Cautionary Tales

There are two things that writers should approach with caution. One is publishing, the other is reading at open-mic sessions. I know this because I have done both in the last few weeks.

To extend the road sign metaphor, ‘approach with caution’ means making sure that you can stop before anyone gets hurt. In the case of publishing, this applies most to that last-resort form which once was self-publishing but which is now self-publishing with the help of a publisher.

It goes by various names. Or rather, to use a term with more appropriate connotations, aliases.

Hybrid is one of them. To a gardener this brings to mind methods of propagation that do nothing but good, mixing the best qualities of two varieties in order to produce a third which is better than both. Another is co-operative, a word which, however you look at it, morally or practically, can only be good.

Both are misleading, because neither conveys the real significance of a practice which requires the writer to pay the publisher, rather than the other way round. Hybrid and co-operative publishing are both aliases for vanity publishing, a term which has all the wrong connotations but which means exactly what it says.

Fortunately, when the price of vanity in my case turned out to be £5000, I was able to stop the speeding car before anyone got hurt, though the publisher did stand in the road waving his arms angrily as I drove past him. If I could lip-read, I would have made out the words ‘Society of Authors’ with various expletives attached, as he tore up the contract I had very nearly signed, leaving them to blow in the wind.

Cautioning against vanity publishing and its various aliases is more easily done than cautioning against reading at open-mic sessions, though they too could with some justification be called vanity sessions. No money changes hands, so no harm done, except perhaps to writers’ vanity when they walk off stage with nothing more to show for their efforts than the same amount of applause as everyone else. Auditions would be a step in the right direction. Advice on reading to an audience would be helpful too. The presence of literary agents in the audience as unlikely as the presence of talent scouts at a school play.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity.


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