Redefining “Vanity”

The accepted face of Vanity…

In the past, a “vanity publisher” was a company you could have publish your book, for a few thousand to tens of thousands of pounds. They did not distribute for you, merely delivered a garage-full or loft-full of books, which you would then have to market and distribute yourself. The term “vanity” related to the fact that the author paid for the privilege of publishing themselves, out of their own pocket.

Now with print-on-demand and commercial listings included for online ordering, and eBook publishing at a click available to every writer for free (most notably from Kindle, Lulu, Createspace and Smashwords), the only costs are those you volunteer yourself – for example, if you want an editor, or cover designer. But even those aren’t necessary for many. Free photo sites such as Morgue File mean that high-quality, copyright-free images are available to all, and the cover-design tools built in to POD (print on demand) sites mean that it can be done in a matter of minutes – for both hardcovers with dustjackets, and paperbacks.

Even I’ve made sales, and I’m nobody – I just like to mess around online, chat to other writers, friends and family, and promote myself when I’m in the mood – especially when there’s a freebie to give away. I’m innately generous like that 🙂 Writing is my favourite hobby, and sharing it with other folks is something the internet allows me to do.

So why, given that we can now all be our own bosses, would we spend our own money approaching agents, taking rejections, waiting year upon year until that final ‘yes’ – then waiting year upon year again for that agent to (hopefully) find us a publisher? When instead, you can finish your novel one day, proof-read it the next, publish it and start marketing it immediately? Instead of waiting all those years, you could spend those years selling, earning, promoting – and writing more books, to fill out your catalogue. And if you so wish, maybe attract one of those agents or publishers, who are now out attempting to poach the Kindle indie bestsellers.

Authors are now in the position of having agents come looking for them. Self-published authors, especially the most successful, such as Amanda Hocking (and a few I know myself), are now the ones holding all the cards, and fielding the queries. The tables have turned a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.

So why do a few unpublished authors hold out for that revered ‘contract’ without dipping a toe into the publishing world themselves first, when it’s free – cheaper than submitting and waiting for rejections? Fear of the unknown? Anticipated wealth? Advances are shrinking, as are the numbers of authors able to write full-time, following a publishing deal.

It’s the lure of that old glamour (rapidly falling behind the new technology and opportunities available to all, levelling the playing field). Those rare successes waiting to be imitated, who make millions. The movie deals. The dream of that life-changing moment, like a lottery win. The kudos, or “validation” of a publishing-house label on your work. And to some unpublished authors, the perceived “snobbery” of readers, who supposedly can’t be informed enough to look for new books to read, without being told by one of the Big Six publishers where to find them… And those authors are indeed the ones paying now – for every submission, every day spent unpublished after completing their work – and, if they receive an advance which the subsequent sales don’t match up to, they’re still paying.

Literary agents and major publishing houses are now the ones feeding off the vanity of unpublished authors.

While the smart ones, who can edit and format a document, spin an interesting sales spiel, and not annoy the readers too much, forge ahead alone. Most of them, in comparable ways, with reasonable success.

It’s now the agents you hear sounding desperate as they chase the brightest indie authors, fishing for any possible opening to pimp their work for them. Publishing houses do “rush jobs” to release new books within budget and timescale, resulting in more typos, undetected plagiarism, factual inaccuracies, and even glaring continuity errors than your average self-respecting self-published author would leave unattended (ahem) 😉

The only thing the publishing-house has at its beck and call, is the media marketing machine beyond the realms of the internet, pushing books with advertising. But mostly they encourage and utilise the same tools available to every indie author – Twitter, blogging, websites, Youtube – it is the industry that is running to catch up with the rest of us, not the other way around. Even to the extent of hoping to round up sock-puppet armies of their existing fans and followers, to buy their latest eBook releases and push them up the Kindle charts…

Am I the only one who thinks book adverts on TV suck out loud? They look like trailers for the worst movies, made by film-makers with no skills or budget. Cheesy voice-overs, dreadful acting, pointless shots of feet walking through doorways… If those adverts were for actual movies, you’d have people comparing them unfavourably to The Blair Witch Project. You would think that a publisher who made the effort to get a book trailer onto TV would spend more time and effort on the actual commercial – not cut together some stock footage, badly-shot, of a creaky door, the sound effect of a scream, and a former porn-actor voice-over, hamming up why Detective Oddjob has to solve this case or he’ll get a mild disciplinary and some heavy desk-work for the rest of his otherwise incredibly dull career.

If there’s ever a reason right now why I’m glad my books weren’t picked up by a mainstream publisher previously, those sucky TV adverts are that reason. Even my daughter groans when they come on. If it was a movie, you wouldn’t even watch it when it came out on terrestrial TV… I’ve seen better acting on drama student showreels…

So if you’re a new writer, reading the Writers & Artists Yearbook, planning out your submissions strategy for the forseeable future when instead you could be published right now – have a long (but not too long) hard think, about what’s stopping you self-publishing instead.

The revelations you have might just surprise you 😉

Rant over. As you were, folks…


Short satirical film written and produced by me, made 12 years ago – eerily relevant to the current financial climate…