Okay. Cue up Carly Simon. I’ll put aside my other ideas for today’s blog and concentrate on vanity publishing, since it is a concerning tangle.
LANCE: The critical [let’s say “definitive”] element of publish/ing/etc is for the work to be put out there. Based on this, blogging is publishing, while both self-publishing and vanity-publishing (not always the same things-- Lulu.com for example?) may or may NOT be publishing as such if they stay in boxes under the bed.
So self-publishing would mean one is the creator, designer, promoter, marketer, accountant, etc. all rolled into one.
MARY: Yes. My first self-publishing act was a neighborhood “newsletter” when I was maybe ten, printed on one of those hand-cranked machines that squeezed ink through a blue waxy stencil stuck to a drum. I delivered by hand.
LANCE: By this standard, vanity publishing is not self-publishing as such, because while one creates the product, someone else (the company you pay) does the design etc., then hands it over to you to do something with.
MARY: “Publishing” is a means. Vanity is a content classification. My childish newsletter was rather vain since it was all about the Strachans and the assumption was that anyone else in the nabe would care. Strict Puritans feel that vanity is a vice, a narcissism, a neglect of the community in order to aggrandize oneself. ALL writing is vanity: how dare one put one’s thoughts in print? This is the thinking behind the classification of “memoir” as a vanity, an account of one’s own thoughts, and the attempt to impose morality by demanding that it be “true” according to the standards of onlookers. Of course, bowing to the standards of the onlookers takes one from vanity to pandering, also a vice.
LANCE: Although some online POD firms like xLibris are dancing on the vanity line too, as you are required to pay them (to design, publish, market, etc.) while Lulu.com doesn't make you pay for the "extras" like ISBN, but you need to do it if you are going to market through sellers beyond Lulu's site.
MARY: Print on Demand is a technical achievement and refers to the ability to not have to “batch print” books, which means incurring expenses like storage and taxation. Some have accused xLibris and others of pandering to the vanity of authors by allowing them the smoke screen of a sort of quasi-publishing (un-curated by a publishing business). PRINTING AND PUBLISHING ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE TERMS!
LANCE: How would you characterize Lulu.com? Is it vanity-publishing? Self-publishing?
MARY: LULU.COM IS NOT PUBLISHING. IT IS PRINTING. Whether or not that printing is done in the service of personal vanity (all about me), community vanity (a history of an institution or area), family vanity (geneaology), national vanity (a collection of poetry celebrating the USA), cause vanity (the accomplishments of a “green” organization) or some other kind of vanity has nothing to do with the fact of the printing, which could be ink-on-paper, graffiti on a wall, electronic, sky-writing, or whatever else uses printed symbols. (Lulu will "print" DVD's and photos.)
LANCE: Do you believe self-publishing and vanity-publishing are the same?
MARY: Self-publishing is a means. Vanity-publishing is an end. The confusion of the two is another legacy of the Victorian middle-class efforts to inflate their status to that of landed gentry. It is a signal that one has the money to pay for printing and maybe a exceptionally nice binding and maybe even friends and admirers who have the resources to maintain libraries and the leisure to read. (A common put-down is “have you read?” something or other that’s considered a popular item of “insider” consumption promoted by the media. That’s been largely replaced by “have you seen?” referring to television or YouTube. This interferes with wanting to know whether someone has actually read something so as to know whether they have the information.)
Of course, this book-worship syndrome is much underwritten by the three big Book-Based religions. “Have you read: the Bible, the Koran, the Torah?” can be followed by the hat trick of memorized passages or just mentioning the “chapter and verse” to show you know them. At one time only priests were allowed to read the Holy Books.
LANCE: Was Bob Scriver a self-publisher or a vanity publisher?
MARY: Both. And more. He paid for his three books to be printed but he also commissioned the photographers, wrote the copy, and edited it. In his lifetime he was the only distributor. He didn’t have the skills to do computer layouts. The two books about the sculptures were also sales catalogues. The book about his artifact collection was meant to certify its importance and attach it to his family as well as to document the objects. But there was also a “higher” purpose which was to provide a sub-set of the physical collection that could be purchased and owned by people of lesser means, including Blackfeet and local libraries and a record that could be as close to permanent as such things get. The collection itself has since been largely dispersed, especially the religious objects which were claimed back from the Alberta government by the tribal subsets.
Bob’s mother was Victorian to the core, representing her cousin’s husband -- who was knighted for his contributions to Canadian manufacturing -- as landed gentry and believing that the Macfie country estate, bought with sugar money, indicated superiority. She was brought up this way in Quebec, Anglo among the French.
LANCE: Blogging is self-publishing, just not on paper. Unless your blog is optioned, bought, published by another entity.
MARY: Yes, except that some of the functions of a publisher, like formatting, are pre-determined and standardized. I suppose that’s sometimes true at a publisher, too, but the author doesn’t have so much control. Google is a distributor of blogs (and so are other aggregators) and some blogs “curate” or critique other blogs. There’s a website in Montana that does nothing but list Montana blogs and their content. A wide range of material is presented on blogs. One of the first blogs that I ran across was a biology class quiz on fish. It was all photos of fishes and questions about them. Some blogs are incredibly long, complex and challenging to read. Others are tweets, blips, burps.
LANCE: If I understand you right, the critical issue is getting the words/product out for public view/consumption, in whatever format: paper, internet, pictographs ;-)
MARY: Well, yeah. And then the next step is called “monetizing.”
LANCE: Publishing= getting your product out there for the public, through oneself, an external firm, etc.
MARY: Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it! So it’s always a little bit vain or at least an act of faith.