In 1912 the English writer Adeline Stephen married the writer Leonard Woolf to whom she stayed married until 1941 when she committed suicide. The couple's marriage was actually a happy affair despite the fact she suffered badly from manic depression; many writers do. In 1917 Leonard bought a small, hand-operated printing press; with it he founded the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published most of his wife's work under the name we know her better as, Virginia Woolf – Virginia was her middle name. He survived until 1969 and retained an interest in the press which by this time had become quite successful, e.g. publishing The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot and Laurens van der Post's first novel, In a Province. By this time, of course, they had begun using commercial printers.
In 1997 the Scottish writer Jim Murdoch married the American writer and ezine publisher Carrie Berry to whom he has stayed married up until 2008 and expects this will continue. The marriage has been a surprisingly happy affair considering Murdoch's history of depression. In 2004 Carrie produced a print version of her popular online magazine Gator Springs Gazette and followed this up with the literary journal Bonfire. In 2005 she planned to publish a novel by Paul Gitschner but ill health forced her to abandon all her publishing projects. In 2007, as a means to encourage her husband who was suffering from a particularly debilitating bout of mental illness, she agreed to his suggestion that they work on a project which would culminate in the publication of his first novel. He focused on creating a website and maintaining a blog; she concentrated on final editing and layout, organising cover designs, sending out press releases and dealing with the printer. The promotion they shared between them. There is no indication yet of either wanting to commit suicide, although judging by the sales to date, it could very well be both of them.
Now, why do I mention all of this? The reason is to clarify how my books are going to be published over the next few years. Personally I don't think it matters a damn but it appears the world thinks differently.
There are a number of expressions that have been floating around for a while that need some clarification: POD (print-on-demand), self publishing, vanity publishing, independent publishing and small press which I'll now like to discuss.
There are a number of companies that exist at the moment (Xlibris, Lulu, iUniverse to name but a few) who have taken advantage of developments in printing technology to provide a service to people who want to dip their toes in the publishing business. It's a great idea. It really is. And green. You can publish one copy of one book if you have a mind to. How green is that?
There was a catch though. These companies do nothing to regulate the products they produce and why should they? They're printers, nothing more. Print-on-demand is merely a technology, remember that. Carrie sent the files for my book to our printer (who has a print-on-demand press), and there were a half-dozen typos in it. Whoops. But no biggie because the first run was tiny, enough to fill one small cardboard box and most of those are going to get given away.
So, we're agreed. POD is a good idea. True POD is supposed to match supply with demand on a book by book, just in time basis with no need to retain inventory of any appreciable size. This is ideal for a "stackless" online retail business, for which the issue of non-returnable inventory is a non-issue. But there have been a lot of good ideas that people have made a mess of. And that's what's happened here. Big time. The market has been flooded with crap. Everybody and their auntie were suddenly able – for a modest fee (or even no fee) – to be their own publisher. A good idea suddenly turned into a very bad thing.
So what's the difference between vanity publishing and self publishing? I took a look a U-Publish.com who put it this way:
Real self publishers approach the publication of a book like a business. They know that they need to offer the public a competitive product at a competitive price. They understand that authors must aggressively market their own books. Vanity publishing often overlooks the probability (or improbability) of recovering the cost of publication; the author is satisfied simply by getting a book in print.
In our view, the real difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing is whether the author has a realistic expectation of earning a profit.
I'm not sure it's as simple as that but it's a start. The first poem I ever had published was by a vanity firm. Vantage Press and Carlton jump to mind but there are others. I was sixteen and green (no, not the good kind). I paid my money, they printed my poem and everyone was happy. The thing was I had no control over the product. As it happened it appeared in a collection printed on nice paper but surrounded by a couple of hundred other poems and I have no doubt the only people who ever had the chance to read it were my fellow poets, their friends and families.
Okay, what's a small press then these days? The fact is that most small presses don't even have a printing press, not in the same way as Leonard Woolf had a press. Carrie's press sits in a factory somewhere in East Sussex as it happens. The bottom line is that a small press is a business. The thing about that kind of business compared to most other business is the product; it's the kind of product that doesn't usually make a lot of money, if any, so the people who get involved in these kind of ventures certainly don't do so to get rich quick – or at all.
To start off any business there needs to be an outlay. Even the humble street sweeper needs a brush before he can do his job. So, he starts off with a loss. In simple terms: you've got to speculate to accumulate.
Previously I've made a point of talking about my publisher as a third party and there was a reason for that. Because it doesn't matter to my mind who has published the book as long as it has been done to a professional standard. It does to some people though. Here's a comment made by L K Campbell on POD People's website:
I've been told that mentioning my self-pubbed books has kept me from getting published. So I've decided to test the theory. I queried an editor last week and didn't mention my books at all. I said that I was unpublished. We'll see what happens. But if they do offer on my book, I'm afraid that they'll be p*ssed when they find out about my self-pubbed books.
