Vainglorious

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Regarding writing
Tags: ,

Vanity publishing is something that used to occur many years back, where if you’d written a book but no publisher would touch it with a bargepole, you could still find yourself in print by using a company who would print your book for you. In a way, for many people, this was their only way of getting their name in print, but it had many downsides. Firstly there were (probably still are) a lot of cowboys out there who would charge extortionate fees to publish people’s work, and I suspect more than a few people over the years were tricked into believing their opuses had been optioned by ‘real’ publishers, only to discover they had to pay for the privilege.

Even if the company was on the level, this process was usually costly. Not so long ago for a printing company to produce a book would have been a time and resource consuming business, and in order for it to be cost effective for even the most charitable of printers meant that you had to order a substantial number of books, often several hundred at least. This meant that the aspiring author usually lost money (aside from a rare few who managed to sell all their books on).

In recent years things have changed. First with the rise of so called print on demand publishers such as lulu.com, and more recently with the rise of e-books and the ability to self-publish, most notably via Amazon for their kindle. Add into this the ability for even the most technically illiterate to create an online presence, be it a website or a blog, and the capability to publish vainly has never been easier.

As you may know, I published a novella and some short stories (The Devils of Amber Street) via Amazon a few weeks ago, and a couple of years ago I published my first novel (City of Caves) via lulu.com. What I want to discuss here is my reasons for doing so, in fact the reasons anyone would choose to self-publish.

So first off, is it vanity? Well, I think to an extent it is. Even the most self-conscious of writers usually want their work to be read, we want validation, we want people to read and enjoy what we’ve written. The American thriller writer Lawrence Block summed it up nicely in his excellent ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ when he points out that, even as a hobby, if you can’t publish your work it tends to just sit in a drawer. As he says, if you paint you can always hang your artwork above your mantelpiece and people will hmm and ah at it, it’s hard to impress people with a manuscript.

Which brings me to the next point, vanity yes, but understandable vanity. An incredible amount of work goes into the writing of short stories or novels. City of Caves took me just over six months to write, my second novel took almost a year, and my third (The hopefully eventually to be self-published Safe House) took almost eighteen months. After all this effort, the thought of my work just sitting there on my hard drive never being read by anyone but me was anathema. I suppose I could have just published online via a website or blog but (and here’s where that damn vanity comes in again) there’s just something that makes it feel more special to see your work published in a more professional looking way. Holding a finished copy of City of Caves was a wonderful feeling.

I suppose the next thing to address is the notion that if you have to self-publish it means your work just isn’t good enough for the mainstream publishers. Well I might be biased here (and let’s be honest I probably am) but I don’t think this is always the case, and certainly there have been plenty of success stories over the years where books started out self-published yet ended up huge money spinners for the traditional publishing houses. The most famous recent example would be EL James’ 50 Shade of Grey and its sequels, and whatever your views may be of those books, it can’t be denied that they made the jump from self-published e-books to the New York Times best seller list, in fact given they started life as fan fiction (the lowest of the low in some eyes, though not mine given how much of it I wrote over the years) you could argue they’ve journeyed further than most.

The fact is that, whilst technology has provided more opportunities for writers, it’s also enabled an awful lot more people to become writers. When I first toyed with the notion of being a writer, I had two options; write in long hand or use a typewriter, and whilst I did both, it would be fair to say I never got very far. I quite enjoy writing long hand now, but in reality this was never an option for any work of great length, and whilst I did own a typewriter, I don’t think it was a particularly good one and given the number of mistakes I made again it was never a viable long term option, so it’s no major surprise to me that my ability to write large amounts coincided with a newfound access to word processing software! (Although in fairness a newfound dedication had its part to play as well.)

So, more opportunities but so many more writers as well, and even the most prolific of publishers can only publish a finite number of stories, and however good your work is, you’re relying on the publisher not finding ten or twelve authors they think are better—when you consider that they receive hundreds of submissions… well you can do the maths yourself.

I’ve had stories published however, and it would be a misnomer to think that the tales that make up The Devils of Amber Street are all ones that have been rejected by dozens of publishers. In fact only one of them, the Bonaventure Jane, has really done the rounds, but it’s a story I like a lot, and I wanted to see it get an airing. Megg was rejected by a couple of publishers, but I never really put it out there as much as I should have done, and as for The Wolf, given this is the opening chapter of my novel, Safe House it’s not a story that’s had any opportunity to find a home as a standalone piece.

This leaves the titular Devils itself, and believe it or not I’ve never submitted the novella anywhere. In part this is down to its length, novellas are hard to find a home for, but also I think I always knew it was something I wanted to build a book around, plus it’s a great title isn’t it?!

So there you have it, it is to do with vanity, it is to do with ego, but hopefully this is mitigated somewhat by more rational concerns; the need to see something you’ve poured a lot of time into reach a wider audience, and the need—in a crowded market place—to occasionally jump above the parapet and shout LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! Because it’s hard to get noticed sometimes, however good you are, you only have to consider how many publishers turned down the likes of JK Rowling or James Patterson to understand that.

As the saying goes, the lord helps those who help themselves…

 

 

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