Vanity, Vanity

Teresa Nielsen Hayden and a couple of published writers are going to town on a PC Magazine article on print-on-demand vanity presses here; their basic point is that these things are mostly a pretty good way to separate money from a desperate wanna-be writer and that’s about it (Teresa also talks about it on her own site). They are assailed for their position by a number of people, including staff members from those self-same POD vanity presses and a bunch of would-be writers. I find it amusing that people who have never been published are somewhat snittily implying Teresa and the others, who have a number of decades publishing experience between them, have no idea what they’re talking about. This is one those “hope spring eternal” sort of situations on the part of the would-be writers.

I don’t personally have an issue with vanity publishing, online or otherwise — I mean, I do it — but I think the main point, and the point Teresa and the others are making, is that putting out your own book is not the same as having it professionally published. As I continually note, Agent has brought in a nice tidy sum for being published online (and for relying on people’s good will to pay), but it is a mere fraction of what I’ve made in advances for the books published by professional publishers. Agent pays for pizza now and then. My actual books contribute significantly to my mortgage.

The reasons for this are pretty simple; aside from issues and questions about stuff that is self-published being any good (which I’ve covered before), there’s the reason that Agent just sits on my Web site and waits for people to come by. I’ve only advertised it once, on Penny Arcade, and while that did pretty well for me (“pretty well” meaning I made more because I advertised than it cost to pay for the ad), I don’t have the time, inclination or cash to advertise it over and over. When my pro books come out, on the other hand, entire marketing departments are on hand to sell the things. That’s their job, and I’m glad it’s them and not me, because clearly I’d do a bad job of it. The reason I write is because I don’t like to work, you know.

Having said that, I do think there’s a place for vanity publishing, even for those of us fortunate enough to be published professionally. For example, I am giving considerable thought to putting together a collection of Whatever columns and some selected non-Whatever material as well. This collection would be, shall we say, of specialized interest and really unlikely to be of interest to anyone but myself, a few friends, and regular readers of this site. Therefore, it’s not at all a good candidate for professional publication. That being the case, no harm and no foul in having it whipped up as a POD vanity thing.

The difference here is that I have no illusions what I’ll be doing, or what vanity publication represents. That’s the point Teresa’s trying to make, I think, and what most vanity publishers would just as rather have would-be writers not notice.

7 Comments on “Vanity, Vanity”

  1. As I see it, those vanity publishers are allowing these self-styled writers to further live out their fantasy of being a writer. For the “writers” themselves to concede it is a waste of money is to concede that they are living in fantasy. I see nothing wrong with enjoying your life more through the use of facilitated fantasy- and it is usually worth what you pay for it. Having people point out that you are deluding yourself is the only way it could become a waste of money. What’s the fun of a fantasy if other people keep poping your balloons?

  2. As long as people understand it’s fantasy, it’s fine. If people think it’s something akin to actual publishing, that’s a problem. That’s like thinking the hooker loves you.

  3. Awww, when they said affordable I got all excited for a second. I thought somebody had done like a Bookmobile thing except you give them PDFs for the books you want. See now that would be useful, the ability to inexpensively do a one-off of a manual (since they don’t come on dead trees anymore) or, I dunno, a collection of grandma’s recipes in a nicely bound form as a birthday present or something.

  4. You mention that you aren’t interested in advertising Agent any longer. As someone who read (and paid) for Agent because of the Penny Arcade site and is currently reading his paid version of Old Man’s War, I wonder if you are missing a marketing opportunity. Listing your currently published works right next to Agent sounds like an interesting model quite similar to what you see in the game industry. You’ve played (and maybe even paid for) the demo. Now go to Amazon and get something you can read on the porch. I can’t think of any other author that would allow me to do that.

  5. Well, and of course once OMW comes out I’ll redesign the site to accomodate just that. I *do* have Agent up for agentorial consideration, because, you know, why not. But to be honest, if it never sells, that’s fine too, because it’s a great “free taste,” and lots of people are ready to consider paying for OMW because they liked “Agent.”

  6. Regarding the phrase ‘having said that’ – has anyone else noticed how quickly that phrase has gotten popular? It seems like I’m hearing it all over the place.

    I don’t really mind it, as it seems to be a way for people to show more than one side to a topic.

    But once you start noticing it you’ll really start noticing it.

  7. Responding to John Scalzi, who wrote,”That’s like thinking the hooker loves you.”

    What do you mean? Of course she loves me. She already explained to me her situation and I decided to help her out. That’s what people do when they are in love.

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