Friday, 18 March 2016

Smell the ink

Hi there,
I've mentioned a couple of times on this page, a concept called vanity publishing. Today I want to talk a little bit more about it, explain it and weigh up the pros and cons.

First up, what is vanity publishing? Well according to the research I've found, it started in the United States back in the 1950s. A couple of companies offered people the opportunity to have poems or books they had written, published but for a fee.

Well, of course they would have made a fortune, I mean, who doesn't want to see their name in print, right?

Right. So, over the years the concept took off and hundreds of companies have been set up with the sole purpose of offering vanity publishing services.

Obviously, nobody really likes the term vanity publishing; its implications of ego and hubris are not nice. We began referring to the self-publisher.

What is the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing? The vanity publishing companies will tell you there's no difference at all. In theory they are technically the same thing, although those of us who have self-published will tell you that in practice they are vastly different.

I guess you could say the snob in me (and many self-published authors like me) consider vanity publishers to be not quite ... I don't know ... professional perhaps? Less talented? Less worthy?

That's not to say these people are less professional, talented, worthy, it's just saying that that's the conception of many writers - myself included and I'll explain why.

The advent of DIY self-publishing has been to blame. It has drawn a significant line between the two concepts. For example, the DIY-er can write a manuscript and pay in the vicinity of $200 - $300 to have it published in E-format.

That's it - they're published authors. In many cases, the manuscript has not been edited, checked for accuracy, scanned for plagiarism - nothing. Often they're full of grammatical and spelling errors and the stories are ... well let's just say life's too short!

The self-publisher, on the other hand, has access to editors, designers, typesetters and marketers, and they apply for an ISBN. For this, he or she pays a premium - and let me tell you, it's not cheap.

My book Torn was self-published, and after great sales and terrific feedback, it still owes me!

This, to me, is the big difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can stump up a couple of hundred dollars and call themselves a published author. It shouldn't give them credibility or kudos, but, in this celebrity obsessed world, it does.

But not everyone has access to the $30,000 plus you can spend on professional editors, marketers, designers, publishers and printers - everything you need for a genuinely commercial book.

You see, when you vanity publish, it's just that ... it's bragging rights. But self-publishing is a commercial endeavour. You're looking for a polished product, something the book shops will gladly display and marketers can work with.

Many writers these days are deliberately choosing a self-publishing path simply because it gives them more control. It doesn't mean the book is less professional, it just means that the risk is borne by the writer, not the publisher.

Most professional writers will set up a business from which to market and sell their books. They engage distribution companies and their royalties are considered income from which they pay tax and superannuation.

Not so the vanity publisher.

I know I have run the risk of sounding very judgmental  in writing this piece. In truth, I probably am judgmental but with good reason. I am tired of purchasing books on my Kindle that are poorly written, full of grammatical and consistency errors and are riddled with inaccuracies.

Anyway, whether I like it or not, vanity publishing is here and unless the DIY publishing sites tighten their quality control, vanity publishing will continue to grow.

Until next week, go to a book shop, pick up a book that attracts your eye, admire the cover, feel the texture of its paper and take a deep breath - smell that ink!

For the love of paper and ink.

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