On Vanity Publishing
Thursday, August 30, 2007.
By Nicolette Bethel
I’m pleased to announce that I’m preparing Essays on Life for publication in a series of books. The first one, featuring the first fifty essays published, is almost ready to go to print. In a week or so, I hope, if all goes well, it’ll be available online. Within the month, again if all goes well, I’m hoping it can be available in local bookstores.
Sound too good to be true? Well it is, sort of.
The process of publication never used to be so quick and easy in the past. And easy doesn't always mean good. But here's the raw truth. After plenty of thought, some trepidation, and after considering things like time and cost and bulk and other stuff, I decided to self-publish. And I've chosen an online service that will print and bind and ship the book for me.
Self-publication isn't anything new in the Bahamas where I live. There are several options: local publishers, who would edit, lay out, set up, and distribute the book for me (Media Enterprises, Guanima Press); local printers, like the Nassau Guardian, who would do basically what my online service is doing, taking the book I give them and printing it as is; or regional publishers, like Ian Randle, who would do what the local ones would do but with a far wider distribution reach. There are even international vanity presses, which design the book for a price and then provide me with a print run of a size of my choice.
But there were problems with all of the above. One was time; the turn-around time for traditional publishing services is pretty long. This is because, of course, the legitimate publisher doesn't take on every project that comes across his desk, and when a project is signed it has to be edited, laid out, proofed and then printed.
Though the result is undoubtedly of good quality, it wasn’t what I wanted for a collection of essays that are pretty topical in nature. Even when one self-publishes the old way, sending the manuscript to the printers and waiting for them to lay out, typeset, and produce galleys is a long, arduous process. And the result isn't always that great.
The second one was bulk. Traditional print runs require somebody — the publisher, if you’re doing it the most respectable way, or the author, if you’re going with self-publishing — to pay for the production of a sizeable bunch of books. These can sit around, getting dusty and in the Caribbean climate, growing mould, while you scramble to recoup your costs. If the publisher bears those, you have to wait years to get paid, because the publisher has to work to recoup its costs. All in all, not what I wanted for this book.
So I decided to try going with Print-on-Demand (POD) -- the practice of publishing that desktop publishing and the internet has made possible.
I’d first heard of POD publishers on the internet (where else?). I checked out a couple of services and thought what they offered was interesting, but wasn’t sure about the quality of the product, or about its reach. Since then, though, I’ve seen books produced through online POD publishers, and have held at least two of them in my hands — one of them Bahamian Rupert Missick’s Dreams and Other Whispers.
Getting hold of them is easy and convenient; they can be ordered online through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And I can tell you that the product is as attractive as any that a walk-in, concrete, face-to-face printer can produce.
There are disadvantages to self-publishing; any serious writer will tell you that. The main one is that for anyone who wants to make a career for themselves as a writer, with all the attachments, like advances and royalties and other trappings of the publishing economy, self-publishing, especially through vanity presses, appears to many serious publishers as a mark of inexperience, desperation, mediocrity, or all of the above.
For many of them, vanity presses are scammers par excellence; and it’s true that if you’re not careful, you’ll pay far more for a print run of so-so product than the thing is worth. Self-publication also suggests that the writer isn’t committed enough to face the hurdles that surround the publishing industry, hurdles whose conquest can produce fairy tales like J. K. Rowling.
People who are impatient are often careless, sloppy, rushed, and the quality of the work suffers. And they’re not unjustified in that concept; a lot of what is self-published isn’t all that good.
But self-publishing has its place. One of those places is when you live in small countries with small readerships, as we do. It’s generally not economically viable for a big publisher to invest in a Bahamian publication; the cost of production can’t be recouped.
The market is simply too small. For this reason, hundreds of Bahamians and Bahamian residents — some of them very good writers, some of them not so good, and some of them admittedly pretty bad — have chosen to go with self-publishing simply to meet the demand that exists for their work.
Among them are big-name Bahamian writers, like Gail Saunders and Winston Saunders and Obediah Michael Smith and Keith Russell and Michael Pintard. Not bad company to keep at all.
And then there are serious advantages to print-on-demand. The main one is that the desktop revolution, coupled with the new global world of business offered by cyberspace, has created a completely new way of publishing.
Print-on-demand is just that; you can write and create a book that exists only in digital form until somebody’s ready to buy it. That keeps the cost down, keeps the waste to a minimum, and makes the whole process easier and simpler.
And what would I lose anyway? Collecting Essays on Life is more an exercise in convenience than a full-scale launch of myself as a published writer. The complete set are already available on Blogworld, my personal blog, are still searchable (presumably) in the archives of the Nassau Guardian, where they were first published, and several of them appear on Bahama Pundit.
The trouble is, if people want to walk around with them away from the computer, they still have to go through the hassle of downloading and printing them out on plain paper. Why not make it a whole lot easier by printing through the internet so that people can order the books themselves, or so that local bookstores can buy them as they need them?
You be the judge.
Nicolette Bethel currently serves as Director of Culture for the Government of the Bahamas .
She is a social anthropologist and a writer. Her plays have been produced locally, and her fiction and poetry have appeared in various collections.
She blogs at Bahamapundit
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