good when that's all the money you'll see from that book for two years. Given, once that book starts selling, and if it sells really well, then you're set. You're in the big leagues at that point. The other downside will be the demands given of your manuscript. These publishers invest more than anyone else in the potential success of your book, and as a result, they feel, and not illogically, that they have a right to make your book as sellable as possible (according to their definition of 'sellable'). So you will likely sacrifice a good deal of creative freedom and may end up with a book that doesn't really reflect your original manuscript. You will then be required to do countless interviews and book signings promoting a work that may or may not reflect who you really are as a writer. Given, if you hang in there and sell enough books over a decent period of time, you'll be granted more leniency in your content and can reclaim your artistic vision. But it's a long and uncertain road to regaining creative control and freedom. These publishers are best for people who write formulaic, easy to read works. Newer authors have been able to break through, but only after they have been published elsewhere, usually as short story writers in literary magazines. Every now and again, bloggers have gotten book deals with these publishers, but they are typically bloggers who write on subjects that are accessible and catchy. It is not that these publishers never publish anything edgy or different, but if they do it is not with a novice writer. Even if the author is promoted as new, they have publishing credits of some form (whether they be articles, short stories, poems, or collaborations with a more experienced writer). Writers who stick with writing conference style and who publish in their university magazine often fit in with these publishers, since writing programs and classes in high school and college are geared toward popular fiction. The key with these publishers is the word 'accessible'. The more accessible, the better your chances. The same goes for a literary agent. They are the pitchmen for these books, and if your book isn't easily marketable and appeals to a wide audience, the agent won't likely represent you. It all comes down to dollars and cents, so it requires the author to have humility and flexibility, and to be completely honest, these writers, even if they are mediocre as artists, are also compulsively readable. And many are in fact excellent writers. You will hardly ever pick up one of these books and say to yourself that this person can't write. Now, whether they write something you like is another issue.  

2. Independents--These are the publishers who often get a bad rap because, due to financial constraints, they often practice Print on Demand, or POD. POD means they don't have a large stock of books waiting in their warehouse, like a mass market publisher would, because that would be a waste of the little money they do have. This method, which is smart from a financial standpoint, also causes some people to lump them in with Self, or Vanity, publishers. Because Vanity publishers have a reputation for ripping people off, and because self publishing is not seen in the literary world as a legitimate form or high end form of publishing (more on that later), Independents have to fight that image themselves. No, you will not make a ton of money with an independent publisher. You will have to do a lot of self promotion, often on your dime, but if you have a good publisher, they will do a good chunk of advertising as well, and provide you with opportunities to get your name out there. Savant Books and Publications, the publishing company that I am affiliated with, does this with book parties at their Savant Bookstore in Honolulu. I've done two of these and have sold some forty books from it. Again, not a big number, but my publisher footed the bill, like a mass market publisher would, and those forty books, later on, could turn into four hundred. Independents have to rely on word of mouth as much as self-published works do, since the marketing apparatus is not huge. The advantage for the independent publisher is that they have a company that, with the exception of the large budget, is set up identical to a mass market press. The marketing that is provided follows similar guidelines--book signings, press releases, mass emailings, submitting books for review, blogging about the book, etc.--as those for a mass market book. The advantage the independent publisher has over the mass market publisher is that the writer has more freedom to publish books that might only appeal to a niche audience, and that in spite of that the publisher is willing to take the risk and finance the book through publication and promotion. Independents take more risks, contracting new writers, niche writers, experimental writers, regional writers, and give them an experience that is more or less the same as a mass market writer experiences, albeit on a small budget. It is like an independent movie, you won't have the same distribution or nationwide exposure, but that company will get your work out there on their dime, and you will receive some royalty from it. The advantage the independent has over the vanity publisher is that independent houses, particularly those presses associated with major colleges, like Harvard, John Hopkins, USC-Berkeley, and Yale, have the same level of legitimacy as a mass market publisher. Even if the house is not as well known, if they cover all publishing fees and provide royalties and/or advances, and if they are associated with certain publisher's organizations, their books will be accepted by literary magazines, book festivals, awards, etc. The main concern with independents is that they have to cover all publishing costs or else they are lumped in with vanity presses. Publishers that charge authors for services are anathema to a reputable publisher. So as long as an independent provides those services (which include editing services as well) and guarantee royalties/advances, then that publisher can play at the same table as the big boys. Still, not all independents are created equal. there are a lot of bad ones, ones that promote paying for some services and charging the author for others. Ones that don't come through on publication, who fold after a couple years and who didn't do hardly anything to promote the book. One has to be concerned with upstart independents, because these are people putting up their own money to finance this venture, and who knows how long they will be around. But for good ones, for established ones, these are like water in the desert. Yes, you have to sacrifice financial wealth. You may only make four thousand dollars off of a book over its time at the publishers, which can be five years, but at the same time, you'll be allowed to write riskier