Should I Have To Pay To Get Published?

by Michael Botur

Commercial publishing versus self-publishing versus vanity publishing: it pays to know the difference.

Recently I’ve had two Northland writers approach me to report their negative experiences having spent thousands of dollars to get fiction books published without the critical response, sales or satisfaction they had expected. You’ll come across these publishing deals sometimes described as ‘hybrid’ publishing, referring to costs landing between author and publisher.


The Book Launch With No Books

Jess pawley's book cover

Whangaparaoa author J L Pawley, who would go on to find a lucrative, traditional and respectful publishing deal with Eunoia Publishing Group in 2015,  endured ups and downs with a publisher who took a lot of money from Jess then provided books of low quality. There was even a book launch without books available – a harrowing experience Jess details in ‘Learning To Fly,’ which is free to read on Wattpad (picture taken from JL Pawley’s Wattpad page; credit J L Pawley).


Mangawhai author charged $900; says he received one book.

xlibris platinum pakcage

Mangawhai author Bevan Lawrence has repeatedly spent money with Indiana-based publisher Xlibris. Xlibris – usually the first Google result in any search for publishing options – charges authors a minimum of $US899; other options include the Professional publishing package, the Custom, Premium, Executive package and so forth, leading up to the $US16,000 Platinum package.

“I had always wanted to write and over many years have done so, but nothing I wrote seemed to me to be good enough,” Bevan said. “Finally I had the idea of joining several characters’ true stories into one; I just named the characters with the same name. So that book became Historical Fiction. Unfortunately my manuscripts were rejected by even boutique publishers, which I had approached because the mainline people just don’t even bother with unknown authors.”

“So it came down to self publishing companies. I made the mistake of being taken in by, I guess, my own vanity, hence the title of ‘vanity publishers’ who play on this human factor to get you on their hook. The company known as Xlibris published my first book. For about $800 dollars I got loads of publicity material: posters, book marks, business cards, an ISBN number, a listing on Kindle, a quick find app for the book and the book itself. One copy! A paperback, glossy cover, and well printed containing my illustrations. However despite the con of the first book I got two more published at a discount. The third one had some controversial information, so to avoid long possible legal complications I decided to publish under a nom-de-plume, you can’t sue a fictitious person. This has since caused a problem because subsequent novels are now printed under the nom-de-plume. I since discovered one could put their novels onto the web for free, and one can market them or should I say promote them online. My wife was infuriated by the frequent phone calls from my so called ‘representatives’ at Xlibris, wanting me to fork out yet more money to further ‘promote’ my work. My e-mail page filled with messages. No sooner was I getting somewhere with one representative, than they would be replaced with another. In fact all that a person may pay for at Xlibris, can be easily done by oneself. It has taken a long time and many hung-up phone calls to get Xlibris off my back. My advice is to stay away from vanity publishers.”


‘Rude Awakening’ for Northland author Lisa Spicer

the paper chase

Lisa Spicer, Northland writer, had the following experience with one of the publishers discussed in this NZ Listener article, ‘The Paper Chase,’ written by Felicity Monk.

“The day came when I had finished my 35000 word manuscript, I excitedly posted numerous copies off to appropriate publishers around New Zealand,” Lisa says. “There was no doubt in my mind that one of them was bound to say yes.  Weeks passed and eventually the rejection letters began to arrive in the mail.  Yes, this was back in the day when a) you could submit directly to a publisher without an agent, and b) a publisher did actually respond to your submission.

“It didn’t take long to exhaust all my publishing options in New Zealand.  On doing some research I decided my next best move would be to have my manuscript assessed.  Of course this was going to cost money, which I duly paid and employed the services of someone whom I felt had the appropriate credentials.  This I did not regret, I was given some good advice and told to increase my word count to at least 50,000 words for the type of novel I had written.  Once I had done this I could then pay more money and this person would then pursue a publisher on my behalf.

“I went back to work, improved my manuscript and resubmitted to the assessor and paid my money.  This is now where things get a little dubious.  Within three weeks I get a letter back from a publisher, offering to publish my book at a cost.  Quite an extensive cost I might add.  At that point in time I had never heard of the term ‘Vanity Publishing’, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I had the contract checked by a lawyer, and although he commented that the percentage of return wasn’t particularly fair considering my investment, I decided that it was worth the risk to just get my work out there.

