Monday, September 12, 2005

Vanity And Self-Publishing

For the past couple of days I’ve been doing research on self-publishing and online publishing. In my last post I mentioned how the Unpublished Masses are often seen as not being good enough by virtue of the fact that they aren’t published by “real publishers”. Well, I know when to call bullshit “bullshit”, and anyone who feeds you that line is full of it. I concede that, yes, many if not most would-be authors are amateurs whose dreams outstrip their talent. However, the minority among the Unpublished Masses who have talent, who have skills, who have honed their craft and their writing to the Nth degree is not as insignificant as the less than one percent of all Unknowns who are likely to get published by “legitimate” means in any given calendar year. As more and more of us realize this, more and more of us are turning to vanity publishing and self-publishing.

Of course, a lot of us are afraid to go this route, because of the perceived stigma attached to self-publishing. So, let’s be clear: the stigma is attached not to self-publishers, but to vanity publishing. Vanity publishing and self-publishing are often confused with one another, because they are so similar. A writer decides to put his or her work into print. The writer pays a printer or a publishing company to print up copies of the book.

Where one differs from the other is that vanity publishers often try and pass themselves off as a “small” publishing houses that will enter into a “cooperative” venture with the writer. They may even claim that a writer must “submit” the book for approval, when the fact of the matter is, every book submitted will be “approved” for publication. For this reason, neither book sellers nor reviewers will take this type of publisher seriously; often your book won’t be listed for sale anywhere other than the publisher’s website.

You as the author will be solely responsible for ensuring the editing, proof reading, fact-checking and in many cases book formatting are done properly. You have few rights to the actual book printed, as they remain the property of the printer until sold. The production quality of the book is often very poor; they are more interested in selling publishing than they are of selling books. A good example of a vanity press outfit can be found at Educate yourself; take the time to read what they offer, what they want in return, and the amount of hype they use to sell their “services”. Then look at their online catalogue, from the quality of the cover art to the quantity of genres covered. The website’s design and layout and the book excerpts speak for themselves.

Self publishing is vastly different. There are two routes to go: First, the DIY route, where the only thing you pay for is the printing and binding. You take care of editing the book, proofing it, etc. and then hire a printer to format, print and bind the book. You handle acquiring an ISBN (More on International Standard Book Numbers later), the marketing, sale and distribution of the book yourself. This method is often seen as being a form of vanity publishing, and while the writer retains far more control over the product the disadvantage is that it is often more difficult to get a book distributed and sold.

The second method of self publishing involves working in conjunction with a publishing service provider that offers not just publishing services, but copyediting services, marketing services and who will acquire an ISBN for your work. They do not seek any rights of ownership or exclusivity to the work’s publication. While you will retain the rights to your work, you will also be solely liable for its content. A good publishing service provider will be able to list your book with the online stores, (Barnes & Noble, etc. as well as listing you with book distributors, who are the ones who sell books to retailers.

The drawback, of course, is cost. Self publishing can be prohibitively expensive; on average, the fees for service range from $300 USD to $1500 USD, depending on the company and the service level being purchased. It isn’t necessarily cheaper to use the first method to produce your self-published work. A lot of printers charge exorbitant rates, considering all they are doing is printing and binding your work.

Changes in the printing industry means Publish On Demand or Print On Demand publishing has become increasingly popular. In many cases you may still have to pay for the printing of a “minimum” number of books, but be careful when it comes to that minimum. If they’re all printed at once, you may be charged a warehousing fee, whereas if they are truly printed “on demand” then you’ve simply paid in advance for the printing of N number of books.

A good example of a Publishing service provider is Xlibris, who are affiliated with Random House Ventures. Their website is at

Finally, about ISBNs: An International Standard Book Number is a “fingerprint” assigned to published books, software and other print media. It is a serial number recognized in over 160 countries which instantly identifies a published book.

AN ISBN IS NOT A COPYRIGHT. Because copyright law varies from country to country, before you even BEGIN to look at publishing or self-publishing a book, read up on your country’s copyright law and apply for a copyright of the material as soon as your work is complete!

Regarding ISBNs, avoid an ISBN “broker” wherever possible. These people are charging you to fill out the application forms for you. The International ISBN Agency, at is the authority on all things ISBN. They offer a complete list of the national agencies for each charter country.

For the US, Canada and Great Britain, the information is as follows:

In the United States:
R.R. Bowker Co., LLCAtt. Ms. Doreen GravesandeSenior Director ISBN/SAN/PAD630 Central Ave.New Providence, NJ 07974
Tel: Toll Free/United States: 877-310-7333

In Canada:
Canadian ISBN AgencyLibrary and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives CanadaAttn.: Mr Jean-Eudes BériaultDirector, Acquisitions Directorate395 Wellington StreetOttawa, Ontario K1A 0N4
Tel: (+1 819) 994 68 72 or (+1 866) 578 77 77 toll free) (select 1+5+1+3)

In the UK:
ISBN AgencyAttn: Mr Julian Sowa 3rd Floor Midas House62 Goldsworth RoadWoking Surrey GU21 6LQ
Tel: (+ 44 (0) 870) 777 8712

If you found this article of value, please feel free to comment on it, or email me. Likewise, if you have questions or comments, or want to further discuss anything in the article, I would like to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

good post!

rule #1 write about what you know.