Goodbye Vanity Press Impression

Goodbye Vanity Press Impression

Ruth E. Walker

I recently heard from a teen writer who was puzzled about self-publishing. She explained that she was on a committee looking at books to recommend to the Forest of Reading summer program at Ontario libraries. She was especially excited about a book from a local writer and presented it to her committee colleagues to review.

The committee agreed the book was really good and moved it forward as a recommended read to the Ontario Library Association (OLA). But my friend was disappointed to receive an email explaining that the book could not be included. The OLA has a policy to only include traditionally published works in that summer program. A novel, no matter how compelling, couldn’t be on the list if it was self-published by the author.

No matter how you feel about self-publishing versus traditionally published books, the OLA’s policy is not out of line with many organizations. And there is a good historical reason for it: vanity presses.

Feeding the Vanity Machine

Not so long ago, some printing companies called themselves publishers. Writers were attracted to those companies that would quickly publish their manuscripts without long waits to hear from an editor and no questions asked. Writers were guaranteed their book would be published…for a fee, of course. But the writers were confident of being able to sell their finished product. And all the money would go to them, not to some agent or publisher. Once they put out a lot of money to the “publisher.”

It seemed like a great idea.

Of course, the inevitable happened to most of those writers. Basements and garages filled up with boxes of books that, once family and friends had been tapped out, couldn’t be sold to strangers.

 

 

Not all vanity publications were in vain

There were amazing success stories:  David Chilton’s self-published financial advice book The Wealthy Barber has sold over 2,000,000 copies to date. He even mentored sisters Janet and Greta Podleski, and their Looneyspoons cookbook has sold 850,000 copies to date. Many speakers on the “talk circuits” self-publish companion books that sell very well on the strength of their seminars and workshops.

But they were the exception.

In the past five or so years, the winds have shifted for self-published authors. When Terry Fallis won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour forThe Best Laid Plans, and then the 2011 CBC Canada Reads winner, he raised the profile for self-published authors in Canada. Even The Writers’ Union of Canada now accepts memberships from authors of self-published work (applicants must submit their book for review and it must meet professional standards to be accepted.)

It won’t be long before self-published titles are received everywhere with respect.

Make sure your book deserves respect

So you’ve decided to self-publish. Just because you’ve written a great story doesn’t mean it’s ready to go to press. If you truly respect your own work, you need to give it the time and focus it needs and deserves. If you truly respect your reader, ensure that you’re actually giving your reader a great story in great shape. And if you respect yourself as an author, act like you do.

Hire an editor. No, don’t rely on friends or family for this. A professional and skilled editor will help you refine your manuscript to publishable quality: a logical plot, compelling characters and a clean copy for the proofreader. An editor is not concerned with hurting your ego — an editor wants your book to succeed and if that means giving you tough news, well, that’s what will fix this book and make you an even better writer with the next book.

Hire a proofreader. Here you might have friends or family with this skill but understand a proofreader is not just reading your story and looking for oopsies. A proofreader takes a different approach to an editor. A proofreader is looking for transposed numbers. Of chapter headings in slightly different fonts. Of two similar but different spellings of the same name. The things that trick the eye of even the best editor.

Put it into your publishing budget: $800 to $2000 for editing and proofreading.

Things are changing

I’m an assessment volunteer for the Writers’ Union, reading some the self-published books submitted for membership. Some have been pretty darn good.

However, a few have been sadly in need of an editor. And a layout professional. And proofreader. The main criteria for acceptance is “would this book be comparable to a traditionally published book, with evidence of editing and professional appearance/layout?”

More often than not, the answer is yes. And that is heartening.

It means that those vanity presses are not getting as much business. Instead, we see quality book printers who also offer editing services to various levels. We see self-published books from writers who hire editors and proofreaders on their own. We see co-operative publishing ventures, where the cost and profits are shared by the printer and the author, and include editorial supports. That’s a nice balance of respect and a much better business model instead mass printing from unpolished manuscripts.

The publishing world is ever-shifting. How readers access their books is also ever-shifting just as the line between traditional and self-published books is blurring. Ultimately, readers — like my young friend — will set the pace and tone for choosing between those two approaches. And it seems that as long as a book captures a reader’s heart, it won’t matter how it made its way onto the bookshelf.

DID YOU KNOW?

Writescape self-publishes on a regular basis. At our Spring Thaw and Turning Leaves retreats, we prepare a 35-page workbook to support writers on retreat with inspiration, ideas, prompts, tips and helpful information.

When Gwynn and I published Inspiration Station, our “retreat in a paperback” in 2010, we paid for a quality layout and print product. And you can bet that book was edited, proofed and re-proofed before it came off the press.

It’s sold out right now but plans are in the works to bring it out in an electronic version. Stay tuned.

Up Close & Personal: Writer Jenny Madore

Up Close & Personal: Writer Jenny Madore

Jenny Madore pictureJenny Madore didn’t always know she wanted to be a writer. It took packing up husband and kids for a move to the rainforest of Panama for a year and a single copy of “Twilight” to nudge out the writer in her. Shifting from “I could write Bella into a better situation” to “I could write my own stories”, Jenny discovered her passion before moving back to Canada in 2008.

Now the author (J.L. Madore) of a self-published, urban fantasy series where alpha women kick butt and devour the gorgeous male warriors around them, Jenny is working on becoming a hybrid writer and breaking into the traditional publishing market. She is also in her second term as President of The Writers’ Community of Durham Region, a 280+ member umbrella organization that offers networking, promotion and education opportunities to its members.

