You’re So Vain

Vanity Publishing: Whereby a writer pays a publisher to produce their work, often signing over rights in return for royalties. Not to be confused (although it sometimes is) with self-publishing, where the writer retains the rights and manages the publication and marketing themselves.

I really dislike the term ‘vanity publishing.’ I’ve been thinking about this a lot and the conclusion I’ve come to is that it is, frankly, insulting. The idea that as a writer, my wanting to get my story out there, to believe in my work to the point that I wish to publish it myself makes me somehow ‘vain,’ is disconcerting. Writing is what I do. If anyone else has a talent – music, art, teaching, accounting, whatever it may be, and they wish to share that talent with the wider world, they are not considered ‘vain’ for doing so. No, they are considered brave and enterprising. So why is it different for writers?

I’m not advocating either for or against vanity publishing – that’s not the point of this post. I know there are unscrupulous publishers out there, just as there are those who will work with authors to make their work the best it can be. But in the end it is a money making venture, just as any other type of marketing and publication service would be. No, my issue is with the term itself. I’ve heard that traditional publishers coined it back in the 1940’s to discourage writers from striking out on their own, though I’ve no concrete confirmation of this. I also know there are a lot of terrible books out there. But you know what? Who am I, who are any of us to say they shouldn’t have been published? As writers, we all know how it feels when we’re writing a story. How much work and time and research can go into a book, only for it to be rejected. I think it’s a blessing that we now have the power at our own fingertips to make things happen, to share our work with the world through self publishing platforms like Kindle and Smashwords and Createspace. (As mentioned, this type of publication is not to be confused with ‘vanity publishing,’ though it often is, the idea being that if your work was good enough to attract an agent you wouldn’t have to go down that route, even though there are a lot of authors having a lot of success by doing so.) And, if we do choose to go with a ‘vanity publisher,’ that’s our choice to make as well.

So maybe I’m just talking nonsense here, or maybe I’m making a valid point. I’d like to think it’s the latter. Writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is an accomplishment and, like any creative endeavour, comes from the soul. Wanting to publish that work does not make us ‘vain.’ It makes us writers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

PS You’re welcome for the earworm xx

3 thoughts on “You’re So Vain

  1. Yes, is it vanity or self-confidence? You have to have enough self-confidence to put your work out there in the first place. What’s more, these days even traditional publishers rely on authors self-promoting, which makes me feel very uncomfortable at times, and very ‘vain’, but I know I have to put my name and face out there …

    1. Exactly. This industry is so competitive we have to be confident in our work or we’ll never get anywhere! If an artist pays a gallery to stage an exhibition for them it’s not vain, it’s raising their profile, getting the work out there. Absolutely we’re expected to do the same, to have published works and blogs and a twitter profile (which I have resisted so far) – that’s not vanity, it’s part of the job these days.

  2. Amen to this. I’m really uncomfortable with the pejorative element that seems to co-exist with the phrase “vanity publishing”. It’s as if, because a vanity publisher is not as selective (or not selective at all) as a traditional publisher, anyone who chooses to take that route has, ergo, produced something of lesser value. And, as you say, it completely misses the point that writers usually write from the soul….because they have to. What someone does with their work is up to them. Nobody is forced to buy it after all! Possibly a weak parallel but who would criticise someone who chose to take part in a 5K Park Run rather than the London marathon?

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