The Real Vampire in Fiction

A certain very popular publishing company of women’s romance novels has decided to offer a new line of vanity publishing.   This link goes to Writers Beware, which might give you a clue to my opinion on the matter.  You pay to get your novel published and possibly edited if you’re paying at the higher tier.  No, you don’t have the full force of the marketing department behind the book.  Neither are you going to be able to count on the big chains stocking the book.

Vanity publishing has been around a long time.   As a business model, it’s great for the publisher.  The author almost never breaks even.

I’m fine with a business turning a profit, what with being a small business owner and a greedy capitalist meeself, and all. What I’m against is an unethical product that preys on emotional weakness, which this vanity publishing scam does.

I had an interesting epiphany in a Border’s a couple of weeks ago. I’m a very small-time writer. I do technical writing, SEO-type stuff… Any fiction writer who manages to make a living at it would probably call me a bottom feeder, and fair enough. But, this perspective does give me a “marketing mind” in a way that the stereotype of the writer from the coffee shop might not have. It got me to thinking in the YA section of that store. There was a Twilight display with books and merchandise and another dedicated to Harry Potter. I started looking at the newer titles in the section. Right now the trend in YA is dark fantasy and stuff with a Goth feel.

“This is all just product,” I thought, as I was looking around.  Product follows trend in the entertainment world, and fiction is most certainly the entertainment business.

I think we’re trained that there’s something holy or elevated about books. In a way that’s true. The printing press spread ideas in a way that had been impossible before. The fact that a book is an expression of a human mind is pretty damn awesome. But not every thought we think is necessarily a priceless diamond. Often it’s just a drop of water. It’s when it’s taken in a wave that the water becomes an impressive force.

We’re also trained to think there’s something holy or elevated about art for art’s sake.  Does art have value?  Yes.  Again, art is an expression of what is not only uniquely human about us, but is often a deep expression of the times in which we live, the joys we celebrate and the pain we mourn.  But just because it is an expression of our mind doesn’t mean that art always expresses well.

We have always had to look for gems amongst the garbage when it comes to actual art. That’s not new. Dickens was a hack to the Victorians, remember. So was Shakespeare. Do we remember all the playwrights from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries? Of course not. Have you ever read some random fiction from Victorian times? Some of it was pretty awful. Most of it was “mix as before” that the publishers hoped would make them a pile of money.

The problem is that this vanity publishing scheme is not going to give writers who otherwise had no chance a real chance at publishing a novel.     Unless you’re really great at selling, you’ll never recoup your production costs, much less your time costs of writing the damn thing in the first place!   If you’re really great at selling, you have a better chance at the traditional method of publication, where you’ll be paid more anyway.  This, like all vanity publishing, preys on people with a handful of dreams and a hatful of ignorance.

Addendum: L’esprit d’escalier gives an excellent analysis of why this business model sucks.   As Ms. Brown so eloquently puts it, “Writers sign the back of the check!”

2 Replies to “The Real Vampire in Fiction”

  1. Author Solutions published 13,000 titles last year. Titles that vary in content and quality. Titles that perhaps didn’t quite fit a publisher’s existing lines. Those books already exist, but are the readers buying them?

    And if not, why?

    Those books are no different than the products they will receive through Harlequin Horizons. Because these are Author Solutions products, not Harlequin products. These are products for writers, not readers.

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