Monday, May 15, 2006

Oh, Vanity!




My local newspaper has developed something of a fascination with the latest incarnation of the vanity press: all those print-on-demand things coming out of iUniverse, AuthorsHouse, and many others. For those of you not quite in the know – a “real” publisher pays you to publish your book. If your book sells, they’ll pay you even more and, of course, they start making money, too. A vanity press, however, requires you to pay it to have your book published. Few, if any, editing or marketing services are offered so most of those books fall, as the philosopher David Hume once said, “stillborn from the press.”

Yesterday we saw a full page on a local woman who’d put together a hundred and some pages of her poems, other people’s poems, family stories, and bits of cracker barrel philosophizing. Recently, an aging World War II vet recounted what sounded like a hugely dull soldier’s experiences, and last week there was a profile of a local nurse who has penned a mystery novel. My favorite, though, is a local Civil War buff who has published two Civil War novels that he calls “bestsellers.”

The rationale behind his “bestseller” label I find quite catchy. He sells his books to classes he sometimes teaches and he also goes to book fairs and literary festivals to try to sell them. To get those books, however, he goes to the local Barnes & Nobel and orders a large quantity from their print-on-demand facility. Since very few bookstores will ever sell more than a few copies of any one book in a week, his large order will constitute their “bestseller” for a given week. Cute.

Publishing is hard work. It takes a long time before book or magazine editors or literary agents begin to see that you’re a good writer, have something to say, and might, in many different ways, be marketable. It takes a long time, too, to develop that audience that will become familiar with your work and want to read more of it in the future.

The vanity presses bypass all that by saying that you can be published now. They are not lying. Within a short time following receipt of your manuscript and your money, you will be holding a copy of your real book in your real hands. Unfortunately, you will be one of the few people who ever do hold it in their hands, and one of the fewer still who might ever read it.

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