The internet and digital book publishing seem to have been made for each other. Romance was in the air as soon as aspiring and often extremely gifted authors realized they no longer had to play the waiting game of months, sometimes years with traditional publishers. Often that game involved two doors of white glove acceptance: the first by a literary agent if the traditional publisher no longer accepted direct manuscript solicitation, and the second, by one of the agent’s selected publishers.

Any writer who looked at the odds and did the math knew this game was a formula for disaster. Imagine standing in line for years to get a birth certificate! Written works are an author’s children; ask any dedicated writer and they’ll tell you that.

Imagine Romeo and Juliet or Abelard and Eloise spending the rest of their lives together instead of resorting to the End Game as their only hope for “redemption.” Imagine no more elitist cabals with their self-serving agendas.

Imagine the freedom to write and be published and read

Who wouldn’t dance and sing about the ease and efficiency of “on demand/one-off” printing machines that could produce low cost handsome-looking paperback books in a matter of minutes?

Soon it became almost impossible to tell the difference between digital and offset printing.

With the on demand system, large print runs required for low unit cost and a significant profit margin to pay the distributors’ 60% commission were eliminated—and so were the distributors. Books could now be printed as they were purchased and drop-shipped directly to the buyer.

Predictably, this new production and delivery process threatened to take over the industry.

The traditional publishing industry fights back

It’s simply a matter of semantics, is it not? Any book that was produced by publishers outside the “Madison Avenue” Establishment was labeled “vanity”—by whom? The Establishment; the “traditional publishers,” because the product was not one of theirs.

To be fair, “vanity publishing” to a large extent deserved its tarnished reputation because many writers whose works did not qualify for publishing simply paid a printer who owned a block of ISBN numbers and could register titles with the U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress, to do an offset print run.

By the same token, many of our most recognized authors resorted to vanity publishing when traditional publishers refused to let them in the door. If it weren’t for vanity publishing, many of the world’s most outstanding works never would have been given a chance to reach the public.*

‘Vanity,’ or Self-Righteousness born from ‘Fear’?

Even though publishing companies using digital on demand technologies could produce handsome-looking products, they were still only “imitations of real books,” declared the Establishment of traditional publishers.

That didn’t daunt the small, independent publishers and self-publishing authors already reaping the benefits of digital production and delivery. Although their company may not be part of the prestigious family lineage of Simon & Schuster, Harper/Collins, Random House, etc., the fact was--as one of my great-aunts used to say with a shrug of her shoulders as she snipped out a Saks Fifth Avenue label from a rummage sale cast-off and stitched it into her bargain basement outfit--“Who’s to know?”

It was true. Improvements in digital printing quality soon equaled that of offset printed books except in the case of fine art reproductions that regardless of their method of printing, would always require special care.

Who started budget publishing, anyway?

Who could ever forget the exciting and innovative emergence of Random House's low-cost “Modern Library” editions—the genius of Jason Epstein who, always keeping up with the industry, can now be cited for his amazing and innovative Espresso digital book-making machine?!

Modern Library books were ugly. Their paper quality was so tissue-thin one could read the print from the backside page. But they allowed people to buy quality classics at budget prices. Random House made a fortune on this low-cost innovation.

Penguin paperbacks and Simon & Schuster Pocket Books had already found an established niche in the marketplace… and talk about chintzy! You don’t have to be 55+ to reach for the magnifying glass; one can hardly read the print. These undersized books, often thick and clumsy to hold and with pages falling out or refusing to stay flat, were a disaster—an insult to the book industry. I still own some of them and am now in the process of replacing them with ebook editions that I can download to the hard drive of my computer or one of my reading devises.

Let’s be fair to both sides. Low-cost services that can produce the same results are an open invitation for the mavens. Predictably, in less than two years, the internet was measled with “fast food” dot-com self-publishing companies that promised innocent aspiring authors a Published Book for under $100.

