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So why do a few unpublished authors hold out for that revered ‘contract’ without dipping a toe into the publishing world themselves first, when it’s free – cheaper than submitting and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…

18 thoughts on “Redefining “Vanity”

  1. I have to say, I do have reservations regarding self-published work. I’ve always liked the idea of indie publishers instead.
    Honestly, you’ve given me something to think about.

  2. Great post, Lisa. It’s still a scary prospect for me, the thought of going it alone, but after reading this, it makes you think there’s nothing to lose but everything to gain. Will give this serious thought. x

  3. Thanks Lisa, you’ve changed my perception of ‘vanity’. Green as grass about publishing in Kindle, where do I find out?
    Also tentatively tackling my first blog site. Lost at sea at the moment.

    • Hi Pat – good to see you here!

      Kindle publishing is straightforward – it is done using your Amazon log-in details at

      The steps are extremely simple – you need a JPEG or JPG cover image, and your book saved as html in a compressed .zip file. I have worked with illustrated Kindle books and there appears to be no upper file size limit for these, or generous enough to include a large document. After logging in and confirming your details, follow the steps to publish.

      I recommend anyone formatting a book for Kindle to visit the very helpful Declan Conner’s website – – who has clear and step-by-step instructions with screen shots of how to format a book for Kindle.*

      You will need to include your copyright page, contents list and any endnotes all ‘cover-to-cover’ as a single file. Page breaks are advised between chapters.

      *I’ve now written my own tutorials for both ebook and print publishing for free, starting here –

      If you choose to enroll in KDPSelect your book will also be available for paid library loans for Amazon Prime (currently USA) customers, as well as allowing you to run free promotions to raise its profile. Your book must be an Amazon Kindle exclusive to participate in this.

    • Smashwords has an excellent style guide which I recommend reading – It describes using a linked table of contents, indents, paragraphing and page breaks correctly. Also not to over-use line returns as spacing, because it will create blank screen – one line return only is best for white space required in your writing for ebooks.

      If you want to publish using Smashwords as well as Kindle, Smashwords has a file size limit (so not as useful for illustrated books), but they do distribute to Nook, Kobo and Diesel. Outstanding books may be accepted to the iBookstore as well, but there are no notifications to tell you where your book is listed – you will have to search for them yourself. Although you can include a Kindle format in your Smashwords book, currently these do not reach Amazon customers. I have found Smashwords useful for running voucher promotions, but have had no paid sales using them. However, with Kobo sales picking up in the UK, it is useful to have the listing.

      Books submitted to Smashwords take a little longer for approval than Amazon Kindle, and are subject to style and formatting quality controls to ensure acceptance in the listings of online retailers like (Nook). Only books which you own 100% copyright of can be published through Smashwords – so no reproductions of existing books, even copyright free ones.

      The new kid on the block for Nook and the iBookstore is Lulu. Again, very easy to format and upload, and feedback helps you create a better document. The file type for Lulu is .doc or .rtf, again with a cover image separately as for the others. The difference here is formatting your table of contents – it uses Header1 formatting style to link the contents list – their Q&A have guidelines on how to do this. Also the added bonus is that Lulu do excellent quality print versions with extended distribution options under the same ‘roof’ – worth checking out just for that.

  4. Thanks Lisa,

    for your generous and detailed comments. I have read through some of Smashwords conditions and their Style booklet. (head humming) I understand that if you are in Smashwords, you can’t be in Kindle. How does that work? Are you in both?

    Kindle sounds good and so does Smashwords.

    Apologies for obvious ignorances.


    • It is possible to use both. Firstly, you can disable the Kindle format conversion on your Smashwords uploader. It recommends that you don’t, but if your intention is to have, for example, an illustrated version on Amazon Kindle, and a non-illustrated version for other applications, there is no reason why not.

      Smashwords editions have to have ‘Smashwords’ identified as the publisher in the actual document, so when it is bought from e.g. Nook or Kobo, they are credited for its distribution. Amazon Kindle does not require any ‘publisher’ identifier within the book at all at present, and neither does Lulu.

      If you are at all concerned about what flexibility the use of conflicting sites allow, I recommend going to Amazon Kindle on as a single venture. Sales are statistically better there – I have only had downloads elsewhere with free giveaway vouchers, whereas Kindle is a very active marketplace. Kindle and Lulu have no conflicts, so if you wanted to publish on iBooks (for iPod, iPad and iPhone) and Nook as well as Kindle, then try Lulu instead of Smashwords for the correct version and free distribution offered there.

      The only thing to remember is if you want to take advantage of listing your book free for promotional days on Kindle, using the KDPSelect library loan scheme, then the book must be exclusive to Amazon Kindle. However you are allowed to also have paperbacks, hardcovers and any other ebook editions which can be identified as ‘different’ to those Kindle books, available elsewhere (for example illustrated vs. non-illustrated, story collections featuring additional unique material, and other books in the same series not listed in KDPSelect).

      If all that seems like a fuss, and you have no interest in using the opportunity to list your book as free on Kindle, then it’s straightforward to unsubscribe with a click from KDPSelect when you publish on Kindle, and have the opportunity to publish on as many other platforms with the exact same book as you wish.

      • Thank you again Lisa. All very useful advice and information. Shall begin with a blog, and then, most probably, Kindle.


  5. I’m excited for you, Pat! You must come back with an update and leave a link to your blog in the comments here, when you are set up, so I can follow your publishing progress 🙂 xx

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I now have a blog and would love to have a link to yours from mine, and vice-versa but so far, haven’t worked out how to add links, write in the ‘About’ ‘Home’ bar or anything else. It’s a miracle I found the difference between a page and a blog, but very pleased with what I’ve done so far.
    Will set to today.

    Thanks again for your encouragement.


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