The Many-Faced, Multi-Armed Publishing Model



I’VE ALWAYS found the term “vanity publishing” to be condescending. Whenever I hear anyone say or write it, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. In my opinion, all authors/writers possess a degree of “vanity” because we believe in the value and content of our work so much we want it out into the world so everyone may enjoy it. And there’s nothing wrong with this. I swear I once heard someone say, “If you don’t show others your artwork, keeping it only to yourself for whatever reason, aren’t you simply a talented doodler?” A harsh oversimplification, sure, but I get the point. As creative writers, what degree of fulfillment can we get out of our craft if we never show anyone our work or publish our ideas sprung to life on paper and screen for others to experience?

It takes a level of belief, even courage, to feel that what we do and have done is worthy of worldwide appreciation. As writers, we must possess some “ego” to succeed in a world that often tells us NO and attacks our self-confidence. Vanity is essentially an “excess of pride” in our actions. Feeling pride in one’s work and wanting to put it out to the public should not connote an excess of that emotion simply because one chooses to do it in a non-traditional way that speeds up the process. And speaking of ego, some writers poo-poo anything other than Trad Publishing for their work because they see all else as inferior. That could be judged as a form of vanity. 

Suppose an author chooses the route of hybrid publishing, even small, independent press. Why would anyone denigrate that choice, especially publically, just because it’s not the choice they would make for themselves? The same goes for self-publishing on sites like Amazon or Smashwords. Many well-trained, talented, well-intentioned professionals work in the hybrid and self-publishing models. They provide a paid service to creative individuals who wish to avoid pursuing the time-consuming and daunting task of querying for an agent who will like their work (and it fits the popular trends and word count) enough to take it on and get it into the hands of a Trad publisher. Like with small independent press, hybrid publishers often include paid services like editing, cover design and mentoring alongside getting the book formatted and out into the world. It’s the same for artists who sell their artwork to writers to use as covers for their novels and other literary works.

I think for some, it’s the concept of “paying to publish” that gets in their craw. But all writers “pay” one way or another. Some pay with time, while others pay with money. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, either could be a luxury they can or can’t afford. Neither is better or worse than the other. I believe it’s always about what’s best for the individual and for them to make that educated choice free from judgment. For me, as long as a writer takes full accountability for their final product, I’m good. 

Now, are there dubious publishing companies only interested in financial gain that will do the least amount of work for an exorbitant price? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean they all are. Welcome to the reality of Capitalism and Free Enterprise, where morality and professionalism in business run the gamut from ethical to opportunist. Individual writers must educate themselves on the modern publishing world to discover how best to navigate it, determining their preferred path and which are the most reputable publishers of these varying business models. Look at customer reviews, and read some of the work done by these publishers to see if you like them stylistically, especially their formatting and editing practices. How respected are they, publicly; how do you think they would or wouldn’t work for you? It’s no longer black and white in this industry; either go traditional or remain an unknown, undiscovered artist/writer, with nothing in-between. It’s a different world out there now, for better and worse. Yes, it can be a daunting endeavour, I’ve been there, but the best advocate for our success is ourselves!

I won’t get into the whole “What qualifies as quality work” debate regarding published pieces. I’ve found spelling mistakes and “creative grammar” in traditionally published books, including (later) Anne Rice novels, just like I’ve caught them in self-published books. As someone who takes editing very seriously, I wish proofreading was better in modern fiction. Still, if I’m taken in by the book, the author’s vision, creativity and storytelling, then I choose to look past it. For instance, I love reading the work of a certain contemporary and popular MM/Gay Fiction author; I’ve read over a hundred of his books, but I’ve yet to come across one without spelling/grammar errors. I still enjoy his work because, again, I’ve chosen to look past the flaws since I consistently glean pleasure from his storytelling, characters, and creative voice. Listen, I can’t change these stylistic issues. I have no influence or sway over the author or his chosen publisher to edit better. But what I do have control over are my prejudices towards them and self-created roadblocks that might prevent my enjoyment of these works. 

Yes, I often find myself “read-editing” as I go along in a novel, mentally changing a word or placing appropriate punctuation. Hey, I spent years in Uni reading “deconstructively” for essay and lecture assignments, so I blame that. 🙂 It’s a learned skill that occasionally hampers my ability to simply read for pleasure; I doubt I’m the only one who does this. But I don’t throw a book at the wall because I didn’t encounter perfection. Nor will I leave a negative review just because of it.

Every author/writer should navigate towards the path they feel most resonates with them. What are you looking to get out of this process? How much are you willing to give of yourself to the process? How much time are you prepared to wait before seeing your work published? There are pitfalls to all approaches to publishing, but if we wish to impact the world with our art, we have to choose eventually. Just choose informed, sans rose-coloured glasses OR preconceived judgements. Educate yourself. Be open-minded. Embrace the process–the overwhelming parts and the exciting ones! 


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