If you want to be a published author, well, that’s no trouble at all. Write a big check to a vanity press. They’ll take any manuscript you can cobble together and they’ll print it as an authentic, book-shaped object.
Honest: it’ll have words and pages and everything. You can even put it on your bookshelf alongside such celebrated novels as “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” “A Farewell To Arms,” “Great Expectations,” and “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas,” each of which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
You just can’t put it on a bookshelf at Barnes & Noble. Not unless you sneak it in there when Security isn’t watching. You’ll probably have a decent shot at it; usually they’re more concerned about inventory moving in the opposite direction.
Otherwise…no. Booksellers won’t stock your vanity-press book. Period. There’s an excellent reason why: for all they know, the author him or herself is the only person who believed in this book enough for it to get published. It might look like a book, but there’s a huge and unpredictable difference between A Book-Shaped Object and a viable work that the public will actually want to support.
Booksellers trust books that come from traditional publishers. A title that appears in Wiley’s (or Random House’s or Harmony Books’) catalogue is the residue of a lonnnng chain of people who read the book and believed in it passionately enough to devote their time, energy, and their company’s money towards getting it in front of the public.
This author didn’t write a check. He wrote an email to an agent, who receives manuscripts by the dumpsterload every year. An agent liked it enough and believed in it enough to take the author on as a client, and then sent the book onward to editors at various publishers. An editor liked it enough to present it to her bosses, and (more importantly) she jumped up and down on desks and conference-room tables and defended it against other editors who had manuscripts of their own that they wanted the company to acquire.
The manuscript moved on, upwards and sideways through the process, acquiring more and more supporters who were eager to carry the thing across steeper terrain and heave the book over greater and greater hurdles. By the time a book is on the shelf at a bookstore, it’s collected a small army of fans, ending with a buyer at the bookstore chain who thought highly enough of it to order copies for every store in the national chain.
Maybe they felt so strongly about the book that they even gave it a featured position in a holiday promotion. That’s at least partly an ad paid for by the publisher, but the publisher wouldn’t have spent the money and the bookchain wouldn’t have offered the space unless both parties felt that the property in question was potentially hot stuff.
(Hmm? Oh, well, yes…I wouldn’t have brought it up myself but now that you mention it, I have had two books advertised in Barnes & Noble’s Christmas circular. Aren’t you a peach for asking!)
It’s a long, inefficient and overall frustrating process. Still, it works. It’s a Darwinian thing that weeds out the little lap dogs that need to be carried around in Hermes bags and fed via eyedroppers; ie, the Godforsaken beasties that Nature doesn’t want and which couldn’t survive without artificial support.
The ones that survive have proven their ability to thrive on their own strengths. Failures still outnumber successes, but the books that make it through this grotesque process can become monster national best-sellers that soon start to promote and sell themselves. When that happens, the book has proven a mandate from the people. Clearly, this book has plugged into something out there. It’s filled a gaping hole that nobody else managed to spot, and provided something that the American public is responding to by the hundreds of thousands.
Before I move on to my real point, I ought to say that there’s a difference between Vanity Publishing and true Self-Publishing. Self-Publishers also do an end run around the formal Process, but the signature difference is a lack of self-delusion. You can’t rule the world via self-publishing but you can become a cherished and important figure within a specific community. Incidentally, there’s another advantage to being a Self- as opposed to Vanity publisher: you can actually make money via this approach.
But the Vanity authors insist that they’re writing their own checks because the massive Publishing Machine is unfair and elitist and out of touch with American tastes and needs and damn them for denying the public their chance to see what you can do.
It’s a fab delusion. It makes the whole house smell like an apple pie is baking somewhere. That’s one of the reasons why most people go that route in the first place.
Yesterday everyone found out that Hillary Clinton wrote a $6,400,000 check to her own campaign to keep it afloat until the next round of primaries.
In my mind, Hillary Clinton has become a Vanity Candidate.
She can’t convince a crucial legion of people to like her campaign enough to keep it moving forward to the next step. Like many authors, she got through some of the hurdles, but as the obstacles got progressively higher and harder, she found fewer and fewer people willing to skin their knees and cut their hands scrambling to get over them. To the contrary, her greatest allies are now reaching for the Bactine and the Band-Aids and muttering about needing to get home to paint the children or vacuum a sick relative.
And whereas writers like Wil Wheaton are self-publishers by virtue of the fact that they have actual, hard-earned audiences of people in place who are pleased to buy his books, Senator Clinton apparently can’t even inspire her own fans to keep the checks coming.
Vanity Candidacy. For six million dollars, she’s bought herself a comforting, reassuring, Presidential Campaign-shaped object. But it’s not a viable product. It’s an engine for self-delusion.
Today I happened to hear a recent “Fresh Air” interview with Al Gore…a politician whose reputation has only grown since he left public politics. I respect the hell out of him. Before his Nobel Prize and before the slide show and before his diplomatic work, there was his absolutely gutsy decision to concede the 2000 election.
Gore had every logical reason to continue the fight, and plenty of legal justification. History may never decide whether or not it was correct for the Supreme Court to hand down a decision that in so many words chose the next President.
But Gore conceded. He conceded an election that he had probably won, fair and square.
Why? Because he had the makings of a great President: he put the needs of his country ahead of his own needs or those of his Party.
Fighting the Supreme Court decision would have dragged on the process for months…and there had to be an inauguration on January 21, 2001. An orderly transfer of executive power on that date was more important than any other issue or factor. It sure as hell was more important than Al Gore’s ego. It was a close approximation of the classic King Solomon decision. Q: To whom did the Presidency rightly belong? A: The petitioner who would rather give it up than see the baby harmed.
Gore conceded the most powerful office in the world and emerged as a giant, independent of any two-term limit. Any Republican considering a future campaign for the Presidence is sent into a mild panic with one simple question: What if Gore decided to run again? If a race were ever decided on the issue of character, Al Gore would be undefeatable. Absolutely. Karl Rove has left the business and the Bush family wasted its last remaining Cursed Monkey Paw wish on the Supreme Court decision.
Hillary had that same opportunity for a display of greatness, a chance to plant an arrow in the ground that marked the moment when she truly came into her own as a national politician. Withdrawing from the race and committing her supporters and resources to Obama wouldn’t have been as conceding an election that she had already actually won by popular vote, but it still would have been hot stuff. She could have come back in eight years, even stronger than before.
But nope, she let the opportunity slide right on past her. She wrote the check and increased the rhetoric. She’s proven that in its current form, her campaign is a vanity production. A campaign based not on service but on ego, and a bad sports cliche: I can win, no matter the odds or the cost; I just have to prove that I want it a little more than the other guy.
She can’t change the numbers, so she’ll try to change the math. If she can’t change the math, she’ll try to change the process. And if she can’t change the process…well, God help any Obama supporter if she runs some numbers on how she’d fare against a Republican incumbent in 2012 and likes what she sees.
Which is a pretty big damned shame. Obama’s candidacy has the national authority and support of a new Neil Gaiman novel. Obama isn’t just in Barnes & Noble…he’s on the end-cap, with a special display including a life-sized cutout of the man with a button in his nose you press to hear one of eleven sayings.
At this point, Hillary 2008 is a 50-page George Jetson/Captain Kirk slashfic available only through Lulu.com.
She can’t win the nomination. If she keeps this up, she can’t even win re-election as a Senator.
She’s planted her arrow in the ground and marked a transformative moment in her political career, all right. It’s the same sort of transformation that happened when Dukakis tooled around in a tank during a campaign appearance. Except you felt sorry for him later on.