Vanity Versus Direct Publishing

I’ve stayed out of the whole Harlequin Horizons (now Dellarte Press) mess because what I was reading by so many others was just confusing as hell.

All of the words were like hailstones on my skull, causing a hurt.

And I also sensed no one was getting to the heart of things, either.

The following post, however, nailed it all down precisely.

We’re looking at different horizons

[F]or most of us, the “dream” is not just to hold a book in our hands. The “dream” is not merely to see our name on a glossy cover.

The dream is to be good enough. Good enough to be published, to gain recognition for all our hard work, good enough for our stories to be purchased and enjoyed by readers. Good enough to receive monetary compensation, as professionals.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

There it is: the antithesis of the bloody con artistry of vanity publishing.

Vanity publishing is the self esteem movement of publishing — where you don’t really have to have skill, you don’t really have to work hard, you just have to think you’re worthy.

It’s this kind of crap that leads people to lives of frustration, not understanding that their lack of recognition is due to thinking there are shortcuts out there. That things such as spelling, grammar, basic sentence structure actually matter. That you can hop to the front of the line others have been standing on for hours, for days, for years.

Because you think you belong there.

Hey, I was young once. I saw writing that looked so “easy” that “anyone” could do it. But try it. Try to crunch a sentence down to the sparse poetry of a Ken Bruen. And if you somehow manage to actually get that sentence — big deal! That sentence must also connect to a whole lot of sentences that go on to form an interesting story.

I once got an email from someone who had never written two words of fiction. He had this idea for a story that depended on a technical detail that was actually so bloody obvious, it couldn’t have been spun into any sort of story. Yet in his naivete, he believed he was sitting on top of gold, his own little version of The Secret.

This was perhaps four years ago. Where is his story? Nowhere.

There is an episode of My Three Sons that has stuck in my mind for now maybe forty (yes!) years. Because it was my introduction to competency, expertise, and being good enough.

One of the sons, Chip I think it was, wanted to play in a band. His father knew that Chip hadn’t studied the guitar, had just picked it up recently, and really had no damned chance in hell of succeeding. So his father asked around and found a rock band that was in the neighborhood. He took Chip there to see a rehearsal.

Chip, of course, saw this as his way of getting on the inside.

Chip met reality and woke the hell up. So did I!

After one song rehearsal, the leader of the band started to tell the others what they had done wrong. I’m no bloody good at music, and this was decades ago, so I paraphrase. One guy had played a wrong note, another was off tempo, another had come in on his bit a note too late.

The father asked Chip if he had recognized any of that. Chip — being a good, honest kid (as we all actually were back then), admitted that he hadn’t seen or heard anything wrong.

Chip had to admit that he was not good enough to even be in this neighborhood band, never mind whatever dreams of stardom he had deluded himself with!

Now maybe today some head-up-his-ass father would grease the palm of that band to get his son included, to make the son “feel good.” But before this country went out of its fucking mind (as Peggy Noonan aptly put it), adults recognized that competency mattered — it was, in fact, all that mattered.

This is why there was such respect for authority prior to the revelations regarding Watergate. It took televised hearings before people would admit that any President would violate the trust of the people — it had to go that far to sink in.

When it comes to writing, however, I don’t what it takes to make it sink in to people that it’s not just a matter of spelling, grammar, and sentence structure — it’s work work work, dammit.

Ken Bruen wrote for twenty years before he had any recognition. Twenty years!

You cannot jump ahead of someone who has been working for twenty years. You can not.

You have to put in your twenty years.

And this is why there will always — always — be a lingering suspicion about direct publishing done even by people who have been in the machine of traditional print publishing.

Because people will wonder if you were ever really good enough.

And let me tell you one more thing about being good enough.

In the 1980s, award-winning writer Isaac Asimov was paid by a Japanese company to give a little speech about his use of technology as a writer, as a prelude to a new product introduction.

