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e_moon60

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Writing: Self-publishing v. Vanity publishing. [Dec. 5th, 2009|08:22 am]
e_moon60
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An excellent presentation on the Writer Beware blog of the blurred distinctions between self-publishing and vanity publishing that have arisen in the digital age, and why this matters to writers considering either.

It is to the monetary advantage of scam publishers--and some undercapitalized small and hobby publishers--to tell unpublished writers that they deserve to be published and that they're being unfairly excluded by those nasty traditional publishers (with the help of such writers' organizations as MWA, RWA, Ninc, and SFWA.) They make their profit by preying on the dreams of the unpublished and creating an atmosphere of resentment and paranoia that keeps the unpublished writers from listening to and learning from successful professional writers.

It is to the (temporary) emotional advantage of unpublished writers to believe the scam publishers, and to blame someone else for the fact that they are not (yet) bestselling writers.
In the short run, it's much pleasanter to think it's a plot by NYC publishers to exclude real talent and publish only commercial hacks, or the writers they already have, and that successful writers are trying to ruin the careers of talented new writers, and that writers' organizations exist to protect publishers and the current publishing paradigm. All you have to do is send your stuff to someone who really appreciates it (and the check or credit card number you send them.)

Strauss makes that clear in her post and yet...and yet there will always be those who want to be fooled, who want to accept the conspiracy-theory view of the world, about writing as about everything else.
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From: mmegaera
2009-12-06 03:18 am (UTC)
This. In spades. I was going to comment at length about how it's not the vanity publishers who feed my unhappiness about the frustrations of the publishing world, it's the frustrations of trying to get published that do that, extremely well, actually.

But you did it for me, and explained it succinctly. Thank you. I would like to quote your comment in full in my own LJ, if that's okay.
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From: mmegaera
2009-12-06 03:55 am (UTC)
Thanks!
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From: mmegaera
2009-12-06 03:57 am (UTC)
Sorry about the multiple replies. LJ had a spasm.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-06 04:55 am (UTC)
But the vanity publishers offer you an easy way out...you're already frustrated, and they say "Oh, but don't be frustrated...here, let us help you." And they promise what they don't intend to deliver (which is what infuriates me, frankly.)

It's up to you what you want. Some people do just want that book on their shelf, and if they have a couple of boxes in the garage or basement that they can't sell, but they can show a real-life book to friends and relatives, it's OK with them. They can be content with that (and that's fine.) If that's what you want, then self-publishing in another way (a less expensive way that also gives you more control of the product) is a wiser way to go than a vanity press.

Other people want their books on the shelves of bookstores. They want strangers--people who never met them and never will--to buy those books and be moved by those books. They want that so bad that they are willing to keep attacking the problems involved--they keep making their work better and they keep submitting to those paying markets, and they pile up those rejection slips as proof of the struggle. They do that for years, usually, before the wall cracks. Every writer who's been, or being, published by a traditional/commercial/NYC publisher has been through that, has felt the frustration you feel.

There are costs both ways. There are rewards both ways. Writers need to know the costs, and the rewards, of both in order to make a choice that they will be happy, or at least content, with. It's up to you, as it was once up to me.

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From: mmegaera
2009-12-06 08:00 pm (UTC)
Other people want their books on the shelves of bookstores. They want strangers--people who never met them and never will--to buy those books and be moved by those books. They want that so bad that they are willing to keep attacking the problems involved--they keep making their work better and they keep submitting to those paying markets, and they pile up those rejection slips as proof of the struggle. They do that for years, usually, before the wall cracks. Every writer who's been, or being, published by a traditional/commercial/NYC publisher has been through that, has felt the frustration you feel.

Yes, but the important point that zanda_myrande made is "there are far fewer openings in the professional book market than there are good writers, and that the process of making one's way from unpublished to published is not always dependent on the merit of the manuscript. I believe that more people do deserve to be published than ever get there."

What's most frustrating about all the posts on the subject that I've read from people in the publishing industry and published writers is the repetition of exactly what I quoted from you. Not the ineffectual (from my POV, anyway) blandishments of the vanity printing industry.

All of you mean well, I'm sure. But these sorts of posts do not help the people you're trying to reach. I believe that I am much more typical of people who read these sorts of posts than the kind of person who thinks that paying to be published will get their book into bookstores. And the comments I read on such posts bear my instincts out, frankly.

Give your wannabe-published readers some credit, please! We are, as a rule, well aware that vanity publishing is a scam, that self-published fiction is extremely hard to market, and that statistically getting traditionally published isn't much more likely than winning the lottery. Any other suggestions? That was a rhetorical question, BTW.

