Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Trade Publishing, Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing

A recent blog post on the Self Publishing Advice Centre discussed a talk by Joanna Penn addressing the question: Is Self Publishing Vanity?

You can see it in people's eyes when you tell them you self publish - the thought that you're not good enough to get accepted by a traditional publisher so you pay for it yourself. I made a seriously-considered decision to self publish, and many traditionally published authors are taking back control of their books and self publishing.

I feel strongly about this subject, so I want to put in my thoughts on the subject. Let's look at the three different kinds of publishing:

Trade Publishing

For most of the history of publishing, every author had to get past the gatekeepers. You had to find a publisher who was willing to risk their money, time and reputation on publishing your book. As this became increasingly difficult, agents set up as go-betweens, helping authors to raise the standard of their books to an acceptable level and helping publishers find books worth their attention. So now you had to find an agent who was willing to risk their money, time and reputation on bringing your book to publishers' attention. Many people gave up in despair after so many rejection slips.

When you did get a contract, although the advance was great and the publishing and marketing of your book was done for you, you had no control over the way it was done and just did what you were told. The process was also grindingly slow. Today this is changing, but not by much, except advances are getting smaller.

Vanity Publishing

The one solution to getting your book accepted by a publisher was to pay someone to publish it. They did many of the tasks done by a publisher, but they charged for them and very often did no marketing. Some of the vanity publishers merely ripped off desperate authors whose books were poor quality by flattering the manuscript and taking the author's money. The prevailing thought was that if the book was any good then it would have been accepted by a regular publisher, so these others were just pandering to people's vanity.


Then the internet came along, and digital publishing, where an author could publish a book online at no cost, the digital platform taking a cut of the sale of each book. The first thought that often comes to people is that this is a form of vanity publishing without the fees. So anyone can write anything and put it out there. True, and there is a lot of rubbish. BUT, just because there are no gatekeepers doesn't mean that there are no longer any standards.

Serious authors know that their work needs to be of the highest standards to stand a chance of selling a large number of books. Readers will not recommend your books to others or buy your other books if they don't find the first one to be of good quality. The gatekeepers are now the readers themselves.

Authors need to have self belief, and not wait for some publisher or agent to tell them they are good enough. There are costs if you want your book to be high quality: good editing and a good cover are essential. Authors need to do their own marketing too, which is a steep learning curve and can be expensive if you're not careful. But it gives your work a chance to be judged by the people that matter - the readers themselves.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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