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The Vanity of NOT Self-Publishing

Vanity publishing.

That's a nice (but not really) way of calling something self-published.

It's a euphemism for what you really want to say:

"Oh, that's cute, no 'real' publishing house wanted your shit so you self-published it, huh?"

As in, the only people with the nerve to self-publish are those not skilled enough to write something commercially worthwhile yet too vain to realize that.

This might have been true years ago, but no longer.

In fact, self-publishing is anything but vanity nowadays.  Self-published authors are typically some of the most interesting, hard-working, boot-strapping artists out there.  From having to find editors, to designing a cover and interior, to acquiring copyrights and ISBNS, to getting the book up for sale online and in stores, to figuring out how to market the work and perhaps even sell a few copies.  Investing their own money and working without the net known as an advance.  And I haven't even discussed the actual writing of the damn thing.

Self-publishing isn't vanity, it's a labor of love.  It's done by people that truly have something to say and would die inside if they weren't allowed to say it!  Even if they don't expect to make a buck or garner any fame doing it.  Is that vain?  I sure wouldn't say so.

You want to discuss "vanity"?  How about Gallery publishing a book penned by Snooki.  St. Martin's publishing books by the Kardashian sisters.  Or pretty much every "important" publisher under the sun releasing ghostwritten books for Donald Trump over the years.  These aren't worthwhile books, they're nothing more than commercial packages "written by" vain people to further their fame, published by publishing houses to make an easy buck.

(If the person that "wrote" the book is pictured on the front of the book, it's usually a true vanity project.  Think of the book as a mirror, with Snooki or Khloe Kardasian or Donald Trump holding it up to their face, admiring the cover of something they'll never even read.)

Snooki, the Kardashians, Donald Trump, none of them would ever have the balls or chutzpah to self-publish.  They wouldn't even know where to start.  If we can even assume they could come up with a unique idea then hole themselves up for a few years to write the damn thing, it would still be hard to believe they'd figure out how to accomplish everything else to get the book to market.

But for them to get a book out there from a major publishing house, all that involves is them signing their name to a contract (or writing an X in Snooki's case), smiling wide for the cameras at a few signing events, and letting a huge team of people at the publishing house do all the rest of the work.

Now how vain is that?



Who Cares Who Published It?  The Domino Project

My "vanity" work:

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  1. Hi Aaron,

    I wouldn’t pretend to know what I am talking about but it seems to me you’re right in that self-publishing would prove to be, in most cases, a labor of love. Nothing glamorous about it – although, in a way, isn’t “nothing glamorous” on the verge of veering into glamorous territory?;)

    I can’t comment on Snooki or the Kardashians but I have read a few of Trump’s books, which offered some entertainment value but, yes, were a little heavy in the ego department.

    Self-publishing does not necessarily have to be a dirty word anymore. Was it ever? Anyhow, I feel that to a large extent we have to think of it on a case by case basis, as in, does the author have anything meaningful or entertaining to impart?



  2. Yeah, Peter, I think it used to be considered an embarrassment to self-publish. Certainly back in the days before Kindle and Createspace and Smashwords and what not. Back when a self-published book didn’t look like a “real” book.

    But now, with Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath and especially Barry Eisler turning down half a million dollars from a publishing house to self-publish, self-publishing is sexier than ever. And finally getting respect.

    Yet there are still traditionalists that poo-poo it. The world will continue to blow by them.

    Fact of the matter is, publishing house or self-published, neither is a predictable measure of quality any more. Case by case, just like you said. Something I was trying to address in my “Who Cares Who Published It?” piece linked above.

    (And, for the record, I’ve never read a Trump book. I’m just giving him shit because I thought that’s what Americans were supposed to do nowadays!)

  3. Well done! Self publishing is an extended effort to the world of writing. I felt it necessary in my case, especially after reading the difficulties of contracting with a publishing company. In one instance a publishing company, interested in a manuscript I worked very hard on, claimed they loved the writing style but that I would have to make very drastic changes to the characters. (Really, in order for them to make the book into something they wanted to sell…) Your art is YOUR art, and sometimes the publishing companies, whose real goals are to make as much money as they can off your work, are not about representing your art. They are more about commercializing it, branding it for their own VAIN (money making) purposes. Let’s face it, when an author makes a million does anyone ever look behind the scenes and see what the publisher made?
    When I decided to self publish, the first thing I heard from a family member was “you’ll never make any money or get recognition, and it is just vanity!” Well all art to some degree is vanity. We are giving a part of ourselves to others to enjoy. And sure we crave recognition, but I think most REAL writers are naturally private people who are more concerned with composing and crafting and their own voice rather then accolades. We want to do our work (write) and then have it pay off decently like every other craft (such as say carpentry…). Sadly that’s not what happens. But writers have it differently then most crafts. We do our work and then we beg and beg for people at every level to not only recognize our efforts but pay us for them. We go begging first to literary agents, and then to publishers, and even to lawyers to cover contracts and deals of fairness. Then we have editors tear into our work, and then reviewers, we go from book signings to book signings, and all just to receive a percentage that is cut down from the agent fee, the publisher, the book seller, the book store, the returns, the marketing etc.
    The most difficult thing I have realized about the writing/publishing industry is the marketing end. This goes for authors who have used a publisher, and for self published authors. There is no escaping the fact that creating a buzz about your product is the most vain issue involved with being an author, and it has many venues/rules/and concepts to follow. So marketing is vanity not publishing of any sort. And vain people like Trump are at a full advantage over us humble writers when it comes to that side of book selling for sure. Since he is not a writer, but a celebrity, he has publishing houses lined up for his book rather then the other way around.
    As for my own self publishing adventures I have learned by doing and have been completely happy with self satisfying process of the results to date, but am also “boot strapping” my books into the industry realm by trying to play the game. What lacks for a self publisher (other then initial vanity) is the industry connections along with the financial backing.
    Thanks for writing this article and for giving some admiration to the awe inspiring goals of the Mom and Pops shops of the writing world, self publishers.
    You can view an analog of some of my “vain” efforts at this link:
    (I am using this link as a means to raise pledges to get my books a distribution package to get into nationwide book stores, which are currently cost prohibitive creating another road block for these “vain” attempts at going up against the big guys.)

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