>Vanity press

>The New York Times has an extensive article about self-publishing here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/books/28selfpub.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=self-publishing&st=cse

The most deceptive paragraph in the entire article is this one: Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is “no longer a dirty word.”

The most honest line is this: “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published,” said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”

It all makes me very, very cranky. Not because self-publishing exists, but because the premise by which vanity presses draw their customers in is faulty at its core. Self-publishing a family memoir, a recipe book to raise money for your football team, or a book to share with friends is great. Expecting that, as some companies claim, they will “circulate” your book to film agents is simply a lie.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that some people don’t see the difference between vanity press and small press. The difference is enormous: small presses have editors. They have a filter in place.

It all comes down to quality, of course. It’s the same issue I have with the school that teaches “Write a lot, send it out, never revise.” My beloved son said it best: “Mom, do you want to write a lot of books, or books people remember?”

I will take a deep breath now, and try once again to explain to some of my students why a title with PublishAmerica will not count as a writing credit when they try to sell a book to an agent.


  1. >So true, Louise.You must have heard of that book several authors wrote a chapter of as a joke. The lead character changed sex half-way through without explanation. They sent it to a vanity press (was it publishAmerica?) and it was accepted.99% of people who self publish end up with a garage full of boxes of their books that no one wants. Cheers, R.

  2. >You’re right, Rowena, it was PublishAmerica. My friend Robin Hobb was in on that. She and the other writers were out to prove the scam that is PublishAmerica, and they succeeded! PA was claiming it didn’t accept every manuscript sent to them, but chose carefully. Laughable. Now copies of that manuscript are for sale for a writer’s charity.

  3. >Eric Flint wrote about this (parenthetically). Self publication, especially print on demand with low fixed costs, makes sense in two cases:1. The book is not a money making enterprise. If you write something for fun, and you think a few other people will enjoy it too, you might as well let them order it.2. You know there’s a market, but can’t convince the professionals – and you are able to market it yourself. As with most fields, if you think you know better than people doing it for a living you’re probably wrong. An exception is a niche market where you live and are well known.

  4. >Eric knows what he’s talking about, of course. It’s always been my thought that family memoirs, fundraising books like recipe books or calendars, and even narrow-appeal works of fiction, where the author knows precisely where to sell it, are appropriate for POD, or vanity press. I’ve just seen so many people break their hearts after trusting one of the self-publishers with their dreams, and then learning that they’re completely on their own, that I have to speak out from time to time.

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