Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Vanguard: Imprint...... of the Future

Next up in our Imprint...... of the Future series (which really should have a soundtrack. Imagine some cymbals crashing or a nice synthesizer track playing after "of the future") is Vanguard Press, which is a division of Perseus (the parent company of Basic, PublicAffairs, Running Press, the remnants of the artist formerly known as Avalon Books, and more).

Vanguard is run by publishing veteran Roger Cooper, and much like last week's Imprint..... of the Future (cymbals!) it has a unique philosophy built around a philosophy of what makes successful books work.

Whereas 12 mixes a bit of the old school (big enough advances so the authors can take their time to write the books) with a bit of the new school (emphasis on advertising), Vanguard turns the publishing business on its head a bit, and asks the author to share in both the up front investment and (hopefully) the eventual success.

That means: no advances. BUT. Vanguard stipulates in advance a dollar amount they will spend on marketing, and it's substantial. They also pay higher royalties, and rather than the two accounting periods a year typical of most big publishers, they pay monthly based on actual sales. Author gets paid a month after the book publishes (and monthly thereafter as long as the book sells), the publisher consults closely with them on promotions, and hopefully everybody wins.

The lack of up-front money puts some pressure on authors, which means it's not for everyone. And Vanguard also targets books that are slightly more of a sure-thing, so not every author is for them. But for those authors who fit the mold and are willing to be patient on the return, it's definitely a unique opportunity.

How are they doing? Well, they currently have a pretty big bestseller: THE PROSECUTION OF GEORGE W. BUSH FOR MURDER, and I'm very curious to see how they continue to do with authors who are hanging around at the edges of bestsellerdom looking for a push (that marketing budget, hopefully) to break them out.


Jeff said...

As I am confident in my work and believe it only needs promotion to be successful, I'd love the opportunity to publish through someone like Vangard. I've gone the advance against royalties route, and unless you're talking about a substantial advance, enough to quit your day job, I'd much rather they put that money into a good marketing campaign.

Kimber Chin said...

I agree with Jeff.
I'm happy with my small press publisher (Champagne Books) but if I was on the hunt again, lack of an advance wouldn't bother me (as long as I get paid eventually)

Natalie said...

This makes sense to me. Marketing is powerful. If I knew a publisher was going to put in their best effort on marketing, I would assume that I would profit more in the long run.

Southern Writer said...

I'll bet THE PROSECUTION OF GEORGE W. BUSH FOR MURDER is a best seller. Who wouldn't like to see that happen? Is it about the way he's all but killed our country?

Sorry, Nathan. You can delete this now. I feel better for getting to say it.

Dan said...

If you're already a bestselling author, an otherwise well-known name, or have a solid platform then this sounds like an enticing twist on the business.

But wouldn't most authors in those categories (with another 'sure thing' waiting in the wings) be able to negotiate favorable contract terms anyway?

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I don't know about this. Would I benifit more spending my advance promoting my book or having the publisher spend my advance publishing my book? Would the amount be the same, or would the publisher spend more? I really don't know.

A Paperback Writer said...

Hey, I could go for that.
Now all I need to do is convince them I'm a "sure thing."

JES said...

Nathan, would you happen to have handy a fairly authoritative link to information -- newspaper/magazine article, blog, whatever -- which explains more of the details about Vanguard's way of doing business?

In general, as others have said, my experience with advances is that I'd happily do without -- they're just too small -- if I thought the long-term (or shorter-term!) benefits would work out.

In that vein, do they propose to detail to their authors not only how much they, the authors, have earned, but also how they, Vanguard, have been giving extra-special marketing attention to their books? Or will this be, umm, taken on faith?

Nathan Bransford said...


I wrote the post just based on what I know, so no, I'm afraid I don't have an article handy. I'm sure there's something out there though.

Kimberly Lynn said...

I’m not keen on the “no advance” deal. And higher royalties would have to be pretty significant to catch my attention. (Not that anyone is knocking on my door, mind you.) This doesn’t really seem like an appealing deal for an agent either. Or is it?

