A publishing company that charges writers to publish their books is a vanity press. In today's world, it's more polite to call them self-publishers. Now, I'm the first to admit that some books, my mom's memoir Memory Lane, for example, are suited for self-publishing because they're books that fit a very narrow niche.
The real news is that Thomas Nelson has found a new profit center according to the newsletter from Shelf Awareness a couple of days ago. I suffered a severe eye-rolling attack of Duh! when I read about Thomas Nelson Inc. launching West Bow Press, "an imprint whose books will be designed, published and distributed by Author Solutions Inc., the country's largest self-publisher."
The piece went on to say that Thomas Nelson wouldn't be editing manuscripts, but that they would monitor sales to identify potential big sellers. Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson's CEO, said: "There's no question we think this will generate revenue."
That last statement brought out the DUH and more eye rolling so I had to take to the keyboard.
New Profit Center
So a respected publishing house is going to launch a vanity press because they've figured out that people will pay big bucks to get their book published? This is just another profit center for a corporation, not a public service designed to bring legitimacy to vanity, or self, publishing as Kevin Weiss, CEO of Author Solutions, suggests in his statement about the partnership: "What this will do is to put the stamp of approval on self-publishing."
There is no stamp of approval needed for self-publishing if one uses this publishing process to publish a book that simply won't get picked up by a royalty paying publisher no matter how well-written it is. Again, my mom's memoir is an example. It's well-written, I saw to that, and packaged well, but I didn't think any publisher would be interested in the reflections of small town life during the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression by a non-famous person.
Narrow niche nonfiction books fit the self-publishing model well. At CreateSpace, the self-publisher I used, books like computer programming guides, vegan guides, and other esoteric content books do quite well. Even my mom's book has sold nearly 100 copies with no promotion. (I suspect popular history buffs have found it a treasure.)
Vanity publishing gets the sneer when writers whose manuscripts, usually fiction, are so mundane, boring, and/or poorly written that no publisher will plunk down money to publish it. It amounts to a question of quality. I've seen a lot of self-published books, and I'm forced to say that most of them are mediocre at best and embarrassing at worst.
Mastering the narrative skills and writing thousands of words in an effort to get good enough to write something worth publishing has far more to do with claiming the title author than possessing the money to pay a publisher to print your manuscript.
There are no short cuts on the road to success, regardless of the career involved.
Dan Poynter, author of The Self-Publishing Manual, pointed out in Comments that my terminology was mistated (sic). He said: A publisher that takes money to publish your book is a vanity press. An author who invests in typesetting and printing is a self-publisher. A vanity press is not a "self". (sic) Please do not use the terms interchangably (sic).
He's correct. In some parts above, I do use vanity press and self-publisher in a shorthand way to mean that which is opposite a traditional royalty-paying publisher. For that, I apologize. Where you see me use the terms, as if a printing company and a person who is self publishing are identical entities, instead think vanity press and one who self-publishes.
You may find yourself wondering what the difference is between a writer who pays a vanity press to produce a book and a writer who self-publishes a book by paying a company for various editorial tasks and for printing the end result. Is there a difference? I guess that's a blog post for another day.
(If this is now as clear as mud, my job here is done I suppose. *g*)
Labels: Writing Biz