I want to add a final word to this debate, even if I’m getting sick of it, as the debate about self-publishing vs. vanity publishing seems to be one that won’t die. I’ve got into plenty of discussions about it on Twitter, with people very vehement about separating self-publishing and vanity publishing through a pay service like AuthorHouse or iUniverse. Me, I see no difference. They’re both a method to self-release your work.
But people list these things as being decisive about calling something vanity publishing:
- You don’t control your rights
- You don’t control book cover design
- You don’t control the editorial process
- You make less money on each book
In short, it’s about control. Good points, but I still don’t see the dividing line because at its very core, it’s still a way for an author to self-release a book. That it’s a bad method is a judgment call, but it’s still a form of self-publishing.
I wasn’t quite sure why this was gnawing on me so much, but then it hit me: separating these different types of self-publishing into different camps is looking at self-publishing very much through the lens of the traditional publishing mindset. In other words, people who trump traditional publishing say that a book that goes through a standard editorial process is more legitimate. What they’re also saying is that those who vanity publish, rather than independently self-publish, are even less legitimate. In publishing, there are stages of legitimacy.
But this flies into the face of much of the discussion on this site. The way that a book was published doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is the book. Are you telling me that the same book published through AuthorHouse is less legitimate than a book published through Lightning Source, or Random House? No: the book is the book, regardless of how it’s been printed.
It’s like people want to further ghettoize self-publishing. Now that self-publishing is becoming more legitimate, people need to find something that’s really not legitimate. I don’t care if someone paid too much to AuthorHouse. That AuthorHouse can be predatory and offers too-expensive services is another issue. But the actual writing is what should trump any of these secondary issues. Enough talk about how the means of production define the merit of a book.
Mick Rooney, on his very excellent blog (and writer here) agrees with this:
I think this whole debate over the past few weeks has become anything but productive. The publishing debate has become far too insular. What I see is a traditional industry struggling to deal with the changes which digital print technology, social reach and online platforms have brought into the publishing forum.
Exactly. What’s so troubling about this is that the traditional publishing mindset has won the “battle” this week. And there shouldn’t even be a battle. The move by the MWA to drop Harlequin from its roster is particularly infuriating. It’s like they see the creeping influence of self-publishing and want to bat it down.
MWA does not object to Harlequin operating a pay-to-publish program or other for-pay services. The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin’s traditional publishing business. MWA’s rules for publishers state:
The publisher, within the past five years, may not have charged a fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts; nor may the publisher, or any of the executives or editors under its employ, have offered authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services.
Harlequin was not charging a “fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts.” They were offering an alternative if the manuscript wasn’t “good enough.” What this means is that no publisher is going to want to take the chance to integrate self-publishing in this way – after all this kneejerk backlash about Harlequin. Even if, say, a publisher paired up with Lightning Source so writers could retain rights and get more profit for each book sold, a group like the MWA could still say that the publisher is offering “self-publishing services,” which would violate their terms. So this isn’t about vanity publishing at all, but self-publishing in general.
I agree wholeheartedly that Harlequin could have handled this better and Author Solutions is not the best method to offer writers. It opens itself to abuse, potentially. But I don’t have a problem with publishers trying to make money this way. That’s their prerogative – if it is managed well and the terms are well-described. This move by the MWA really seems like a reaction to the idea of offering this service, and seems like a step backward both in people’s attitudes towards self-publishing and the industry’s integration of self-publishing overall.
All in all, it hasn’t been a great week for self-publishing.