Margaret Yang said...

Go to Wikipedia. Look up "Author Mill."

'nuff said.

Nathan Bransford said...

Actually, I really respect what Vanaguard is doing and if I had the right author and the right project I wouldn't hesitate to go with them. As I said, it's not for everyone, but Roger Cooper is a really smart guy who knows the business, and I think there is a lot to like about their model.

Kimberly Lynn said...

I think what Vanguard is doing will be pretty cool for authors who can financially afford to do without an advance. But consider a scenario like one of my friends who has been waiting nearly two years for the publication of her first picture book and the illustrator hasn’t even been hired yet. If she had signed a contract passing on an advance in the hopes of higher royalties instead, she’d be looking at roughly three years for her first check.

Nathan Bransford said...


The children's side is unique though, in that respect. That wouldn't happen on the adult side.

Kimberly Lynn said...

True, true.

Shell I said...

As a starter-out, I probably wouldn't appeal the their "sure thing" mantra, unless they regarded the book as absolutely steller. But I would definately go for a deal like this. I am realistic and know that any advance is going to be teeny tiny anyway no matter who the publisher is. I would much rather them spend it on promotions as they would have contacts & sale force that I could never hope to have. Plus by the sounds of it you would (in theory) end up with a much more regular pay check vs the traditional method.

Josephine Damian said...

Vanguard also targets books that are slightly more of a sure-thing....

The remainder bins a full of titles that their publishers were certain was a "sure thing."

Unless all Vanguard does is take on mega-selling, branded authors, there's no guarantee for them.

Thomas Burchfield said...

Actually, I'm glad to hear that new publishing models are evolving with the changing landscape. Some sound more appropriate for what I do than others. In some ways, I'd be happy to get my money after the book is published--barring any of the infamous "creative accounting" that screenwriters are subject to when they sell their work to major movie studios.

For those of you who live elsewhere, I talk about the closing of Cody's bookstore this week at my blog. I wonder how bookstores will continue to adapt?

Joe Iriarte said...

You know, when I first heard about this a few weeks ago, I thought it was for established authors and not for the liked of me. That seemed to be the conventional wisdom at the time as well.

Thinking about it some more, though, I'm starting think it might be great for a new novelist (though I know that's not what they're after).

I've learned that the expectation is that if you want to have a career in writing, you will spend the entire first advance on promotion. Well, heck, that first advance is hardly life-changing money, and if I can trust them to really make an effort, then I bet they can manage my promotion better that I can.

The real question is whether or not they can be trusted to do their best to promote me. For instance, I read recently (was it here?) that ads don't sell books, but that book publishers sometimes take them out as a way of throwing a bone to some authors at negotiation time. Well, if this is the kind of top-notch promotion I'd be giving up my advance for, then forget it. But if they can put my book on the table at the front of Barnes and Noble, or have it featured on Amazon, or organize some effective promotional events, then why the heck not? It seems like a better use of the money.

Now it seems to me that the point on the career arc where it could not be worth it is for the novelist trying to make the transition from part-time to full time. That's where the advance would mean something to me, because it actually would be verging on replacing my salary.

Julie Weathers said...

Funny how looking at what a person or company represents or publishes helps make career decisions.

Deborah Blake said...

I think that advances are overrated (not that I'm not happy to get one...)
But if your book sells, you will get that money eventually. And most of us don't give up our "day jobs" until we're fairly far along the path.

Personally, I find the "get paid twice a year, many months after the sales period ends" model to be very frustrating, and often difficult to understand. I would much rather get paid more for each book on a regular basis and wait for my money.[It is tough when people ask you how your book is selling, and you have to tell them you have no f--ing clue!)

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Vincent Bugliosi? Oh yeah, oh yeah (he is the author of "The Prosecution of GW" - also "And the Sea Will Tell," another great summer read). Big name + topical subject matter = big hit.

