There’s a suggestion these days this is rather old fashioned advice, like not wearing a tank-top to the office, or mixing your drinks, that the times have changed with all this online whizz-bang stuff and surely an inexperienced author would benefit from some “paid” services in shining up their manuscript in order to attract a publisher. But actually things haven’t changed at all. Whether we are publishing electronically or on paper, if it’s 2015, or 1915, publishers who ask writers for money are vanity publishers; they are predators, they are the bogeymen on the shady periphery of the writing world. Our grandmothers terrified us as children with cautionary tales of their sneaky antics. They are like big cats stalking their prey, always on the lookout for the lame author on the periphery of the herd, sick and burning up with the fever of self-delusion that their book is going to change the world, if they could only get it out there.
They praise him, seduce him, convince him of their faith in his mastery of the craft, convince him of his inevitable success for only a small up front investment. So the author hands his money over, and falls into the machine that will eventually mince his self worth to sorry shreds, and he will come out the other end as unknown and as unpublished as before. If in doubt, follow the money – not the promise of it tomorrow but where it’s going today, then ask who gains, who loses? If it’s you who’s writing the cheque, then it’s you my friend. You lose.
Back in 2010, I wrote a piece on one such online “publisher”, Lulu.com. They offer print on demand services for free but with some extra paid services like editing and promotional work. I was complimentary about the quality of Lulu’s printed product, but keen to steer would-be authors away from those tantalisingly glossy paid services, because you just know it’s going to go wrong. The books I had from them in the early days were the equal, visually at least, of any commercial paperback. But this was all a long time ago and I’ve moved on. Those books went to the charity shop and I was grateful they took them. As for paid editing and distribution services – no thanks. Yet authors comment on that piece time and again, telling me how they handed over money and received little or nothing in return. I feel desperately sorry for them, and understand their dilemma.
The fire that ignites a piece of work does not die when the work is finished. We want to change the world with it, we want readers to purr with delight at the run of our prose, and the critics to trumpet in adulation at the planet-like proportions of our intellect, and the laser precision of our insight. And we want the opposite sex to fall at our feet when they learn they are in the presence of a published author. But really this is very small minded, and we have to get over it. There are a lot of writers out there, all of them better than us, and no one’s heard of them either. As for changing the world, really, no one cares that much about anything, least of all as much as you care about it.
As I write this, it’s going up for midnight on a Saturday night, and I don’t know why I’m writing it, or for whom. I had decided blogging about writing, was an increasingly fallow tag, and I wouldn’t do it any more as there are far more interesting topics to write about. I suppose the real topic here is more the perennial egoic delusion of our self worth, and all the dangers that lie therein, that it will divest us of our dignity, render us tender prey to the publishing troll. But I’m bursting with an opinion on this tonight, and bloggers don’t need publishers in order to find listeners.
So if you’re a writer, unpublished but trying hard, struggling in the storm tossed waves to make a difference, do not think you can make a difference by paying someone to get you published. A real publisher takes a chance on an author, asks for nothing up front and pays them, usually, and usually not much to begin with. The problem is there are so many of us writing, and only a small paid-publishing trough. How we get our snouts in it has always been a mystery, but we do not get ahead by listening to the siren voices of the bogeymen. That’s how we get taken to the cleaners.
Don’t do it.