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Vanity presses? Really? Still!?

Here's a post from Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware blog (sponsored by SFWA and MWA) about a sham publisher representing itself as a selective small press, but which is, in fact, a vanity publisher, meaning that they ask you for a whole bunch of money to print your book for you. Vanity publishers aren't necessarily fraudulent operations, but this one evidently was. But what I really don't get about this story is why the hell vanity presses even exist anymore in the age of print-on-demand?

If all you want to do is make a book for some kind of small-scale or local purpose (as the examples mentioned in that article seemed to be) that does not need distribution, it's easy and costs next to nothing to do it yourself through Lulu or one of the other POD sources. True, you need to have some kind of skill with a computer if you want to make the thing look decent, and probably even a bit of "advanced" user skill with desktop publishing basics if you want to make a nice custom cover for the book and successfully upload it to the printer. But someone who's got thousands of dollars to blow on having a shady operation "publish" their book can certainly get some inexpensive (if not free) format and design help if they don't know how to do it themselves.

It's just a shame that people don't research these things better. If you want to self-publish your family's genealogy or your collection of grandma's recipes or your unified conspiracy theory or your otherwise unpublishable (but brilliant!) novel, the technology is close at hand to just do it yourself without paying anyone much of anything for it. A few months ago I saw that someone used Lulu to print a lovely hard-bound print edition of his Twitter updates. Maybe I could print a trade paperback edition of the contents of this Live Journal if I wanted to. Worth doing? Probably not, but the point is that one can do it easily and cheaply, and the whole idea that there are still expensive vanity presses separating clueless people from their money really annoys me.  

(PS: I wonder if small-town churches know about POD? It could really help them step up the production quality of their cookbooks!)

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
ext_144194
Aug. 9th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
I speak purely from a UK point of view, but I would guess the reason vanity presses prosper is that they target customers differently to Lulu. Every writing magazine on the shelf in mainstream newsagents in the UK (i.e. "Writers Forum", sold in the UK store W. H. Smith's) usually has a plethora of ads which essentially say: "pay us to proof-read your novel, tell you it's brilliant (even though I wouldn't wipe my arse with it), and then take your money to lumber you with 1000 copies to can't give away except at Christmas to your ungrateful relatives." I can only surmise that if I asked most of the readers of said magazines, they'll not have heard of Lulu, etc. Lulu has online recognition, but the vanities, although they may even likely use Lulu to provide the gullible writer with copies, want to stop people doing it themselves. Without the supposed need for a middle man, the vanities wouldn't prosper.
mbranesf
Aug. 9th, 2010 10:59 pm (UTC)
I think it's probably also true that some people who would use a vanity press think that it still lends some kind of cache of having been "published" by someone even though such books don't get any distribution and probably won't be seen by anyone other than ungrateful friends and relatives. I have a relative who years ago, before all the current technology was available, went this route to publish her novel. She even had a book-signing at a library and made a big deal out of it.

Also, I probably shouldn't represent the format/design stuff as completely "easy" since it's obviously not for a lot of people who don't have any experience with that. There are, in fact, plenty of real small press publishers who legitimately publish books and pay authors for their work but who still put out very unattractive and amateurish-looking books because they either don't have the right eye for it or they lack some knowledge of what their software can do for them or they don't think design is important. For people who aren't aware of or interested in this end of it, it may seem "worth it" to turn that work over to a vanity press.
bondo_ba
Aug. 10th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
They feed off the hopes of the clueless... And, with the number of clueless people on this planet, I doubt they'll disappear anytime soon!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )