Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vanity Presses

Imagine you’re out shopping for a bag of potato chips. You head to your local grocery store and walk up the snacks isle. Ah, there you are. Several rows worth of potato chips. Quite a few of the bright bags sport “Made in Idaho”. The rest are a mix of tempting varieties from various other states. You make a choice from one of the other regions, and find upon inspecting the bag that the contents are horrible. Ok, so next time you try something else from the off-brands. This time you find insects. Eww. Lesson learned, you shy away from anything not made in Idaho. Had you picked that bag next to the infested one, you would’ve found a delightful treat – but you didn’t pick it. Nor is it likely that you will again.

Replace chips with books, and you have the dilemma presented through vanity presses. What is a vanity press? It is a printing service catering to writers who, for the most part, have no talent for the craft but still want to claim that they are “published”. This is the world of self-publishing, where there is nary a critical eye between the writer and the final product. They will print pretty much anything you send them. Some of these printing services are honest and straight-forward about what they do – charge fees for services rendered. Others will hide behind a guise of being a small press, but guide the hapless writer into a fee-charging service.

Self-publication is not a terrible thing in itself. Writers with no venue for their works – such as poetry, can at least get their work into a form for friends and family to appreciate. Amateur writers who just want to hand out a work or two will also find self-publication a welcome option.

Then, there’s the wannabe. He or she hasn’t the time, patience, or skill to become a good writer, but they dream of being published just the same. They just don’t want to work for it. They do, however, have money and desperation that drives them into the waiting arms of a vanity press. I’ve seen them all over MySpace proclaiming how their book “just got published”. If the damage was limited to their inevitable loss of money and dreams, it would still be a bad thing. How many writers never come to fruition after chasing these expensive short cuts to nowhere? Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. A lot of poorly written material from vanity presses is willingly gobbled up by and other vendors. These literary bombs end up right next to works from valid small presses – and end up giving small presses a very bad name.

I have had folks immediately lump me in with the self-published crowd simply because they see that I’m with a small press. It pains me to have to politely correct them on the two greatest differences. A small press pays the author, not the other way around. More importantly for the reader, a small press employs an editorial staff that are motivated to screen submissions for those kind of stories that will enhance their reputation and profits.

Right now, there is a move underway among small press publishers to establish and promote themselves through an association with set standards for admission into their fold. I hope that this effort will blossom into the sort of branding that a prospective reader can look at on a book and say “Ah, this is from a professional publisher.” Vanity presses constitute a growing threat toward credibility for both publisher and author. Only when both authors and publishers can advertise compliance to an agreed upon set of standards that screen out the junk pouring from vanity presses will both our reputations and livelihoods be properly safeguarded.

Kerry Tolan
Blade Dancer” – now available from Champagne Books


Big Mike said...

Great article, interesting topic, well written. Not bad for an AF dude.

Big Mike

Kimber Chin said...

I know publishers are very important to writers but are they important to readers?

As a reader, I remember the author name (if anything) and not the publisher. Do I know who published The Da Vinci Code? Nope. Harry Potter? Nope.

Anyone can get a book published. Selling that book is another thing entirely.

Patrica said...

Vanity Presses are a last resort. Personally, I wouldn't want to publish through a vanity publication for more than one reason. Expense, and two there is no support network.

Most vanity presses I've come across publish the work hand it back to you and say have fun.

I'd rather have the support and comfort of a small least that way I know my concerns and questions are being taken seriously!