Sunday, April 23, 2006

Advice for Authors, or Vanity of Vanities; All Is Vanity

They're the dirty little secret of publishing: "vanity" presses, which will publish your book while leading you to believe that you have a shot at bestsellerdom. It works like this: You try to get Mr. Whiskers From the Stars, your book of inspirational verse about cats, published in the traditional manner. To your surprise, you cannot. Then you see an ad in the back of a magazine that says a publishing house is "looking for authors." But unlike as in a traditional publishing arrangement, the writer pays the publisher rather than vice versa.*

For a book lover such as myself, the New York Times Book Review on Sundays is a highlight of the week. And the vanity press ads regularly contained therein are a highlight of the Book Review. The descriptions of the books these presses peddle are, more often than not, head-spinningly demented, and usually depressing as all hell.

But I'm here to rescue all would-be authors from obscurity. That's right--I have the secret to your success. All you have to do is end your book description with the phrase "Wacky high jinks ensue," and suddenly your book sounds a lot more fun!

An example from today's Book Review, on the back page:

Origin of Misery. Author reveals troubling parallels between society, government today and 1843-45 NJ, multiple slayings and the hanging two [sic] innocent men, and exposes universal root turmoil, hatred and misery.

Ouch! Not only the distressing state of government today, but turmoil, hatred, and--ye gads!--1843-1845 New Jersey??? Could a book description possibly be more depressing?

But now read this:

Origin of Misery. Author reveals troubling parallels between society, government today and 1843-45 NJ, multiple slayings and the hanging of two innocent men, and exposes universal root turmoil, hatred and misery. Wacky high jinks ensue.

See? Doesn't that sound much better?

Or, there's this one:
A Place to Belong follows a young boy's search for self-worth and faith in a cruel world. Through a mystifying journey from coast to coast, he endures the depths of despair. Wacky high jinks ensue.

CAA will be scooping up the film rights before you have to time to get your teeth laminated for the 12-city book tour.

You can also use this technique in business reports to spruce things up, or in a Dear John letter:

Profits are down 67% for the year. Our CEO is in prison for the next decade. And we just discovered our product causes exploding-head syndrome. Wacky high jinks ensue.

Dear John: I'm sorry about wrecking the car. Yes, I did do it on purpose, but you peeve me so! I've decided to move on with my life, and you won't be a part of it. Wacky high jinks will no doubt ensue.

Takes the sting out, doesn't it?

Feel free to use this technique for your own work, whatever it may be. (I haven't yet tried it in mathematical formulas, but I have a gut feeling it will work.)




*If you do into this with your eyes open--say, you have a grand theory of business, and you want every employee in your company to have your bound book, or you regularly attend sci-fi conferences and plan on selling your opus out the trunk of your car--there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But in the history of publishing, only a handful of vanity press books have later been picked up by traditional publishers and turned into commercial successes.

8 comments:

Mark H said...

Here's a math one:

Scarecrow: "The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. Wacky high jinks insue."

God Is My Codependent said...

E=MC^2. Wacky explosions ensue.

fanatic cook said...

Spot on, Jim.

"Hilarious" when applied to any genre movie gets me too.

NYPinTA said...

I have an Aunt who published a book that way. I tried to read it. It was.... painful.

Doug Hoffman said...

No way I'm going vanity. My manuscript will rot in unread-hell first.

Jim Donahue said...

My grandfather almost did it, but it cost too much money. He wrote a novel/memoir about his time in the Royal Navy. I think the ms. is still in my parents' basement.

God Is My Codependent said...

I know a guy who self-published a book and eventually wound up on Art Bell Coast to Coast.

punkinsmom said...

"your book of inspirational verse about cats" This only worked for T.S. Eliot, and indeed wacky hihg jinks did ensue. Much to my chagrin.