As I commented on another similar post not long ago, there's not much point in warning people away from what may seem like their only way to reach their dream without offering a viable alternative. Unless you want them to give up...
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-06 10:53 pm (UTC)
If there weren't a lot of unpublished writers who *don't* get it that vanity publishing is a scam, vanity publishers wouldn't be as successful as they are. If you're not in that group, then you're not the person I'm "trying to reach." (Why would you think you were?) I'm sorry that you object to published writers--who do know the score--continuing to warn people away from the scammers. It sounds like you think we should just let people fall into their hands and shrug it off, uncaring. Well...some of us won't. You can be ticked off if you wish, but I will continue to say that scammers are scammers.

Look--you keep talking about how frustrated you are, and how published writers aren't "helping" you with what they say. What do you think other writers can do that _would_ help?

I'm assuming you realize that we have no way to change the ratio between the number of slots available and the number of people who want to fit in them. I'm assuming you realize that agents and editors aren't begging us all the time to find them new talent (and, in my experience, when I've nudged one of them about someone I thought had possibilities, it's been a zero-win situation all around.) I'm not the only writer who's shared--in print, online, and in person--all the information I've gained from twenty years of publication with those who want to be published.

What else do you think we can do for you? Talk about frustrating--it's really frustrating to be chewed on for trying to give people the straight skinny, which many of them (OK, not you, you say) do NOT know--try to save them both money and disappointment and more frustration--and then have it hinted that if we only tried harder we could make life easier for them, and you. HOW?

Because the truth is, we can't. We can share tips on writing. We can share tips on submission methods that work and don't work. We can tell you about scam agents and scam publishers. The rest is up to you, you alone. There are no magic buttons. There is no magic potion. I am not hiding any secret handshakes, any hidden doors or pathways. There is nothing but slog, with no guarantee of success.




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From: mmegaera
2009-12-07 12:29 am (UTC)
I'm sorry I offended you. I was not chewing on you, just trying to say why I agreed with zanda_myrande, and I'm sorry if you felt that I was chewing on you. I did say my question was rhetorical. I'm not expecting any special handshakes. I know they don't exist. You seemed baffled as to why some of us were getting frustrated with what you were trying to say, and I was trying to be clear about why. Obviously what I had to say wasn't what you wanted to hear. I'm sorry about that.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-07 09:08 pm (UTC)
I'm not offended.

It was frustration--because, like a lot of other people, I share information to be helpful, not to discourage or undermine people. And I don't understand why sharing what I know causes frustration...I've been told before that I'm not helping new writers "enough." That the situation isn't fair (which I knew coming into it, 20+ years ago) and that by being successful I'm perpetuating the unfairness (huh?) and so are all other writers successful in traditional publishing, all traditional publishers, and writers' organizations whose members are in traditional publishing. When enough of these responses pile up in a short period (a week or two, say) then my frustration bubbles over. It's been that kind of week and a half.

I feel the same as you do...that what I had to say wasn't what you wanted to hear...which is why you said it wasn't helping you and others. ("...these sorts of posts do not help the people you're trying to reach...")

I wish you well. I hope you have the success you want.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-06 04:37 am (UTC)
I did not say that people "want" to be fooled. I did say that it's easy to believe what you want to be true...and that makes you easy meat for scammers who will reinforce that belief, that desire, by telling you what you want to hear. (I've been on the other side, the one scammed, in other contexts where my "need to believe" in something blinded me.) The scammed gets the temporary emotional reward of getting what they think they wanted...but if truly scammed, the apparent gain isn't. (Speaking as someone who's been scammed, though not as a writer.)

The belief that legitimate publishing houses will reject you--that none of them will take your work--and that it's not the work but the publishing house's fault--is fostered by the scammers who want your money. They want you to believe that. They want you to think you haven't got a chance (why waste time even sending your work to agents or publishing houses--come to us, we will take care of you.) Fear of rejection--even one rejection--drives some unpublished writers into their hands.

And the point is, if you do want to self-publish, you're a lot better off doing it for real--contracting out the work you can't do yourself, making all those choices, owning your own ISBN--than you are with the vanity publishers, the scammers. If you have a need to have that book on the shelf (in one case I knew of, because a family member had a terminal but slow-moving illness and the writer wanted that person to have the book in time to read it) then self-publishing--real self-publishing--makes sense. Ditto if it's a non-commercial book. If you self-publish, you get to make the choices--the design, the artwork, the quality of paper, binding, etc. Then yes, it's a straight commercial transaction and you can choose your cost level. But vanity publishers, like the Harlequin plan--that's just plain scamming.

