Oh brother…the “self publish game” rears its head in USA Today

There’s an article in USA Today that discusses the “self publishing” option. Just reading the title made me roll my eyes:

“Publish your own book for fun and profit”

Profit? Exactly where does that part come into play given this scenario? It’s quite obvious that USA Today journalist, Kim Komando, knows zilch about the publishing industry and wrote this with extreme bias.

She has no agenda, you protest? She says in the second paragraph:

Interesting a traditional publisher is no small feat. In the bad old days, years of work often resulted in nothing. Not any longer.

The bad old days? She makes it sound as though only the writers who knew the secret handshake were granted contracts. This kind of assumption is exactly why vanity presses exist. It doesn’t matter how many months or years a writer spent on his story. Is it publishable? Is it marketable?

I would love for Kim to sit in my chair for a week. Heck, a day. She could read plenty of unpublishable works that cross my desk. But hey, Kim sez, authors can change all that by bearing witness to the Great New Hope – vanity publishing. And, gosh, you can make money too!

How, Kim? You failed to mention that in your article. Do you have any idea what it takes to market, promote, and sell a book? The amount of money that goes into that endeavor? Vanity authors know zilch about the industry and are ill-equipped to sell their own product. They lack money and time and ability. You can’t just walk into your local indie bookstore or chain and ask them to carry your book. Buyers know vanity books have zero scrutiny, and that’s why they refuse to stock them.

And, Kim? There is nothing “self published” about the vanity option. It’s the publisher’s name, not the author’s, that’s on the copyright page as publisher. And should the author find a store willing to order books – which is very unlikely – do they call the author? Nope. They call the publisher. And who pays for those books? The author. Only when the author is the publisher is it called “self published.” [yes, I realize the UK calls vanity “self published,” but I still think it’s wrong and confusing]

I’ve heard many vanity authors talk about hiring a publicist. This won’t work, either. Publicists need authors who have a good platform, print runs, great distribution, and a great product. Vanity authors meet none of those criteria.

For the most part, vanity authors sell their books out of the trunk of their car, to friends and family and a few co-workers. Profit? Maybe they’ll clear a few bucks. But they cannot, and never will, be able to reach a large enough audience who will take them seriously. Vanity is exactly what it says:

the excessive belief in one’s own abilities or attractiveness to others

Had Kim written this article without injecting her opinions regarding Big Bad Publishers, I’d have no quarrel. These options can be great for the hobbyist who wants to have something between covers for their friends and family. But this is not a viable option for serious writers. And this makes me cranky because I see the horror stories all the time when I speak at seminars and writer’s conferences.

So, Kim, let me tell you the truth of how this vanity thing works; writers read articles like yours and believe they’d have fun and see some profit. After about six months to a year of selling no books, and going broke, they query the likes of me and my colleagues, all in hopes of taking their book to someplace where their books will actually sell. Yes, us evil “traditional” publishers.

The problem is, we won’t take them due to inferior writing. Another disadvantage is that the first publishing rights are gone. Have you ever tried to get a previously published book removed from all the online databases? It’s like nailing jello to the wall. With all the talent out there, it’s easier to buy an unencumbered manuscript.

So please, Kim, before you decide to choose a particular side of the fence, do yourself and your readers the benefit of actually knowing what you’re talking about. The next vanity pubbed author who queries me, I’ll think of you.

9 Responses to Oh brother…the “self publish game” rears its head in USA Today

  1. Mick Rooney says:

    I saw that USA Today. It was one extraordinary poor and uninformed piece of journalism.

  2. Lauren says:

    McPaper holds to its usual standards I see.

  3. Mary Hoffman says:

    We DO distinguish between vanity and self-published in the UK, Lynn. I don’t know who has been telling you different. Vanity is when you pay a publisher, self-publishing is when you publish it yourself. And then there’s Print on Demand …

  4. Mary is right. Many people don’t understand or don’t want to understand the difference and of course, vanity publishers, here as well as in the U.S., want to lull their ‘authors’ into thinking that they’re self-publishing.

    Even the most intelligent quarters of the press and media continue to fudge the issue. Even writing magazines and websites.

    It makes me want to spit out my martini–almost.

  5. Thank you, Mary and Sally. I’m constantly corrected by UK authors who sling around “indie” and “self published” to mean the same as vanity and POD. Obviously I’ve been given bad information. Best cross them off my Christmas card list.

    And Sally? Nothing…and I mean NOTHING is so important to make one spit out their martini.

  6. It’s nice that the ladies have emphasized that vanity publishing and self-publishing are different.

    HOWEVER, POD can be used by vanity-, or self- or traditional publishers.

    Michael N. Marcus

    Author of “Become a Real Self Publisher” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742


  7. HOWEVER, POD can be used by vanity-, or self- or traditional publishers.

    Marcus, be careful not to confuse the two. It is common to use the term “digital printing” in order to distinguish it from Print On Demand, which is a business plan.

    Everyone uses the digital printing. We use it for our ARCs and backlist books.

  8. I don’t confuse the terms.

    “Digital printing” describes hardware, just like offset or letterpress are kinds of printing equipment.

    “POD” describes how the equipment is used. Although it would not make sense, offset or lettterpress or even a quill on parchment could be used to produce books on demand.

    Most of the time POD uses digital printing, and most of the time digital printing is done on demand — whether it’s for a self publisher or vanity press ordering a few copies, or a mainstream publisher ordering a few dozen or a few hundred.

    Michael N. Marcus

    Author of “Become a Real Self Publisher” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742


  9. “POD” describes how the equipment is used.

    I beg to disagree. POD is a business model that is run on very little operating cash which impacts editing, cover design, marketing, promotion, and distribution. POD books are rarely on bookstore shelves because they can’t afford to print any more books than what is physically ordered.

    Their small budget can’t handle the idea of returns; this would put them out of business very fast. The only option is to make money off their authors, who become their unpaid sales force because they realize it’s the only effective way they’re going to sell books.

    I’m not against the business model provided authors know what they’re getting into. I think it’s a great way to keep out of print books alive. But I believe that authors who are looking to strike the big time will never ever accomplish this through this publishing option. The foundations simply don’t allow for it.

    The reason confusion reigns is because people pervert the definition so that it becomes this huge gray area. Authors who believe they are being published by a trade press find out too late exactly what those differences are.

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