Vanity and beyond

Some years ago I did some research  on a Vanity Publisher who operated from premises in Bognor Regis and was close to hand. I think I had a vague idea that he might make an interesting subject for a short story. It was certainly a revealing experience.

His HQ was a single storey building packed with piles of books so, while I was waiting for him to emerge from  his office and talk  to me, I turned some of them over and read the titles. ‘My life as a Brigadier’ ‘A Country Parson’ ‘My years in the Kasbah.’ ‘My life on the stage’, written by someone I’d never heard of, ‘Me and the Arab Sheik’. !!!  Time passed and the great man still hadn’t put in an appearance, so I opened some of them and read the first few paragraphs because that’s what I  always do when I’ve found a book I think I might want to read.  They were all, without exception, badly written, poorly spelled, full of cliches and excruciatingly boring.

But having started out on my charade, I decided to go on with it and when he finally arrived to shake my hand and usher me into his office, which was as dusty as his storeroom, and asked me how he could help me, I gave him a false name and wondered if he would be prepared to publish a book I had written. He didn’t ask to see it but said of course he would and proceeded to detail his terms. It soon became clear that it was going to cost me a great deal of money and that I would have to market the thing myself. No wonder he had so many books lying around in that storeroom. I thought of all those poor things who had fancied themselves as writers and hadn’t been able to sell their books. It all seemed very sad. I told him  I would think about it and get back to him if I was interested and drove home, feeling sorry for all those poor vain wannabees.

But it was certainly making a living for the dusty gentleman. I’d learnt enough about the cost of print to know that the price he was charging to print his books was exorbitant, even if you allowed for the rent he would have to pay for his seedy premises.

I haven’t thought about the gentleman or his dubious business for years, but this week I have discovered the latest twist in vanity publishing which has taken a further step into exploitation which I find deeply unpleasant.

I met a would-be writer at a local authors meeting who introduced herself to me, told me she’d written a book and that she wanted to have it published and, despite my attempts to deter her, insisted on telling me the entire story of the book blow by boring blow. But that was not all, worse was still to come. This week the lady sent me an email to remind me of her novel and to explain that she is hoping that SWWJ, Scriptora will take it on and publish it. But there was a snag, which she explained. ‘They require me to get, from two persons of literary standing, an endorsement stating that my work is worthy of publication. I have already got one such approval. Would you be willing to look at my manuscript and give it your consideration?’ 

Now I don’t know about you but I call that presumption. It would take me a considerable time to wade through a book I don’t particularly want to read and now that I am 86 my time is very precious to me. And I do wonder at the presumption of the vanity publisher who wants a ‘person of literary standing’ to read  through one of their proposed scripts and give it their blessing. That is the work of a sub-editor whom they should be employing and paying. from my point of view, I see it as the deliberate exploitation of a hardworking professional.

What do you think, all you professional writers out there?



2 thoughts on “Vanity and beyond

  1. One of the problems of being a professional writer is the constant pleas from novice writers intent on self publishing to “read their books” and give them a critique or to supply a comment that “can be put on the back of the novel” It is one thing to give advice, quite another to spend valuable time reading someone’s work when you’re in the middle of research or being asked to read a book that you wouldn’t normally select as reading material. When faced with solicitations an extremely successful playwright friend used to give one of his charming smiles (he also acted) and say. “I’d be delighted.” When presented with the manuscript his smile would broaden and he’d add, ‘you do of course realise I write to make a living. Shall we say, £500 an hour?” There have been occasions when I’ve been tempted to follow suit but I’ve never found the courage.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Within a group of writers who have, perhaps, agreed to offer constructive criticism to each other, self-help can be a boon. Yet we were all fiercely warned against the dreaded Vanity Publishers. I believe there was even A List of Names to Avoid!
    But I’m aware that publishing has changed so much in recent years. Self-publication seems a respectable way to go about things in certain circumstances… provided, of course, that the author is prepared to pay for editorial and other services.
    I like the Playwright’s approach! It strikes me that it’s almost a required skill these days for writers to become Actors as well…

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s