Self-publishing in Egypt: Vanity?

The Guardian books blog gently—almost gingerly—raises a few questions about the rise in “vanity” publishing (in the English-speaking world). It asks, among other things, whether authors who have bona fide publishers are any less vain than those who pay for it.

More talented, maybe. But more humble? (Cough.)

I don’t really know the publishing landscape in the U.K. But here in Egypt, many serious authors self-publish, or do something much like it. A few up-and-comers get decent book deals handed to them on silver platters—the blogger behind I Want to Get Married comes to mind—but most serious young writers slog and toil and then slog and toil some more, getting their book printed, shepherding it into bookstores, and getting it sold. Much of it on their own dime.

Self- or self-assisted-publishing could be, in some cases, a waste of money. (This depends on what one thinks about money.) But vanity?

My friend Bernadette worked hard to self-publish her children’s book, an ABC Escapade through Egypt. She told me a while back that she never once thought of trying to find a publisher, and always knew she’d be going it alone. I don’t know if she’s yet turned a profit. But by now, hundreds here in Egypt have enjoyed her book; it’s available in bookshops; teachers have used it as a basis for writing assignments; indeed, she’s coming to visit my six-year-old’s class later this month.

According to a piece about self-publishing in Daily News Egypt, there’s also a middle ground between self-publishing and publisher-publishing. Local publishers often ask writers to share in printing and other costs—even if a work has been deemed worthy of the imprint. Further, according to the Daily News:

“Other [houses] may publish your work, but not have clear distribution or marketing plans, an author who wished to remain anonymous said. This led to competition among writers in the same publishing house in addition to several delays.”

And, according to self-published author Mary Mourad: “Publishing in Egypt tends to be a gamble. You can publish anything…[but] she later adds, ‘Of course you don’t make any money out of it.'”

Also read: Steve Almond’s (amusing) adventures in self-publishing; he proposes another model.