True Vanity Publishers, and the Authors who Feed Their Egos

Some around and about have a serious problem with print on demand publishing.  They don’t like it because, as they denominate it, it’s ‘vanity publishing’ and they don’t think such publishing is legitimate.

Indeed, their complaint is based on two general observations:

1- Some print on demand publishers require authors to pay a fee to publish their books, and 2- such books aren’t properly processed through an appropriate editorial methodology.

I would answer concerning 1- there are in fact several print on demand companies which require no up front fee.  And, because the foes of print on demand tend to be historically ignorant on this point, they evidently need to be reminded or taught that authors from the invention of the printing press until late in the 19th century had to pay printers and publishers to have their works published.   Luther did.  Calvin did.  Zwingli did.  Kierkegaard did.  They all did.  Only with the appearance of modern publishing practices and marketing techniques did that procedure change.

As to 2- the fact is, as we all know, it’s just as easy to ask one or two friends to look over a manuscript as it is to send it off to an editor.  And editors, being human, often miss things.  I do rather a lot of editing for various publications and believe you me, there are lots of errors even after materials have gone through the final editing process.  If you don’t believe me, just pick up a book.  I recently reviewed a volume by a large and well respected European publisher and it looked as if no one had bothered to look at the manuscript even once.  It was grammatically awful and technically miserable.  Editing isn’t a problem.  Get some knowledgeable friends and they can do it for you.

And we also all know that the quality and usefulness of volumes isn’t determined by the publisher or editor (though they can help).  We have all, if we’ve read enough, come across professionally published volumes that are pure, unadulterated rubbish and nonsense.  From major publishers!  Publishers don’t keep nonsense off the market, in spite of what the foes of print on demand would have you to believe.  Sometimes they don’t even try.  Witness the recent ‘books I am embarrassed to have on my shelves’ meme that circulated around the blogs.

So if there are no real, substantive, and practical reasons why print on demand isn’t acceptable to some ‘scholars’ we have to look elsewhere than the usual excuses (which simply won’t hold water).

I would suggest that the true vanity publishers and the authors who feed their own egos thereby are those which charge exorbitant fees for volumes and lend ‘prestige’ to authors who publish with them, while paying them nothing for their work.  That’s vanity!

Let’s face it, and some of you need to face it with more honesty than you’re used to, it’s far more vain to publish with EJ Brill or Otto Harrassowitz or Peeters simply so one’s name can be on a Brill (or some such) volume (and get not a penny for it) than it is to publish via print on demand so that one’s work is available to a wider audience at a very reasonable price.

True vanity resides in pride, not in a desire to share what one knows with as many people as possible.  I’d rather read an intelligent book by a no name nobody who really cared about sharing than one by Hoity Toity who only cares about which book spine his inedible tripe resides upon.  True vanity lives there, not in print on demand.  Inflated egos live on the spines of books published by companies who only value their name and not the dissemination of knowledge.

[NB- Make no mistake, I love publishers like Hendrickson and Eerdmans and Theologischer Verlag Zurich and IVP Academic (because they’re doing some great work now!) and Eisenbrauns.  I love them, because they publish meaningful things at sensible prices and their authors don’t walk around conferences like SBL or ETS with their noses stuck so far up in the air (and up one another’s posteriors) that they haven’t seen their own feet in years.  I love them because they value knowledge, not ‘prestige’]

9 thoughts on “True Vanity Publishers, and the Authors who Feed Their Egos

  1. Pingback: Putting the vanity into publishing - Sansblogue

  2. Well said and very encouraging Jim.

    I am in the process of writing a couple of books. I doubt if I will find a publisher willing to run with them… and have been looking at the idea of self publishing. It is incredible the differences in prices one can pay to do so. Though I am still researching, the self publishing house I am strongly considering is through “Zulu”


    • havent heard of that one but our school uses print on demand and is the company they’ve chosen to do it. no fees whatsoever. the cost of the books is very low and the quality is as good as you’ll find anywhere.


    • it’s an excellent company and they do quality work.
      i figured zulu was some sort of aussie equivalent.


    • by the way, if anyone criticizes you for it they are criticizing covers and not contents. unless, that is, your content sucks. but as i said, ive read books, even from brill, that were just witless. so it doesnt matter who makes the cover. it only matters who makes the content.

      i would, though, add one significant caveat to it all- you MUST get a couple of competent outside readers. they can spare you a multitude of errors. i’ve never had anything published that wasnt edited. it’s really essential.


  3. That is wise advice; I know my strengths and weaknesses and while I believe I have good material to offer; I know my weaknesses are in the editorial department.


    • as i said, ive edited loads of things and even the best writers and smartest people miss things. a second and third pair of eyes is always the way to go. as long as they know the subject. don’t ask granny or the village idiot or the town dilettante to do it.


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