“The day came when my parcel arrived, my first book all shiny and new.  I was excited and expectant that this was my big break.  There was celebration and then back to work.  I focused on my next novel, should a publisher come calling I wanted to be ready.  Six months later I received a rude awakening.  A statement of six monthly sales arrived with a cheque.  The sales weren’t great, but that wasn’t the shock.  Only 750 books had been printed.  It never occurred to me to ask how many books I was getting for my money.  It was clear to me now there was never any hope of getting an appropriate return on my investment.

Another six months rolled around, sales were even less than the previous.  My publisher said he was hoping to expand into Amazon, who were new to the scene at that time.  He also mentioned extending sales to Australia.  He talked a lot, he was going to do this and that. I nicknamed him ‘The Gonna Bird’ after a children’s book I had read.  Lots of promises but nothing happened.  I realised then he didn’t need to work for his money by getting my book sold, he had already been paid.

During this time I had someone hand me an article on vanity publishing, along with the comment, “This is who you used isn’t it?”  The article was fairly derogatory to those who attempted to cheat the publishing process.  It also explained something else to me that I had been unaware of.  In New Zealand we have two main bookshop owners, Paper Plus and Whitcoulls.  They purchase the majority of their books through a Company approved bookseller.   What is a bookseller?  They are the middleman between your Publisher and the Book shops.  They are going to push the books from their major suppliers aka major publishing houses.  Simply put small publishing houses don’t have the clout and have to work harder to get their books on shelves.  Although I do believe that since that time, our bookshops are required to buy a percentage of New Zealand based literature.

“I did complete my next novel, the second in a series from my first.  I did try to get that published, but to no avail.  I do wonder if having the first book published under the cloak of Vanity Publishing, tainted it. What did I learn?  They pay you, you don’t pay them.  It is something I have read many times since then.  I also suspect that the manuscript assessor I engaged only sent my novel to the one publisher.  I have no proof of this, but considering the response time of three weeks, I think we can safely assume that.  I also wasn’t prepared for the sense of shame I felt, when I realised that some people thought I had cheated the process.

“These days I prefer to do my own thing.  I am far less trusting now, even cynical.  The few publishers that will accept your work without an agent is growing less by the day.  Questions like “Do you know anyone famous or a celebrity who could promote your work?” really grate on me.  It’s all about the money.  Access to the literary world is changing, and despite my years of life experience, I am learning to change with it.  I recently self-published my first e book, and it didn’t cost me a cent.”


And now, a quick guide to the (very limited) fiction publishing options in NZ.

You can find a more comprehensive list of publishers at

  • Random House and Penguin: ‘Random Penguin’ is the result of Pearson and Bertelsmann publishers merging in 2012. Penguin NZ and Random House NZ were subsequently brought together in 2014. For the first time in a while, Penguin is accepting open submissions of fiction manuscripts, but there is a big list of what they do not accept – poetry, short stories, screenplays and more. Read submission guidelines here. No fee charged to have your manuscript looked at, but you are unlikely to get any feedback on the manuscript if it is declined.
  • Allen & Unwin NZ – only accepts manuscripts through the Friday Pitch. Guidelines here.  No fee charged to have your manuscript looked at, but you are unlikely to get any feedback on the manuscript if it is declined.
  • Mākaro Press – Wellington publisher- covers the cost of publishing a few manuscripts as a standard commercial publication (19 commercial books published at time of publishing this update) but mostly asks for money from authors who would like to get their work published under Mākaro’s author-pays Submarine imprint (42 books published under this arrangement as at June 8 2018). Mākaro explains: “Our Submarine imprint is for our books published with the author contributing towards the costs. Usually this pays for the first print run, but can involve contributions to the editorial or design work depending on the project.” Mākaro Press, which has a Gmail address as its contact, and charges a fee to have a manuscript assessed.
  • Rosa Mira Books – They do e-books only. There is an interesting line on their website about whether the author gets paid or gets charged to publish with Rosa Mira – “We don’t pay in advance. In keeping with the trend towards greater author autonomy, publisher and author share in both costs and revenue. If the author has no money (or services to offer in lieu), we’ll look for alternative funding such as crowd-sourcing, grants or pre-selling.”
  • Mary Egan Publishing – high costs to the author for a high quality publication and marketing – that’s my opinion. Unlike many other places, the costs to work with Mary Egan Publishing are given on the website. My opinion is also that Mary Egan is quite successful in getting one’s book reviewed, which can’t be said for other publishers (imagine paying thousands for your book and getting no reviews… ).
  • New Holland Publishers: I’m pretty sure in the past New Holland didn’t publish fiction (fiction sells far less than non-fiction) but the publisher appears to be open to fiction submissions at the moment.
  • Scholastic: Overwhelmed by submissions, so currently closed to submissions as of June 8 2018.
  • One Tree House and UnderLeaf Press – open for submissions, and mostly looking for already-published authors.
  • Victoria University Press – open for fiction submissions, you don’t have to print your submission like some other publishers ask, and you don’t have to pay. Yay!



