By Iola Goulton
Marketing guru Seth Godin recently published a blog post titled Chump (Don’t get played). He’s talking about the Bernie Madoff scandal, and how Madoff stole twenty billion dollars from people who Godin says should have known better.
Godin probably didn't intend the post to be a lesson for writers. But it is.
To pull off a significant deception, you generally need two things: A deceiver and a crowd of people open to being deceived.
Unfortunately, writers are open to being deceived. And I think Christian writers are especially susceptible. I think there are several reasons for this:
- Christians want to encourage other Christians, so will give encouraging feedback when a friend shows them a manuscript.
- Christians don’t want to bring other Christians down, so are reluctant to give critical feedback even when a manuscript has clear issues.
- Christians expect other Christians to encourage them, so may not believe critical feedback that contradicts the positive feedback they have already received.
- Christians trust other Christians, whether they have shown themselves worthy of trust or not.
And that leads to the second part of Godin’s argument:
Once those are present, the deceiver brings out the big lie.
In publishing, this lie is often delivered by a “Christian” vanity press. Because there is a never-ending market of writers:
- Ready to believe their book is good enough to be published, because the publisher says so.
- Ready to believe it’s normal to pay a publisher, because the publisher says so.
- Ready to believe their books will be available in all the major bookstores, because the publisher says so.
As with all good lies, there is an element of truth in the message the vanity presses are preaching.
- Yes, it’s hard to get a contract with a major publisher.
- Yes, the major publishers turn down a lot of good books (and publish a lot of rubbish).
- Yes, authors have to actively market themselves and their book.
And this is where vanity presses come in. Godin says:
people are open to looking for shortcuts and a new reality, even if no shortcuts are available
As with many things in life, there are no shortcuts in writing and publishing. Sure, print-on-demand technology and the introduction of ereaders and smartphones and tablet computers have made it easier than ever for authors to self-publish (for example, I’m currently reviewing a book written by four pre-teens as a summer project). Amazon and Kobo and iBooks make distribution easy.
Or authors can hold out for a traditional publisher—but that takes time and money, in the form of entering contests and going to conferences to attract the attention of influential agents and editors. For many writers, it’s a seemingly endless cycle of rejection and frustration.
And that frustration can lead us into making bad decisions.
Frustration in the face of the way things are makes us open to the big lie. Frustration and fear and anger can suspend our ability to ask difficult questions, to listen to thoughtful critics, to do our homework.
To be a chump (not merely the victim) is to be open to the big lie. Not merely open to it, eager to buy into it.
And I suspect this is why many people get caught in the clutches of vanity presses.
Because they are eager to get out of the cycle of rejection and frustration and eager to buy into any alternative.
Especially when that alternative tickles their ears, confirming how difficult it is to get a book accepted by a major press but that’s okay because they have an alternative, a third way. Yes, it involves a small investment on the part of the author, but that’s normal. And then your book will be published and available in book stores and you’ll be a real author.
They’ll even tell you how to respond to the naysayers, horrible people like me who say they are nothing more than a vanity press. Because they’re not. They’re a hybrid publisher, a co-publisher, a subsidy publisher, a traditional publisher, a royalty-paying publisher. They’ll convince you black is white, and you’ll believe them.
Don’t be sucked in by the promises of the vanity presses. As Godin says:
We're not chumps. Not if we don't choose to be.
About Iola Goultonwww.christianediting.co.nz to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction.
I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.
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