I get calls all the time from new writers bursting at the seams with questions about publishing. Don't be bashful. Ask away.
I don't mind. I remember what it was like. I had just written my first novel, and I had so much to learn. It was all so scary and bewildering to talk to printers about my baby---about my creation a year in the making---as if it were mere ink on paper.
It was more---much more. It was my heart, my soul, and a year of my life.
And to them it was just page count and signatures and 100 pound natural paper and perfect binding and 12 point C1S matte finish, shrink wrap and truck freight. It was like putting an infant on the auction block.
All the technical jargon was so confusing. But what hurt most was that to them it was just another job. What I wanted...what I needed... was someone to talk to. Someone to ask all those questions I needed answered. Someone without an axe to grind or something to sell. I had no one to ask. Since then I've published almost 300 plus titles, five of which were my own, and spoken with thousands of authors, but I remember...
What I try to be is the person I so desperately wanted and needed to talk to all those years ago---a man who knew the business and was willing to share his experience with a fellow writer. I've had writers be pretty surprised when they find a mentor in the industry. And, you know what? It feels good. I've had some fun, too.
There was the call from London by a writer who needed advice. He had recently signed a contract with a subsidy press and had in hand an order by a UK store chain to buy 20,000 of his books. I advised him to hire a solicitor to break the contract, and get a literary agent. A few days after we spoke he called back with the story of how, against all odds---he was a chef, not a writer---he had in fact gotten in to see a literary agent in London and been taken on. The agent assured him he could sell the book. Miracles DO happen.
There were calls from folks who wanted to mortgage their homes to publish so they could make millions---I've lost count on how many of these I've discouraged.
Students, missionaries, people with limited means on limited incomes I refer to free and inexpensive publishing services like lulu.com.
Sometimes writers ask me how I can give the advice I do when I have nothing to gain? It's simple---I believe in karma---and it's easy to be generous when you're having a ball.
There have been calls, emails and submissions from writers who were naturals, writers who had never read how to write, but just wrote the way they spoke, with a naturalness most of us can only pray for. One, the boat captain who saved hundreds of lives in the tsunami had written a wonderful memoir and had been advised to Bowdlerize it in order to win a book prize. He'd ruined it, of course, and I told him so. Much great writing has been ruined by well meaning advice. PS: of course he hadn't won the prize. The lesson here is this: never write for anyone but yourself and never change what feels right to please anyone---especially critics---or your writing is sure to please no one.
If you've just completed a book into which you've poured your mind, your heart and your soul, you're just finding out how stressful it can be. You're not alone. We writers understand what you're going through.
If you need someone to talk to about your writing, give me a ring. Who knows? I may have the answers you need. If not, maybe I can give you an idea who can help. My number's right down there on the left. I look forward to our chat.
And, by the way...
Is Self-publishing Vanity publishing?
I spoke with an author today who said he'd been writing his book for 16 years and had never been able to get an editor to look at it. He asked if he could send me his manuscript and I said I'd be glad to read it, but that he should be aware that, were we to publish his book we would charge him for our time and experience and that we were a subsidy press. His chummy manner evaporated. "You mean you're a vanity?"
Rather than try to educate him by challenging his prejudices I took the path of lesser resistance and agreed that we were indeed one of that hateful ilk, whereupon we agreed to go our separate ways.
I often get this reaction in the course of doing business and as you might guess, I've done a bit of navel contemplation on the topic. This is what I've decided:
Publishing in America is now, and has long been a restricted club. If you possess the right outlook, politics, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, connections, portfolio and pedigree, you will find the doors swing wide for you. If not, you are treated as a leper regardless of what you write.
The myth promulgated by the industry is that, should you only study hard enough, write well enough, and craft just the right query letter, you will be published. If you have yet to be honored by the wise and wonderful editors, associate editors, agents and manuscript readers in New York, why then you're not yet good enough, that's all. Keep trying. Keep writing. Keep buying our books. And someday... you too, may be one of the chosen.
This happy tale was created by the industry it benefits in a clear conflict of interest. Should the millions of aspiring writers ever learn that in fact, regardless of the quality of their writing, they never had, do not have and shall never have a chance of publishing (with rare exceptions, of course), these aspiring writers might well buy fewer books. They might withdraw support from an industry that has restricted them from entry into the game. This would be bad for the industry. What is publishing to do but create a fairy tale in which every housemaid may become queen.
Those upstarts crow who dare circumnavigate the roadblocks erected to keep them silent are now branded vain. The presses who publish them called vanity presses. By whom? By those publishers who must keep book buyers convinced that without their imprimatur, a book cannot be worth reading.
Is logic here? Could anything be more vain than big authors published by big houses? Have you listened to a successful author, critic or big publisher lately? Does humble describe them?
Ah, but those who publish with vanity presses are vain because they have no chance of making money—and profit is how we measure value and success. But wait a moment. Nine out of ten books published by big publishers lose money. And many self-published books turn a profit. Confusing isn't it?
Well, everybody knows that vanity presses publish poorly edited, poorly written tripe. Of course they do. I contend that most books published by corporate publishing is tripe as well, albeit highly polished, slick tripe. Every small press worth their salt (including us) proofreads carefully.
Here our literary friends would protest that anything of sufficient quality will be published by a reputable publisher. This has been disproved so often by so many I can add nothing to the rebuttal. Any quick visit to wiki will list the many great writers who have had to resort to scaling the ramparts of the exclusive publishing club to break into print.
So, is paying a publisher to bring your writing to the reading public an exercise in vanity? Is wanting to publish at all vain? Is wanting to share your thoughts, ideas and dreams vain? If it is vanity to imagine you have something to offer, something to share, then I must count myself among the vain. What about you?
We may wish to consider carefully before accepting prejudices promulgated by those who benefit by them—and this applies to more than publishing. It's the timeless truth of the legal phrase: cui bono? Who benefits? It's plain who benefits from tarring the black sheep of publishing. It's plain who benefits from imbuing readers with the habit of judging a book, not by its content, but by its imprint.
Have I now or will I ever change anybody's mind about the term vanity press? I doubt it. I no longer even try. The black sheep's praise of brown wool is suspect and rightly so. We are each very fond of our prejudices, and trying to disabuse someone of them is treading clear ice. After all, where would we be without them?
Dave St.John (1956-2014)
Founding Father of Elderberry Press
Publishing is evolving. Shouldn't your book evolve with it? It only makes sense.
Elderberry Press accepts and reads submissions by new authors (no agent required), professionally proofreads, designs, publishes, promotes, distributes and pays royalties on books in print and ebook versions worldwide. Yes, you can publish your book even if you're a new author. Yes, you can be read by an editor, published by a reputable, selective book publisher and be read by tens of thousands of readers worldwide. Elderberry prints on demand (POD) and makes your book available in ebook version across the web.
Elderberry print and ebooks are available from your favorite bookseller
Elderberry Press, Inc. donates books to libraries and charitable organizations.© Elderberry Press, Inc.