Vanity Publishing — You Don’t Have To Do It!


A little over three years ago…

It was a different time (obviously) in many ways. In the summer of 2012, I went back to work at my old stomping grounds of the smalltown newspaper in Albion, IL (The Navigator & Journal-Register). Their sports editor had left and they had a pressing need, so I stepped in for a couple months while I wasn’t teaching. I learned a lot during that span and I believe much of it helped form the writer I became. Within three months of leaving the newspaper for that stint, I had started my first novel. There is a lot that went into that that I’ve discussed in other blog posts and other areas, so I’ll leave the Hugh Howey inspiration out at this time (mostly — it seems as if the spectre of Howey looms over most indie publishing stories).

Anyway, going back to the summer of 2012, I hadn’t yet put pen to paper for my own fiction adventures, but I had long held a dream of doing so. I had started following Hugh Howey, but was still ignorant on most things when it came to writing and publishing a book. One day an assignment dropped in my lap. We’d gotten a press release that a former local resident had written and published a book. He had graduated from a local high school a few years previously, but had moved out east since his teenage years. I would mention his name, but you’ll understand in a little bit why I don’t. Let’s call him Reggie.

Now at the time I knew some about publishing (like I said, I was starting to really get into Howey’s blogs), and I was a fan of books, so I felt I knew some things. I even was aware of vanity publishing, but for some reason, that concept didn’t dawn on me with this fellow until later. The press release had an email address for him, so I zipped off a quick email to Reggie and we set up an interview. I called Reggie one night and we talked about his book — a sci-fi romp of sorts. It was an interesting interview, but something he said at the end of it tipped me off. I don’t even remember what exactly Reggie said, and it probably didn’t even matter. But something clicked in my head and I realized one important thing. This guy didn’t publish a book. Not how Isaac Asimov or John Grisham did, at least. Reggie used a vanity press.

I finished the interview and published the feature on him, leaving out that one fact.

What is a vanity press, exactly?

If you just type that question into the Google search box, it brings up the Wikipedia definition, which reads:

vanity pressvanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. Additionally, vanity publishers have no selection criteria as opposed to other “hybrid” publishing models.

Reggie paid someone to publish his book. Ultimately I don’t know what he paid, but whatever it was, it was too much. What did Reggie get for his work? Not much.

I went back and checked out the book today on Amazon. It is still available and it has a ranking for the hardcover version of the book. If you know anything about Amazon rankings, the lower number the better. His book ranked around 7 million — meaning: at least one person bought his book, but it has been a VERY long time since that happened. A VERY LONG TIME. On a whim, I checked out the Kindle version. No ranking. Which means no one has ever purchased the ebook version.

Not only that, but the book is just…not great. The cover is literally a box and the contents. For a story where the main character interacts with aliens and has a grand adventure. Not only that, but there is little to no editing. Believe me, I’ve seen worse, but I did the “Look Inside” and found an error in the first few paragraphs. It was rough.

That was three years ago. About six months after I conducted the interview, I began writing my own novel and I fully intended to SELF-PUBLISH. I had immersed myself in the world of Hugh Howey and his blog followers and I realized self-publishing was the way to go. I never had intended to use a vanity press. I’d learned my lessons about them from an episode of The Waltons.

That’s right. The Waltons. John Boy and his family living on Walton’s Mountain, Virginia in the heart of the Great Depression. One episode John Boy gets a letter from someone offering to publish his novel. As a writer, you dream of this day. That a publisher will think your novel is special. That it is worth publishing. That it can be the next great thing. John Boy falls for it as well and accepts the contract. Soon John Boy is losing money, getting frustrated with the “publisher” and is on the hook to sell the copies of his own novel. All the same things people are still falling for today.

Earlier today I saw an article linked on The Passive Voice originally from The Hartford Courant. (I’m not linking the original due to a paywall.). In the opening few lines of the article, it talks about a woman who became a “self-published” author. In fact, she became a vanity press author.  From the article:

She has self-published her book. “Travels with My Son: Journeys of the Heart” debuted on Amazon in June for $15, and in mid-August she sold more than 30 copies at a book-launch party in her hometown of Branford.

She hopes to sell upward of 500 copies, which would cover the costs of “on-demand” printing and the $5,000 she paid a firm that helps writers like her.

Now, I hate to put a damper on her published book dreams, but selling 500 copies of a book is TOUGH. Even from your so-called friends, very few actually read books and even fewer will want to read Your book. But that $5,000? At this point, we’ll call that a publishing fee that she will probably never recoup. It’s sad to say, but it’s the lesson John Boy learned decades ago on TV and its a lesson people are still learning today. Vanity presses still exist and the costs are high — in monetary and emotional terms.

So…what can be done? Research for one. Get to know the self-published greats. Obviously I learned to publish thanks to Hugh Howey, but there are tons of great resources and tidbits of advice for the prospective author. Here are just a few. If you want to be a traditionally published author, go for it. Submit to traditional publishers all you want — more power to you. But, if you are like me and are thrilled to just get your work out there, self-publishing is a wonderful avenue for that. (And I’ve never spent anywhere close to $5,000 even with two novels and about a dozen short stories and novellas under my belt.)

So this lady…or Reggie…you can still self-publish and for a lot cheaper than doing it through vanity publishing. To all those out there who need advice, the following is for you —

LINKS (I will add more as they are suggested):

Hugh Howey’s Advice to Aspiring Authors

JA Konrath’s Resolutions for Writers

Susan Kaye Quinn: Author of The Indie Author Survival Guide



Self-Publishing: What a Kick!


