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Self-Publishing vs Vanity Publishing

March 15, 2012

Until just recently, self-published work fell under the moniker of “Vanity Publishing.” This was the verbal slam used by “real authors” with “real publishing contracts.” While this may seem unfair, it was mostly true. Self-publishing was the domain of writers who simply wanted to say that they had written a book, or wanted to have something to give to their friends. Now, it’s a whole new world, and self-published authors are beginning to receive the type of recognition that normally comes with traditional publishing. There are two simple tests a writer can apply to their work to determine if their online publishing efforts fall within the “Vanity Publishing” realm.

The first test requires the answer to a fairly difficult question. Why do I write? I’ve heard many answers to this, and the one that stands out is, “I would write even if no one ever read my work.” Okay. I get the innate drive and the longing to craft stories, but I don’t really think that is the answer we’re looking for as self-published authors? What drives my writing is the desire to produce stories that entertain readers and give them the opportunity to explore new worlds and new ways of thinking. If I’m going to write just for me, I’ll use a journal. I want my work available to an audience. I would like a group of fans who enjoy what I’ve created. That’s the artist side of my personality. I would never write a song or paint a painting just to say that I did, and writing is no different. Figure out why you write, and see if self-publishing fits your agenda. If not, stay away, because there is way too much work involved for those who aren’t one-hundred percent invested.

The second question to ask is much tougher. Do I have something to offer? Readers are a fickle bunch. I know. I am one. We know what we like and that’s what we look for in our reading choices. When I search for something new to read, I’m on a mission, and I don’t have time to be distracted by something new. I try to remember my own drives as I write for others. Am I offering something original? If not, is it well done within that particular genre or sub-genre? If I am going to write Epic Tolkien-esque Fantasy, it certainly better be epic, and contain lots of elves. While originality may be relative, there is no room for poor quality writing. If I don’t write well, I’ll only get one shot at the public interest, so one of the things that I must offer is quality. A well crafted story runs on its own legs. Fix the grammar, please. I am amazed at the grammar level I had to endure while reading stories in my college creative writing classes. Yes, I said college. Basic writing skills were absent, and these folks had no hope of getting a good read of their work. I would often put them down after the first or second paragraph, and you could tell by the discussion that I was not alone. It might have been a great story, but it was a lousy experience. Don’t disappoint your readers. Offer them your best.

With these two questions answered, writers move into the realm of self-publishing with confidence that their readers will have a good experience, and those readers become fans. Then, if someone calls your efforts “Vanity Publishing,” just smile and cash your checks.

Leave your comments and thoughts below.

From → Self-Publishing

  1. Good article, Darrell. Just please, everyone, be very careful if you are thinking of giving self-publishing a try. There are many “self-publishing” presses out there that are really only vanity presses in disguise. They promise the moon and deliver a rotten peach. I know several people who have been badly burned.

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