Saturday 29 November 2014

Small Press is not Vanity Press

I was rather dismayed recently to have one of our authors say to me. “I’ve never worked with the vanity press before.”
None of the imprints I work with are vanity press. In fact, they’re pretty traditional because:
·         We don’t charge authors to be published
·         We don’t publish everything that is sent to us.
·         Everything that is published goes through a rigorous editing process.

I’ll also add that both editors for the imprint we’re talking about have a good pedigree. Both have academic qualifications: one has a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. The other has an MA in Creative Writing. One runs her own editorial business. The other is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and actually also a Programme Leader of Creative Writing and Drama courses at a university. Both are published novelists and both have several short stories published. 

We rarely make much money. We do pay royalties but they are very small; anthologies of short stories do not sell widely even when they have big names in them.

And we do attract some well-established writers. Ironically, the big names sell less well. 


Self-publishing companies are not vanity press either

Okay, so it’s a bit of a grey area. But the self-publisher does need some help sometimes and the following services are sold:

·         Editing – possibly the most important.  No matter how conscientious you are you will miss something in your own work. Less experienced writers need a lot of help here.
·         Design. If you use Create Space, they do this for you – but not always perfectly. Even uploading to Kindle can produce problems and you don’t always get a properly formatted text.  It’s good to get an expert to do this. 
·         Cover. There are some horrible amateur covers out there. Some of the publishing companies also make gaffs. You need to know a little about this and if you don’t best leave it to someone who does.
·         Marketing and publicity. Paying someone to do this buys you time. It doesn’t necessarily lead to more sales. You still need to build your author platform.

All of these take a good deal of time and frankly the prices I’ve seen charged are on the whole pretty reasonable. Most offer both a package and “off the shelf” items.
Self-publishers feel a little more independent if they shop around a little and use different companies for each bit of help.
None of it is cheap, however. And so it shouldn’t be. These are time-consuming professional processes that are built on years of practice.  
If you can only afford one service, go for the editing.

So what exactly it the vanity press?
I guess one could say those that flatter your book but don’t put much effort into it. They charge you a lot and don’t market it or edit it properly. The design and the cover may be acceptable – they wouldn’t want to make their lacks too obvious.

I guess it’s partly a matter of attitude.

Those that provide services for self-publishers have their own professional pride. They treat you as a fellow business person. There is a good deal of respect between all concerned. The vanity publisher has the attitude “Here’s another sucker. Let’s take them for all we can.”  They go through the pretence of critically assessing your book, but actually they’ll publish anyone.

The editor in the self-publishing firm will tell you if your book isn’t working and be honest about if it needs a lot of fixing and how much that might cost if you can’t fix it yourself.      

Small press not vanity press
So, I go back to where I came in. None of the imprints I work with: Bridge House, CafeLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone are vanity press. We don’t charge a reading fee and we risk the time we spend on editing, designing and promoting. We pride ourselves is supporting new writers but we also accept established ones.         

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