I’ve been on the inside of the self-publishing world for a little over a year now and every day is a new adventure. It is a fun ride and I get to enjoy my own success, along with seeing friends (and even family!) enjoy successes as well. Among some of the things I’ve done in the couple months or so:

  • Published a family short story collection featuring stories by myself, my brother Paul, and my sister Betsy – Baking With Swords. It was very rewarding on a personal level and it is a thrill to have a book with each of our names on it.
  • superRead a number of GREAT indie books. Some have been published already, like Super by Ernie Lindsey, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, Dead in the Water by Carol Davis, The Lazarus Particle by Logan Thomas Snyder, The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz, and Ma Tutt’s Donut Hutt by Lyn Perry. Some haven’t seen the light of day yet, but are going to do great when they are out: Desperate to Escape, Part 4 by Thomas Robins and Strikers by Ann Christy. (You really can’t go wrong with ANY of these books and the genre range is wide from space opera to supernatural to cozy mystery and young adult dystopian.)
  • Wrote and published a new short story within less than 5 days’ time. I wrote about it the other day, but my new short story, Contact Window was released last week and I’ve already received 6 fantastic reviews. I enjoyed the characters so much, I’m really contemplating expanding on the universe in the book after finishing my Dead Sleep Trilogy.
  • CW vertWrote my 100th post on my blog last week. Since starting this site up last summer, I’ve written about a lot of things, but I hope my love of indie books has been clear.
  • And today, watching Michael Bunker’s Amish Sci-fi book Pennsylvania rocket up the charts. All along the way, I’ve seen him be totally transparent about his sales figures and his joy of self-publishing and selling this book.
  • Oh, and I think in the next week or so, I should have something to announce about a WOOL Gathering paperback. Get ready!

This is a new age for books and publishing. The average person may not realize it, but there are boundary-pushing books out there, available, and for a much more reasonable price than the cookie-cutter books the traditional publishers are shoving down our throats. If you haven’t tried a self-published book, just give one of the above books a shot. You might find you were surprised by the quality of self-published fare (especially if you believe what a few of the traditionally-published authors are saying about us in the indie community.)

Throughout it all, I’ve had a blast. Self-publishing is such a kick!



So here I am, nearly ready to publish my next novel, DEAD SIGHT, just waiting until some beta readers finish up, I do a few more edits and then rush off to hit “publish” on my Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page. 

And then it happens. 

I am told there are errors in my book. No — not the one that hasn’t been published yet. 

ImageDEAD SLEEP — the book on Kindle since July 1, 2013 and in print since October. With numerous proofreaders, a few beta-readers, dozens of ACTUAL readers, I was handed a list by two different people this week of a few errors in the book. 

Gut punch. 

Just kidding. Sorta. 

I mean, who doesn’t want a perfect book? I worked really hard to make sure everything was just write on that book. Even when I had it formatted for print in October, I found a dozen or so errors desperately in need of my attention, and they were fixed. Or so I thought. 

None of the errors were atrocious and some were ones that most people would miss, but regardless, they were still errors. Like “the South Dakota,” for example or “class country music,” instead of classic. Fairly minor, but still problems.

The book has been fixed in Kindle and will soon be updated for future print editions, but that brings me to the issue of perfection. Of course, I, as a writer, strive for perfection. I can’t tell you the actual number of people who have read through that book without seeing or mentioning those errors until now. As an author, it isn’t something you want to hear, but it’s necessary to learn and grow.

I read a book in September the first weekend it was out. I’m not going to say what book, but the author was also independent and is considerably more successful than I am. As I was reading, I found two or three errors. I was shocked. Surely someone with the writing ability such as he does not make errors and certainly someone who has sold as many books as him can get all the errors fixed before publishing? I was taken aback. I tried to forget his success (although he might call his success small, compared to mine, he is enormously successful) and his sales and thought of him as another person. A fallible person.  

I sent him an e-mail and addressed the errors, telling him, “if it was me, I would want to know.”

The author was grateful and agreed with me. 


I am not referring to any particular book. I just wanted to use Grumpy Cat on my blog.

Next thing I know, I published my next short story a few weeks later, ANT APOCALYPSE. Three days later, this author contacts me with a few mistakes he found and suggestions for improving the story. Obviously, I wood have liked to have fixed all the issues before I published? Sure…but here’s the thing. Whether the book has been out three days or almost eight months, there is bound to be a few errors in it. Thankfully eye found them quickly, revised my manuscript and re-published that night before I’d even sold a dozen copies. 

Mistakes are bound to be in nearly anything, and it doesn’t matter if it is self-published, like me or my friend, or traditional published. In the fall, I read a book being pushed by some in the media as “the next Harry Potter” series. It was interesting and I did review it on Amazon. (I don’t know about the whole “next Harry Potter” thing, but okay…) Anyway, I was probably about 75% of the way through it (sidebar — I now judge many books on how far percentage-wise I am through it) when I found a glaring misspelling. Not just a mistake. No — an honest-to-God misspelling that any spell check program would have noticed and put a red squiggly line underneath. 

We’re all prone to mistakes. It happens. 

But it is how we react to and fix those problems that defines us. 

ImageDEAD SIGHT, my next novel — hopefully very mistake-free — will be out on Kindle next week and in print soon after that.

I’m no anticipating any, but if you dew find an error, hit me up on Twitter @wswardstrom or my e-mail. I’d love to hear from you even if you don’t find any errors, and I’d especially love a review on Amazon or your own blog.