Just Say No to Vanity Publishing

Since I sold Nurk, I’ve been gettin’ the occasional e-mail about “How do I get published?” which scares the livin’ crap out of me because–dude–I’ve sold ONE book to a major publisher, and a couple to a small press. I am not rippin’ up the charts. (Yet.) I twitch when people write me asking how to be a successful artist, and I’ve been doing that for the better part of a decade. I know very, very little.

And then Mizkit writes this, which is good, because now I don’t have to.


However, out of what I do know, let me address the vanity press issue.

Don’t do it.

Never, ever, ever pay money to be published. Publishing is like love–if you have to pay for it, it ain’t real.

There is exactly one time when you pay money to get your work printed, and that is when you have produced an item so specialized that it’s simply not worth a publisher’s time to touch it, but which you need a few copies of for reasons that are not financial. A webcomic collection is a great example of this–if you have a fan base of a few hundred people, it’s not worth a publisher’s time to print your comic, but you can sell a coupla dozen copies. In this case, your best bet is a POD service like Lulu–a place that is absolutely clear that they are printing your work on demand, and that they are not marketing it, not claiming that you are now “published” not pretending you’ll become a famous author from this work. You run off a dozen copies, people buy them and stop saying “When will the print volume be out?” you turn a probably very small profit and everyone is happy.

This is more like merchandising than anything else. Do not think of this as “publication.” Think of this as running off a whole assload of prints that you have to sell as a bound set.

And this is perfectly respectable, provided you don’t delude yourself that this will ever be on the best-seller charts. Self-publishing is great for stuff with a small audience, which you’re printing more or less as a public service–webcomic collections, family histories, regional folklore, haggis cookbooks, political manifestos, etc.

It is NOT NOT NOT good for your precious and beloved novel. No one will read it, you will lose money, and the process will ultimately leave you sad and disillusioned and old before your time.

Only self-publish if you already know who you’re selling it to. Self-publishing is a wretched way to build an audience. Self-publishing is what you do for a known, limited audience. Great for haggis cookbooks! Bad for novels.

Now, I was lucky. “Digger” had a large enough potential following that the print version got picked up by a small press–a very small press, granted, but a thoroughly respectable one. And that means that I did not pay a dime for Digger to be published. I signed a contract, chugged some scotch, and pick up my checks. A legitimate small press like Sofawolf knows that money always flows toward the author.

Shit, they even buy me dinner when we see them. And occasionally roses.

If you are going to spend money to have your work printed, you should ALWAYS be the one to initiate that decision. You should wake up one day and go “Hmm, my friends keep nagging me for this manual of obscure cross-stitch methods–I’ll run off some copies on Lulu.” Never, ever, ever respond to people who say “For X$ reading/printing/agenting fee, we will make you a published author.”

That’s not how it works. People pay YOU to publish your work. YOU have something THEY want.

Or you don’t, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of worms.

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