Join Mangawhai Writers like Bevan Lawrence

Mangawhai writer Bevan Lawrence has just published his latest ebook, The Nephilim Strain.  Bevan lawrence

You can check out his work at Xlibris*, where Bevan has written many novels.

The synopsis of The Nephilim Strain:
It is the story of the Nephilim or Scralian people, who lived about 5000 years ago. A scientist uses DNA from their bones to increase the lifespan of people he considers worthy, however some drug agencies try to copy the formula and this gives a disease opportunity to infect large numbers of the population.
*Note from editor- Xlibris is not recommended as a publisher – see thousands of complaints online.

Bevan calls for Northland writers to join Mangawhai meet-ups

From The Mangawhai Focus April 23:

Local writer Bevan Lawrence is about to release a new book, The Nephilim Strain on Kindle, about an obsessive scientist bent on holding back age.

Bevan is one of a number of locals with published works from novels to poetry and children’s books, these include Roy Vaughan, Jacquie McRae and Amanda Lyne.

Doubtless there are many others who, at a certain stage of life and a change of circumstances, realise they have had stories inside them waiting to break forth but for a little opportunity encouragement and guidance. Bevan is interested in forming a group with those wanting to write their story, record a family history, or maybe turn a hobby into a ‘how to’ book.

“Perhaps there is a child’s book inside you that you want to dedicate to a grandchild, or possibly publish recipes or travel dairies, or place a tide marker in the river of time and write a memoir,” he says, adding that networking with like-minded people can turn such ideas a reality.
He hopes to put illustrators and authors together or provide ghost writers for stories that need to be told.

Bevan writes under the pseudonym of Richard M. Hogan and therein lies another story.

Initially he seeks interest from those that would like to be part of a writers group for mutual discussion and help get the word out – literally.
If you are interested contact Bevan at, (09) 480 1949 or 027 617 6521.

Bevan Lawrence wants to form a group of like-minded writers and creatives.


Books for babies! Whangarei’s new online shop Niche Books

Niche Books specialises in books designed for babies, toddlers and children to enjoy time and time again.

Niche books

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…
Niche Books board books are intentionally designed with the very youngest of the family in mind, to reflect their present life experiences. Read more about books and reading with babies and The Bookstart Series.

Niche Books’ vibrant non-fiction picture books combine compelling illustrations and language to tell fascinating stories that are also factually accurate.

Tips from Niche Books for reading with babies:

  • Pick your moment – when baby is awake and ready to communicate, and at first, keep it brief and be guided by baby’s level of interest.
  • Avoid distractions and get comfortable – indoors or out, sitting up, lying down, you choose. And definitely turn off any of the technology competing for your attention – TV, computers, radio etc.
  • Hold the book close enough for easy focus, touching, and even tasting. At this stage, books (and everything else) are for experiencing holistically!
  • Turn the pages slowly – let baby set the pace and conversation.
  • Your baby loves to hear your voice – join in the pattern and rhythms of these small stories and enjoy yourself. Bounce, dance, sing, snuggle, tickle, have fun!


Poetry competition – Far North District Council with Kaikohe Library


Dust off your quill and get creative for the second year of our poetry competition inspired by Matariki. With this rich cultural theme it’s a great opportunity to explore te reo Māori. The competition is now open and we encourage all ages to enter under the categories of Primary, Secondary or Adult. Entries will be accepted until 20 June 2018, and you can either drop into Kaikohe Library for an entry form or email your poem to Local poets Isabella Pomare and Christian Martin will be announcing the winners at the library on Friday 22 June.

Author J L Pawley tours Northland

Author J L Pawley of Whangaparaoa/Auckland has been touring Northland schools over the past month.

Pawley, who signed with Eunoia Publishing in 2016, recently had her Generation Icarus young adult novel series optioned for film/TV, while the first book has been published in English and Russian, and about to be released in Mandarin Chinese.

