Wednesday 20 August 2014

You Hear the Words ‘Vanity Publishing’ and Go Apoplectic with Rage

Signs of a problem: smug know-it-all is talking; your skin prickles.

The symptoms: fury; resentment.

We are not ‘vanity publishers’; we are indies. Vanity publishing is a term for the process by which an author pays somebody to publish his or her work, historically because he or she couldn’t attract a traditional publisher. Although vanity publishing still happens, it has been largely replaced by cost-free self-publishing. Not every self-published author wants a traditional publisher.

Many authors actively choose self-publishing so as not to deal with traditional publishers. This means we have ultimate creative control over our work and a larger share of royalties. A publisher once told me that my book about a virgin didn’t have enough sex in it to sell. I refused to undermine the whole premise by stuffing it with sex and thus failed to attract a book deal. That’s not to say that traditional publishers never enhance a book – just that we mustn’t be fooled into thinking that conventionally processed books are inevitably superior.

Self-published authors do not buy their success. We do not pay for somebody else to publish our books. We put our work out there using widely available online resources, much like recording artists who publish music online. Readers choose what becomes a success.

All users of the phrase ‘vanity publishing’ should be locked up, taken to a secure location and shown copies of some of the greatest indie works of all time. They should then be forced to listen to a speech by an indie champion such as myself. Once these smug morons have been enlightened, they might then be released back into society.

However, in the absence of an organised kidnapping regime, I suggest putting a sack over the offender’s head, dragging the miscreant into your garage and putting The Twilight Saga audio books on full blast. After listening to all four novels, your prisoner will be desperate to read an indie title.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Andrew K Lawston

You’re a splendid hotshot self-published author. Perhaps you even call yourself an Indie author, because you’re a bit pretentious and the label helps you identify on some level with Jarvis Cocker, circa 1995. You’re writing the good write, and putting out books that the Man doesn't want the People to see, because you’re writing the truth. And they can't handle the truth. In your face, Random House. Stick it in your ear, Hachette.

But suddenly, a cloud appears on the horizon. It might be on a blog post, or it might be in a conversation in the hairdresser’s, or it might even be the nasty little doubting voice that lives in a dark pond at the bottom of your head. In any case, the words ‘vanity publishing’ are mentioned in connection with your writing. And you lose it, of course.

Because vanity publishing is a scam for gullible dreamers. Scribblers who funnel their life savings into badly-printed collections of poems about their dead pets, which end up packing out their garages (the books, not the pets), and which are eventually used to construct the author’s funeral pyre when they finally pass away, unread and unmourned. Vanity publishing is something you first heard about in the 1980s on the BBC consumer rights show Watchdog, probably shortly before Lynn Faulds Wood screeched “It's a DEATHTRAP!” Vanity publishing is not cool.

Self-publishing is totally different, oh yes. As a self-published author, you’re circumventing the staid conventions of an archaic establishment specifically designed to keep your writing genius hidden from the world, and if the first dozen people who read and review your work happen to share your surname, that’s just a striking coincidence. A vanity press author is someone who is doing much the same thing, but in a sort of naive airy-fairy way that is completely different. Look, it just is.

So of course you home in on the poor unfortunate fool who uttered the VP words, and you put them straight. And just to make sure there's no misunderstanding, you put them straight at the top of your voice, or in ALL CAPS, with righteous flecks of spittle spraying over their faces or your keyboard.

Puffed up with rightness, and quite possibly angel dust, you strut into the sunset. You imagine the carnage of torpedoed misconceptions that you’ve left bleeding mixed metaphors in your wake. You have fixed publishing, perhaps forever.

In fact, most of those who witnessed your tirade will be doing some sort of variation of putting their hands on their hips and chorusing: “Oooh! Somebody's tired!” And, more importantly, quietly erasing your books from their mental To Be Read pile.

Self-publishing, vanity publishing, small presses, traditional publishing; these are all nuanced versions of the same publication process that have little traction with mainstream readers. Mainstream readers categorise books according to whether they can buy it in Sainsbury's or whether they have to log on to Amazon. However much you work your marketing plan, you are not a successful author in the eyes of many readers unless your book is available in airports, along with a cover quote that says something like: “Perfect for pretending to read on the beach!”

Whether the person accusing you of vanity publishing is a clueless civilian or a disparaging author, it’s all just splitting hairs. Your chosen publishing model has about as much bearing on your book’s content as your choice of mobile network has on the contents of your text messages.

Perhaps we should even reclaim the term ‘vanity publishing’. Because all published authors are essentially motivated by vanity. The mere act of writing down your thoughts and insights, in any form, and then presuming to share them with the world, is just about the most vain and presumptuous thing you could ever do. Everyone has thoughts and daydreams, but in foisting our own on to our readers, we are all really audaciously narcissistic on a near-industrial scale.

If none of the above convinces you to take a large dose of chill, then think about Star Trek fans. We all call them ‘Trekkies’, but sometimes they’ll tell you they preferred to be called ‘Trekkers’.

Now, put your hand up if, as a result of their stated preference, you’ve ever honestly started calling them anything other than ‘Trekkies’ apart from perhaps ‘pedantic Trekkies’). You see? You don’t get to choose your own nickname, now rise above it all and get on with writing the next book.

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