Don’t call it vanity

tn_vanity.jpg is one of several sites that I’ve mentioned before that serve as production backshops for media startups. You create the media, they manufacture the books, CDs, DVDs, or etcetera.


The current Lulu newsletter (it comes sporadically which is fine given e-mail glut) includes a story about a writer’s conference in Northern California that included a panel discussion about the choice between traditional and self-publishing of books. Lulu representative Jason Adams wrote a brief summary of that discussion featuring two traditional and two on-demand printers that said:


“The representatives of traditional publishing has only positive things to say about self-publishing, and I believe the four of us helped clear up several misconceptions–namely, that being self-published does not destroy your chances at ever getting a book deal with a traditional publishing house.”

I call this phenomenon short run publishing: books produced in small lots. It’s been an interest since the early ‘8os when I was a partner in a typesetting and small press publishing firm that produced a handful of local books — at a profit. Nothing to retire on. But it was more than what used to be called vanity publishing — the pejorative for self publishing.

I think self-publishing is even more practical today. It is the proving ground for creative or informative publishers who hope to break into traditional publishing. It can also be one way that niche publishers make money by producing free content online.

My sister, Tina Nocera, is a trailblazer in this regard. For more than a decade she’s been trying to become, for lack of a better term, the Martha Stewart of parenting. Her web site, Parental Wisdom, is the face of her effort, but I think her long years of effort started to accelerate when she self-published some of her wisdom in a book titled, “Because Kids Don’t Come With Manuals.” (FYI, Tina raved about her print-on-demand vendor, Lightning Source.)

Now she uses the book as both a calling card and small revenue stream. When you meet someone, you can hand them a book. It’s tougher to make them navigate your website. And while the revenue stream may be a trickle now, her persistence may be rewarded down the line. Meanwhile, using the book as leverage she’s been on some television talk shows.

She’s my sister. Of course I’m proud of her. But I also think she exemplifies how info-entrepreneurs get noticed in an Attention Economy (see the definition in Wikipedia or scan my archives on this theme of winning ears and eyeballs in a media-saturated environment.)