As Jess promises in her serialised autobiography on Wattpad, ‘Learning To Fly,’ “Come with me on the next chapter of my adventure as the author of ‘Generation Icarus’ – which, before it was signed by the first publisher, earned over 1.5M total reads on Wattpad and reached the top rankings in Science Fiction. Part blog, part autobiography, all true.”

Read ‘Learning To Fly’ here

And follow Pawley’s updates and vlog from her tour for Duffy Books in Homes as she visits Opononi, Rawene Primary School, Omanaia School, and Kawakawa Primary School.


Her page and updates:


Blog updates from NZ Society of Authors Northland branch – for May 2018





  • Next NZSA meeting will be held on Saturday 19 May, Hikurangi, from 11am(refreshments available from 10.30am). The venue will be advised by email.

Members’ News:

  • Kathy Derrick’s short story The Auburn Trail was shortlisted for a competition run by takahē magazine and will be published in Issue 92.
  • Piet has had an article published in Scene magazine; has had a poem in a recent book Lust which is part of a series of books about the seven deadly sins, published in Australia; has had a poem in Olentangy Review; and has three other poems coming up in different publications.
  • Suzanne entered the book editors’ short story competition – theme the worst summer yet; she’s a finalist, but no results yet. Her story’s called She’s Hot.
  • Heather has published in Wilderness magazine and the Motor Homes and Caravans and Destinations magazine.

Members’ Books

Fire by Anne McDonell
Flip has THREE major problems:
ONE – Jackson, a know-it-all who looks and dresses like a film star and bullies Flip.
TWO – You wouldn’t believe it but Flip’s mother invites Jackson to stay for the whole holidays.
THREE – Soon after Jackson moves in, a dangerous arsonist attacks a shop and homes in their street.
Can Flip and Jackson reach a compromise and work together to catch the culprit before someone is seriously hurt? A novel for 8 to 13-year-old children. Available from

NorthWrite 2018 Mini: Springing out of Winter

Write away your winter blues by entering the Northland branch of the NZ Society of Authors national short story competition. The competition is open now and closes on 31 July 2018. The winners will be announced on 1st September 2018. Previously unpublished stories on any theme and up to 1500 words can be submitted as an rtf or docx file by email to northlandauthors[at] The cost per story is $15 and you can enter as many times as you like. Stories will be judged anonymously so please do not put your name on your story. Judges are Diana Menefy and Justine Payen and the prizes are as follows:

  • First prize – $300 plus publication on the NorthWrite website
  • Second prize – Editing of a short story of up to 3000 words
  • Third prize – $50 book token

The Conditions of Entry state all entry criteria and should be read prior to any submissions being made. If submissions do not follow the guidelines your entry will be disqualified.


Poetry Events

Fast Fibres Poetry Collective is producing a fifth collection to display the talents of Northland poets. It will be launched in print and online on National Poetry Day, August 24, 2018. Poets with a strong connection to Northland are invited to submit 3 poems, each no longer than 20 lines, plus a two-line biographical statement. Deadline: June 15. Email: fastfibres[at] Website:

A full list of Northland writing events and opportunities (including writers’ groups and information on the Whangarei Community Publications Trust) can be found here.


2018 National Flash Fiction Day Competition

Hurry! Entries close April 30. Winners will be announced June 22 at the NFFD celebrations, and all winners are invited to attend and share their stories. Competition entry details here.

Competitions and Awards for Writers

For information on other competitions and awards please read NZSA’s Death by Deadline on the members-only page of the NZSA website.




Moth Short Story Prize 2018

It’s not a requirement, but the organisers strongly advise you to purchase a copy of The Moth.

The Prize is open to anyone (over 18). Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant and must never have been published, self-published, published online or broadcast. You can enter as many stories as you like. There is a word limit of 5,000. Entry fee is €12 per story. The judge is Kevin Barry and the prizes are as follows: A 1st prize of €3,000, a 2nd prize of a week-long writing retreat at Circle of Misse in France (including €250 for travel) and a 3rd prize of €1,000. Closing date for receipt of entries is 30 June 2018.

Full details can be found here.

The Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2018

Submit your Poetry & Short Fiction and showcase your work to a new international audience and further your involvement in the literary world.

Prizes include: £1,000 for the Short Fiction and Poetry winners, publication in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual for 60 finalists, Consultation with Redhammer Management, membership to the Poetry Society, one year’s subscription to Granta and a selection of books courtesy of Bloodaxe and Vintage.

Entries are open until 31 August 2018. Submit at:

Please contact Kathy or Di if you have any announcements, items of interest or achievements you would like included in this monthly newsletter.