[T]he vanity press stigma does not attach because the author pays for publishing, but because self-published/vanity press books do not pass a third party screen.
So I treat my publisher as a third party because she is one. Granted we squabble like husband and wife over some of the changes she wants to make but that doesn't mean she doesn't take her role seriously. The good thing about her being my wife is that she cares about the product almost as much as I do. It is NOT just a job to her.
I'm a writer. I'm an author. I'm a published author. To some people these terms are all different. To some people I'm a pretender to the throne. Okay, so you didn't publish your book but your wife did and the money came out of your joint bank account. You're self-published in all but name!
And my answer is: "Big [please insert your expletive of choice] deal!
I could list off all the great authors who have self-published in the past. Many editions of Leaves of Grass were published by Whitman himself. Philip Larkin, Edgar Allan Poe, D. H. Lawrence, Stephen Crane, Margaret Atwood, E. E. Cummings, Stephen King even ALL saw fit to do it.
So when did it become so much of a stigma that I felt the need to disguise the fact? It happened because of companies like the aforementioned Lulu, XLibris and iUniverse (all of whose services I considered in the past) who "publish" unregulated material. Initially, Xlibris accepted books for free. Some of its authors comforted themselves in the lie that this distinguished them from lowly vanity press authors. This was idiotic false pride. Xlibris accepted every submission, so being "published" through them signified nothing. They "published" everything and anything.
I wanted to be published but I knew that if it said Xlibris or any of the others on the spine then it would be judged without the book ever being opened. And my book is too good for that. I can say that with a bit more confidence now because I've read the reviews.
Self publishing is an act of vanity. Any kind of publishing is an act of vanity. Wanting to see your name in print no matter whose imprint it is under is an act of vanity. I am a vain man. Can we please move on now?
There is an attitude that’s summed up in this question: If what you're putting out is any good at all, why the hell isn't it being properly published somewhere? It's a reasonable question until you look at what is being published these days. Consider this quote by novelist Larry McMurtry:
It is really reductive to call what we have now a 'publishing industry,' when what it is is a media complex, in which promotability, not literary merit, is the sine qua non.
To see what he's on about just look at the top ten bestsellers in any week.
Stigma is not always a bad thing though:
[S]tigma serves a purpose. It should urge self publishers to do better work, to strive for higher standards for themselves regardless the potential or not of future attention from respected sources. It says, I am doing what I want to do, with the full knowledge that I will not be paid for it, and will probably not get much appreciation for having done it. - Self Publishing Stigma
The whole vanity press stigma is a curious thing. People have been shooting their own movies and pressing their own CDs for years and yet this is regarded as a positive thing. It's a marketing ploy. They call themselves independent. Indie filmmakers and indie record labels are looked on as a good thing, something to be encouraged and supported, even where the films are inept and the music unlistenable to. Another word from Thomas M. Sipos:
Press a CD into a DJ’s hand, and he’ll give it a listen, eager to discover new talent. Press a "vanity book" into a bookstore owner’s hand, and eyes roll. Books require a screen, whereas film and music do not. Funny, but that’s how the world sees it.
One of the hurdles you have to overcome in getting your name known is the review. So far my book has had four reviews and I'm now going to direct you to a fifth at POD People where Cheryl Anne Gardner gives the book 7/10 and refers to the character of Truth as "one of the most endearing antagonists I have come across". There are more reviews on the cards. Granted none of these sites attract huge visitor numbers but who am I to complain? I'm an unknown writer in an overcrowded market trying to flog a book that everybody is struggling to classify because it stubbornly refuses to slip into a nice marketable genre.
There is so much material online about this. It's tiring (and not a little depressing) to read it all. And I need no help to be depressed, thank you very much.
Some bands make it big with their first album. And that's great. With others it takes a while for them to develop a following. I don't expect to make a financial profit with this first novel. I do expect to stack up enough positive feedback so that when the next book comes out people will be able to say, "Hey, I read about this guy's last book. Maybe we should give this one a go." It's a gamble and one I wish I'd taken ten years ago before all this kafuffle started but if wishes were horses who is to say I would have backed a winner even then?
One final comment. The only real criticism I've had of the book so far has been the editing which is ironically the one thing (other than the physical printing) we paid a third party to do. I engaged what I thought at the time was a reputable company to do the work about ten years ago when I first completed the novel. Numerous e-mails went back and forth discussing the finer points of the text and persuading me to break up some of my longer sentences and so I thought we'd put that one to bed. Carrie only did a final touch-up and I reworked a few sentences so that they'd fit better when the text was reformatted as an actual book. It just goes to show you, doesn't it? Incidentally the company we used is still on the go and, although I'm naming no names, is actually quite well respected. So there.
Hi, my name is Jim and I'm a self published author.