Although the price has gone up since then, the same mediocrity persists, only multiplied exponentially by hundreds of other dot.com printing companies eager to hop on the GRQ (get rich quick) bandwagon. Most of these companies have added many other features to their original turnkey “design and print” menu, but it still looks, tastes and smells like the same mediocrity. You get what you pay for.

What happened to quality content?

The one missing ingredient that continued to give traditional publishing companies the trump card was quality content. Often these low-cost digitally printed books went to press without being edited and they were never proofread unless authors did the work themselves. Editing and proofing are labor intensive and can be expensive--especially if professionals are contracted to do the work. Therefore, to keep down their overhead, these services were not included in pre-press costs. The business model focused on selling writers low cost affordable services and swiping the credit card as soon as the customer signed on the dotted line.

The other missing ingredient integrally linked to quality content was revision. It is said that a writer is not a professional until they commit to the process of revision.

Thus, to a certain extent, traditional publishers had a right to ban these mediocre products from the marketplace by not allowing them on the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores and forbidding the media to review them. And yet… we all know about those best-selling titles that never would have reached their readers if not for enlightened authors who were smart enough not to play the numbers game and instead decided to take matters into their own hands and self- or co-publish.

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*Self-Published Books

Remembrance of things Past, by Marcel Proust, Ulysses, by James Joyce, The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter, A Time to Kill, by John Grisham, The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton, The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller, What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard N. Bolles, In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters, The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. (and his student E. B. White), The Joy of Cooking,M by Irma S. Rombauer, “When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple,”poem by Jenny Joseph; Life’s Little Instruction Book, by H. Jackson Brown, Robert’s Rules of Order, by Henry M. Robert

Authors who Self-Published

Deepak Chopra, Gertrude Stein, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Ezra Pound, Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stephen Crane, George Bernard Shaw, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Virginia Wolff, e.e. Cummings, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Alexandre Dumas, William E.B. DuBois – List from

Rejections from Traditional Publishers

Pearl S. Buck - The Good Earth - 14 times; Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead - 12 times; Patrick Dennis - Auntie Mame - 15 times; George Orwell - Animal Farm; Richard Bach - Jonathan Livingston Seagull - 20 times; Joseph Heller - Catch-22 - 22 times (!); Mary Higgins Clark - first short story - 40 times; Alex Haley - before Roots - 200 rejections; Robert Persig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - 121 times; John Grisham - A Time to Kill - 15 publishers and 30 agents (he ended up publishing it himself); Chicken Soup for the Soul - 33 times; Dr. Seuss - 24 times; Louis L'Amour - 200 rejections; Jack London - 600 before his first story; John Creasy - 774 rejections before selling his first story. He went on to write 564 books, using fourteen names; Jerzy Kosinski - 13 agents and 14 publishers rejected his best-selling novel when he submitted it under a different name, including Random House, which had originally published it; Anne Frank – The Diary of Anne Frank

Author's Bio: 

Carol Adler, MFA’s first ghost-written book listing her name as co-editor, Why Am I Still Addicted? A Holistic Approach to Recovery, was endorsed by Deepak Chopra, M.D., and published by McGraw-Hill. Other publications include three novels, four books of poetry, and well over 200 poems in literary journals. She has ghostwritten over 40 non-fiction and fiction works for a number of professionals in the education, health care and human potential industries.

Carol is President of Dandelion Books, LLC of Tempe, Arizona; a full service publishing company. She is also President and CEO of Dandelion Enterprises, Inc., Write to Publish for Profit and President of the International Arts & Media Foundation, a non-profit subsidiary of Dandelion Enterprises, Inc.

Her business experience includes co-ownership of a Palm Beach, FL public relations company and executive management positions in two U.S. rejuvenation and mind/body wellness corporations, for which she founded publishing divisions.

Carol has served as editor of several poetry and literary magazines. Her career experience includes extensive teaching of college-level creative and business writing, and conducting of writing workshops in prisons, libraries, elementary, junior and high schools, and senior citizen centers.

Additional Resources on Publishing can be found at:

Website Directory for Publishing
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Carol Adler, The Official Guide to Publishing