Vanity Presses: Don’t.

I recently finished a book that took all my willpower to get through. I won’t name the author or book, because this isn’t about shaming him and his work.

This is about shaming vanity publishers, and in this case specifically FriesenPress. What’s a vanity publisher? They’re publishers you pay to bring out your books. They don’t really care if you sell any books, because they make their money off the authors. You pay them for services… and I’m not talking about a small amount of money. From people I’ve talked to,  it’s $5000 and up. Way up.

I met an author at Saskatchewan Entertainment Expo last year, and when he talked about his books, they sounded really cool. Lots of action and adventure, in a future-Earth setting. Aliens. War. Listening to him pitch his book over and over again to potential readers never got old, and I wound up trading my first book for his.

First I had to finish getting through A Song of Ice and Fire’s fifth book, but after that, I dove into this one, ready for adventure.

He had told me that he’d gone with a vanity press, and I’ve heard plenty of bad things about those, but I wondered how bad could it really be?

The answer is bad. Very bad.

I wasn’t far into the book before I started stumbling over errors. And I don’t mean, “I would’ve done this differently.” I mean mistakes that any real editor would’ve caught. I got so distracted in the prologue that I would stop reading to make specific notes about the kinds of errors I was finding, and I would guess that EVERY kind of error that could be made was.

Here’s a list of just some of the errors I found… but honestly, I don’t think I got through a single page without finding something wrong, and I’m not an editor.

“Reports of the local Air Force base had secured the site but held the perimeter only seemed to solidify those suspicions as they boarded the V-22 Osprey that was readied for their transport.”

Oof. So awkward. Is it saying the reports had secured the site? This whole sentence needs to be chopped up.

“massive crater.” 

This is something I learned from my editor who caught my own misuse of the word ‘massive’ – something massive needs mass. It can’t be used to describe a cave, or crater. Also, this author LOVED the word massive. I mean, I found it (mis)used 3 times on one page. It was littered through the book carelessly, and an editor should have caught that and encouraged diverse word use. Mine did.

“Taylor noted he could feel the heat from the ground through his boots; this was something he had never experience before. The guards posted here looked nervous and unusually tense; he wondered what carnage lay beyond the crater wall that had shaken them so.” 

I had already noticed more semicolons than I’m used to seeing in a book, but the one-two punch of back-to-back semicolons really struck me. It feels really clunky when overused. 

“At last, he reached the third level door and opened it, emerging into the concrete maze that housed various vehicles housed throughout the day.” 

ANY editor should catch the same word showing up twice in one sentence. This next sentence drove me nuts:

“He was indeed struggling to resist the cold, saddening comfort of sadness and loosing himself in the exploration of the ancient Lyarran ark would help loosen its grip on his soul.”

There are also sections of the story where the POV shifts suddenly. One of the worst offenders went from following a General’s thoughts, to a Major’s, and then to “the troops” in a general sort of way, telling the reader what they all thought of the current situation. That kind of thing really breaks the rhythm of the story. 

A more minor detail is that when an apostrophe starts a word, you need to make sure it’s curling the right way (if you’re using a font that gives it a curl). A larger problem with the punctuation was the random explanation points all over the place. 

“It was (as) if he was actually there with them.” 

Missing words were confusing…

“Aaron moved his extended his arms out to his side and put his hands around the pegs.”

There were also plenty of extra words, like the example above, which made me have to reread a lot.

“…as the gurney was stopped by a large machine.”

Passive voice was not uncommon.

“This was new; they never had done this while he was awake.” or “screwing the best of plans up”

Misplaced modifiers were EVERYWHERE and frustrated me a lot. Should read “they had never done this…” and “screwing up the best of plans.”

“She weekly lifted her arm up for a  salute as her eyes began to close by themselves.”

Technically,  there are a few problems with this sentence,  but I’ve covered the others earlier. The new one is what my editor friend Karen Conlin likes to call “Spellcheck Cannot Save You.” This happened regularly throughout the story as well, with wrong words used all over the place. “Then” instead of “Than,” “Moral” used instead of “Morale,” and on and on. Weekly instead of weakly is pretty glaring. The same adjective is used again in the next paragraph,  and it makes the writing feel weak. 

Another example: Her excitement was “palatable.” The word is palpable. I don’t think he was going to eat his daughter because she was excited. 

It wasn’t until page 109 that I had a total “WTF?” moment. There was an ambush where a hybrid alien attacked and threatened a group of soldiers,  and at no point did the hybrid speak of his human family,  yet when the report came in, the General lost his mind and ordered surveillance on the hybrid’s family because he “obviously has full cognitive memory of his former life and may try to reach out to them.” This was so jarring that I had to go back to reread the entire interaction… at no point did the hybrid say anything that would have warranted this response.  

At this point,  1/4 of the way in,  I was questioning my resolve to get through the whole book.

The conflicts between the hybrid and the soldiers was drawn out unnecessarily. The hybrid would get into a battle, kill a couple soldiers, then leave. I expected some sort of reason for it, or a battle of wits or exposition between the General and the hybrid at the end, but it just fell flat. The whole battle felt anticlimactic.

