Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vanity and vanity publishing

There’s a lot of confusion between self-publishing and “vanity” publishing.

For many years, there have been ads in magazines aimed at writers, with headlines like, “For the writer in search of a publisher," “We want to read your book,” “Manuscripts wanted” and “Authors wanted.” The ads and affiliated websites promise to enable you to become a “published author.”

The ads are not from traditional publishers or from literary agents, but from “vanity” publishers — companies that use the author’s money to produce, promote and distribute the books.

There is only one customer a vanity publisher is interested in selling to — the author/customer. A non-vanity publisher, whether a one-person self-publisher or a giant like Random House, hopes to sell books to thousands or millions of readers. Companies like Random House don’t have to advertise to attract writers and receive manuscripts.

The word “vanity” implies excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements and appeal.

Vanity has been considered a sin. It can lead to wasted resources and wasted lives. It can also lead to useful activities and important accomplishments.

Most or all artistic people have some degree of vanity, or they would not produce or perform.

Most people seem to like themselves. There are gradations in vanity, ranging from justified confidence to outrageous, obnoxious egomania.

In You’re So Vain, Carly Simon wrote and sang (possibly about Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger or both of them): “You walked into the party… You had one eye on the mirror… And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner… You're so vain you probably think this song is about you.”

Vanity publishers stay in business because vain people are willing to spend money to flatter themselves. A vanity publisher depends on the vanity of writers who strive to become “published authors.” They make most of their money from writers, not readers. If you work with a vanity publisher, you pay all of the expenses of publishing, and have all of the risks and all of the loss.

Although not always true, a book published by a vanity press is often assumed to have been rejected as unworthy of publication by traditional publishers.

Here’s another way of looking at vanity and publishing: Maybe the most vain writers are those who will delay publication for years or decades in hope of getting accepted by a traditional publisher instead of quickly self-publishing, reaching the public, and making some money.

1 comment:

  1. There are now a few publishers like Tate Enterprises that use the term "author investment," which means the author pays them to produce the book. Would that be 'vanity' publishing or a form of self-publishing? The authors try to pass Tate off as a traditional publisher, because it appeals to their vanity -- in my opinion.