Monday, September 27, 2010
THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF VANITY PUBLISHING
WRITE A BOOK AND PAY TO HAVE IT PUBLISHED
There can be no greater pleasure for the writer than to see his or her literary efforts between the covers of a book. His name on the front cover, his photograph on the back with some biographical information and a fulsome description of what lies inside is a consummation to be wished for and savoured.
After countless hours of looking for the apt word, the perfect turn of phrase and style, you have a work that is begging for an audience. The journey from script to published volume, however, can be pretty daunting to say the least. The chances of getting a commercial publishers to put the fruits of your labours between covers and on the shelves of Chapters are about as likely as finding a pot of gold when planting tomatoes in your back yard. Perhaps, a bit better. But writers do not pay any attention to that and they continue planting tomatoes and dreaming of being published.
If you don’t beat the formidable odds of your work being accepted by a publisher, the only means of seeing your work between covers is by doing it yourself. You go to a local printer, the script is prepared, the cheque is written (your cheque with perhaps the help of some faithful friends) and presto the volume is published.
Self-publishing or vanity publishing as it is uncharitably characterized by some is not new. In fact, in the nineteenth century what were to become prominent writers had to pay commercial publishers to publish their books.
There are a number of Greek writers in Canada who have published numerous books over the years. Dannis Koromilas, Antonis Vazintaris, Christos Ziatas, A. A. Athanasiadis and Andreas Constantinides come to mind immediately and I have no doubt there are many others. They have all published their own books and they deserve a lot of credit for their efforts and the considerable expense that they have borne.
The comments that follow are not meant to take away from their efforts but to point out some of the shortcoming of their printers (we can hardly call most of them publishers) to meet some minimum standards of a well-produced book. Some are better than others, no doubt.
Some annoying features. Most people prefer that the pages of a book be numbered. Some poets feel it is unnecessary to provide such an amenity. How about some useful information about the author so we can put the writing in context? Some of them do not provide any.
I was prompted to examine some self-published books when someone gave me a book of poetry in Greek by Christos Pantelopoulos entitled Ελεύθεροι Στοχασμοί (Free Reflections). It is a high-quality paperback and I decided to examine it carefully.
Poetry seems to be in Pantelopoulos’s blood. His poems cover a dizzying variety of occasions and people. Love, loss, friendship, the flag, a funeral, the mother-in-law, the barber, the waiter, the atheist, the cheapskate, Macedonia, the Greek Community’s 100th Anniversary and a host of other subjects are fair game for Pantelopoulos. I want to write about self-publishing and will confine my comments to the format of the book aside from the poems.
The front cover has a painting of a lion, a lamb and a dove snuggling together peacefully. Below the painting appear the words Vivlio Ekto (Sixth Book), Toronto 2009. In other words, there seems to be a publisher and a year of publication.
The back cover has a colour photo of the author with the headline in Greek “A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE POET.” We learn that this volume is a continuation of the poet’s previous book of poems “Skirtimata” which was published three years ago. After that we learn almost nothing about the author but are told that the poems express his warmth, humanity, love, the beauty of nature, the pain of immigration and nostalgia for the fatherland etc.
There is a well-done title page and you turn to the copyright page for some information. There is no copyright page and therefore no information about publisher, edition or anything. Who or what is Vivlio Ekto?
There is a table of contents which lists the titles of the poems and it is followed by a Prologue without a single blank page. The prologue consists of a single paragraph that goes on for three and a half pages. It is fulsomely complimentary, as expected, but it would have been nice if it also contained some information about the poet and the poems. Pantelopoulos, we glean among the flood of adjectives, has been in Canada for more than 40 years, is married and has raised a family. If there is much more than that hidden in the lengthy paragraph, it escaped me. The Prologue is signed by the poet’s old friend M.M.
If you must know who M.M. is you will need to go to page 312 where the poet thanks his friend Mihalis Mpatsoulis for his assistance and refers to him as a “worthy educator” who teaches in the Greek schools of Toronto. I assume that he is the same person as M.M. of the prologue.
The spine of the book is left blank.
Pantelopoulos’s book is better than most self-published volumes but the question remains: Why can they not reach a higher level of professionalism. Why do the Greek printing houses not open a few books and see what a title page, copyright page and table of contents or index contain? Why do they not get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN)? Why do they not bother inserting page numbers?
Pantelopoulos’s book does not suffer from some of these deficiencies and it is eminently readable once you get past the covers and the Prologue. Self-publishing will no doubt increase and computer technology has made lay-out easy to manage. Now if we can only get our writers and their printers to pay some more attention to the formalities that accompany the literary content, we may end up with more publishing and less vanity.