Tag Archive | Vanity press

New Age – is it now Old Hat?

I’ve just read an article (good magazine, no complaints) telling writers how to break into the expanding Mind, Body & Spirit (MB&S) genre. Jan and I have published MB&S for the last fifteen years, so this news came as a pleasant surprise, considering that a). all we’ve seen is a continual slowdown, and b). the UK’s trade organ, The Bookseller magazine, recently commented that latest surveys showed MB&S to be one of the hardest-hit genres, astrology in particular being the worst off. That fits what we see, so one shouldn’t always believe the first thing one sees in the media.

Published (Photo credit: Paul Nicholson)


What is happening, as borne out by experience at the London Book Fair earlier this year, is that self-publishing (or Personal Publishing – a better name) is now a fully accepted component of today’s publishing scene. Some mainstream publishers have started their own self-pub imprints (so have we); some sit on the fringes, watching for the top indie authors’ books to emerge, and then snap them up. (á la Fifty Shades?). Well and good for the lucky few writers, but for all the rest, it really appears that getting a traditional deal is further away than ever; likewise getting an agent – more and more of them are turning away new business. Some of them have also turned to producing self-pub books. Amazon has been in the game for some time, and may well have precipitated the turnaround.

Authors, however, should take care. There are still the current versions of vanity presses out there, charging exorbitant rates and talking up their ability to sell via their websites, “making books available world-wide”; you can do this yourself, via Amazon, it’s no big deal. Before committing to any particular self-pub services, do have a thorough browse on Google for reviews by people who have already dealt with the companies on your short list. That can be an eye opener. I spoke recently to a lovely lady who had a book published by a well-known firm, whose package rates start at about £1,000. That’s just ridiculous for a starting point, so take care.

You should also be able to select specific services that suit you, not have to adopt a rigid package deal. Nothing wrong with package deals, we do them too, but they don’t necessarily suit a more experienced writer.

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…

The Rise of Self-publishing

Image found on a book published by "Samua...

Image found on a book published by “Samual Bagster and Sons” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Self-publishing, Personal publishing or Private publishing – or as I call it, selfpub – hasn’t yet taken over from conventional publishing as far as the book trade is concerned, but for most writers, it very definitely has. It’s no longer possible to get one’s work in front of a commissioning editor, and even a sure-fire bestseller will languish unread, because nobody in the business will see it. The normal route for a postal submission these days is “author > publishing house > recycling bin”, while email submissions are clicked off by the email deletion clerk as soon as they arrive.

Agents can help, but they are fully occupied with what they already have on their plates. However, if a blog, a selfpub print or ebook takes off, human nature being what it is, some bright spark of a commissioning editor will spot it and pounce on it – as famously happened in the case of “Fifty Shades”. Then the author has the choice of leaving things as they are, or giving the book to a conventional publisher. Not all authors choose to do the latter.

A selfpub print book and/or ebook is now the only guaranteed route to getting your work “out there”. Whether it becomes a bestseller, an average seller or a not-very-good seller is in the lap of the gods, but at least it will see the light of day, so why not do it? Nowadays, Jan and I don’t produce the number of traditionally-published books that we did just a few years ago; there isn’t the market; the amount of non-fiction information on the Internet makes many paper books superfluous; and in any event, it’s common to find that a paper book is out of date the day it’s released!

So – as your normal, average independent traditional publisher (a dying breed…), we now find that we can produce a selfpub ebook for the same amount of money that one spends on a supermarket trolley’s worth of food, as long as the book doesn’t require any fancy layout or styling; for example, a novel. The addition of a printed book obviously adds to the cost – but hardly a fortune, because we only use digital (print-on-demand) for all the books we publish, whether conventional or selfpub.


Published! (Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotography)

Now, what about vanity publishing? Well that largely disappeared some time ago. In the old days, print machines could only – viably – produce large quantities of printed material at one time, so once the manuscript had been edited and typeset, the publisher would ask the printer to run off ten thousand copies and deliver them to the author. This was such an unusual thing for any writer to do, that in all my years as a writer and editor, I never met anybody who had done it, although I suppose there were people who may have been taken in by a smart-talking con man. Even though we’ve had no direct contact with anyone who has been taken for a ride by a vanity publisher, there are many negative reviews about some publishers. I guess the answer is, first check out reviews of whoever you intend dealing with, whether it’s about a book or buying a second-hand car.

The selfpub scene is so different now. The plain fact is that the vast majority of the information books that Jan and I buy for business use for this new and fast-moving world, are self-published. That’s how far the scales have tipped!

Selfpub has always been respectable – as you will see in my next blog (My Introduction to Self-publishing) – and now it is positively commonplace. If you fancy a good fiction read, why not treat yourself to Kim Farnell’s book “Rosie Crucial”. It’s a clever and tongue-in-cheek story, it’s selfpub and she’s done a very nice job of it. No, we didn’t publish it, and no, I’m not getting a commission for selling it, either! She does happen to write for us occasionally, that’s how I know about her novel.