I’d been writing seriously for a few years (back in the early 80s) when I first heard about vanity publishers. I learned of them from the vanity presses themselves, though they were great at disguising who and what they were. “So,” the lead-in would read, “you’ve written a book. We’d love to read it! We’re sure it’s the next Gone With The Wind,” or something like that. Their point was to heap praise on a writer they knew nothing about. They had no idea if I could write any better than the average person off the street, but so what? If I had a finished book I hadn’t yet placed with an agent or publisher, they wanted to be that publisher—for a price. A very large price. Of course that information came later, after they had suckered you into sending them your manuscript. I never sent any of these people my money, but obviously thousands of writers did, or these places wouldn’t have remained in business.
These “publishing houses” weren’t dubbed vanity presses for no reason. What serious writer would consider paying someone to publish their book? Surely not one who believed in his or her talent. On the contrary, these presses were reserved for wanna-be writers, folks with huge soaring egos. People who wanted to be called writers by their friends and family, even though most couldn’t tell a pronoun from an adverb. But they held a printed book in their hand, thus they had become “a writer.”
Sadly, the vanity press syndrome continues to haunt us. By syndrome I mean the stigma that has attached itself to writers. Those of you who read this blog regularly know our core message is that all writers, published and unpublished, must become experts at self-marketing if they hope to sell their work. The way we become published today has little effect on sales since publishers no longer budget for marketing. The industry is on the verge of a total makeover. Fewer and fewer new books are being sold in hardcopy print. E-books will be the norm in a few years. There are numerous reasons for this, but the most pressing one is, as with all businesses, cost.
Which brings me to the bottom line of today’s post: no one cares who published your book anymore. The number of on-line publishers is dazzling, and so are our choices as writers. We can opt for putting our books out strictly in e-book form, be it Kindle, Sony Reader, Apple’s new iPad, or simple PDFs as Julia and I use on this blog. We can contract with an on-line publisher and receive hardcopy books within a couple of weeks (or in some instances, days). We can burn our files onto CDs. We can do all of the above, none of which is remotely related to the concept of a vanity press. We, the writers, are choosing our own paths, not dropping our work into the hands of uncaring, money-grabbing cheats who promise us the moon and the stars and instead deliver a wet box of sparklers on the 5th of July.
Readers may prove slow to adapt to all the changes going on, but they’re still out there, waiting for us to entertain, enlighten, and inform them with our work. As you develop your own strategy for delivering that work, don’t buy into the dribble that self-publishing is the curse of death. On the contrary, it’s a fresh blast of cool spring air that will invigorate you to no end.