The Vanity Of It All

If there is a topic that drives me crazy as a writer it’s the continual cat calls of VANITY PRESS in regards to people who put their own work out or who go through companies who do it. Naturally BECAUSE it upsets me means that it’s a touch subject. Well, go fig.

Here’s the deal – I will make an educated guess and say that every writer out there that has an interest in being published wants to be published BY someone. It seems pretty obvious. To think it’s fun, or glamorous, or sexy to go the route of self-publishing is nonsense, as is to say that folks who go that route are lazy. Sure, some may never try to get a traditional publisher but that’s like say that everyone on welfare is cheating the system. Neither statement reflects reality.

I will stick with myself – I put my first book out in 1999. From 1995 – 1999 I looked for a publisher. None were interested. From 199 – 2009 I tried magazines, websites, book publishers, and agents and NO ONE had more than a passing interest.

Oh, well, than you aren’t any good.

Ah, if that were but the case. Alas, even someone with terrible writing self-esteem like me need only look at the shelves at a book store and to peek through the pages of a few books to see that quality is rarely the issue at hand, no, it’s more luck and marketability. Now skill and craft are still favored, and were more so in the past but the fact is that the market decides who gets published these days. It is what it is and unless you write to a market or are already established the doors are all but closed to new writers. Sure, there are some, there will always be some, but when someone pens an erotic fan-fiction of Twilght and it becomes an international best seller, that tells you something. And this is not to slight those books, either series because we all like what we like and that’s GOOD. That’s FINE. But it’s aggravating and disheartening when the writing community so often looks down their noses at their own.

Sure, I get it, self-published authors are considered scabs. We ‘don’t put in the work’ or we ‘don’t polish our work’ or we ‘aren’t good writers’ or whatever else. We are working with ‘vanity press’, which is the most offensive term to me as a writer because that pre-supposes that the dearth of autobiographies are desperately important and insightful and not at all vanity projects. Look, creating something and putting it out for other people is vain. It is. Music, art, writing, poetry, whatever, it’s vain. Any time you put your name on something there is vanity involved because of the very nature of it having your name. But to act as if people who don’t put their work out traditionally are less talented and lesser writers is offensive. The thing is that there are a lot of vanity presses out there and to me they are the small presses run with an agenda by a person or group that wants to put work out that furthers or serves their agenda. If you have three heads and start a publishing house that puts out work about three headed folks that’s vanity publishing.

AND SO WHAT?

If it’s your money, and your work, and your time, and your publishing house you can put out any darn thing you want. And you should!

Let’s not act as if there are legions of writers putting out books to serve their egos. It happens. It will always happen. But just publishing alone is part ego and putting a book out to say you did can only go far. Sure, folks out there write and put books out that are not ‘good’ and which serve a completely selfish purpose but to keep acting as if all people who put their own work out cut from the same tree is narrow-minded and self-serving.

I get it.

In a culture that doesn’t appreciate books and reading as much as it used to and with as much out there to vie for our attention it’s hard to sell books and harder when there are even more people shilling what you consider to be inferior work. Heck, if you’re an established or all but established author I get the frustration but people making their bones don’t need derision, they need help. They need support. And we ALL need to find ways to work together to make reading and publishing more beneficial and inviting.

I always laugh at the ‘vanity press’ line and the disdain for self-publishing because if a band puts their own work out they are DIY, or punk, or indie. If an artist eschews gallery showings they are ‘edgy’ or experimental’, and actors can do one person shows and be lauded for their bravery but not writers. No, writers who believe enough in their own work to follow it through and release it, knowing they may never sell books, may get poor reviews, and may get made fun of but they do it just the same. There’s something to be said for that.

Fight the system that takes advantages of writers, not the writers.

Fight the publishing houses that act legit but trick writers into long contracts that pay nothing and tie up rights.

It’s convenient to tell the writer – do the work, put in the work, do the work. Except most of us have full time jobs, and families, and lives. Sure, if it’s a passion you take your time to educate yourself but many times the best education comes from experience. I waited ten years between my first and second book and all it did was bruise my ego, and make me feel like my writing was worthless. No one would have me.

Maybe I am not good enough.

Except…no.

Go look at a bookshelf at a bookstore or big market and tell me everything there deserves to be there.

Then tell me I am not good enough.

I am rough around the edges. I have my own style. I have my own voice.

But I am good enough.

All of us are.

Even the vainest writer will either crap or get off the pot. They will either put one book out, call it good, and kick back and feel good but for most of us it isn’t enough and that means that they’ll keep working on their craft and on the process.

Maybe if folks understood the process more it would help.
I dunno.

The days of photocopied books hastily stapled together and sold at craft shows are gone though and there’s a lot of work you need to put in to even put a ‘vanity project’ out. There’s too much work to do it casually and with indifference. If you don’t have passion for the work you will give up, as many do.

We are in a culture that worships and celebrates vanity.

We are a race that needs an ounce of vanity to stand out from the rest.

We are a world that celebrates people that stand up and take their fate, their work, their future into their own hands and shapes it themselves.

Yet…

We still talk about vanity press.

I’ll keep in mind how vain I am as I pick up another ghost-written best-seller and marvel at how wonderfully similar it is to all the other books that ‘author’ has put out in their career.

Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind.

I write.

And I have published.

Get over it.

Viva la indie writers!

http://www.meepsheep.com

Author: Chris Ringler

Writer, blogger, reviewer, artist, arts and cultural events coordinator, and semi-professional weirdo. Author of a heap of books from horror to fairy tale to kid's.

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