If you bring up the harsh realities about self-publishing and print-on-demand vanity presses, you’re inevitably going to get trashed by legions of aspiring writers who think that writing a check to Authorhouse makes them a published author. Which is why I thought it was pretty gutsy of bestselling author Tess Gerritsen to offer her opinion on why vanity press books inevitably fail. She lays the blame primarily on lack of distribution to brick-and-mortar stores and the no-returns policy that most of these so-called publishers have. She says it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the quality of the books.
I agree with her — except on the quality issue. I think she’s being nice. From my conversations with booksellers, their decision not to stock self-published titles has just as much to do with the quality of the books (or lack thereof). I’m talking both about the way they are written and the way they are printed and bound. The cold, hard, unpleasant truth is that there’s a good reason that most of these authors go to vanity presses…because their manuscripts are unsaleable, unreadable crap that no agent will represent and that no editor would ever publish. Vanity press titles usually look terrible, too, inside and out. On top of that, Tess points out that booksellers find self-published authors difficult to deal with.
I was reminded of this at a booksigning at a Barnes and Noble in New
Hampshire. After the signing, the events coordinator thanked me for
being “so easy to work with — unlike some other authors.”
“But I would think that most authors are pretty nice,” I said.
“Most are,” she said. “But the self-published ones are horrible.”
Then she described an incident that had happened earlier that week. A
local self-published author had requested that the store arrange a
booksigning for him, and she had turned him down flat. Enraged, he’d
thrown the book on the floor and asked: “When the hell am I ever going
to get a signing in this store?”
“When pigs fly,” she’d snapped at him. The man couldn’t accept the
fact that their store almost never hosted signings by self-published
authors — even if the author was local.
I hear this a lot from my bookseller friends. The problem, they say, is that people buy the iUniverse hype — that writing a check makes them a published author — and are shocked when booksellers don’t agree.