Writescape caught up with Jenny this week to learn more about her as a writer:

What is the most important thing a self-published writer needs to consider?

That creative minds aren’t always the best prepared to tackle marketing, or websites, or newsletters. Points to self. The effective marketing of a novel once you’ve self-published takes a gazillion hours, dedication, and a thoroughness that some of us just don’t come by naturally. It can be learned, or hired out, but you have to identify your weaknesses and make allowances for them.

For example, I know I have to keep current content on my website to sweet-talk the algorithms of online booksellers and search engines, but when I pull up my website, my last post was for May 30th . . . of 2015. Yikes. If earning a living at writing was my goal, I’d be upset at how badly I drop the ball at times. Thankfully, writing is my goal. Growing as a writer. Improving. I’ll get back to marketing at some point. Maybe soon. Maybe not.

What does being a “hybrid writer” mean to you?

Honestly, I picture ‘Hybrid’ as being the best of both worlds but can’t say for sure . . . yet. What I like about the idea of straddling the indie and traditionally published worlds is the freedom of one, while coveting the guidance of the other. I’d like to work with house editorial staff and have people picking at the minutia of a story that they see hitting the mark of the ever-changing market. I want to grow. Know what they know. See the things they’re looking for in my own work for future reference.blaze-ignites-front-cover-promo-image

But not all stories are going to hit the appeal of publishing houses and that’s where indie rules. When I first wrote Blaze Ignites, I shopped it around first. I received rejections saying “great writing but fantasy is in a downturn,” or “Elves just aren’t sexy.”

Hello? Legolas Greenleaf isn’t sexy?

I beg to differ. That’s why I went ahead and independently published that series. I’ve got so many stories circling in my head, I want them out there entertaining people. Well, I hope they’re entertaining people.

What are you working on now and how different is it from the urban fantasy series you started out with?

female-316703_640I’m currently editing the finished first draft of a Roman time-slip historical romance. The working title is, In The Shadow, and I’m very pleased with how it’s shaping up. I found it very different to write historical, because it is an actual moment in time which has been documented and studied by academics and enthusiasts for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

I put a great deal of pressure and author responsibility upon myself to get the details right. Did a Praetorian wear a white toga or a violet one? What flowers bloomed in ancient Rome in 79CE? When would a patrician woman wear her hair down? What did the streets of Pompeii look like, sound like, and smell like before the eruption of Vesuvius?

The dialogue is crucial to selling the time period (Latin sentences often omit pronouns), as is the setting and, most importantly, how the love story evolves under the stresses and strains of a violent and unhindered society (Sin and shame are concepts which evolved much later in history).

The fantasy series I write allows me freedom to make things up to suit the story. As long as I justify what’s happening in the world, there’s really no wrong answer. It’s freeing and fun. Writing historical fiction offers me a sense of personal satisfaction I hadn’t realized before. When I get it right, it’s really right, and even if the reader doesn’t know it, I do.

How do you balance family life, the volunteer leadership role for a dynamic organization and your needs as a writer?

Balance is the operative word, though it has recently become easier. With my kids grown and newly establishingborg_dockingstation themselves out in the world as successful young adults, I’m finding my hours are my own for the first time in 23 years. As a full-time, at-home mother and wife, I became accustomed to working with crazy schedules and multi-tasking for the benefit of the collective.

We are Borg.

Those skills translate perfectly into running an organization like The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). I want the members to strive for their dreams and have what they need for success. That’s why I initiated Bookapalooza, Skip The Slush Pile Pitches, Blue Pencil Bonanza, Novel Whisperer, etc. I’m available to help if I can, organize events, make concessions if obstacles arise, and ask for help if things get complicated. I love the WCDR and its members. In my mind, the organization is simply an extension of family.

As for my writing . . . well, I’d like to say I set aside time every day, but that’s not always possible. The WCDR is an active, vital organization and when events approach, there is no end to the preparations to be made or work to be done. I can safely say, that I work on my writing often. Sometimes mornings. Sometimes nights. Sometimes just a few moments before I have to start dinner or leave for a meeting. Stories are always in the back of my mind, ideas, characters, and conflicts percolating until I can get back in front of my laptop.

Describe your favourite writing space — what does it look like?

Easy, (looks left and right). I’m on my bed, knees up with my laptop in front of me, a mass of pillows behind me, and a dozen reference books and novels scattered across my comforter and end table. Stryder, my Panamanian dingo dog I brought home from living in the rainforest, is lying beside me, snoring through his doggie dreams, the tip of his tongue slightly out. Perfection.

If you could have dinner with anyone (living, dead or fictional) who would that be?amy-sherman-palladino-02

Ooh, tough one. So many names come to mind for so many reasons. I think it would have to be Amy Sherman-Palladino, writer of Gilmore Girls. Not only is she quirky and odd, (which would make dinner a hoot), she wrote one of the greatest, wittiest, fastest paced, most-heart-warming collection of moments ever seen on television. (Newsroom and West Wing also in that category) The writing of Gilmore girls hits all my buttons: intelligent characters, flawed relationships, unconditional acceptance, family love, romantic love, loyalty, off-beat humour . . . the list is endless. Yep. Amy Sherman-Palladino for sure.

Wow, over so soon. Thank you, Writescape, for inviting me to participate, I had a blast. Annnnnd . . . are you arranging my dinner with Amy? I’m really looking forward to that now.