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Of Indies, Amateurs and Vanity Presses
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In a comment to my previous entry on vanity publishing Rambler made some excellent points:

I probably wouldn't want to live in that house, either...but I might, if I could verify that it was built well, and it was what I wanted. That verification is beyond my skill. Reading a book, though...that's a different sort of "verification". If I like it, it's good (to me, at least). Much more subjective. I posted a comment on Keith's blog about indie music, indie filmmaking, and self publishing. In practice, as Keith points out, there are big differences, but in theory, there seem to be parallels. One parallel is the motivation of the "artist". A friend of mine's son has released two CD's as an indie musician. They aren't my cup of tea, but are he and his bandmates "deluded" for trying? I once played on a couple of CD's put out by friends of mine on They paid a lot of money to the studio and engineer to produce these things. I don't think they are deluded. I think there are parallels in the writing industry...
Rambler, I hope you don't mind me pulling this out of the comments but it's helpful to me in that it gives me the chance to clear up some confusion I've probably created. When I get to grumbling about vanity presses I might be giving a wrong impression about my attitudes to self-publishing and indie publishing in general. (Keith comments more directly, and more knowledgably than I could on the parallels between the music and writing biz.)

Vanity presses which simply print for pay, aren't the equivalent of indie publishers to which writers might attempt to sell work or even of indie presses set up by writers themselves in order to distribute their own work. But they try to give that impression. They aren't content to admit they are essentially printers. In the case of music, to record a CD one presumably needs the sort of equipment a studio offers but a studio doesn't claim to be a recording label or to be doing anything other than making a recording. Musicians who record a CD don't go around telling people they've been signed up to a major label. They just want a CD so people can listen to their music and that's how it needs to be done.

I actually strongly believe in the merits of real indie publishing, record companies etc. In fact, I suspect that indie companies produce, on the whole, better, or at least to me, more interesting stuff than the big conglomerates. Over the years that's definitely been true of music. Of course I may be prejudiced because Mary and I are published by Poisoned Pen Press, an indie.

I also have nothing against publishing oneself for the sake of artistic expression and communication. I've written hundreds of articles over the years for fanzines which are given away free, and I still do. (I usually mention my appearances on the blog). I've also done mini-comics and dabbled at writing freeware computer text adventures. I've published my own zines too. I bought a ditto machine from Sears to print them because that was all I could afford. It printed OK if you don't mind purple prose but it didn't claim to be a publisher!

I've taken a great deal of pleasure from my participation in various amateur creative venues, both as a contributor and consumer. Some of the work appearing in such places is as good or better (to my taste) than what is available commercially, but usually too idiosyncratic to have any chance of commercial acceptance. I take a lot of pride in what I've done on an amateur basis. Professional work is a different sort of accomplishment and I take pride in what I've managed to do in that respect as well.

My problem with iUniverse and the like and many of the writers who resort to it probably has to do with the fact that a lot of those writers, judging by my experience with them, are mainly interested in being able to claim that they have been "published" or are simply desperate to be "published" and the vanity presses are ripping them off in order to foster their illusions.

All my fanzine articles and mini-comics and computer games were produced for fun and self expression and just because I like creating stuff and showing it to people (or because I'm nuts...) and I make no pretense otherwise. They weren't "published", except by me. I didn't demand bookstores hold signings for me, expect the library to allow me to lecture on how to get published, or badger the local newspaper to run a feature story on the eminent local author or anything like that. That wasn't my purpose in doing the work. But for many iUniverse authors, that does seem to be their main motivation. It's possible my viewpoint is skewed because I read authors' lists and see websites which teem with loud, pushy writers of checks who give the impression of wanting, above all else, to be known as Published Authors.

It is probably petty of me to get my nose out of joint because someone who paid to have a book printed is going around claiming to be a published author whereas it took me years of work to even manage to crawl up onto the lowest rung of the publishing ladder. If people want to delude themselves that they're published, I guess it really doesn't harm me. Although it can be difficult for booksellers to distinguish between legitimate indie publishers and vanity presses which is not a good thing.

Then too, I realize that some serious writers might think that iUniverse offers the best way to do their own thing, just like I used a ditto machine for my fanzine. But I think they'd be better advised (even if ill-advised) considering Lulu which is essentially free, or setting up their own publishing company and having the printing handled by Lightning Source or some such straightforward print on demand concern. Or, if they really just want to have their work read by more than about five people, give it away (like I did with my fanzines) rather than asking readers to pay. Mary and I have written a historical novel which is actually better in many respects that our Byzantine mysteries but have, alas, not found a buyer yet. The road to publication can be very long, but if a few years hence our book is still stuck on my hard drive I fully intend to give it away as a pdf.

And by the way, quite a few of my fanzine pieces I later sold. Their being printed in a fanzine didn't contribute to them selling, but my knowing I would have an audience via my zine helped me keep writing. Of course, if I had deluded myself that I was published because of my amateur efforts I wouldn't have forced myself to put in all the work that was still necessary to really get published.

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