All Is Vanity

I had an idea. I wanted to take my e-novel to the next level and make a print version. My mom always gives cash as birthday gifts, and she is generous. I said “Mom, you’re my publisher.” She said “Oh, I would give you money for both things.” Yes, she is generous to her family, but I said no, it would be my gift to myself just to have that book in a print edition.

My writing pals, Tom, Bob, and Vernie, and I sometimes get into discussions about the difference between self-publishing and vanity presses. It is a fine line, but basically a vanity press will print up a book without edits and send you a thousand copies which no bookstore or library wants and so they stay in boxes in the basement unless you sell them out of your trunk. Vanity press (in these days of self-publishing and indie novelists) is the way of the lazy writer with a lot of cash and not much ambition.

Indie novelists, writers who use their own skills or Create Space or freelancers, are different in that they care about their product and strive to make it the best possible book. They distribute, they market, they network. Such a fine, fine, line. But it makes all the difference. If you have a book that nobody has read except you, and you publish it, chances are nobody else is ever gonna read it. Indie writers embrace craft, critique, cover artists, editors, and other professionals to help polish their work and make the best book possible.

But as I said to my mom “this is just for me” and that’s vanity. One of the definitions of vanity in my Shorter Oxford (isn’t it vain of me to tell you what dictionary I use?) is “desire for admiration.” I think that applies to all people, all the time,ย  everywhere. Who does not want to be liked? Whatever creative thing we do, if we do it for free, then it’s all vanity and that’s okay. Blogging for ten years is vanity. Teaching is vanity. Calling oneself an artist is vanity. Tweeting is vanity. Publishing any book through any venue is vanity. So too is exhibiting art. Everything is vanity if you think about it. Putting on make up. Combing your hair! Vanity!!

This bit ofย  a rant has a point, which is the lines in publishing are very blurry right now. If you indie publish a great book that gives joy to others, that is a very different degree of vanity than if you type up your handwritten diary from when you were 16, which you wrote instead of paying attention in English class, and then have it printed at great expense, that’s another level of vanity altogether.

4 Comments on “All Is Vanity

  1. Long before he became famous for The Cantos, Ezra Pound self-published his first poetry collection, A Lume Spento. At 6 cents each, he sold about 100 copies. Before Pound, Walt Whitman also paid for printing the first edition of Leaves of Grass out of his own pocket. Your mom might be inspired to learn that E. E. Cummings’ first volume of poetry was financed by his mother. I think the stigma associated with self-publishing is slowly fading. An increasing number of talented mainstream writers fed up with traditional publishers and dismissive agents are now self-publishing. There’s something satisfying about being able to hold your own printed words in a tangible book form. I self-published a couple of children’s books purely for the pleasure of my friends and their kids. I’d say go for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Hi Kenneth, I love these stories. Virginia Woolf’s husband published her books through Hogarth Press. He published the original “A Writer’s Diary” after her death. Yep, I named my blog after an indie writer:)

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  2. Ahhhh, I wouldn’t worry about it. As you say, vanity is in so much of what we do – even quickly doing the hoovering before a visitor comes round. If you want print versions of your books, have them ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • You know, Terry, the older I get, the more I understand that it doesn’t matter how I or my actions look to the world. The world will think what it wants. As long as I’m square with myself and my values, then I’m cool. That was actually one of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned to date: you cannot control what other people say, think, or do. So why try? “To thine own self be true.” says Shakespeare’s Polonius in a rare moment of wisdom.

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