Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Vanity… Vanity… all is… not Vanity (or so it would appear.)

I referred previously to Johnboy and his unwitting stumble into vanity publishing. I won’t be dealing with that subject here- just Google ‘Vanity Press’ and you will find endless websites and blogs with a message which can be summed up in three words: don’t do it!
What I’m more interested in here are the ways in which the internet has created a new environment for people to make money from the writer’s desire to get published.

The first rule to apply is never to part with money. Not that all services that ask for money are disreputable- some will provide you with a professional critique at a cost, with no catches. I myself paid for one from Golganooza, and from frontlist (My experiences are chronicled elsewhere in this blog.)

The internet has also opened the way for print on demand (POD.) What POD does is cut out the need for expensive print runs, as a book is only printed when someone orders it. Your book is stored electronically. Publication: guaranteed, no cost: guaranteed, sales… well.

One criticism of POD is that if you look at what is available in this format you will not have heard the names of any of the writers. Although sites may promote your book, they do not have behind them the vast marketing resources of the big Publishing houses.

But it does mean that you could publish now, even if it means that your only readers are your friends. A very popular site is ‘Lulu.’ You can also upload your work to Amazon Kindle. This is a new e-book reader which promises to be as easy on the eye as paper. We have yet to see if readers will embrace this over the centuries-old paper book. In my opinion I don’t think that we should underestimate the sensory satisfaction gained from the feel and the smell of a book.

In an episode of Star Trek, when Captain Jean Luc Picard was on leave, he sat reading a book. The creative minds behind the series obviously felt that whatever the technological advances we will still be reading books made of paper. And It looked sort of right.

Continuing my quest for an agent over the internet I came across what looked like a promising company calling themselves the ‘Writers Book Agency.’

They said that they were different to other agents in that they worked closely with promising writers, giving support and feedback which would get their work to a publishable standard.

I sent my letter, synopsis and opening chapters and, whoopy-do, they were interested.

They said things to allay my fears, like not asking for the whole book. They said that they had got four books published- surely, I thought, if this were a scam they would not claim such a modest number.

So I applied one of my tests- I googled ‘Writers Book Agency review.’ What it brought up was an interesting debate- one in which the Writers Book Agency were taking part- about the integrity of the company.

The question was raised as to why the WBA never revealed the identities of those they had taken to publication. It also emerged that after a series of very wordy emails the WBA suggested that writers pay for an independent reading of their work. The implication was that the ‘independent’ readers recommended were actually WBA by another name.

I will withold judgement, but we have here an agent who won’t tell you which published authors they represent (the agents in the writers and artist’s yearbook list their clients) and which inevitably asks you to part with money. They even implied that unwillingness to spend some money on the process indicated lack of belief.

This exploitation of the needs and insecurities of the unpublished writer doesn’t seem that far removed from the methods of the Vanity Press.

And yes, I got my email, saying that they wished to take me on, and recommending people who would, at a price, read my work. I ignored it. Who knows- this may be a genuine outfit which has helped four people achieve their dream. But if it is not a scam, why doesn’t it realise that it is going around around dressed as one?

1 Response to "Vanity… Vanity… all is… not Vanity (or so it would appear.)"

Pegasus Elliot McKenzie. I even had friends telling me it was a good thing, I was the one telling them that it “Wasn’t as good as it appeared.” You have to be very clear headed with these ones, don’t be lured in by potential sales, or being printed, they tend to be very backward companies.

And don’t be afraid to check this, to see if they’re dodgy.

Other sites have a full list of the dodgy ones, which usually have really bad names like “Our agents are ace” or something similar.

Good luck

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