Well, I'm being productive today, so can't post more than this! But what a great summer read Vincent Bugliosi has cooked up...I loved All the President's Men by Woodward and Bernstein (even though it was a bit dense with names/dates, as I recall). Might be a great pairing to read Bugliosi's, and then reread All the President's Men.

Although I must admit - would love to read a book entitled "All the President's Women" - and maybe instead of it being something bad, it was something really great they The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard series on PBS, about a female UK prime **imaginary** female prime minister...sigh...

Anyway, I will go back to being productive rather than tangential. Would love a deal through Vanguard seems their model would lean toward books that "enliven the national conversation," as is the case with TWELVE...yeah, I got a bee in my bonnet about national conversation, what can I say, "natcon" for short...well, maybe that sounds too much like a military abbreviation, so I'll just stick with using national conversation.

Anonymous said...

I don't me, nothing says 'commitment' like forking over some cash, even a relatively small amount. Companies tend to favor those 'assets' they've outlaid cash to..."to", not "on".

I'm not saying I wouldn't sign with them, but were I to have a choice of more than 1 offer, I'd look for the advance, because it makes you a professional right off the bat. The idea of signing without being paid is a bit of a drag. Plus, I can pay for my own marketing if I wanted to, using the advance.

Anonymous said...

Marketing question:

Do publishers utilize Google adwords and the like for promoting novels? This is where you pay a search engine money to have your ad come up next to certain keywords (the more prevalent they are, the more expensive), for example, if you have a novel coming out this summer about,,,,I dunno,,,whales...then you might consider paying for your ad to pop up any time someone searches for keyword "whales."

Does anyone do this? Perhaps GZoogle is too slow to have the ads start appearing, and by the time it's really working, the book has already been out too long?

Just_Me said...

Vanguard sounds like something that would appeal for mass market books. I could live without the advance if I knew that money was being poured into marketing. But when they're looking for a sure thing I don't think they want genre fiction, they want something mainstream that has appeal because of relevance, like the book named.

If I were writing something like that I could see going with Vanguard.

Jeff said...

I had already thought of offering this option during negotiations with a regular publisher - put my advance into marketing. Provided I find a publisher will to publish my novel.

As for sure things, my second novel was the one least liked by my publisher. It also sold the most books and is my most popular book to date. They liked my third book much better and it hasn't sold nearly as well. The first book was the only one they ever spent any money promoting.

The book world is not immune to creative accounting. Any publisher willing to fork over the real sales numbers on a monthly basis should be applauded. Would that the rest of the industry follow this example.

Adaora A. said...

Wow that's different. I don't know how you should feel about that no advances thing.

How do you define a 'sure thing.' As you've said, bestsellers have been anything from wizardry, vampires, drug addiction and rehab which turned out to be somewhat embellished, to anything else. How do they know? Sure they can fancy what fits their taste, but what's the rest all about?

Happy Canada Day!

Jeff said...

I don't think they can know what the next blockbuster will be (although a mention on Oprah will get you halfway there).

But a sure thing is much more attainable. All you need is a good marketing campaign. Marketing works. If they believe in a book enough to put the proper amount of resources into its promotion, it will make the company a decent profit.

So my guess is they're looking for books that fit into a good marketing campaign. Stories that sell themselves. Stories or authors that have a good backstory, because the media loves backstory, the story behind the story. Stories written by interesting authors who have a story to tell as well as a novel to sell.

Even as I write this, I'm hearing my conscience, which sounds like Bill Hicks.

ORION said...

I guess I have a different take on this. In the UK my advance was less than my US and they spent far more on marketing and promotion- In the US it seems to be related to how big the advance was as to how much the publisher will spend.
What I notice? The promotion is not really what sells books. It's placement in the book store and whether you have a pile of 50- 100 books in an endcap or on a front table.
Readers seem to be not inclined to buy a book if there's only a few in a store or on the shelf. They buy them if there's a stack of 200 at Costco or at the front of a B & N.
Will promotion persuade booksellers to order more?
hmmm...not sure...
What I do know?
It takes MORE than a good book to be a best seller but the quality of my novel is the only thing I have control over as an author so that's what I focus on.

cbl said...

