Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity…

Here is my second true story about self-publishing, and it occurred about ten years after the events in my previous story…


Books (Photo credit: henry…)

By this time, I was an established writer with a dozen or so books under my belt, and I was also on one or two committees at “The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain”. The Guild used to put on talks for its members from time to time, and on this occasion, I had been invited to join a panel of speakers. The topic, as I recall, was something like “Does Book Marketing Really Work?” There were three speakers from the upper levels of the publishing world, and each one of them gave typical business-speak talks, using cool terminology and tossing a few statistics around for good measure. I could see the audience starting to fall asleep, but then it was the turn of the “token author” – i.e. me.

I pulled a small suitcase out from behind my chair and put it on the table. The audience woke up.

Then I opened the case and pulled out a couple of copies of each of my books, and handed them to members of the audience to flip through. Some of the folk in the audience were grinning at my unusual approach and my audacity.

I told the audience that my first publisher used to send me on promotional tours of shops and radio stations, but when a larger firm gobbled them up, all that came to an end. The net result of the lack of publicity was that my sales fell by forty per cent. I continued speaking, saying that when my next book came out, I looked into the possibility of hiring a publicity firm to push it, but the two I found both quoted me £3,000, and each suggested that they could get me into ten radio stations and a dozen shops for that money. I didn’t take up their offer, but chose instead to pay my cleaning lady £50 to ring around the shops and radio stations for me, and see what she could come up with. She got me into 23 shops and fifteen radio shows!

Alan Yentob and Grayson Perry at Private View ...

Alan Yentob and Grayson Perry at Private View of Gilbert & George Retrospective, Tate Modern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I made sure that the publisher sent all my titles to the shops on sale or return, and I talked about the new one and others on the radio. The result of all this effort was an overall increase in sales of forty per cent. Thus, I told the audience, I had learned that publicity is worth forty per cent to me… They got my drift.

The distinguished audience included several writers who were at the top of their game. I remember Alan Yentob and Alan Plater, along with TV writers Dick Sharples and Jimmy Perry (who later became friends of mine). The “pros” laughed and asked how much my cleaner would charge them for the same job. I told them that I was now my cleaner’s agent and that our combined fee had gone back up to £3,000!

I don’t know how the subject came up, but later at that same event, someone mentioned vanity publishing, and there was a group sneer at the very mention of the subject. I chirped up and said that I had started my writing career by producing my own books, and I told the audience my story that you’ll find in my blog called “My Introduction to Self-Publishing”. I asked them if that wasn’t vanity publishing. 

Alan Yentob stood up and said, “That’s not vanity publishing, Sasha love, that’s self-publishing and that’s a very different kettle of fish. Self-publishing is respectable, and as you yourself found, it can be a good way into becoming a writer.”

My response was to tell Alan that I was extremely vain about all my books, whether I’d published them myself or whether someone else had published them for me. The audience clapped and I sensed their amusement – and in some cases, their envy…

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