Vanity Publishing

I have just listened to a very interesting debate on the radio about self-publishing.

Years ago, self publishing used to be called Vanity publishing, and it was pretty much that - someone thought so much of themselves and their book that they would part with thousands of pounds to have it printed and then try to flog it themselves by hawking it round bookshops and calling in favours from polite friends and acquaintances. Apparently in these days of print-on-demand and Amazon things are very different and it is becoming quite acceptable to self publish, as well as much easier to market your self-published book.

There was a contributor to the discussion who had self-published his book, had it fall into the hands of an influential journalist and subsequently been offered a £2.5 million deal for his next three books. Another had written a book called "The Father's Home Birth Handbook" which he had self-published; it sold very well and he was then offered royalties by a publisher who offered to reprint it. So I guess sometimes it can be OK. Sometimes. I still come down against it for several reasons.
  1. I have always taken the view that if my manuscript isn't good enough for a reputable publisher to offer to pay me for it, then it isn't good enough. What's the point of trying, researching, working hard to hone my skill and perfect my craft if any rubbish I write could be published?
  2. One of the contributors on the show - the managing director of a self-publishing company - admitted that they don't read the manuscripts they publish. I think that speaks volumes. Those books could be oscene, inflammatory, misleading or badly researched. There's enough of that on the internet without it appearing in print too.
  3. The public only have a certain amount of money to spend on books, and self-published dross dilutes the market.
  4. The book-buying public deserve the best; a book is an investment. As a teenager I bought a book by Rosemary Conley, my favourite fitness guru, only to discover when I read it that it was basically a rehash of her last book. Off I trotted to the shop to return it as unsuitable. Of course, I was told I couldn't return it. Innocently I asked why. "Because you might just have read it and be bringing it back," I was told. "I HAVE read it and it's no good," I replied. "That's why I'm bringing it back." That's when I learned the truth. If any other product or service is shoddy or substandard you can return it for a full refund. Not so books. That's why we need discerning agents and publishers to ensure that the books we buy are worth the price we pay for them.
  5. Yes, it's very difficult to get published. Yes, it's tough to have a manuscript you've worked hard on rejected. I know, I've been there many times. Even the best authors have a box full of rejection letters. But it's partly the fact that so few people succeed that makes it worth aiming for. These days we seem to be getting rather too politically correct about not letting people experience rejection. It's part of life - get over it. What would be the point of an Olympics where everyone got a medal, or where the losers said, "Never mind, I'm going to pay someone to make me a nice shiny gold medal anyway and that'll be just as good."
  6. Books enjoy a better reputation than the Internet. It used to be that in order to get a serious work of non-fiction published you had to show your publisher meticulous research and well-reasoned arguments. This, in turn, meant that books could, to some extent, be trusted to be accurate. I decry anything which leads to the printed work becoming untrustworthy and of less value.
  7. Publishers do far more than simply edit a book. I don't yet know the title of my next book because my publishers are choosing it, and I trust them to do so. They know the market, they have been able to cast fresh eyes on my book and although in this case they didn't edit it, I know that the input of a professional editor is invaluable. They also take care of the marketing - generally the most difficult part of the process.
  8. Call me old fashioned, but I like to be paid for my work. I don't pay someone for the privilege of sitting at my desk for five hours a day keeping databases up to date any more than I pay my neighbours to have Avon products or look through Avon brochures. If I do a good job, I expect to reap a financial reward, and writing is no different.
I understand what it is to have such pride in your work that you want to see it in print. But if you've watched "Britain's Got Talent" you'll know that not everyone who thinks they are the greatest singer since Freddie Mercury is correct. Humility involves accepting that your best is not as good as someone else's, and doesn't meet a required standard. It doesn't mean paying out to give your ego a boost.

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