A lot of people have warned me to watch out for Vanna D. Just like her namesake on that long-running television game show, she’s quite a make-up artist. Vanna D offers cosmetic assistance to self-published authors, promising them great results. I wouldn’t be surprised if she struggles with her own self-esteem beneath that well-made-up surface, because almost every writer or publisher I talk to puts her down.
This whole Vanna D issue is complicated. On the one hand, you have this person who is really good at promoting herself — even if she’s not very good at promoting the people she serves. She applies a liberal quantity of lipstick to make a book — and by extension its author — look good. What happens from there … well, that’s up to the author. That wouldn’t be so bad if she stated her limitations clearly from the get-go, but all too often Vanna D oversells and under-delivers.
I understand why people want to avoid a self-serving makeup artist, but there are other sides to the story of Vanna D. While legions of writers seek her help to break free from the self-publishing slog — to stand out from the growing crowd of do-it-yourself writers — countless others subject themselves to a whole different kind of slog: sending hope-and-pray packages to traditional publishers and agents, then waiting months or years to be welcomed into the club of published authors. It seems to me that Vanna D has a hand in that world, too.
Let’s face it: publishing is a tough way to make a living, and writing is too. It’s not easy to promote a book — even a great book — amidst the explosion of literature that has resulted from the emergence of print-on-demand publishing and e-books. Traditional publishers are fighting to uphold a standard for quality work while dealing with increased competition and shrinking margins. Authors want to establish themselves as artists worthy of respect, while also dealing with increased competition and shrinking margins. And Vanna D … well, she’s just looking for opportunities to make a buck and prop up an ego or two.
Not every author wants to earn a living from writing. Many people see writing their “one great book” as a bucket list project. Others have something important to say, and they’ll pay for the opportunity to say it. And then there are those who aspire to be working writers. We know it’s a long road, and we are willing to wear out a few pairs of shoes to walk it. But when Vanna D pulls up in her shiny car and offers us a ride, suggesting that we just need to pay for gas, well … that’s a hard offer for our weary legs to turn down.
Wearing my other hat — as a publisher and provider of book production services — I live somewhere in the grey zone of “hybrid publishing”. Although I’m not a big fan of labels, I kind of like this one. It makes me feel like a Prius — progressive and economical. And the word hybrid implies a moderate approach — a middle ground — between two extremes. What I want to create is a sort of mid-point shelter that offers reprieve from Vanna D’s effect on both ends of the publishing spectrum — a place where quality and integrity meet. A place where great writing is turned into great books, and everybody — author, publisher and reader — wins.
I believe that most publishers today are being forced to move toward that middle ground, asking more of authors while having less to give in return. And I get it. Publishing is a challenging business that is undergoing a massive transition — a road with an unknown destination. And what about all the authors walking along that road, throwing out the occasional thumb to accelerate their journey to literary success? If and when a car pulls over … will Vanna D be driving?
There are crooks and bullies in every industry — and there’s everybody else: the vast majority of writers, publishers and service providers who are just trying to hone their crafts and earn a living. In this modern world of publishing, it seems that you have to be a little bit audacious to believe you can succeed. You have to be a Prius with the heart of a Porsche.
As for all those warnings to unsuspecting authors … I plan to keep my thumb down and my eyes on the road. I might accept a ride from a thoughtful driver in a reliable automobile — maybe even a Prius — but I’ll let all those impractically fancy cars pass me by. After all, there’s no use letting Vanna D press me.