A few weeks ago I corresponded with a frustrated writer who was considering vanity publication. When I advised her against it she replied with words to this effect:
“I can see why you don’t like it. But I can’t get my book published any other way. There are millions of writers out there, and only a few of them get a publishing deal. It’s luck more than talent these days.”
It saddened me that she considered publication some sort of lottery, rather than the meritocracy it really (mostly) is. It also saddened me to think that she valued her work so little that not only was she prepared to give it away, she was also prepared to pay someone to take it off her hands. This has to be wrong: we all work hard at our writing, and we should recognise its true worth. Even if our work is not appropriate for mainstream publication it still has value, which can be measured by the efforts we’ve put into it and the satisfaction we’ve derived from writing it: why hand it over to a company which is only interested in how much money you give it, and not how well your book reads, looks or sells?
There will always be books which are not appropriate for mainstream publication, because of their subject matter or their writer’s lack of experience or talent. I would never recommend that the authors of these books use a vanity press: such presses are almost always exploitative, costly and ineffectual when it comes down to producing a high-quality book and then selling those books to anyone but their authors. So what alternatives are out there for writers who are desperate for publication, but who are not likely to attract the attentions of the mainstream press?
This is where self-publication comes into its own. It is available to everyone and needn’t cost a penny if you choose a POD provider like Lulu, CreateSpace or Lightning Source (and yes, I’m well aware that there are other options out there and I hope you’ll suggest a few which aren’t vanity publishers in disguise). POD providers allow you to download your text into a book template and add your own cover art or image (or they provide you with stock images which are copyright-cleared). The book will be available for sale through the POD provider’s website, and if you pay for an ISBN to add to the package you can also get it listed on Amazon and other online retailers. You’ll be able to correct or amend the book at any time, without paying any extra cost (although substantial alterations require a new ISBN, which you will have to pay for). But doing that will give you everything that a vanity publisher will give you, at a far lower cost.