As for the "gamble with your self-confidence"...if you don't have a rhino hide when you get into this business, you'd better grow one fast, because writing, like all other creative pursuits, involves rejection, criticism, and disapproval. Those who succeed push past it--past the rejections, past the snide criticisms, the bad reviews, the sneers of those who think writers are self-indulgent twits, the sneers (for women writers) of those who say "Oh, but all you women are supported by your husbands," the people who question whether you're neglecting your children, the banks who won't give you a loan because you don't have a regular income, the disapproval of what you write (whatever it is, someone will disapprove, be it poetry or porn.) Easy? No. Worth it? Yes...but not everyone will succeed, any more than everyone who has a really good voice ends up at the Met starring in an opera, or every talented gymnast gets to the Olympics.




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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-06 02:43 pm (UTC)
The sting of rejection by an agent or editor is nothing to the slings and arrows you get as a published writer. Because as long as you're unpublished, not that many people have you as a target on their horizon, and other unpublished writers don't automatically see you as another barrier on their own way to success.

I was in a writers' group when my first story sold. The atmosphere chilled noticeably. Then a second story sold. It chilled more. Although we had all been unpublished writers discussing each other's work, suddenly any comment I made brought out the "I guess you think you know everything after finally selling something!" sort of comment, sometimes said openly to the group and sometimes muttered at me by the person next to me. The third sale brought forth the comment, in a very sarcastic tone, "Well, I suppose [magazine name] will buy anything you write!" (Well, no, in between the sales were rejections.) I quit that group before my first book sale, because it was clear that--at that time--my success annoyed the heck out of them. The more vocal made it clear that it must be only luck--my work wasn't that good, not at all up to professional standards. A few professed to be happy for my success, but then wanted to know how I'd done it--who I knew (nobody), how I had "gotten around" the barriers. Like most of us, I'm not a natural rhino hide, and it was far easier to walk away than stand there being shot at.

Other people in that group did get published--it was, in fact, productive as a group, and I've referred people to it. But to this day there are a few people from it who make it clear they don't approve of my success and don't respect my work or me. It used to bother me a lot more than it does now...my hide got thicker. But I get that sort of thing--and other published writers do too--from some unpublished writers in every venue. When you're teaching a workshop, or judging a contest, or on a writing panel at a convention, or at a signing.

And it's not just the unpublished writers with a load of resentment. Published writers may take up the cudgel to pound someone they don't like, or whose books got a bigger advance than theirs or whose books were nominated for or won an award they think they should have been nominated for or won. Some nonwriters feel entitled to say downright insulting things to writers--maybe it's payback for having been forced to read books in school or having a boring job. Some professionals peripheral to the field consider it their duty to dice and slice writers and books in which they find faults. Reviewers, critics, people who don't approve of (variously) science fiction, fantasy, military fiction, sex scenes, lack of sex scenes, a particular character whose behavior is a hot button for them.

On another venue recently, someone castigated a well-known (and good) writer by saying the writer was "either careless or stupid." (Or it may've been "stupid or careless"; I forget.) This sort of thing is fairly common online; trash talk directed at books and their writers is more common than inflated praise (which also occurs.)

And so that "This submission does not meet our needs" is the mildest form of rejection a writer is likely to meet. Even the rejection still on my wall, the one left there for years so I could stick my tongue out at it with sales that proved its snide wording wrong, isn't as rude or as painful as some of the things since. If I had not grown a thicker hide (still not thick enough not to feel the stings--just closes over quicker) I could not have survived as a writer.

As for scams: I'm talking specifically about the dishonest promises (or phrases that anyone with a dream will read as promises) made by those I call scammers. If you compare what Harlequin's vanity subsidiary was telling those it hoped to attract to what it told its existing contracted writers, it's clear they were playing on the hopes and fears of those they rejected and were not going to deliver the goods. It's always "buyer beware." If you understand all the fine print and the implications and you're still satisfied with the cost/benefit ratio, fine. Too many people don't. (An old friend was taken for $10K by a scam publisher, via one of the scam agent routes.)
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[User Picture]From: starshipcat
2009-12-06 05:49 pm (UTC)
Yes...but not everyone will succeed, any more than everyone who has a really good voice ends up at the Met starring in an opera, or every talented gymnast gets to the Olympics.

This is true of almost any highly desirable profession -- far more people want to be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, etc. than will succeed, and in fact, it's quite probable that far more people both desire to enter those professions and have the necessary aptitudes and ability to earn the qualifications to enter those professions than the economy can accommodate. So instead of it being a matter of meeting an objective minimum qualification to enter the profession, one must compete for a limited number of slots, and sometimes people will lose out for reasons that have nothing to do with their objective aptitudes and qualifications.

