Here’s a little story for you.
A few years ago, I found out a friend of mine had written a book. A real-life book!
I was going to meet this person face to face, so I bought their book off Amazon, squirreled it away in my bookshelf, and when we met, I asked them to sign it.
The thing that was odd to me at the time was that this person seemed — almost embarrassed by my grinning enthusiasm. When I asked, they finally said “I just did it through a vanity press – it’s not from a real publisher.”, or words to that effect.
Now, to be fair, they work in publishing, so that sort of thing mattered significantly to them. (I shouldn’t use the past tense — I’m sure it still matters.) But me? I’m basically a consumer; I don’t know the publishing industry – I only know reading.
I’m closer to the publishing world than I used to be — married into it, you might say — but even so, I hardly ever hear the term ‘vanity press’ anymore, at least not in reference to reputable businesses like lulu.com. That’s partly because of the indie gaming industry and how it works, but also because I think people are starting to feel a shift coming in the traditional publishing world. Either way, I tend to look at the whole thing from the point of view of an outsider, and this is what I see with my outsider eyes:
Only people in publishing care how a book is published. The “POD” label is invisible to the consumer; they’re just looking for a good book.
This is a true statement. I know it, because I’ve been the consumer who bought a book and didn’t know (or care) that it was from a POD press until someone told me. It just doesn’t matter.
Is it a good or a bad book? That matters. Publishers, editors, and agents provide a filtration system that helps improve the quality of the products they (eventually) produce; it’s fair to say that the traditional publishing method filters out a lot of crap.
But it’s not the only way such things can happen.