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‘Oh, so it’s vanity published,’ remarked an acquaintance recently, when asking about my novel All Desires Known, and I found myself wincing.

Why should the term ‘vanity publishing’ still have the power to hurt? Isn’t there a clear distinction between vanity publishing and all the modern variants of self-publishing?

Well, that depends who you are talking to. In essentials there isn’t that much difference. In all of them it’s the author who pays upfront; in traditional publishing costs are met by the firm who produces and then sells your book. It’s in the details of the self-publishing or vanity process that you can make distinctions, but you can go round in circles. In the end it might be better to develop a thicker skin.

But it’s still annoying – and is why many authors choose to describe themselves as ‘indie’. After all, investing in your writing and bypassing the gatekeepers of the book publishing industry doesn’t make you any more vain than someone who’s landed a traditional publishing contract. We are all vain to some extent – and all publishing is, in one sense, ‘vanity publishing’. A contract from a traditional publishing firm offers validation to the author; you might say it appeases our vanity.

It’s also a term which is unfairly limited to writers: someone who records and markets a CD of their own music or busks in the street is not called a vanity musician. An exhibition of paintings would not be described in the publicity as vanity art.

Some publishing firms are now setting up their own self-publishing operations – and naturally it’s not called vanity publishing there.

If authors self-publishing their work can match or exceed the professional standards offered by traditional publishing routes then it’s likely the old term vanity publishing with its pejorative overtones will become obsolete. The signs are that this is already happening across the board.

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