The only problem I have with Vanguard is the actual name of the company, which WAS the name of a vanity press in the 80s and 90s. When I was a bookseller, we got packages every day from Vanguard Press with pitches hoping to get us to carry their books, which were all self-published crap. They eventually went out of business, but now every time I hear the word "Vanguard" I automatically cringe.

Just a bad choice of names.

- Colleen Lindsay

Anonymous said...

Wow, I would love to be a fly on the wall during a meeting that outlined and set-up what a GREAT promotion campaign for a novel looked like.

anybody have a link that outlines that?

I keep hearing about this and that, but then there is creative marketing
that could probably be taken to the next level by spearheading it.

For example, with myself, I am planning my "creative marketing" way ahead of everything,including everything. I am considering it part of the writing/creative process I have to go through to get from here to there.

Jeff said...

I was wondering why Vanguard sounded so familiar.

Joe Iriarte said...


What I notice? The promotion is not really what sells books. It's placement in the book store and whether you have a pile of 50- 100 books in an endcap or on a front table.

It's my understanding that getting your book on a table near the front of the store or otherwise prominently places throughout the chain costs money, so this is part of what I imagine is meant by aggressive promotion.

ORION said...

yes but joe the bookstore has to offer that and has to make the decision to order the books and often that is dependent on how big they heard the advance was-

cbl said...

Orion -

Actually, the decision on which books will receive placement in a store and have coop monies allocated to them is usually a joint decision between the bookstore buyer and the publisher's sales rep. A bookstore buyer will rarely - if ever - know what a publisher paid for a manuscript. What is a bigger factor in the decision is what the publisher calls the "announced first print". A publisher sets two different print runs for their books: the actual print run based on estimates from sales reps, and the "announced" first print, which is used as a positioning tool for bookstore buyers.

An actual first print could be something like 23,500 copies; the announced first print would be 50,000 copies. This is usually a signal to bookstore buyers that the publisher plans to spend a considerable sum of money on promotion and marketing. If the buyer feels that the publisher is strongly supporting the book, they may then offer coop placement in the stores.

And all of this is usually done at least four to six months before the actual pub date.

Hope you find that helpful.

- Colleen Lindsay

ORION said...

Thanks Colleen!
That's far better than my feeble attempt to explain it lol!
My brain was full when my editor was describing it to me...
I think the point is there are SO many variables when it comes to promotion...unless Posh Spice walks around with your book under her arm lol!

Anonymous said...

I know this is waay after the discussion, but I would like to post my indignation at anyone calling Vanguard an "author mill". They only publish a small list each year and devote a lot more time to each title they take on than many publishers I have seen. Just because someone tries something different than the same old publishing model doesn't mean you have to trash them. It's not like the industry is lining up to change over (although HarperStudio is a bunch of copy cats)

You guys are right that a 'sure thing' doesn't necessarily mean huge bestseller. They do recruit those (such as Donald Trump's "Think Like a Champion" and the Bugliosi title), but they do first time authors as well. Check out Shane Briant (Spring 09) and Douglas Clegg (Fall 09) to see some examples. Or to see some of our titles in Co-op (on tables in stores) look for The 7 Great Prayers and Life is Like a Sailboat.

Also- how is everyone missing the 'higher royalties' part of the deal? They are much higher than industry standard.

So anyways, I probably should have kept most of that to myself but I just couldn't let that stand. Author mill... *shudder*

Anonymous said...

Vanguard asks for a several thousand dollar commitment from the author up front, when they send the author their contract ... sounds rather like a vanity press to me.

Nathan Bransford said...


Don't think that's the same Vanguard.

Unknown said...

Hi, Just been resin through your comments! Very useful! I'm a first time author and have just got a contract from them. Just trying to suss out the company. People seem to love them or hate them.... oh god, what am I going to do!!!!!

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