Magazine article The Spectator

Do It Yourself

Magazine article The Spectator

Do It Yourself

Article excerpt

A mature friend claims that the greatest favour anyone can do for his or her friends and family is to die without publishing a single book -- no novel, no memoirs, nada. There's no legacy like it.

I know what she means. There has been an explosion in vanity publishing and (not the same thing) self-publishing: increasing numbers of people consider an ISBN number a surer sign of a fulfilled life than an account number at Coutts. Indeed, having a book in one of the British Library's groaning warehouses is a sign that you've arrived.

Authorship is one of the most enduring egoboosting luxuries there is.

So what's the drill? The easiest option is vanity publishing, but it can be a trap for the desperate and naive. Johnathan Clifford, who coined the term back in 1959, has been campaigning for the last 15 years to warn people of its pitfalls (www. vanitypublishing. info).

'What normally happens is that the client pays the vanity publisher as much as the vanity publisher feels he can get away with for very few copies of the book, ' he says, 'Books that are vanity published simply disappear into the woodwork never to be seen again.' His campaign has led him to be consulted by the House of Lords and he has even managed to get certain publishers banned from advertising themselves. 'Mainstream publishers never advertise for authors -- they never need to. ' Susan Hill, who set up her own publishing firm from a barn in the Cotswolds, agrees it's a scam. 'I know a very unhappy man who was a headmaster of a small family-owned prep school. He thought he had had an interesting life and a lot of stories to tell and was persuaded to go to a vanity publisher.

He paid £7,000 for 1,000 hardback copies and he believed they would be sold in bookshops and so on. And of course not a single one was. He was left with a lot of books and a large bill he could ill afford to pay.' The best bet, then, is self-publishing.

Nietzsche produced Beyond Good and Evil himself. He printed only 60 copies, but it was the book that made his name. All you need for self-publishing is a couple of grand, or less, and a lot of hard work. RAF pilot Mark Robson proof-read and typeset his own fantasy novels, and then marketed them by working as an unpaid floor-walker at bookshops near his airbase. He would help browsers choose books and suggest his own if they expressed an interest in Tolkien. After shifting 30,000 copies, he recently landed a fivefigure, two-book deal with Simon and Schuster.

Nic Portway is another self-publisher who has made a hit. …

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