What kind of unsolicited publishing query is this?
July 17, 2007 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Unsolicited query from a German publisher who wants to publish my (kinda crappy) Master's thesis? What the...?

Huh. So I just received an unsolicited email from a German publishing company called VDM Verlag to ask if I'm interested in publishing my Master's thesis, of all things.

It looks like they have a tendency to acquire theses from recent grad students and then try to publish them for about $50-$80 USD a pop.

See Amazon book listing, for an example.

The only online links to anything remotely to do with my thesis are on my name-plate site, and probably a reference from my University library. They would have had to search for my exact thesis title in order to even find an excerpt. It's a one page excerpt that I've occasionally used a writing sample in the past - not even anything remotely academic.

Has anyone else received an unsolicited query like this? My ego is tempted to believe in it, but something seems rotten in the state of Denmark. (Or Germany in this case).
posted by generichuman to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sure others will chime in with much greater detail, but my understanding of the publishing industry is that no legitimate publisher will charge the author money for the privilege of publishing his work. Every "real" publishing deal I have heard of involves money flowing from the publisher to the author, not the other way round. I'd ignore the email.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 6:34 AM on July 17, 2007

Where does it say they want to charge the poster anything? Even so, sounds fishy.
posted by gene_machine at 6:51 AM on July 17, 2007

Vanity Press, although I haven't seen many so globally connected. I am guessing you have your thesis on a database that included your contact info. They went fishing, compiled a list of names and you got an e-mail. Ignore it. Plus, you could self-publish for a lot less money in the good old US-of-A.
posted by parmanparman at 6:56 AM on July 17, 2007

I don't know anything about the VDM Verlag, but I do know someone who published their thesis in a similar manner.

A German girl I know did something similar to what you describe. I'm not sure if it's common in Germany, but it's obviously done. She received an annual royalty check (a few hundred Euros, if I recall correctly) for the copies that the publisher sold.
posted by syzygy at 7:05 AM on July 17, 2007

Are they charging you $50-$80 to publish the book, or do they want to sell copies of the book for $50-$80 each? (The latter reading sounds more likely.)

A look at the site reveals that it's a print-on-demand press; it may be operating in a similar though not identical fashion to Kessinger Publishing in the US. It may be the case that you don't pay to get the thesis published, but you don't see an advance (not that academic books have advances, anyway) and you're only paid royalties on the copies that are sold (which will be very few, but you know that). This would minimize the financial risk to the press.

On first blush it doesn't sound necessarily illegitimate, so much as unproven and potentially sketchy. (But from your question it isn't clear if they're actually asking for money from you--if that's the case, then yes, stay far away.)
posted by Prospero at 7:06 AM on July 17, 2007

As long as you can get some money out of it, why not? It's already written, it's theoretically interesting, and it's yours. Make the 50 bucks over your life on royalties and buy yourself a nice lobster dinner when you see that check.

On the other hand, if they are charging you, don't do it.
posted by cschneid at 7:35 AM on July 17, 2007

Best answer: Warning: supposition below.

If you trawl through Amazon, you'll find old computer texts being sold for ridiculous money (random example).

I've always assumed they're there because if you really, really need an obsolete computer manual, then you'll pay through the nose for it. The problem is that the seller needs to store a warehouse full of textbooks. Possible to do, but requires much up-front investment.

I suspect that what you've got here is a company that

a) acquires the rights to lots of esoteric essays
b) formats each essay as a PDF, gives it an ISBN, and lists it on Amazon
c) prints a hard copy only when it's requested

It's actually a really cool idea - real long tail stuff. It doesn't matter if there are only five customers in the world that are interested in your thesis, as long as those five are prepared to pay $80 apiece.

I say go for it, of only to see your name associated with an ISBN.
posted by Leon at 7:40 AM on July 17, 2007

Best answer: The economies of POD and the fact that big research libraries will buy even very expensive books in "cold" fields has changed academic publishing. The "long tail" also helps monetize obscure expensive books.

Think of it this way. They get your thesis for nothing. Camera ready copy. Don't edit it or vet it. They take orders from libraries. They print one book for each order (no big stock to hold!). As more orders come in, they print more books. They turn a tidy profit. Nothing wrong with this, really.

I'd ask them: a) do they vet the books? b) do they have them professionally edited? c) are the books well produced (jackets, good binding, etc?) d) what their royalty policy is. Unless you are trying to build an academic career, you've got nothing to lose (academics are sniffy about these things).
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:53 AM on July 17, 2007

Both my thesis and my husband's thesis were listed on Amazon for a brief amount of time. We never did anything to publish them - we just found them on there one day. Mine (Ph.D.) was only available in PDF (for $55). His (M.S.) was available as a paperback ($70).
posted by nekton at 7:56 AM on July 17, 2007

Response by poster: Opps, yeah. I should have explained - they're not trying to charge me. The $50-80 a pop is what their published works go for on Amazon.

I'll admit, I'm curious. I'm not in academia anymore, and don't particularly care what happens to my thesis. If there's a way to monetize it, I'm game.

I'll investigate and share my results!

I'd never thought of how POD might change the way that extremely niche fields are marketed.
posted by generichuman at 8:04 AM on July 17, 2007

I would suggest requesting a copy of their author-publisher agreement and reviewing it with a lawyer. At that point, it should become obvious whether this is a scam or not.
posted by camcgee at 8:05 AM on July 17, 2007

Response by poster: Had more detail, not a scam. It's pretty much exactly as Leon and MarshallPoe suggest.
posted by generichuman at 9:05 AM on July 17, 2007

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