You’re So Vain, I Bet You Published Your Book Yourself

“You’re an author? That’s so cool!”

“I self-published it, it’s not in Waterstones or anything,” I replied.

I had this conversation—paraphrased, natch—a few years ago, just after I wrote my first book. I felt uncomfortable with the praise, like publishing it myself was pure vanity. I’d forgotten about this convo.

Then a few weeks ago an email dropped into my inbox and poked me in the brain.

The emailer—a brilliant writer and storytelling strategist—told a similar story. A stranger got excited about the fact that she’d written a book—and she was quick to point out that she printed it herself.

So it was no big deal.

Like me, she’s been in the online marketing world for years; she knows its slime-ridden corners and sleazy tricks inside out.

Slimy corners + sleazy marketing tricks

One of those tricks is to crown yourself an expert on something and publish a book to “prove it”—making you out to be a bigger deal than you actually are.

This person didn’t want to “mislead” anyone with her book, because it didn’t have a book deal attached to it.

Her throwaway comment jolted me because I used to feel that way.

I self-published all my books (except my audiobook).

Or, rather, I independently published them—important distinction for me, because self-publishing sounds like vanity, where independent publishing sounds like empowerment.

I am a champion of indie-publishing. I help misfits and weirdos and other wonderful humans tell their stories and turn them into books and I am painfully aware of the idea of a book as a super-fancy business card that “nobody will read anyway”.

(Yes, I was told that when I first started my business—write a book, it doesn’t matter if it’s no good because nobody will read it anyway—that’s not the point. Insert side-eye here.)

An air of authority

There’s this idea that a book can somehow bestow expert status on a person, just by existing.

That might work for five minutes, but as soon as someone pays their money and doesn’t receive the incredible expert help they were expecting, it all comes crashing down.

I’m not interested in books as a business card, or “proof” of ability, or making your experience and expertise sound like more than they are… but I know they’re out there. The democratisation of publishing is wonderful, but it comes with its downsides: anyone can publish anything—and they do.

The difference, for me, is I earn my books.

The incredible people I work with earn their books. They don’t rock up, brand new to an industry, and write a book that regurgitates other people’s knowledge as if they’ve been at this for a decade or more; they write their truth, their experience.

The difference is in the reason for creating the book

So, yeah, be wary of the glorified business card, the folks who put out a book to big themselves up with little substance behind it—but don’t go too far the other way.

Don’t believe the only way a book can be worthy of pride is if it comes with a book deal.

A book deal can be an incredible thing, and I would absolutely bite Penguin’s flippers off if they came knocking—but it is not what makes your book worthy.

What makes your book worthy is your message, your story, your intent, and how your book is received by the people who read it.

It’s not a dusty old dude in an ivory tower, arbitrarily deciding which mainstream voice he’s gonna put out next because it fits his idea of what is worth publication.

Traditional publishing gets it wrong all the time. It misses out on incredible books from independent authors all the time, for a range of reasons.

But with the rise of independent publishing, of Amazon (say what you like about that company, it opened up a wonderful new world for writers), of Ingram Spark and other organisations, the traditional gatekeepers are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Of course, democratising publishing means anyone can publish any old dross—and they do, including the glorified business cards I mentioned—but it also opens the doors wide for all of us.

Especially those voices which have been marginalised by traditional publishing.

The traditional publishing model isn’t changing fast enough, but with the rise of independent publishing, it doesn’t really have to (although I hope it does). Traditional publishing will adapt, or die.

And as for you—

Don’t hang all your hopes on a book deal.

Don’t think your book won’t be “legitimate” if you independently publish it.

Don’t think that independent publishing is “vanity publishing.”

The new vanity publishing?

Chasing the book deal is vanity—yep, I said it. If the reason you’re chasing the deal is because you think only traditionally published books are worthy books, sit with that for a bit and consider why you believe this.

Consider why you might think that someone with a seat at a great big table should be the arbiter of what's valuable and what is not.

And look: a traditional book deal won’t necessarily get you in front of more readers. It won’t necessarily bring you national radio and TV interviews, spots on celebrity book clubs, and all the shinies.

It might… but there’s no guarantee. So don’t hold out for it.

If you’ve written a book, or you want to write a book, you should be proud, whether you have a book deal or not. It’s an amazing achievement that most people will never do.

Getting a traditional book deal can be incredible, but it’s not a measure of how good your book is, or whether it’s worthy of printing. (Piers Morgan got his poisonous book traditionally published, for gods sake.)

If your book helps even one person to live a fuller, kinder, more expressive or creative life, then it’s worthy.

So let’s try that old conversation again, shall we?

“You’re an author? That’s so cool!”

“Thank you! I have so many notes from people who love it, and whose lives have changed for the better after reading it. I’m really proud of my book.”

And hey! If you’re thinking about writing your weird and wonderful book but you’d like some help along the way, I am looking for two new private coaching clients to join me on my 6-month Creative Book Coaching Adventure. Find out more here—and if you have questions, contact me here.

Notes in the Margin

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About the Author Vicky Fraser