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Jan Saenredam after Abraham Bloemaert, published by Robert de Baudous:
Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity (c. 1600)

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher,
vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour
which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away,
and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth for ever."
Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 King James Version

I have for years danced against the idea that I might work with a "vanity" publisher. The vanity press represents that part of the publishing world where an author contracts with a service bureau to do all a standard publisher might do. These tasks include: registering a work and securing an
ISBN—a unique registration number assigned to each edition of a published work, designing format and layout, cover design, production, and placement, among many other possible services, paid for up front by the author. The mythology of authorship insists it's humiliating to work with a vanity publisher because a real author should properly be discovered and pampered into print by a benevolent publisher who fronts the resources necessary to produce the work. In the myth, the publisher more than recoups their investment from the resulting widespread acceptance. Each new title is always destined to become a best-seller, and every author produces well above average sales.

In practice, many fewer than one percent of published works recoup their production cost.
Mainline publishers have noticed. How could they not? The largest publishers leverage the law of large numbers to make up in volume what they lose on individual sales. They produce hundreds of titles. If a couple hit it big, they can turn a profit. Never mind that the vast bulk of their catalog sold far fewer than a thousand individual copies and became "returns," meaning they were chipped back into newsprint to make more paper to continue the dance. I've experienced some form of this treatment with my The Blind Men and The Elephant, but it became a best seller and has not yet gone out of print. It was exhilarating enough to believe that I might have sidestepped the need to ever seriously consider vanity, a dangerous and poisonous delusion, indeed!

I'm in consultation with one of these so-called lowlifes now. I've been resistant, even when it became inevitable that no credible traditional publisher would very likely ever be interested in sponsoring another one of my titles.  Those who've followed my series understand I do not dabble in popular fiction. Nor do I create self-help works. I steadfastly refuse even to attempt to convince anyone of anything. I'm no evangelist, yet I still produce what seem to many to be interesting works. I suspect that I'm, at best, a narrow niche kind of writer, an acquired taste but not bitter about that fate. I've long considered my writing work to be something other than a commercial enterprise. I never expected to retire on royalties. As a writer, I write. Why should I not also publish?

So, my notions of publishing have undergone some Honing over recent years. I stand today proudly proclaiming what would have just embarrassed me in my earlier stages. Let's say that this stage represents the end of an innocence that never once served me well, for it smothered something essential to my writing life, the outlet that would have sanctified the whole effort. I have a retaining pond that's been aching for an outlet to the ocean. This vanity publishing enterprise will be dredging the ditch there.

As for the embarrassment I was supposed to feel at not being selected as one of the chosen ones: chosen for what? I might ask if I didn't already know. Chosen to have my works collected, published, and chipped or chosen to publish myself? Which act might prove the vainest? The one presuming to repeat the same sorry thing to one day produce better results, or the one accepting who and what publishing actually is? Nothing abideth forever except, perhaps, a print-on-demand production process. We'll see.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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