But you generally don't see scammers preying upon people's dreams of becoming doctors, or laywers, or astronauts. First, the career path by which one enters these professions is generally clear and understood, such that anyone who has a realistic hope of pursuing them is pretty much clear on what they need to do by high school, if not jr. high. Second, and perhaps even more important, in these career paths the selection process is such that if one is not going to make it, there's generally a point when this becomes clear and only the stubbornly self-deluded would try to persist, and this selection point generally comes early enough that one can start over and still have a career in some other field, rather than just a job that puts a roof over one's head, clothes on one's back, and food on one's plate. So there simply aren't the level of hopes to prey upon.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-06 11:08 pm (UTC)
Some career paths are in fact clearly delineated. (It's why I'm not the kind of scientist I hoped to be when I was in high school and had not yet met a math course I couldn't ace. Then came Rice University.) Most such paths require formal instruction fairly early, giving obvious marks. If you flunk theoretical calculus, you aren't going to get into the next class up the ladder. (Although the internet and elsewhere now do have academic scammers telling people they can get degrees, including advanced degrees, from this or that not-really-accredited university...just pay for it, and it's yours. And yes, some people believe that scam, too.)

Writing has always been something that many writers did on the side, not full-time, so it's always been possible for people who dream of being a writer to scribble (or type) away in their spare time, hanging onto that dream. After all, the 'credentials' involved are those of publishing, and for fiction, nobody in publishing cares what degrees you have. In that sense, then, writing appears to be a more open road to the top (whatever top someone has in mind.)

What's happened is that instead of a nice, logical ladder of steps to achieve in order, with acquisition of skills shown at each step, there's nothing between the mix of good, bad, indifferent, trained, untrained, talented untalented in the pool of unpublished writers, and the final decision-maker, the editor. In another venue, professional writers are discussing how relevant or not academic degrees are for writers (esp. genre writers): not, unless you want to teach, basically. But even when there are writing programs that are practical, aimed at achieving commercial publication, teaching structure, characterization, etc., nothing keeps the dropouts and failures from those classes from submitting their work to agents and editors. There is no intermediate qualification required. So they do, each one of them believing that she or he is actually talented and ready--and when they're not published, each one of those believes that she or he is unfairly excluded.





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[User Picture]From: jodel_from_aol
2009-12-07 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link to that post.

In my own case, I was one of those writers who probably only has one book in them. And after shopping it around to publishers off and on for close to 20 years, I finally found *one* publishing house willing to look at the manuscript (it's non-fiction, and a niche market, so that's not astonishing, but the book does serve a purpose. Or at least so I believe). When they said that they would take it but they only wanted half of it, and would I be agreeable to that, and I didn't immediately leap at the offer, they told me that maybe I ought to find another publisher.

Since I'd only said I wanted a week to consider it, and that after several communications in writing they couldn't be arsed to spell my name correctly, I figured they were probably right.

AND since in the interveining time I'd improved the shining hour by taking the whole thing digital, and considering that publication would neither make my fortune not give me a professional stepping-stone to anything else, I exported it in .pdf and posted it on my website.

Hobby publishing. No fees, no profit, all egoboo.

And the information is finally out there where people can get at it. Free to anyone who wants to spend the time downloading it.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-07 08:56 pm (UTC)
And I say "Terrific." When you've got something you really think could be useful, but it's not marketable for some reason, then putting it online is an excellent choice...it serves the ones you wanted to serve, however few that is. That's what I'm doing at present with the 80acres site, even though I hope someday to compile some of those posts and some additional info into a book.

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[User Picture]From: jodel_from_aol
2009-12-09 07:45 pm (UTC)
All the more so in that the .pdf has features that assist in getting the information across that would have been prohibitive to impossible in a professionally printed work. There's no way we could have afforded to have it printed in color. And the trim size would have had to have been reduced to no more than 90%, possibly less, in order to fall within doable parameters for stocking and shelving. And it *is* written for a niche market.

When building the dummy, I was constrained to what sizes an office printer would produce and I had access to a printer that would handle ledger-sized paper (which was good since the diagrams for some of the items would not have comfortably fir on letter-size without a lot of wasted space). There was no way that I was going to trim every page by hand, so the dummy is 11"x17" which is way too big for a published work. But it meant that the diagrams were all; a.) to scale, and: b.) at a large enough scale that the information would read as clearly as possible. It would still have read at 90%, but 100% is better.

But I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoyed finding components to illustrate the text, and building the diagrams (and ultimately rebuilding them all digitally), and I *really* enjoyed learning how to lay it out attractively, and "designing a book" out of it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, and discovered that doing this in .pdf (which I needed to export it into to print it more quickly, anyway) opens up a whole world of spectacular, deluxe editions that only need to be paid for in hard disk space and upload/download time. No way could they be produced in analog for any kind of real-world budget!

In fact I've been designing deluxe edtions of books to post on my site ever since. Fiction, so far. Fanfiction to be exact, with the authors' permissions. Handsomer editions than they'd probably have got than if they had been able to publish it professionally, even if the work were publishable, which it isn't, unless they file the serial numbers off and revamp it as original fiction.

Kind of a win-win situation all round.

Now *That's* "vanity" publishing!
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