I was in the audience of this event and my jaw nearly left my skull when Asimov stood up there and nearly apologized for being a writer, admitting that while he had written many, many books, won multiple awards, he didn’t ever think he was good enough as some other writers. He was only doing what he, Isaac Asimov, could do.

This was Isaac frikkin Asimov saying this. And it wasn’t an act!

So, all you people who think you can have success without earning it? Without any hard hard hard work?

I don’t want to be near you.

At all.

For I didn’t want to talk to the boy. He wouldn’t know anything about anything except a lot of words. Ask you a lot of questions, and when you answer, it’s like shooting peas into a can.

–The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary

7 Responses to Vanity Versus Direct Publishing

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mikecane: NEW POST: Vanity Versus Direct Publishing @jafurtado @MoriahJovan @glecharles @revolucion0…

  2. jenn topper says:

    Right on, right on, right on.

    But (and you knew that was coming), it’s not fair to portray DIY publishing as the minor leagues and the mainstream print pubbies as the major leagues. Some of us are good enough. Not many, not me, but some. My bias against most agent-gatekeepers also doesn’t help your argument, since I have so little faith in their ability (or willingness) to spot *talent* and their proclivity to choose what they think the marketplace may put a value on, or what the pubbies marketing departments can sell.


  3. Mark Barrett says:

    I don’t disagree with the point that there’s something to be said for earning your stripes. I’ve never advocated for self-pub as a work-around for craft skills. I don’t want to hear tracks of people blowing into a trumpet if they can’t play a tune.

    My problem, based on reading any number of published works (particularly fiction) over the past few decades, is that I can’t see any 1-to-1 correlation between storytelling skill and publication. Yes, I’ve never read anything absolutely mind-numbingly awful that worked its way through the publishing establishment, but I’ve ready some pretty bad stuff.

    Too, there’s the question of artistic works or non-genre fiction or just plain small-market stories that are good as works of craft but too slight in terms of market to be published by the publishers of record. Do the authors of these works not meet the tests you propose?

    In the end, I don’t see vanity or self-publication as an end run around either market requirements or critical scrutiny. Just because you put your book out there that doesn’t mean it will sell or be well received. For me the self-publication option is an opportunity to try for those things without going through industry gatekeepers who may only be interested in their own bottom line or in changing my work to fit their market needs. But I certainly don’t expect a free pass with readers.

  4. Henry Baum says:

    This post is bullshit. Man, really? So an editor’s stamp approval means – suddenly – that you’re good enough? It’s possible to be good and self-publish. Wow.

  5. Henry Baum says:

    OK, I’ll add – because I saw some other posts on Twitter, that you make the distinction between vanity and direct. I don’t. The only difference between the two is how much money you pay out. That’s all – they’re both still self-publishing and the distinctions don’t really matter.

    This post just fosters the notion that self-publishers are lazy no-talents and you can never make it until an editor gives you a stamp of approval – even if critics and readers are happy with the work.

    • mikecane says:

      >>>you make the distinction between vanity and direct. I don’t. The only difference between the two is how much money you pay out. That’s all – they’re both still self-publishing and the distinctions don’t really matter.

      Apparently this issue blinds many people because they see it as a condemnation of direct publishing. It is not. Go back and see that it’s a condemnation of Harlequin’s — and other — Vantage Press-like operations that take advantage of people who *think* they can write yet who should never be allowed to touch a damned keyboard for anything other than email and SMS.

      And yes, I *do* maintain that because of the way book publishing has been *traditionally* done, there will be a taint about direct publishing that is going to take possibly a *long* time to overcome — especially because of vanity presses out there muddying the waters with the sludge they spew. You can fight this reality — and I know you do — so keep at it.

  6. Darci says:

    As an inspiring romance writer and diehard Harlequin reader, I heard it through the publishing grapevine that Harlequin’s imprint, DellArte Press’s first release is a women’s fiction and it received rave reviews. I can’t wait to read it to see if it lives up to the hype.

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