“Writing is an act of ego. You might as well admit it.” William Knowlton Zinsser


An act of ego. Yes. Let’s get that right out there at the starting line. Writing, or for that matter, any art that is practiced must always begin in the depths of that small furnace of creativity that fuels the action of creating. It’s the same furnace where ego either burns you down to a liquid pile of defeat or forges you into a powerful blade that can vanquish doubt. Knowing this and choosing to wield your pen anyway, you will now face the next challenge; Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing. Or as some literary elitists prefer to see it; *Vanity Publishing* versus *Real Publishing*.

If you didn’t already think of yourself as a clever writer, you would only be writing in a private diary, locked with a key and tucked in a safe place where your sister won’t find it. The minute you hand your words to one other human being for their feedback you have taken the first step towards a life of more writing. That initial hit of praise can soar through your system like an opiate, making you crave another hit and soon.

So the big question I am wrestling is this: what is the definition of Vanity Publishing and is it still relevant in a world of eBook vs. paper book sales? I have a favorite author who also blogs and works the heck out of her writer platform. I get to peek into her day to day world like a viewer watching The Truman Show. Typically, I read her posts and find I’m nodding in agreement or laughing- as her posts are hilarious. The other day she wrote a piece on vanity publishing that pointed to a Florida bookstore that only sells self-published books by local artists. She referred to the store as a Vanity Bookstore. I’ve got to say, it rocked me back when I read those damning words.

Is that a fair statement? Vanity Bookstore? Or *Vanity Publishing* for that matter? Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know there is dreadful, self-aggrandizing drivel out there. Some of it, so bad that given a format it is deserving of, would rest at the bottom of Polly’s cage with cracked sunflower seeds obscuring the guano smeared letters. But, there is also a rising tide in the world of self-publishing and on its crest rides word gems and stellar stories. Those are told by amazing writers who want to put their work out there but shy away from the slave auction setting that has become Traditional Publishing.

Let’s get real. The big publishing houses will only select a tiny handful of authors to join their stable and of those, you can count on one hand which ones get the lion’s share of promo-money to get their books to reader’s around the globe. It’s a lotto win, not a guarantee of success when you are picked up by a publishing house. And even if you do win that lotto, you have a matter of weeks- less than six according to a New York literary agent-friend, and if your book doesn’t break the sound barrier within the pre-determined time frame then it will be put out to pasture like a lame horse. When that happens, your only chance of making money from your title is when stragglers trip over it at a bookstore, if they keep it on their shelves, or an eBook purchase when it’s offered at 99 cents. Or, you could wait until your contract with the publisher is over and then take back your work and go the self-publishing route, earning more than 80% of the cover price yourself.

What keeps rising in my mind in the great Indie versus Vanity Publishing discussion is that writing seems to be the only art form where people feel perfectly comfortable slapping a negative, mocking label onto your work because of the way it is served up to the public. Who are these *mean girl* people who revel in throwing down the V word like an insult meant to diminish the writer and their work?

Imagine this. You’re hanging out in Nashville on a Tuesday night. Looking for some food, cold beer and music you wander into the Bluebird Café over on Hillsboro Pike. A woman steps to the stage; slings her six string over her shoulder and cozy’s up to the mic. Over the next three and a half minutes you are transported to another plane of existence by her lyrics, her voice and the skill of her hands on the strings. Would it have ever occurred to you to say; even think, she’s a *Vanity Performer*. She isn’t signed to a record label. Hell, she even wrote her own song! Who is this chick and why is she taking up space on a stage meant for “professional” artists?

Hey! You with the shredded toe shoes! Yeah, I’m talking to you, skinny. Get off that stage and take your chine’s and demi-pointes with you, you poser. You aren’t signed with a ballet company so you’re a *Vanity Dancer*!

And you, with the paint brush and the forty-seven hour madness in your eyes! Take that canvas and go back to your garage where you belong! You don’t have an agent or a gallery representing your work so what are you doing at this fine art show anyway, you…you… *Vanity Painter*!

You catch my drift. Writing is the only art form that appears to be vulnerable to shaming through labels. Perhaps because the majority of the shamers have a degree in English that is currently in use lining Polly’s cage while they are paying their bills by hostessing at Applebee’s.

I’m asking the world in general to allow the Darwin theory to weed out the wheat from the chaff; survival of the fittest. Any individual with the ego, the courage, the talent and the tenacity to go through the process of self -publishing should have their day (or years or five minutes if it’s awful) in the published author’s glorious rays of sun. Once they upload their title into the Thunderdome that is Amazon Books, reviewers, trolls and meanies will either swoop in for the kill and pick their bones clean until they remove their title through sheer humiliation; or they will be raised up on shoulders with high praise; into the rarefied air of the best seller names where they can do lunch with Amanda Hocking in her Learjet as they wing their way to her private island in the Azores.

The waters of self-publishing are just as infested with sharks as traditional publishing seems to be. You could lose a limb either way if you don’t seek assistance in reading contracts and steer clear of companies that require exorbitant amounts of money from you along with your manuscript. There are also Fairy Godmother/father editors, graphic designers, formatting options, even promotional companies that can get your title out there for a reasonable fee. Many are not only legitimate businesses, but they can end up being life-long partners for you in your writing career.

Frankly, I can’t afford to be traditionally published at this point in my life, and so my titles will be self- published eBooks, and print-on-demand for those who prefer to read my words on paper. Call it whatever you want. The natural order of things will either crown me or kill me. Maybe I’ll be bleeding on the Thunderdome floor or maybe Amanda Hocking and I will be clinking champagne glasses at 30,000 feet. The point is, if my writing is fit to survive, it will. And if it’s not, well, you’ll never know unless I tell you that once upon a time I wrote a book.

3 thoughts on “Vanity Schmanity: Self-Publishing Shame

  1. What you have to say is true — with a condition. It behooves we who write to be judicious in what we publish. It should be the best of our best. If not it diminishes our writing as well as all others. To quote my publisher – “A sewer will only carry so much manure before it backs up over everyone.”

  2. True. To a point. What needs to change is the erroneous assumption that all self-published authors are not as judicious in their writing as those signed to large houses. Most of us, absolutely, are. In the raging river that is the current book world, the best swimmers will survive and the worst will drown. And that goes for both sides of the desk; authors and publishing houses. Those up on their high publishing horses should be very careful when casting shadows on writers who choose a self-published route for their work. Remember, 50 Shades of Grey was a self-published phenomena. Only after it earned the author a tidy sum of money did Random House sign her. And that happened after the well heeled publishing houses started clawing their way over each other to sign her as a greedily as a crack fueled hooker at a Nordstrom Rack stiletto sale. They did not sign her because hers was a prime example of stellar and *judicious* writing. They signed her because there was gold buried in that three-book steaming pile of shit. Gone are the Elysian fields of the likes of Hemingway and Parker who stood out like quasars in the modestly filled shelves of book shops. And also gone are the assumptions that a signed author is a brilliant writer. Sometimes they are little more than a paper Kardashian. Famous for being famous.

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