And this speaks to a trope I’m totally over… the protagonist who can do everything, exactly when he needs to. I got tired of this with Richard Rahl in the Sword of Truth series. He walks into an insane problem, but conveniently discovers the power to deal with it, even if he didn’t know he could beforehand. At no point is there any tension at all regarding the main character. He’s going to make it, and will succeed at everything he does. You just know it.

The grammar errors never used to bother me, but I find them often (even in traditionally published books) since I started working with a good editor. 

By page 250, I knew this book was going to get tossed in my recycling bin as soon as I finished it, and I never do that with books. My wife was shocked when I told her I threw it out, but I said I just couldn’t donate that book and subject other people to it.

As a ship travels to Earth,  the computer calculates that there’s 150 days left. They’ll have to pause to calculate navigation routes through the solar system when they arrive,  which will take a couple of hours.  The captain thinks the Earth might need those couple of hours,  so commands the computer to analyze data about the solar system to compute a route in advance… which it does in a couple of minutes.  A task that was supposed to require a couple of hours of downtime? What? Why? And how long will the trip take now, with the saving of a couple of hours? 80 days! Somehow shaving off a couple hours instead shaved off more than a couple of MONTHS! Ridiculous. Absolutely ludicrous. I’d put up with a lot of errors and inconsistencies up to this point… a lot of minor and major irritations… but this is a colossal error. At this point,  with less than 200 pages to go,  I decided to finish it just to leave a review to tear apart FriesenPress. It is absolutely unconscionable to take someone’s money, because they have a dream of being an author, and not giving them the services they paid for.

Also,  that new timeline would’ve had reinforcements arriving to Earth long before the alien threat got there. But later,  they’re still on their way,  after the invasion begins. It’s sloppy, and a developmental editor – or even beta readers – would’ve caught it.

There are other timeline inconsistencies. At one point (2 hours after arrival) the AI tells the protagonist that the aliens will touch down in 40 minutes. The next scene (4 hours after arrival) is elsewhere,  then the next scene (10 hours after arrival) finally shows the invasion… 7 hours late! Why the discrepancy? It’s never addressed. 

I found another part of the story hard to believe… the “love interest.” It’s more than love at first sight. It’s absolute crippling infatuation at first sight. The protagonist and alien lock eyes across a holographic display involving untold countless aliens in a council chamber, and they literally can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s the sole focus of both points of view for scenes and scenes, with the protagonist unable to function because “she’s so beautiful.” I wish I was kidding. It was painful to read, over and over and over again. They literally don’t know anything about each other, and they’re certain they’re destined to be together, willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. It feels insanely forced, and the plot could’ve gone on without it. Also, the leader of the aliens is constantly described as oozing raw sexuality, every time she appears, and it’s exhausting reading about it.

And the repeated mentioning of how beautiful the alien is wasn’t the only repetitive aspect of the story. There were chapters where the same event was described from 4+ points of view, and almost nothing was added by including them. It felt like the book was being padded.

Things that were made out to be near-impossible odds early in the book were, in actual fact, of little consequence. The future-ally aliens were all like, “Oh no! Those invading aliens are far too powerful! We’re not sending our ships to help!” so the rogue, love-struck alien goes it alone, and it’s fine. Because the other alien reinforcements show up days earlier than expected because … the plot needed them there? There were so many mentions of how this lone ship was going to need to fight for days before anyone else showed up, but they literally got there, a couple salvos were fired, and the others showed up. The timing throughout the story was absolute horse shit (pardon my language. If you know me, you know how I feel about swearing, but this feels necessary).

The ending was… lacking. The alien leader who is always ALWAYS described as stunningly beautiful shows that she’s an idiot,  saying that only one human has been forged and tempered by the events of the book.  That character did almost nothing worthy of the role given at the end,  and to say that a better qualified person wasn’t shaped by the events is ludicrous.  The leader also ignores safety protocol, putting her life at risk for no reason whatsoever. She just needs to attend an event in person because … she wants to. In all honesty, she doesn’t think or act like a being whose life is measured in millennia and is the head of a galactic civilization.

Some of this is issues with the writing/plot, for sure. I can see why a traditional publisher wouldn’t touch it, because it needs a LOT of work to make the interesting aspects of the story shine (and there are some good things in there). But the fact that there are these vanity publishers who prey on writers who are desperate to publish their work for the world to see… it’s absolutely despicable. If they actually offered any kind of real services, maybe they would have merit, but it’s the fact that they did maybe $400 worth of work to format the text and slap a generic cover on it, and charged $10,000 that’s heartbreaking.

In short, don’t pay someone else to publish your book. If you want to hire editors and artists, that’s one thing. That’s part of self-publishing. But these companies that offer to do all the work for you, and charge thousands … they just don’t care if your book sells. They make their money from the writers, packing their garages with hundreds of copies of books that will likely never sell.