works. Independents respect the author's vision and voice more than mass market presses. They will require editing services, again on their dime, and the author will have to have the humility to alter their book for its own good, but the editing process with an independent is far less intrusive than that of a mass market press. There are still high standards, but the editing focuses more on the work itself than on its marketability. At the same time, because independents take more risks on authors, their consistency is not always there. Out of a catalog of 25 books, their may only be 15 that are really good books that a lot of people want to read. Also, because many of the writers are new, the editors at these houses often have to teach the authors how to write, not just how to edit. What independents often find themselves working with is potential. They may find that diamond in the rough who gets better with each book, or who is an amazing author who just needs a little tweaking, but more often than not, they will pick a book because of what it could be, and not what it is. Sometimes these books are out of necessity, the publisher has to publish something, and this was the best of what was submitted. So much like the new author has to build his reputation, the publisher has to build theirs. The hope is that over time the publisher receives more high quality works and the output becomes more consistent, which also allows the publisher to get access to better distribution channels and sell more books. Independents also attract a lot of experienced writers who are tired of dealing with mass market presses. These writers often help with the consistency factor, since they can definitely write well. These presses are great springboards for authors, since when they decide to make that leap into mass market presses by finding an agent, they have a resume that can be more prestigious, since it includes actual book publishing. And since these presses carry legitimacy in the literary world, in part because of reasons I already mentioned and in part because it shows that others have invested in you before, publishing with them can help pull you over the stacks of writers who only have writing credits with their school newspaper and literary magazine (which they likely were on the editorial board for).

3. Vanity or Self publishers--These are, for a lack of a better term, the bitches of the literary world. The authors who publish through them put in a great deal of work and personal financial investment to get their book onto or Barnes & and to sell them at book conventions or at non-book festivals where the author paid to get a booth. However, these authors are also not taken seriously, for a number of reasons. One: The writer doesn't have to prove themselves to be published. They only have to pay, and the publisher only functions as a means to printing the cover and manuscript that the author themselves has to put together. Two: The publisher could care less about the book's quality, because they make a profit off of the writer from the start, and then continually make money off of the author whenever they need copies of the book, which may or may not sell. Three: There is the very legitimate perception that the authors who go this route are doing it for their own ego more than because they are serious writers (hence the name, Vanity Press). These presses have no legitimacy in the literary world. Book festivals, magazines, author's organizations, etc. do not accept books from vanity presses. There is the argument that these authors have the most freedom, that because they purchase the IBN number and copywrite for the book (two things that a mass market and independent publisher does for the author) that they have greater ownership over the work. But I would undercut this argument by saying that while that is true, that these writers also don't have to practice the humility of editing, of working with others to enhance the book, that these are not proven to any good by anyone else's standard but their own. These books are more often than not bad, real bad. For every thousand self-published books, maybe five of them are even just good. These writers are published, but they are writers in the same way that a kid who video tapes his buddies doing some stunts and posts it on You Tube is a director. Yes, that kid certainly 'directed' the video, but they lack the training and skill of an actual, legitimate director. For me, it is a pride issue. I could never take pride in a book that was approved by me and me only. To be picked up and promoted by a publisher means that someone other than myself and my friends likes my work, and because you don't write for just yourself, that outside validation is necessary. It is also a cheat to the people buying your book, because you are asking them to invest in something that no one other than yourself was willing to invest in. Now, there are some vanity presses, like, that will publish your work without charging you. However, if you aren't able to sell a set amount of books, then Amazon takes 100% of your royalties and can resell the book at whatever price they want to (like .10 cents, seriously), so in the end you still get screwed over as much as by presses like Create Space that makes a hefty fortune charging you for every aspect of book publication. These presses feed off people's ego, off of a culture that is increasingly obsessed with self-satisfaction, where personal pride takes a back seat to mindless self-exploitation. Given, there are self published authors who employ editors, as I have been the editor for such books, and I can testify that I have only edited one self-published book that I would read again and suggest for others to read, that being Madeline Hatter's Lookin' in the Mirror. But my experience with her was also one of an author wanting to seriously improve their work, and who did try, after our work together, to get it picked up by a legit publisher. I haven't had that experience with other self-published authors, who often just want an editor to spell check for them and tell them how great their book is. These authors often are too afraid of putting their work out there and have it rejected, and vanity presses provide that safe zone for them. They get to be 'published authors' while theoretically avoiding the rejection and criticism that everyone else gets, although the fact they had to go the vanity route means that they had given up on the book and, paradoxically, rejected the book themselves by proving they had no confidence in its quality. Again, there are self published authors who are serious about their work, and who do believe that the control they have over the book's rights is worth having the stigma of being a self-published author, but they are a minority, I believe.
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