Vanity Press Publication: Pros & Cons

Vanity presses help authors, who have found little or no success in the 'legitimate' publishing field, get their books published. Here are some pros and cons to consider before taking such an expensive step.

As any struggling writer will gladly tell you, one of the hardest elements of the writing business is finding a publisher. Most of the well-known and well-connected publishing houses will not even consider unsolicited manuscripts, unless submitted by reputable literary agents. Trying to find a respected literary agent who will represent your work is even more difficult. The good ones are seriously overworked, and an unscrupulous agent can actually do you more harm than good. Even if you manage to impress a legitimate literary agent, it may be years before he or she can strike up a deal with a publisher. Then you still have to wait for that publishing house to put your book into production and promotion channels, while you still make zero dollars from non-existent booksales. Once this initial hurdle is finally conquered, however, your future may be much brighter. But many writers never reached this stage in their fledgling careers.

So what can a beginning writer do to get his book out to the public without going through so many hoops? Many turn to the world of self-publication, often referred to as a 'vanity press' in the writing business. If you are willing and able to assume the nearly prohibitive initial costs of publishing a book yourself and doing all the promotional work, then you may find happiness in a self-publishing situation. There are many pros and cons to consider before making such an expensive decision, however, so never enter in to any deals with vanity press operators without careful consideration. Most vanity presses require a large first run of books in order to keep their own costs per book affordable, so think long and hard before clearing out the garage. Here are some pros and cons associated with self-publication or the use of vanity presses.

PRO: Vanity presses will allow my book to be published sooner. Depending on the particular schedule of the press, your manuscript can go from rough draft to camera-ready copy to finished book in a few months, as opposed to at least a year for most books produced by publishing houses.

If you're in a financial position to pay for the initial run of a self-published book, you should have a product ready for sale in time for the busiest buying season- Christmas. Many books that are self-published are intended for specific events, such as a history of a college meant to be sold at Homecoming or biographies of local soldiers for sale on Veteran's Day. If you have a book idea that is of mainly local interest, self-publication may be the way to go.

CON: Vanity presses usually do not have the support staff you will need for a successful book.

With a vanity press, the author usually gets what he or she pays for and nothing else. You wanted several thousand copies of your first novel, so that's precisely what you have- thousands of copies of your first book sitting in your garage. There is no distribution deal, no book tour, no promotions of any kind. With a publishing house, there are departments that specialize in getting review copies of your book to influential reviewers, setting up book tours, distributing your book to bookstores across the country and accounting for royalties and other residual payments. If you have visions of your book becoming the next bestseller, a vanity press situation is usually not the best route to go. Many potential readers want to see evidence that your book has gone through an editing process that will assure good reading. Many vanity press books simply do not look nearly as polished as you may hope.

PRO: If I go with self-publication, no one will censor or edit my thoughts and feelings. Publishing companies that specialize in self-published books are almost always 'hands-off' when it comes to an author's manuscript. As long as you are able to meet your financial obligations and do not violate the broadest definitions of obscenity or anti-government sentiments, your book will be published as written. This does mean that you will have to be extra attentive during the editing and proofing process yourself, but your words will not be artificially suppressed by publishing houses concerned with their own images. Many controversial topics are usually explored as a self-publishing exercise first, then shopped around to legitimate presses later if the sales figures are promising.

CON: If I self-publish, no one will edit my work at all, no matter how bad I need it. The relationship between a writer and editor can sometimes be contentious, but in general the process yields a more readable and marketable product in the long run. Facts can be checked, grammatical errors can be fixed and holes in plotline or character development can be corrected. Potentially libelous statements can be amended before publication, which cannot be said for self-published work. Having a manuscript published 'warts and all' may give you a sense of artistic freedom, but if your manuscript has too many warts your sales will suffer. For something of this magnitude, you may be better off waiting patiently for an agent or publisher to accept your work instead of rushing a potentially litigious tell-all book to a vanity press.

PRO: If I self-publish my first book, I'll have something tangible to build my career on. For those who really want to become full-time writers, self-publication may offer a way to establish a name and reputation. By learning the business side of writing literally from the ground up, a fledgling writer can start making the contacts and getting the reader feedback that will be needed later. Scheduling a book tour takes time and persistance, but can be done by any author regardless of affiliation with certain publishing houses. Many self-published writers sell their books out of the trunks of their cars, or at public flea markets. Self-published books on crafts and hobbies are often sold next to the finished products they describe. There are many books available on the subject of marketing your self-published books. Some writers have even had their self-published books accepted by 'legitimate' presses after years of profitable sales.

CON: Self-published books have many problems to overcome. First, without a decent distribution system in place it is exceedingly difficult to get vanity press books into bookstores. Once in a bookstore, you may find that your book is not offered in your intended genre- mysteries, sci-fi, romance, etc. Rather, it has been placed in a catch-all category called 'local authors'. Potential buyers often ignore this category, because they perceive local or self-published books as being inferior in overall quality. Sometimes the book bindings themselves are shoddy or less than professional. Cover art is noticeably amateurish at times, and the typesetting and font selection is not enticing for the reader. All of these factors come into play even before the question of the author's reputation becomes an issue. One unspoken thought in some readers' minds is 'How good can this author really be if he had to publish the book himself?' This can be a difficult perception to overcome, and many authors never do overcome it completely. If you do intend to self-publish, make sure you do everything in your power to insure book quality. Insist on seeing representative books before making any deal with a vanity press. Doing anything less can be a costly and career-threatening mistake.

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