You’re So Vain

There were several interesting and informative blog posts on the web this week about self-publishing. 

After publishers rejected his thriller, CNET columnist David Carnoy spent $5000 to self-publish it through Booksurge, against the advice of his agent. He notes that:

The average self-published book sells about 100-150 copies–or 2/3 to 3/4 of your friends and family combined (and don't count on all your Facebook aquaintances buying). I don't have a source for this statistic, but I've seen this stated on several blogs and as a Publishers Weekly article titled "Turning Bad Books into Big Bucks" noted, while traditional publishers aim to publish hundreds of thousands of copies of a few books, self-publishing companies make money by publishing 100 copies of hundreds of thousands of books.

But that reality check didn't stop Carnoy, who does such a good job listing all the substantial pitfalls of self-publishing that I wonder why he bothered to go that route and what he hopes to gain. 

Author J. Steven York points out that vanity presses stress the difficulty of selling your work to a real publisher as a good reason to pay to be published. York concedes that it's true that getting published is hard:

It takes time. The deck is stacked against you, and a lot of the publishing process exists primarily to keep the flood of dreck out, sometimes keeping good books and writers out in the process. If it bothers you, and it probably does, I've got two words for you. Boo. Hoo. Like many things worth doing, getting a book published is work. It requires patience, resilience, and determination. And despite all this (and this is what the vanity publishers don't tell you), it beats the alternative.

[…]If selling your book to a legitimate publisher is too too hard for you, then going to a vanity press won't solve your problem, it will multiply it.

York lists many of the same pitfalls as Carnoy does. In a later post, he takes issue with some of Carnoy's conclusions and challenges the columnist's rationale for self-publishing his novel. York makes a lot of excellent points. His two posts should be required reading for anyone contemplating self-publishing their books.

17 thoughts on “You’re So Vain”

  1. Seems like a crooked vanity press operator (probably scamming senior citizens, eager to print their autobiographies) would make a good character for the “South Florida Wacko” genre.

  2. I think romantic suspense author Tina Wainscott said it best: Self published is not published.
    Agent Janet Reid also said: Self published means you’re self printed – it’s not the same as being published.

  3. It’s pretty clear what David Carnoy is trying to gain–he’s making a gambit to get his book noticed and picked up by one of the large houses. Maybe it will pay off for him–he seems to be covering all his bases, and might have a large enough network of friends, coworkers and subordinates where he works to drive sales on amazon high enough where he gets some attention.

  4. Better grab it before Hiaasen does Steve. It’s hard to imagine a worse fate in pursuit of a literary career than self-publishing fiction, yet the majority of would be novelists do it guaranteeing they won’t be. Not on that road at least.

  5. Steven York’s post was great. Thanks for the link. I especially liked his definition of self-publishing – that it turns an unsold manuscript into unsold books.
    I’ve seen some authors get burned by a really scummy vanity press like PA with their first book, only to run straight to POD self-publishing for their second. The reasoning seems to be if they cut out the scummy middleman, they’ll do better.
    But they come up against the same problems… basically, the lack of everything a publisher provides – quality control, editing, good cover art and distribution. Even the money they spend on self-promotion comes from either their own pockets or sales to friends and family, rather than an advance.
    If writers just want a few printed, bound copies to peddle to people they know, that would be one thing, but many writers who resort to self-publishing or vanity publishing hope for better things.
    I put together a checklist to give to writers thinking of self-publication, and it’s here:

  6. “I’ve seen some authors get burned by a really scummy vanity press like PA with their first book, only to run straight to POD self-publishing for their second.”
    Me, too. All you have to do is look at the Airleaf authors. They all got ripped off by a print-on-demand self-publishing scam. Did they learn anything? Nope. The majority of them went running into the arms of yet another pod publishing company (including one run by the same people who ran Airleaf!).
    It’s hard to feel much sympathy for people that gullible and stupid.

  7. Hard to believe Carnoy’s low brow ploy will pay off. Vanity takes on many permutations and one is the low bar selection process for a POD press claiming a small publisher exemption. We aren’t a vanity press. It amounts to the same thing though with contest losers printing their own books as is. Yeah. We’ve seen this before. Now there are more of them.

  8. >> Hard to believe Carnoy’s low brow ploy will pay off.
    Maybe, maybe not. Carnoy does seem to be doing most of the right things to give the impression that the book is a “passed over gem” that should be picked up by a large house. He’s bought the favorable review from Kirkus Discoveries, he or a combination of himself, friends and family have posted 30 some-odd glowing reviews (note. where he screwed up here is that all the reviewers are one-time reviewers which is a clear sign that they’re fake), and again most likely either he or a combination of himself, family and friends have mostly likely purchased enough copies from amazon to give the impression the book is selling well, plus he’s got a platform, such as his article on CNET that’s getting people to pay attention. He might very well end up succeeding in faking out a large house.

  9. Donald Bain used the “evil vanity press” angle as one of the clues in his “Murder She Wrote” mystery THE HIGHLAND FLING MURDERS. Of course, he didn’t take it as far as a Hiaasen might …

  10. Self-publishing (via a self-owned company) is like everything else in life. You may think you can succeed or may think you can’t. Either way, you’re right.

  11. “He’s bought the favorable review from Kirkus Discoveries.”
    Dave, I doubt this will get past “big house” staff.
    This and the others are typical vanity tactics.
    If I had to pick one it would be platform, except it’s online only.

  12. There are big changes coming to publishing, though, and it’s good to see this discussion.
    If the big publishers hope to sell a few hundred thousand copies of a few books they can only do this by publishing many, many more that don’t sell any more copies than self-published books.
    It’s this strength in numbers that self-published authors lack. I’ve been thinking lately of the original United Artists and wondering if something like that could work for authors today. A bunch of authors forming a kind of publishing co-op, editing each other’s work (rejecting some, too, I guess) and helping one another with design – or, like UA had actors and directors, the publishing version could be a co-op of authors, editors and even booksellers (or bloggers as the PR department, I suppose).
    With publishing changing (I’m one of the authors lost in the shuffle over at Harcourt, so I’m looking at everything 😉 and technology changing, anything’s possible.

  13. Lee, are you familiar with Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s blog Making Light? They’re editor at Tor, and one of their many topics of interest is self-publishing scams.
    This post is from a while ago:
    As a produced playwright several times over currently working on a novel, I’d *never* self-publish. It’s either good enough for publishers to buy or it isn’t. I’ve accumulated several rejection letters in the course of submitting my plays; I’ll accumulate more.
    Remember, guys: The money is supposed to flow *towards* the writer.

  14. John, UA was formed by the biggest stars at the time–Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks. I’m sure if the biggest named authors today wanted to start a publishing cooperative–folks like Stephen King, JK Rowling, James Patterson–they probably could pull it off, but then again, why would they want to? Anyone else, you’d need the capital and expertise necessary to build a publishing house–which would need sales, PR, marketing, etc., which is beyond what most of us could do.

  15. The bottom line with POD presses, including the back in print program, is the standard cost is higher per copy. Money gets tighter, and books available this way go up five to eight dollars a copy? That’s a losing model, which is why it’s done by the usual vanity suspects. The have numbers, just none in their favor.

  16. I think it says a lot that popular authors DON’T self-publish. If it doesn’t make sense for someone like James Patterson, whose name alone guarantees sales, does it make sense for writers with no name recognition?


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