07 February 2010

A Vanity Book by any other Name

My one and only excursion into self-publishing was my alternative world fantasy The Calamari Code: An Agatha Pixie Mystery.

I had much fun designing the front and back covers as well as the inner layout. I learned how difficult packaging a book can b
e. I designed the inside to resemble juvenile mysteries of the 1930s and 40s. I even included photos of the various animal characters.

I spent many hours and much creative energy to produce the book, taking over a month until I got everything the way I wanted it to look.

I even made posters, fliers, book markers, postcards, and business cards.

I got a Library of Congress number, an ISBN number, and copyright.

I got a bar code for the back cover.

I officially published it in July 2007 and ordered a couple dozen copies.

I sold a few at a book event at the Oklahoma City Zoo. I got it listed on Amazon and Google.

I was quite proud of my finished product.

You can read it for free HERE.

However, I won't do it again.

All that time I spent on designing the book, I could have spent writing. I'm a writer, not a book designer or art director.

Also, when I sent my manuscript to agents and publishers, those that responded said they don't look at self-published books, leaving me to believe they didn't read the story because I had self-published it.

I know: some writers have become successful with self-published books. Really, though, readers, agents, and publishers shy away from the vast majority of self-published books because so much of what is self-published is just vainglory trash.

My story is good--fun, exciting, different--a witty, quick read.

I'm still shopping it around. I'm not giving up.

However, I wish I had not given in to my own impatience and vainglory.

Oh, I still self-publish some small stuff, mainly short stories and novellas I've written over the years. I've had requests from various readers for other stories and have printed them--but I don't considered them "published" and will argue with contest rules and conferences that merely printing a story and handing it out to a few friends and fans is not "self-publishing" in the largest sense of the word but merely sharing (hoping for some needed feedback).

So, what's so bad about a self-published book?

There's a reason it's called "vanity publication".

This was one of those, "Wow! What a great Idea!" moments that evolved into the subsequent, "What the Hell was I thinking?" moments of stark reality.

Self-publishing books sounds like a quick short cut to "real" publishing. After all, painters and musicians self publish their artistic works.

When a customer buys the painting, he sees exactly what he is getting. When the customer buys the self-made CD, he has already heard the musician/band several times and knows what he is getting.

However, when a reader buys a self-published book at a conference or where ever, he really doesn't know what he's getting unless the author is Stephen King or Ann Rice. Usually, the book is mediocre at best and just plain trash at worse.

Self-published books are often full of bad dialogue, misspellings, poor design, incoherence story lines and plots, and cardboard characters produced by a writer desperate for a reading audience.

Plus, self-published books are very expensive. A book of less than 100 pages can cost the reader upwards of $15-$20 dollars. Why take the chance on an unknown, desperate author at $15 when you can have the latest King or Rice for $9.95?

Most self-published writers are selling to the choir--friends, fellow writers, and lovers. That's about it.

Rare it is for the self-published writer to hit the big-time. Those who have self-published and gone on to fame can be counted on your ten fingers and ten toes.

Those who self-publish and fail can be counted among the stars.

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